Refer to Part I for the reasons behind the rapidly declining proportion of warfare being conducted in the world as time progresses. As more nations achieve prosperity and democracy, the costs of war outweigh the benefits.
To predict the future risk of major wars, we can begin by assessing the state of some of the largest and/or riskiest countries in the world. Success at achieving democracy and a per-capita GDP greater that $10,000/yr are highlighted in green. We can also throw in the UN Human Development Index, which is a composite of these two factors, and track the rate of progress of the HDI over the last 30 years. In general, countries with scores greater than 0.850 have met the aforementioned requirements of prosperity and democracy. There are many more countries with a score greater than 0.850 today than there were in 1975.
Let's see how some select countries stack up.
China : The per-capita income is rapidly closing in on the $10,000/yr threshold, but democracy is a distant dream. I have stated that China will see a sharp economic slowdown in the next 10 years unless they permit more personal freedoms, and thus nurture entrepreneurship. Technological forces will continue to pressure the Chinese Communist Party, and if this transition is moderately painless, the ripple effects will be seen in many other communist or autocratic states that China supports, and will move the world strongly towards greater peace and freedom. The single biggest question for the world is whether China's transition happens without major shocks or bloodshed. I am optimistic, as I believe the CCP is more interested in economic gain than clinging to an ideology and one-party rule, which is a sharp contrast from the Mao era where 40 million people died over ideology-driven economic schemes. Cautiously optimistic.
India : A secular democracy has existed for a long time, but economic growth lagged far behind. Now, India is catching up, and will soon be a bulwark for democracy and stability for the whole world. India is only now realizing how much the world will depend on it. Very optimistic.
Russia : A lack of progress in the HDI is worrisome. It could yet undo the peaceful transition from the Soviet system that the world benefit from. Hopefully, energy and technology industries can help Russia increase its population growth rate, and up its HDI. Cautiously optimistic.
Indonesia : With more Muslims than the entire Middle East put together, Indonesia took a large step towards democracy in 1999 (improving its HDI score), and is doing moderately well economically. Economic growth needs to accelerate in order to cross $10,000/yr by 2020. Cautiously optimistic.
Pakistan : The divergence between the paths of India and Pakistan has been recognized by the US, and Pakistan, with over 50 nuclear warheads, is also where Osama bin Laden and thousands of other terrorists are currently hiding. Any major terrorist attack will inevitably be traced to individuals operating in Pakistan, which has regressed from democracy to dictatorship, and is teetering on the edge of religious fundamentalism. The economy is growing quickly, however, and this is the only hope of averting a disaster. Pessimistic.
Iraq : Although Iraq is not a large country, its importance to the world is disproportionately significant. Bordering so many other non-democratic nations, if Iraq can succeed, the pressure on its neighbors to adapt will be immense. The destiny of the US is also interwined with Iraq, as the outcome of the current War in Iraq will determine the ability of America to take any other action, against any other nation, in the future. Cautiously optimistic, but depends on America's resolve.
Iran : Many would be surprised to learn that Iran is actually not all that poor, and the Iranian people have enough to lose that they are not keen on a large war against a powerful coalition. However, the autocratic regime that keeps the Iranian people suppressed has brutally quashed democratic movements. The secret to turning Iran into a democracy is its neighbor, Iraq. If Iraq can succeed, the pressure on Iran exerted by Internet access and globalization next door will be immense. This will continue to nibble at the edges of Iranian society, and the regime will collapse before 2015 even without a US invasion. If Iran's leadership insists on a confrontation over their nuclear program, the regime will collapse even sooner. Cautiously optimistic, pending Iraq.
So Iraq really is a keystone state, and the struggle to prevail over the forces that would derail democracy has major repurcussions for many nations. The US, and the world, cannot afford for Iraq to fail. If we succeed, the world of 2015 will have stamped out belligerence from yet another formerly notorious region. At this point, all remaining roads to disastrous tragedy lead to Pakistan.
As long as Pervez Musharaff runs Pakistan, he may manage to keep it from flying apart into fanatical fragments. But the fact that the father of Pakistan's nuclear program was selling nuclear secrets, and that the likes of Osama bin Laden have found sanctuary in Pakistan, makes for a very worrisome combination. The ultimate 'day of infamy' could be upon us long before Pakistan has any chance of attempting to restore democracy or achieving economic prosperity.
But smaller-scale terrorism is nothing new. It just was not taken as seriously back when nations were fighting each other in much larger conflicts. The 1983 Beirut bombing that killed 241 Americans did not dominate the news for more than two weeks, as it was during the far more serious Cold War. Today, the absence of wars between nations brings terrorism into the spotlight that it could not have previously secured.
Wars against terrorism are a paradigm shift, because where a war like World War II involved symmetrical warfare between declared armies, the War on Terror involves asymmetrical warfare in both directions. Neither party has yet gained a full understanding of the power it has over the other.
A few terrorists with a small budget can kill thousands of innocents without confronting a military force. Guerilla warfare can tie down the mighty US military for years until the public grows weary of the stalemate, even while the US cannot permit itself to use more than a tiny fraction of its power in retaliation. Developed nations spend vastly more money on political and media activites centered around the mere discussion of terrorism than the terrorists themselves need to finance a major attack on these nations.
At the same time, pervasively spreading Internet access, satellite television, and consumer brands continue to disseminate globalization and lure the attention of young people in terrorist states. This unrelentingly and irreversibly erodes the fabric of pre-modern fanaticism at almost no cost to the US and other free nations. The efforts by fascist regimes to obstruct the mists of the information ethersphere from entering their societies is so futile as to be comical. Bidirectional asymmetry is the new nature of war, and the side that learns how to harness the asymmetrical advantage it has over the other is the side that will win.
It is the wage of prosperous, happy societies to be envied, hated, and forced to withstand threats that they cannot reciprocate back onto the enemy. The US has overcome foes as formidable as the Axis Powers and the Soviet Union, yet we appear to be at a stalemate against a pre-modern, unprofessional band of deviants that does not even have the resources of a small nation and has not invented a single technology. The new war is thus ultimately not with the terrorists, but with ourselves - our complacency, short attention spans, and propensity for fashionable ignorance over the lessons of history. Whether we awaken to the advantages we do have over our enemies before or after the terrorists get a bit too lucky and kill a million of us in a day remains to be seen.