Specifically, about 65% of Israeli millennials and about 52% of Palestinian millennials are pessimistic in terms of their views on the prospects for peace,according to ICRC’s “Millennials on War” survey.
Moreover, out of the people surveyed in countries affected by war, they are the least optimistic. The survey showed that in other war-torn regions, an average of only three out of 10 millennials believe the war in their country/territory will never end.
People in Ukraine and Syria are most optimistic, as 69% and 60% believe the wars in their home countries are likely to end in the next five years. The ICRC survey of more than 16,000 millennials between the ages of 20 and 35 in 16 countries was conducted between June 1 and October 7, 2019, by the market-research company Ipsos, which used a mixed-methods design.
The countries included in the study were Afghanistan, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, Syria, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Quotas were set depending on age, gender, region and type of settlement, in order to ensure that the sample effectively represented the millennial population structures in the respective countries and territories.
Commissioned by the ICRC, the survey explores their views on conflict, the future of warfare and the values underpinning international humanitarian law. It is a follow-up to the committee’s 2016 poll “People on War,” which highlighted worrying trends, in decreasing respect for the laws of armed conflict.
“Millennials are the politicians, decision-makers, strategists and opinion-makers of tomorrow,” said ICRC president Peter Maurer in his introduction. “What they think about war today could give insight into the direction of the world in the future.”
The new survey shows that terrorism, as well as wars and armed conflict, are considered by millennials to be among the top five most important issues affecting people around the world today, from a list of 12 global challenges. About 47% of respondents said terrorism is a main concern, and 45% said wars and conflict.
Respondents were asked to select all that apply.
For millennials living in countries and territories affected by conflict, and who have personal experience of war, the challenges of terrorism and war were ranked even higher – each at 50%.
In Israel, 65% of Israelis and 53% of Palestinians said they have had direct experience with war and armed conflict, ranging from participation in combat to being wounded, forced to leave their home, losing contact with a relative or other related scenarios. In contrast, only one in four millennials, about 27%, said they had such experiences across all 16 countries and territories.
Almost every Syrian millennial interviewed has experienced conflict, which is 96%.
Nearly three-quarters of millennials surveyed, 74%, believe that most wars could be avoided. In Israel and the Palestinian territories, 69% of Israelis and 40% of Palestinians believe that wars and armed conflict could be avoided.
However, most millennials do not believe that war will be avoided. “Millennials appear to see cataclysmic war as a real likelihood in their lifetime,” wrote Maurer. Nearly half, 47%, of millennials think a third world war is likely in their lifetime, and 42% of millennials from countries at peace are pessimistic, believing that they are “somewhat” or even “very” likely to be affected by war or armed conflict in the future.
This includes most millennials, who believe there will be a nuclear attack in the next decade. About half, 51%, do not think they will be affected.
When it comes to the rules of war, the ICRC asked about the importance of the Geneva Conventions, a series of international agreements that impose limits on the ways in which wars and armed conflicts may be fought. These conventions were drawn up after World War II, and all countries have now signed on to them.
When asked if there is still a need to impose limits on the way wars and armed conflicts may be fought, some 75% of respondents said yes. But many millennials, including in Israel, do not think the Geneva Conventions are effective. More than half, 53%, of Israelis feel that the conventions make no real difference. The same percentage of Syrians agreed that they do not achieve their desired impact.
Moreover, the report shows a growing lack of respect for the basic human values which are enshrined in international law, as 41% of millennials believe that torture is acceptable under some circumstances, and 15% believe that combatants should do whatever it takes to win wars regardless of civilian casualties generated.
Millennials overwhelmingly oppose the use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, 81%, under any circumstances. However, in Israel and the United States, some millennials, 18% and 22% respectively, believe that the use of nuclear weapons is acceptable under some circumstances.
“These results indicate a significant level of fear that in the future, there will be more, not fewer, wars,” Maurer said. “They reveal a worrying acceptance of dehumanizing language or actions toward perceived or real ‘enemies’ that is prevailing in an era of fake news, disinformation and polarized viewpoints.
“It’s no surprise that millennials struggle with these difficult issues,” he continued. “Dehumanization in public discourse has, for example, led to those connected to the Islamic State group being depicted as people to be ‘annihilated’ or ‘exterminated,’ without either compassion or legal process.
“This discourse does not bring solutions,” he said. “In fact, it victimizes individuals and entrenches societal divisions, which can fuel future violence.”
Maurer noted that things are not likely to get easier for millennials, yet the younger generation has an important role to play in determining how conflicts will be fought.
“It is vital that we all do what we can to reinforce their belief in the norms of humanity, in innovative ways that resonate with their values,” ICRC’s president said. “This is particularly true in countries experiencing or at risk of violence and conflict, but also on a global level, in order to foster a supportive environment in which humanitarian values can prevail.”