Monitoring Trends in Global Combat: A New Dataset of Battle Deaths

  • Bethany LacinaEmail author
  • Nils Petter Gleditsch


Both academic publications and public media often make inappropriate use of incommensurate conflict statistics, creating misleading impressions about patterns in global warfare. This article clarifies the distinction between combatant deaths, battle deaths, and war deaths. A new dataset of battle deaths in armed conflict is presented for the period 1946–2002. Global battle deaths have been decreasing over most of this period, mainly due to a decline in interstate and internationalised civil armed conflict. It is far more difficult to accurately assess the number of war deaths in conflicts both past and present. But there are compelling reasons to believe that there is a need for increased attention to non-battle causes of mortality, especially displacement and disease in conflict studies. Therefore, it is demographers, public health specialists, and epidemiologists who can best describe the true human cost of many recent armed conflicts and assess the actions necessary to reduce that toll.

Key words

battle deaths casualties combat mortality conflict war deaths 


Que ce soit dans les publications de recherche ou les médias, l’usage de statistiques disproportionnées sur les victimes de conflits donne souvent une image déformée des conséquences des opérations de guerre. Cet article distingue les morts de combattants, des victimes des combats et des victimes de guerre. Il présente un nouvel ensemble de données sur les décès dus aux combats sur la période 1946 à 2002. Le total des décès dus aux combats a diminué sur presque toute la période du fait d’une réduction des conflits internationaux et entre états. Il est beaucoup plus difficile d’estimer le nombre total de décès dus à la guerre dans les conflits passés ou présents. Mais il y a de fortes raisons de croire qu’il est nécessaire, dans les études sur les conflits, de porter une plus grande attention aux causes de décès non directement dues aux combats, notamment celles liées au déplacement des populations et à la diffusion de maladies. C’est pourquoi ce sont les démographes, les spécialistes de santé publique et les épidémiologistes qui sont le plus à même d’estimer le véritable coût humain de beaucoup de conflits récents et d’identifier les actions nécessaires à la réduction de ce fardeau.

