Majority of millennials see catastrophic war as real possibility, and believe there should be limits

International Committee of the Red Cross survey asked 16,000 millennials in 16 countries their views on war.

16 January 2020
Majority of millennials see catastrophic war as real possibility, and believe there should be limits

Geneva (ICRC) – Millennials see catastrophic war as a real likelihood in their lifetime. In fact, most millennials surveyed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) believe it is more likely than not that a nuclear attack will occur in the next decade.

A survey of more than 16,000 millennials in 16 countries and territories last year – roughly half in peace, half experiencing conflict – commissioned by the ICRC explored millennials' views on conflict, the future of warfare and the values underpinning international humanitarian law, such as the use of torture against enemy combatants.

The results indicate that millennials are nervous about the future, and heightened tensions globally are likely to deepen these fears.

A plurality of respondents, 47 percent, think it's more likely than not that there will be a third world war in their lifetime. And although 84 percent believe the use of nuclear weapons is never acceptable, 54 percent believe it is more likely than not that a nuclear attack will occur in the next decade.

"This millennial foreboding may reflect an increase in polarization and dehumanizing rhetoric," said ICRC President Peter Maurer. "If millennials are right about a third world war, the suffering of countries and regions will be immense. It's a reminder of how critical it is that the laws of war that protect humanity are followed now and in the future."

Encouragingly, 74 percent of millennials also believe that wars are avoidable, and nearly the same number (75 percent) think that limits must be imposed on how wars are fought.

However, the survey reveals worrying trends that point to a lack of respect for the basic human values enshrined in international law: 37 percent believe torture is acceptable under some circumstances – even after the UN convention banning torture is explained to them; and 15 percent believe that commanders should do whatever it takes to win, regardless of the civilian casualties generated.

One thing is clear: the survey showed that the experience of war makes people hate war. In Syria, 98 percent said it's never acceptable to use nuclear weapons; 96 percent said it's never acceptable to use chemical weapons; 96 percent said the same of biological weapons; and 85 percent believe captured enemy fighters should be allowed to contact their relatives. Those four responses were the highest of the survey's 16 countries.

"When you see your friends and family suffer the horrors of warfare, you want absolutely nothing to do with the weapons of war. The survey responses from millennials in Syria, Ukraine and Afghanistan confirm for us an obvious fact: the experience of war makes you hate war," Mr. Maurer said.

People in war-affected countries are more likely to believe that there will be fewer or no wars in the future, compared to respondents from countries at peace (46 percent vs 30 percent). The responses from countries at war also held a high degree of hope: 69 percent of respondents in Ukraine believe the war in their country is likely to end in the next five years.

Nuclear Weapons: The survey found ambiguity surrounding the issue of nuclear weapons: at least two-thirds of respondents in all 16 countries said that the use of nuclear weapons "is never acceptable," but a majority – 54 percent -- also believe there will be a nuclear attack in the next decade. Most respondents believe nuclear weapons should be banned (also 54 percent).

In Syria, 98 percent said the use of nuclear weapons is never acceptable, followed by Colombia (93 percent), Ukraine (92 percent) and Switzerland (92 percent). On the other end of the spectrum were the responses from Nigeria (68 percent) and the U.S. (73 percent).

Overall, four out of five respondents said that the existence of nuclear weapons is a threat to humanity; 64 percent of respondents said States with nuclear weapons should eliminate them.

Millennials' Top Concerns: Despite millennial respondents' views on a future nuclear strike, survey takers also said that nuclear weapons were the least concerning out of 12 issues. Corruption was the most concerning with 54 percent of respondents naming it; unemployment was next at 52 percent; increasing poverty and terrorism were next, both with 47 percent; and then war and armed conflict at 45 percent. Nuclear weapons were named by 24 percent.

Future of Combat: On the issue of future conflict, 36 percent of respondents said that autonomous drones and robots – those not controlled by humans – will increase the number of civilian casualties in wars and armed conflict; 32 percent said it would lower the number of civilian casualties and 24 percent said it would make no difference.

Civilian Casualties: 78 percent of respondents said combatants should avoid civilian casualties as much as possible. The number was higher in peacetime countries than conflict countries (83 percent vs. 73 percent).

Mental Health: Overall, 73 percent said that addressing mental health needs of victims of conflict is just as important as addressing food, water, and shelter. The highest response came from Syria at 87 percent; the lowest came from Israel at 60 percent.

Torture: 55 percent said that torturing an enemy combatant is never acceptable; the highest responses came from Syria and Colombia, both with 71 percent; the lowest responses came from Israel at 23 percent and Nigeria at 29 percent.

Geneva Conventions: 75 percent 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. Overall, 54 percent of respondents have heard of the Geneva Conventions, with the highest numbers in Syria (81 percent), Russia and Ukraine (both 76 percent), France (75 percent) and Switzerland (74 percent).


The 'Millennials on War' survey was commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross and carried out by Ipsos, which conducted the survey between 1st June and 7th October using a mixed method design; 16,288 interviews were completed amongst adults aged 20 to 35 living in the following 16 locations: Afghanistan, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Russia, South Africa, Syria, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, and the 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.

Note to editors: Complete country level data is available upon request. More survey data will be available by 16 January at: B-roll video of scenes from conflict and vox pop interviews of millennials from several countries will be available for broadcast use at

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For further information, please contact:

Anita Dullard (English), or +41 795 741 554
Juliette Ebele (French, English), or +41 22 730 32 06
Jason Straziuso (English), or +41 79 949 3512