War on war
The newly established North America office of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute directed by Chantal de Jonge Oudraat yesterday hosted discussion of the statistical decline of armed conflict and whether it will continue. Moderated by Sissela Bok, presenters were Peter Wallensteen of Uppsala University and Joshua Goldstein of American University, author of the recently published Winning the War on War. The presenters and audience took as undisputed the uneven statistical decline of war since 1945, with a further dip after 1989.
Wallensteen attributed this mainly to better management of conflict, especially through the UN Security Council after 1989, and increased attention to rights, minorities and human dignity. There is no increase in ethnic or one-sided conflicts that would muddy the statistical picture. With war declining, other security concerns have emerged: terrorism, state fragility and state failure. Wallensteen thought the future looks promising if major powers continue to cooperate, security concerns remain limited, welfare economics has priority and human dignity is central to international concerns. It is possible to envision zero conflicts in the future.
While not so sure about the zero conflict vision, Goldstein mostly agreed. He debunked three causes for the decline in war:
- nuclear weapons, because their number is decreasing sharply, without triggering an increase in war,
- U.S. hegemony, because it too is declining without triggering an increase, and
- democracy, because China has been peaceful but not democratic.
He supported three other causes:
- normative disapproval of war and growth of the idea that peace is good, a view also advocated by Steven Pinker;
- increases in prosperity, trade and global interdependence, which is what keeps the Chinese leadership out of war, since it derives its legitimacy from prosperity;
- UN and other conflict management capacity, including increased use of peacekeeping.
Americans, Goldstein noted, on average pay $700 per month for U.S. defense and veterans benefits but only $2 per month for the UN. Eighty per cent of Americans support the UN. Doubling its budget would clearly bring real benefits. When will politicians realize this?
The presenters were too polite to mention it, but there is a great irony for Americans in the decline of war: our armed forces have been active in conflict zones every year since 1989. While much of the rest of the world has enjoyed relative peace, we have been expending trillions of dollars on less than fully successful military enterprises in Iraq and Afghanistan. This, too, is something for our politicians to ponder.