Everyday I hear people talk about how violent the world is, and how we live in such troubled times. Certainly some parts of the world, such as Liberia, Congo or Iraq, closely resemble hell, and it is hard to imagine how things could be worse. But there have always been wars, and if we zoom out, to look at the world as a whole, from the perspective of the last 50, or 500 or even 5,000 years, then we see a far different picture. In fact, we have never- I repeat, NEVER- seen a more peaceful era than the one we are living in right now. This is a new (perhaps brief) Golden Age of Peace.
With the end of the Cold War, there were a rash of conflicts as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia broke up. But that is normal when a large empire or multi-ethnic state dissolves- for example, when the Ottoman Empire retreated from Europe, or when Britain withdrew from India-Pakistan. The post-Cold War conflicts have mostly been resolved, or are being resolved now through more peaceful negotiations. Meanwhile, long-standing conflicts which were sponsored by the superpowers of the Cold War have ended, and brutal dictatorships around the world have been replaced by democratic governments (or, at least, less-brutal dictatorships).
Too many civil wars have ended since 1991 to list them all here: Nicaragua, Mozambique, Ethiopia-Eritrea, East Timor and Cambodia, to name a few. Yemen has been re-united. Apartheid has ended. The IRA came in from the cold (sort-of). Hong Kong and Macau were peacefully re-united with China. And popular movements have overthrown dicatorships in Indonesia, South Korea, Congo, and throughout Latin America. Perhaps the most hopeful development in the global spread of peace is the recent withdrawal of Israel from Gaza. Maybe that conflict, too, can be resolved in the next decade. (Alright, I'm not that much of an optimist!)
The surest sign of the Golden Age of Peace is that international conflicts are becoming increasingly rare. Armies just don't cross borders as often as they used to. In fact, if we use the classic definition of 'war' as being a violent conflict involving the armies of two sovereign states, then there is no 'war' anywhere in the world today. Not one. Of course, there are still civil wars, and the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. But civil wars, as I said above, are becoming fewer, and occupations don't last forever. In a decade or two we might see the end of even these wars. Imagine that: a world without war!
The question I'm sure you're wondering is: why? Why is our era so much more peaceful? There are many hypotheses: the spread of democracy, global interdependence, or even the influence of one monolithic super-superpower, the United States (although, since the U.S. started the last two international wars, and sponsored most of the civil wars of the Cold War era, this last hypothesis is questionable). But that is for another essay. The point I am trying to make here is that we should recognize the true, present state of affairs, and not bemoan 'our violent, troubled times' when in fact we live in the most relatively non-violent, untroubled times in human history. Welcome to the Golden Age!