Mots clés

décès au combat décès de guerre conflit mortalité au combat pertes militaires 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Anušaukas, A. 2000 ‘A comparison of the armed struggles for independence in the Baltic States and Western Ukraine’Anušaukas, A. eds. The Anti-Soviet Resistance in the Baltic States.VilniusDu Ka6370Google Scholar
  2. Ball, P., Kobrak, P., Spirer, H. F. 1999State Violence in Guatemala, 1960American Association for the Advancement of ScienceAnnapolis, MDGoogle Scholar
  3. Benini, A. A., Moulton, L. H. 2004‘The distribution of civilian victims in an asymmetrical conflict: Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan’Journal of Peace Research41403422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bercovitch, J., Jackson, R. 1997‘International Conflict: a Chronological Encyclopedia of Conflicts and their Management 1945–1995’Congressional QuarterlyWashington, DCGoogle Scholar
  5. Black, R., Morris, S., Bryce, J. 2003‘Where and why are 10 million children dying every year?’Lancet36122262234CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Brogan, P. 1998World ConflictsScarecrowLanham, MDGoogle Scholar
  7. Brunborg, H., Lyngstad, T. H., Urdal, H. 2003‘Accounting for genocide: how many were killed in Srebrenica?’European Journal of Population19229248Google Scholar
  8. Centre for Human Security, 2004. Deadly connections: the war/disease nexus workshop Report, Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia, Scholar
  9. Chesterman, S. 2001‘Introduction: global norms, local contexts’Chesterman, S. eds. Civilians in WarLynne RiennerBoulder, COGoogle Scholar
  10. Clodfelter, M. 2002Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Reference to Casualty and Other Figures, 1500–2000McFarlandJefferson, NC.Google Scholar
  11. Collier, P., Elliott, L., Hegre, H., Hoeffler, A., Reynal-Querol, M., Sambanis, N. 2003Breaking the Conflict Trap: Civil War and Development PolicyOxford University PressOxfordGoogle Scholar
  12. Dunlop, J. 2000‘How many soldiers and civilians died during the Russo-Chechen war of 1994–1996?’Central Asian Survey19329339CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Eckhardt, W. 1996 ‘Wars and war-related deaths, 1900–1995’Sivard, R. L. eds. World Military and Social Expenditures 1996World PrioritiesWashington, DC1719Google Scholar
  14. Elbe, S. 2002‘HIV/AIDS and the changing landscape of war in Africa’International Security27159177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fearon, J. D., Laitin, D. D. 2001‘Ethnicity, insurgency, and civil war’American Political Science Review977590Google Scholar
  16. Fearon, J. D., Laitin, D. D. 2004‘Neotrusteeship and the problem of weak states’International Security28543CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Feil, Col. S. R. 1998Preventing Genocide: How the Early Use of Force might have Succeeded in RwandaCarnegie Corporation of New YorkWashington, DCGoogle Scholar
  18. Ghobarah, H.A., Huth, P.K., Russett, B. 2003‘Civil wars kill and maim people–long after the shooting stops’American Political Science Review97189202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ghosn, F. and Palmer, G., 2003. Militarized interstate dispute data, version 3.0, Correlates of War 2 Project, Scholar
  20. Gleditsch, N. P., Wallensteen, P., Eriksson, M., Sollenberg, M., Strand, H. 2002‘Armed conflict 1946–2001: a new dataset’Journal of Peace Research39615637Google Scholar
  21. Harbom, L., Wallensteen, P. 2005‘Armed conflict and its international dimensions, 1946–2004’Journal of Peace Research42623635CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Harff, B. 2003‘No lessons learned from the holocaust? Assessing risks of genocide and political mass murder since 1955’American Political Science Review975773Google Scholar
  23. Harff, B., Gurr, T. R. 1988‘Toward empirical theory of genocides and politicides: identification and measurement of cases since 1945’International Studies Quarterly32359371Google Scholar
  24. Hegre, H., Ellingsen, T., Gleditsch, N. P., Gates, S. 2001‘Towards a democratic civil peace? Democracy, political change and civil war, 1816–1992’American Political Science Review953348Google Scholar
  25. Henderson, E. 2002Democracy and War: The End of an IllusionLynne RiennerBoulder, COGoogle Scholar
  26. Hull, I. V. 2003 ‘Military culture and the production of final solutions in the colonies: the example of Wilhelminian Germany’Gellately, R.Kiernan, B. eds. The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical PerspectiveCambridge University PressCambridge141162Google Scholar
  27. International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2003. Armed conflict database, International Institute for Strategic Studies, Scholar
  28. Kalyvas, S., 2004. Techniques of violence in Greece and Vietnam. Unpublished paper presented at the Workshop on Techniques of Violence in Civil War, Centre for the Study of Civil War, PRIO, Oslo, 20–21 AugustGoogle Scholar
  29. Keefe, P. R. 2004‘Iraq: America’s private armies’The New York Review of BooksLI4850Google Scholar
  30. Krug, E. G., Dahlberg, L. L., Mercy, J. A., Zwi, A. B. and Lozano, R., 2002. World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva: World Health OrganizationGoogle Scholar
