CoMedia hot list: People: Pax
By email, 1/13/98
It was moments after New Years and someone asked "So what is good about 1998 so far?" After a number of champagne-inspired humorous answers an intriguing reply came, "There are no major wars raging". After some additional talking, it was discovered that this was the third consecutive New Years day for which this was true, preceded by over 60 years of major wars. No one would believe that the world has given up on war, but for more than statistical reasons, hopeful arguments can be made. But first the statistics:
This list is not complete, it covers only the largest conflicts in the last 60 years, defined as those with the most deaths. [As of last New Years the Stockholm Institute for Peace (?) listed 50 conflicts world wide, about half of them were in some form of cease fire or peace treaty, all but a handful had fewer total casualties than 50,000] Nor are all of these conflicts complete, fighting continues in Rwanda (tho on a much smaller scale) and East Timor. There is still the threat of conflict in Iraq. But viewed this way, there is clearly a trend towards decreasing causalities. While a longer time frame could be drawn, this one is relevant because it frames the lives of the vast majority of the people alive today - this is our memory of war.
Is it possible that war between states is ending? Many people say "No, humans have always had war and they always will". I find these arguments especially uncompelling. Until relatively recently, human societies have always had slaves, we don't do this anymore. Colonialism existed for centuries and it has now virtually died out. Wars long history is no proof it will continue to exist. Perhaps most compelling is what has grown to replacement war in many cases - non-violent revolution. The history is impressive:
Unlike the long history of more bloody war, this type of political change is a relatively new event historically - i am not aware of any non-violent revolutions of this scale taking place before the Indian Revolution. So if the purpose of war is to change governments unacceptable to the populace, there is a new, far less lethal solution which has changed the lives of almost 800 million people in the last 60 years.
There are other factors slowing our drift towards war. Europe has been the host of more wars than perhaps any other continent. And while it is little remembered for this, the European Union was formed after WWII with one of its two key founding principals being avoiding of war. In this the Union has been strikingly successful. The prospects for war in EU region of Europe are lower than anytime in perhaps 2000 years. As the economies become more linked, and especially as power becomes more centralized in Brussels, the prospects drop further. Should we rush to join the EU to reduce the chances of war? Hardly, the "peace dividend" as it is sometimes called in the post cold-war era, is available to most nations without giving up control of their economies and domestic policies. Switzerland and Norway have both refused to join the EU and they are extremely unlikely to be attacked militarily anytime soon.
The Gulf War is the new model for a successful major power war. It was blessed by the UN Security Council (US, UK, Russia, China and France). It was short (44 days of combat). It was low casualty from the allies perspective (about 150 troops from the multinational forces were killed, tho far more have since due to psychological problems leading to suicide, uranium weapons used in battle and injections given to protect troops from gas attacks). Few wars will satisfy these constraints and the constraints will limit the damage. The US could not continuing its attack inside of Iraq after Kuwait had been liberate, becuase of the UN. The mandate was to maintain old borders. Even tho many of these borders are arbitrary, they are becoming more "sticky" world wide, decreasing the chances of successful invasion of a neighboring state.
The break up of Yugoslaviais the other kind of large scale conflict. No country or pan-national organization (NATO, the EU, the UN) was willing to step into this conflict for almost 6 years. This was in part because the risk of failure was felt to be too high, fearing another prolonged Vietnam or Afghanistan type conflict. Another component was the lack of resource wealth of the region, were a similar situation occurring in Saudi Arabia, external intervention would certainly have been quicker. Ultimately, NATO did use the superior military hardware of the US and partitioned the country, somewhat similarly to the manor in which Germany was split after WWII. Thus any political or military leader considering aggression must consider the strong chance that outside parties with superiour force will intervene and reduce their benefits of war. These multinational peace keeping forces are the fastest growing and the largest part of the UNs current operations. While they are often mismanaged, they tend to defuse tensions and are another major brake to war. At the same time, military spending world wide is slowly starting to decrease, with the most dangerous weapons systems, nuclear weapons, being cut the most drastically.
But these geopolitical forces are less important than the transformation which has taken hold of our societies since WWII. Virtually every democracy promotes tolerance of different races and ethnic groups. While far right parties should not be underestimated, in part because of the terrible costs of these policies, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that they will be able to control governments (at least in Europe and North America) and take them into these kinds of large scale wars.
Women play a central role in moving our societies away from militarism. In 4 of the G-7 states (US, Canada, UK and France), in the most recent elections, women have been the significant majority of the electorate which has forced out conservative pro-military governments in favor of more liberal ones. Women are less willing to sacrifice a countries children for its "national security interests". This kind of mentality is also moving thru both government and corporations as women slowly gain greater power in these institutions.
There is still much work to do. The plans to expand NATO into eastern Europe are a termendous misallotation of resources, offering virtually no additional security. And as militarism fades, we need to be sure it is not replaced with economic globalization, with its social and environemntally destablizing effects.
We should however celibrate another new year without a major war. And take advantage that this historic opportunity is creating to build a new society which is both more fair and peaceful.
Web pages on the World at War