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Millennials think World War Three is likely in their lifetime

16 January 2020

Almost half of all millennials think it’s more likely than not there will be a third world war in their lifetime, a new Red Cross survey finds. 

That’s the result of a global survey of 16,000 millennials on their attitudes to war, conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). An Australian Red Cross survey conducted in parallel found war and climate change top Australians’ list of global concerns. 

Yvette Zegenhagen, Head of International Humanitarian Law at Australian Red Cross, said it was revealing that Australians of all ages think that the most important issues faced by the world are war and climate change; more critical than unemployment, healthcare and terrorism.  

The ICRC ‘Millennials on War’ report is a snapshot of the top concerns of millennials surveyed in 16 countries and territories at peace and at war around the world. Seven countries surveyed were experiencing armed conflict, including Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Colombia. Nine peacetime countries surveyed included the United States, United Kingdom and France.  

“Our global survey reveals that millennials are nervous about their future and see cataclysmic war as a real likelihood in their lifetime,” said Yves Daccord, Director-General of the ICRC. “It is very concerning that almost half of all millennials think it’s more likely than not that there will be a third world war in their lifetime.”  

An overwhelming number of Australians surveyed also said that there is a need to impose limits on the way wars are fought, suggesting strong support for the values which help the Red Cross around the world to protect and assist victims of war and armed violence.  

Ms Zegenhagen said it was heartening that more than three in five Australians believe that the laws of war, underpinned by the Geneva Conventions, reduce suffering in armed conflicts.  

“The global results show that the majority (54%) of millennials think that the Geneva Conventions reduce suffering in war. Our survey results also confirm that Australians demonstrate even greater commitment to these values, with three out of five (59%) millennials believing that the laws of war make a difference and reduce suffering,” she said. 

The survey does, however, reveal a worrying trend that points to a lack of respect for some aspects of the laws of war, with the survey finding that more than one in four Australians (27%) believe that torturing an enemy soldier for information is acceptable despite torture being illegal under international law. 

“It’s reassuring that most Australians think it’s never acceptable to torture Australian or enemy soldiers and that Australia scores lowest among all 17 countries in finding torture acceptable,” Ms Zegenhagen said.  

“However, it is alarming to find that more Australians believe it is acceptable to torture enemy soldiers than when we asked this question three years ago.”  

Overall, according to Mr Daccord, millennials living in countries at war hope for a brighter future and are willing to stand up for humanity, with three out of four people (74%) aged 20 to 35 thinking that most wars could be avoided.   

“Millennials and youth are fighters in current and future conflicts. The future is in their hands,” Mr Daccord said.  

“It’s vital for us to reinforce their belief in the norms of humanity and to encourage values which help us to protect and assist victims of war and armed violence.” 

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Additional key findings

  • The most important issues facing the world today according to all Australians: War and armed conflict (57%), followed by climate change (55%), terrorism (54%), increasing poverty (52%) and poor health care (50%).
  • The most important issues facing the world today according to Australian millennials: Climate change (60%), unemployment (51%), poor health care (48%) increasing poverty (45%), war and armed conflicts (45%).
  • The most important issues facing the world today according to millennials globally: Corruption (54%), unemployment (52%), increasing poverty (47%), terrorism (47%), war and armed conflict (45%).
  • Nearly one in three (29%) Australians of all ages as well as millennials believe that autonomous weapons and drones – those not controlled by humans – will increase the number of civilian casualties in war; whereas one in five Australians (20%) compared with nearly one in four millennials (23%) believe that if autonomous weapons and drones replace human combatants in the future, it will lower the number of civilian casualties in war.
  • Nearly one in three (30%) Australian millennials believe that climate change is making war and conflicts more likely compared with one in four (25%) of all Australians, with less than one in 30 people (3%) thinking climate change is making wars and armed conflicts less likely and nearly one in two (47%) believing that climate change is making no difference to wars and armed conflicts.

Further global millennials on war survey findings

  • More than one in three (36%) of millennials believe that autonomous drones and robots – those not controlled by humans – will increase the number of civilian casualties in wars and armed conflict; whereas less than one in three (32%) say it would lower the number of civilian casualties and one in four (24%) think it would make no difference.
  • Overall, close to three out of four (73%) millennials say that addressing mental health needs of victims of conflict is just as important as addressing physical medical needs. The highest response came from Syria (87%) compared with the lowest in France (63%).
  • Globally, a majority (54%) of millennials believe torturing an enemy combatant is never acceptable
  • Three-in-four (74%) think that 70 years after the creation of the Geneva Conventions, there remains a need to impose limits on the ways wars can be fought.

Survey methodology

The Australian survey: An Ipsos online omnibus with an Australia Nationally Representative Sample of 1,042 Interviews, including 319 Millennials aged 18–35 years, was conducted between 16 and 20 October 2019.

The global ‘Millennials on War’ survey was commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross and carried out by Ipsos. Between 1 June and 7 October 2019, Ipsos conducted the survey using a mixed method design; 16,288 interviews were completed amongst adults aged 20 to 35 living in the following 16 countries: Afghanistan, Colombia, Israel, Palestine, Nigeria, Syria, Ukraine, France, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States. Quotas were set on age, gender, region and type of settlement in order to ensure that the sample represents the Millennials population structures well by these variables in respective countries.