It has been my custom, during the Christmas season, to look at how "peace on earth" has fared during the past year. The good news is that violence has abated in places like Northern Ireland, Bosnia, and Kosovo. But the areas where there has been no dependable peace make up a list not calculated to lead to a great deal of good cheer.
There is some consolation this year in that there have been no wholesale massacres such as we have witnessed in previous years in Rwanda and East Timor. There have also been no major interstate wars. But the National Defense Council Foundation, a private organization in Alexandria, Va., which keeps tabs on lethal conflicts around the world, figures that this year will end up with a few more than the 65 it counted in 1999.
A few examples of the killing fields of 2000:
*Fighting continues in Burundi, where more than 200,000 have been killed since 1993.
*In Angola, one-quarter of the country's 13 million people have been forced to flee their homes since the civil war started on the eve of independence in 1975. And, in all of the African continent, 1 in 5 people lives in an area disrupted by conflict. Tens of thousands have been killed in Sierra Leone.
*In the Philippines this year, more than 200 guerrillas were killed in a civil war.
*Nearly 350 people were killed in the three-month outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
*Cross-border skirmishes between Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) have claimed hundreds of lives.
*In Afghanistan, a last-ditch struggle against the ruling Taliban has led to many deaths, although there are no reliable figures.
*In the civil war in Colombia, 42 police and soldiers were released by insurgents as a Christmas gesture, but 2,500 remain captive.
*In the Basque region of Spain, 22 citizens have been killed by insurgent hit-squads.
*And in Chechnya, the secessionist republic of Russia, the war goes on, and on, and on.
Most of the killing has been within countries rather than between countries. The end of the cold war a decade ago diminished the chances of a war between great powers, but released some of the controls that superpowers once exercised over their clients.
There is no reason to be sanguine about the future. The CIA's National Intelligence Council, looking ahead to 2015, sees more trouble on the horizon.
It sees interstate wars, though perhaps fewer, growing in deadliness because of the availability of more destructive technologies. Think of the weapons of mass destruction that Iraq is probably developing. Think of India and Pakistan, both with nuclear weapons, in a bitter quarrel over Kashmir.
The intelligence report sees more internal conflicts that will be "vicious, long-lasting and difficult to terminate." It sees weak states with porous borders that will be breeding grounds for terrorism.
Peace on earth remains an ardent hope for the future.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society