The Declining Risk of Death in Battle


  • Authors' note: Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Stanford Workshop in International Relations, the 46th Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, Honolulu, HI, March 2–5, 2005, and the Third General Conference of the European Consortium for Political Research, Budapest, September 8–10, 2005. All data and computer routines used here are available at The fatalities data are available at


A recent article using the new Correlates of War (COW) data on the distribution of interstate, intrastate, and extrastate wars from 1816 to 1997 claims there was a relatively constant risk of death in battle during that time. We show that the authors' information is skewed by irregularities in the COW deaths data, and contest their pessimistic interpretation. Using revised information on battle deaths from 1900 to 2002 we demonstrate that the risk of death in battle by no means followed a flat line, but rather declined significantly after World War II and again after the end of the Cold War. Future users should note that the deaths data collected for the three conflict types by COW are not comparable, and using them as such tends to underestimate the share of fatalities due to major interstate conflicts.