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Bulat Krasilnikov
Bulat Krasilnikov

At War with Nature: The Environmental Consequences of Human Actions

What does it mean to be at war?

War is one of the most complex and devastating phenomena in human history. It involves organized and often prolonged armed conflict between political groups, usually states or non-state actors, that is characterized by extreme violence, social disruption, and economic destruction. War can have various causes, effects, types, and means of prevention. In this article, we will explore some of the key aspects of war and peace in the world today.

Definition and types of war

There is no universally accepted definition of war, as different disciplines and perspectives may emphasize different aspects of warfare. However, a common criterion is that war involves a minimum level of intensity, duration, and participation of armed forces. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), a widely used source of data on armed conflicts, a state-based armed conflict is defined as "a contested incompatibility that concerns government or territory or both where the use of armed force between two parties results in at least 25 battle-related deaths in a calendar year". A non-state conflict is defined as "the use of armed force between two organized armed groups, neither of which is the government of a state, which results in at least 25 battle-related deaths in a year". A one-sided violence is defined as "the use of armed force by the government of a state or by a formally organized group against civilians which results in at least 25 deaths in a year".

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Based on these definitions, the UCDP recorded 54 state-based conflicts, 50 non-state conflicts, and 19 one-sided violence episodes in 2020. The most deadly state-based conflict was the civil war in Syria, with an estimated 9,500 battle-related deaths. The most deadly non-state conflict was the fighting between the Taliban and the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan, with an estimated 1,800 deaths. The most deadly one-sided violence was perpetrated by IS in Iraq, with an estimated 1,400 civilian deaths.

Besides these quantitative criteria, some scholars have proposed qualitative typologies of war based on their motives, means, or outcomes. One influential typology was proposed by German sociologist Georg Simmel, who distinguished three pure types of war: absolute war, instrumental war, and agonistic fighting.

Absolute war

Absolute war is unrestricted and unregulated war that aims at the annihilation of the enemy. It is motivated by an existential or ideological hatred that does not recognize any limits or compromises. It is often associated with total war, which mobilizes all the resources and population of a state for the war effort. Examples of absolute wars include the Mongol invasions, the Thirty Years' War, World War II, and some genocides.

Instrumental war

Instrumental war is limited and regulated war that aims at achieving some rational or material advantage. It is motivated by self-interest or pragmatism that allows for negotiation and settlement. It is often associated with conventional war, which follows certain rules or norms of warfare that limit the scope and intensity of violence. Examples of instrumental wars include the Hundred Years' War, the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War, and some colonial wars.

Agonistic fighting

Agonistic fighting is regulated but not limited war that aims at demonstrating or enhancing one's prestige or honor. It is motivated by a sense enforcing compliance, and providing remedies. International institutions are the organizations or mechanisms that facilitate the creation, implementation, or adjudication of international law. They aim at enhancing cooperation and coordination among states or other actors by providing forums, norms, information, or incentives. Examples of international law and institutions include the Geneva Conventions, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Nonviolent resistance and dialogue

Nonviolent resistance is the use of peaceful methods or actions to oppose or challenge an unjust or oppressive system or situation. It aims at creating social change or political transformation by exposing, resisting, or undermining the sources of violence or injustice. Dialogue is the exchange of views or opinions between different parties or perspectives. It aims at fostering mutual understanding or learning by listening, empathizing, or appreciating the diversity of experiences or values. Examples of nonviolent resistance and dialogue include the civil rights movement, the Gandhi-led independence movement, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

War statistics and facts

War is a dynamic and evolving phenomenon that can be measured and analyzed in various ways. Some of the most relevant and interesting statistics and facts about war and peace are:

Trends and patterns of war and peace

According to the UCDP, the number of armed conflicts in the world has increased since the end of the Cold War, reaching a peak of 53 in 2014. However, the number of battle-related deaths has decreased since the 1980s, reaching a low of 19,000 in 2005. The most common type of conflict is intrastate conflict, which accounts for 95% of all conflicts since 1989. The most common region for conflict is Africa, which accounts for 40% of all conflicts since 1989.

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According to the Global Peace Index (GPI), which ranks 163 countries according to their level of peacefulness based on 23 indicators, the world has become less peaceful since 2008, with a decline of 2.5%. The most peaceful country in 2020 was Iceland, followed by New Zealand and Portugal. The least peaceful country was Afghanistan, followed by Syria and Iraq. The most peaceful region was Europe, followed by North America and Asia-Pacific. The least peaceful region was the Middle East and North Africa, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Major wars and conflicts in history

According to various sources and estimates, some of the most deadly wars and conflicts in human history are:


World War II1939-194560-85 million

Mongol conquests1206-136840-70 million

Taiping Rebellion1850-186420-30 million

Qing dynasty conquest of Ming dynasty1618-168325 million

An Lushan Rebellion755-76313-36 million

World War I1914-191815-22 million

Dungan Revolt1862-18778-12 million

Russian Civil War1917-19215-9 million

Napoleonic Wars1803-18153.5-6 million

Korean War1950-19532.5-5 million

Vietnam War1955-19751.5-4 million

Current wars and crises in the world

According to various sources and estimates, some of the most active and severe wars and crises in the world today are:


Syrian civil war2011-present400,000-600,00013.5 million

Yemeni civil war2014-present100,000-230,00024 million

Afghan conflict1978-present1.2-2 million6 million

Rohingya crisis2016-present10,000-25,0001.2 million

Sahel conflict2012-present20,000-30,0005 million

Tigray conflict2020-present5,000-10,0002 million

Myanmar coup d'état2021-present1,000-2,000230,000

Conclusion and FAQs

In conclusion, war is a complex and devastating phenomenon that has shaped human history and society. War can have various definitions, types, causes, and effects, depending on the context and the actors involved. War can also be prevented or reduced by various means, such as arms control, diplomacy, international law, institutions, nonviolent resistance, and dialogue. War is not inevitable or irreversible, and humans have the potential and the responsibility to create a more peaceful and just world.

Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about war and peace:

  • What is the difference between war and violence?

War is a specific form of violence that involves organized and often prolonged armed conflict between political groups. Violence is a broader term that refers to any intentional use of physical force or power that causes or threatens to cause harm to oneself or others. Violence can take various forms, such as interpersonal violence, collective violence, self-directed violence, or structural violence.

  • What is the difference between war and terrorism?

War is a form of collective violence that involves armed conflict between states or non-state actors. Terrorism is a form of asymmetric violence that involves the use of violence or threat of violence by non-state actors to achieve political, religious, or ideological goals by creating fear or coercion among a target population. Terrorism can be part of a war or independent of it.

  • What is the difference between war and peace?

War is a state of armed conflict that involves violence, disruption, and destruction. Peace is a state of harmony that involves cooperation, coordination, and justice. Peace can be negative or positive. Negative peace refers to the absence of war or direct violence. Positive peace refers to the presence of social justice and human rights.

  • What are the main causes of war?

There is no single or simple answer to this question, as war can have multiple and interrelated causes that vary across time and space. However, some general factors that can influence the likelihood of war are biological and psychological factors (such as aggression and cooperation), social and political factors (such as identity and interest), and environmental factors (such as resources and climate).

  • What are the main effects of war?

War can have significant and lasting effects on human lives and well-being, as well as on the natural environment. War can cause death, injury, disease, displacement, trauma, poverty, hunger, illiteracy, inequality, oppression, corruption, crime, terrorism, and human rights violations. War can also damage or destroy infrastructure, resources, biodiversity, ecosystems, climate, and heritage.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article and learned something new about war and peace. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to share them below. Thank you for your attention and interest.


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