Lately there has been much talk of trade wars and redefining international alliances. With ever growing nationalism (and ethno-nationalism in particular) we risk spiraling into global conflict. International alliances tend to be good places for countries to work out their differences and cooperate to achieve common goals. The assumption by many supporters of global alliances is that interconnectedness inures us to global or regional conflict, this is largely an assumption, so let’s turn to the best data we can find on the matter.
In my research I have found three areas which decrease the likelihood of open armed conflict. Through my study of the Correlates of War Project, I have been able to access enormous troves of data and research on the nature, relations, and causes of armed conflict. Here are the three most statistically relevant:
- Inter State Alliances and Defense Pacts
As states begin to align themselves in defense pacts such as NATO[i], the OAS[ii], etc.… there is a statistical decrease in their likelihood of engaging in armed conflict with one another, but also a decrease in the likelihood of being target by non-allied states in armed aggression. These defense pacts (many formed post 1945) have done more than prevent armed conflict, they have helped with the democratization of non-democracies who have joined the pacts. The obvious benefits of democracy aside, another statistically relevant fact is that democracies are less likely to fight each other (See segment ‘3’). By democratizing non-democracies in defense pacts, we see more stable borders, but we also see a lower threat to other democracies not in the specific defense pact.
-The assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June, 1914 led to the initiation of a series of defense pacts pulling many countries into the First World War.
- Inter State Trade
Countries that trade together are less likely to fight each other. Although it is difficult to pinpoint all the factors that lead up to armed conflict, we do see in hindsight that a decrease in shared economic interest has preceeded armed conflict (although this should not be seen as causal). One factor that allows for interstate trade is secure borders as well as defense pacts which further ally states allowing them to confidently commit to bi-lateral trade. Specific data is sometimes hard to come by as ‘trade’ comprises so many things, statisticians have noted the correlation between trade and lower instances of armed conflict.
- Democracy and Democratization
Two countries which are both democracies are less likely to engage in armed conflict. Several reasons that this may be. One, that democracies tend to view other democracies favorably as a method of government. Two, democracies may have the institutionalized capability to avoid conflict in ways authoritarian regimes do not. Three, democracies tend to ally themselves in trade and defense pacts and tend to have stable borders with other democracies. Again, it is important to state that determining the causal relation between being a democracy and being less likely to fight another democracy may be impossible, however the correlation between shared government type and statistically lower rates of engaging armed conflict remains.
By looking at the data we can arrive at an emotionless conclusion that three things are important to avoid armed conflict. One, inter-state defense pacts and alliances are important. Two, Bi lateral trade is important for both economic development and to reduce the likelihood of armed conflict. Three, Democracy and democratization are important in reducing the likelihood of armed conflict.
If the avoidance of global and/or regional armed conflict is important to a nation, then it should seek to bolster and not weaken defense pacts, bi lateral trade, and democratization.
[i] North Atlantic Treaty Organization
[ii] Organization of American States, a pact containing the nation states of North, Central, and South America.