  31. Lacina, B., Gleditsch, N. P. and Russett, B., 2005. The declining risk of death in battle. Unpublished paper presented at the 2005 Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, Honolulu, HI, 1–5 March, Scholar
  32. Laffin, J. 1994The World in Conflict: War Annual 6Brassey’sLondonGoogle Scholar
  33. Leitenberg, M. 2003Death in Wars and Conflicts Between 1945 and 2000Cornell UniversityIthaca, NYGoogle Scholar
  34. Li, Quan, Ming, Wen 2005‘The immediate and lingering effects of armed conflict on adult mortality: a time-series cross-national analysis’Journal of Peace Research42471492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mack, A. (ed.), 2005. Human Security Report. New York: Oxford University Press, two volumes, in pressGoogle Scholar
  36. Mueller, J. 1995‘The perfect enemy: assessing the Gulf War’Security Studies577117Google Scholar
  37. Mueller, J. 2003‘Policing the remnants of war’Journal of Peace Research40507518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Murdoch, J. C., Sandler, T. 2002‘Economic growth, civil wars, and spatial spillovers’Journal of Conflict Resolution4691110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Murray, Ch. J. L., King, G., Lopez, A. D., Tomijima, N., Krug, E. G. 2002‘Armed conflict as a public health problem’BMJ324346349CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Pakenham, T. 1992The Scramble for Africa, 1876–1912Weidenfeld and NicolsonLondonGoogle Scholar
  41. Project Ploughshares, 2003. Armed conflicts report 2003, Project Ploughshares, Scholar
  42. Roberts, L. 2000Mortality in Eastern DRC: Results from Five Mortality SurveysInternational Rescue CommitteeBukavu/New YorkGoogle Scholar
  43. Roberts, L., Hale, Ch., Belyakdoumi, F., Cobey, L., Ondeko, R., Despines, M., IRC DRC Bukavu/Kisangani and Keys, J., 2001. Mortality in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo: Results from Eleven Mortality Surveys. Bukavu/New York: International Rescue CommitteeGoogle Scholar
  44. Roberts, L., Ngoy, P., Mone, C., Lubula, Ch., Mwezse, L., Zantop, M. and Despines, M., 2003. Mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Results from a Nationwide Survey. Bukavu/New York: International Rescue CommitteeGoogle Scholar
  45. Roberts, L., Lafta, R., Garfield, R., Khudhairi, J., Burnham, G. 2004‘Mortality before and after the invasion of Iraq in 2003’The Lancet36418571864CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rummel, R. J. 1997Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder since 1900Transaction PublishersRutgers, NJGoogle Scholar
  47. Sarkees, M. R. 2000‘The Correlates of War data on war: an update to 1997’Conflict Management and Peace Science18123144Google Scholar
  48. Sarkees, M. R., Wayman, F. W., Singer, J. D. 2003‘Inter-state, intra-state, and extra-state wars: a comprehensive look at their distribution over time, 1816–1997’International Studies Quarterly474970CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Schabas, W. A. 2001Introduction to the International Criminal CourtCambridge University PressCambridgeGoogle Scholar
  50. Sivard, R. L. 1996World Military and Social Expenditures 1996World PrioritiesWashington, DCGoogle Scholar
  51. Sliwinski, M. 1989‘Afghanistan: the decimation of a people’Orbis333956PubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Snow, D. M. 1996Uncivil Wars: International Security and the New Internal ConflictsLynne RiennerBoulder, COGoogle Scholar
  53. State Failure Task Force, 2003. State failure problem set, 1955–2001. Center for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland and Integrated Network for Societal Conflict Research, Scholar
  54. Strand, H., Wilhelmsen, L. and Gleditsch, N. P., in cooperation with Wallensteen, P., Eriksson, M. and Sollenberg, M., 2003. Armed conflict dataset codebook, version 2.0.: International Peace Research Institute, Scholar
  55. Sutton, M., 2001. An index of deaths from the conflict in Northern Ireland. ARK: Northern Ireland Social and Political Archive: Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN), Scholar
  56. United Nations, 1996. The United Nations and Somalia, 19921996. United Nations, New York: Department of Public InformationGoogle Scholar
  57. Valentino, B., Huth, P. K., Balch-Lindsay, D. 2004‘Draining the sea: mass killing and guerilla warfare’International Organization58375407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Verwimp, P. 2003‘Testing the double-genocide thesis for Central and Southern Rwanda’Journal of Conflict Resolution47423442CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Walzer, M., 1977. ‘Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations’. New York: Basic BooksGoogle Scholar
  60. Wiharta, S., Anthony, I. 2003‘Major armed conflicts’, in: SIPRI Yearbook 2003: World Armaments and DisarmamentOxford University PressOxford87125Google Scholar
  61. Wolfson, M., Smith, R. 1993‘How not to pay for the war’Defence Economics4299314Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stanford UniversityPalo AltoU.S.A.
  2. 2.Centre for the Study of Civil War (CSCW)International Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)OsloNorway
  3. 3.Norwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheim, Norway

Personalised recommendations