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The worldwide lull in war

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Both the war on terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have reinforced Americans' misconception that the world is becoming more violent, with wars raging across the globe in the wake of the cold war.

In fact, the opposite is true. While Americans now feel more "at war," fewer people worldwide are dying in wars, and less fighting is going on, than at any time in decades. We are a long way from Immanuel Kant's vision of "permanent peace," but tantalizingly close to a worldwide cease-fire.

Some wars remain just below the ignition point, and some peace negotiations may fail, but for the moment, with just a handful of exceptions, the guns are silent. Even today's most serious conflicts – in the Middle East, Sudan, Democratic Congo, and Colombia – are currently marked by skirmishing rather than all-out battles.

We probably owe this lull to the end of the cold war, and to a unipolar world order with a single superpower to impose its will in places like Kuwait, Serbia, and Afghanistan. The emerging world order is not exactly benign – Sept. 11 comes to mind – and Pax Americana delivers neither justice nor harmony to the corners of the earth. But a unipolar world is inherently more peaceful than the bipolar one where two superpowers fueled rival armies around the world. The long-delayed "peace dividend" has arrived, like a tax refund check long lost in the mail.

The most devastating leftover wars from the 1980s have finally ended, giving new hope to tens of millions of desperate people. In Angola, 26 miserable years of civil war just came to an end after the rebel leader was killed and his successors gave up. In Afghanistan, the new US-backed interim government, despite its many problems, has brought a fresh start after decades of devastation. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are streaming back in, voting with their feet.

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