Is War Becoming Obsolete?

The Governments of the States Parties to this Constitution on behalf of their peoples declare: That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed;” in Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 1945)

Let us assume that the countries represented in the UNESCO have gotten it right and war begins in the  minds of men. And if it is there that it must end, how must we convince men not to wage war anymore?

The answer on how to teach men not to wage war might be Time. As dueling and slavery became obsolescent, so should war, as it is argued by John Mueller.

Wars require public support but they make it difficult for that support to be harnessed in the future. Wars take a heavy toll on a country’s population, not only in terms of casualties, especially on the younger generations, but also through its economic hardships that can last for decades (see Germany or Portugal after World War I, for example).

Such a toll becomes increasingly important when we consider the way in which the world economy has arranged itself. Capitalism has, but for a few exceptions, been embraced as the most efficient economic ideology. With it come globalization and increasingly complex economic ties amongst businesses, countries and continents. War disturbs these connections with increased consequences for those who share these connections. They will, therefore, oppose involvement in any kind of war.

Besides these palpable impacts there is also a psychological toll. War is a gruesome thing. Men transform themselves, see and sometimes do things that will forever change them. Most of the times rules do not apply and conflict shows its ugliest side. That can account for a generation with deep psychological handicaps that will burden families and friends, eventually producing a general felling against war.

It is the development of this collective consciousness that we are (supposedly) going through. And, as some argue, we can already witness some of the results of this process. For example, most countries that were involved in major wars in the XIX and XX century have now placed a bigger effort on maintaining piece than in waging war.

Adding to that, most of the conflicts we see today are more likely to fit into the definition of organized crime, on a larger scale, than into the definition of war. Just think of the conflicts in Africa, Middle East or Asia. Inherent economic incentives are abundant and the lack of a stable government to enforce the law are some of the features that they share. A solid State, able to maintain security, stability and the rule of law, could have prevented most of these so called wars.

The fact is that humankind outgrew slavery as an economic activity, because it degraded the human condition. We outgrew duels because they were not the most efficient way of solving one’s quarrels with another one.

War is the way used by governments to settle disputes (with State or non-state actors) and as we experience more and more of it (especially now with the extensive front line coverage available) we are bound to become tired of an activity that degrades the human condition and is becoming increasingly inefficient when it comes to solving problems (as the unsolved wars of Iraq and Afghanistan clearly demonstrate).

I surely would love to believe this theoretical approach but I have my doubts. I think the minds of men are not as sane as we would want them to be. The recent hike in tensions between Japan and China show that states continue to defy one and another for reasons that seem distant from the needs of their citizens. Peace is not as entrenched as this approach suggests and war is right around the corner. China’s growth poses huge challenges to this idea and if the West sees the “big red dragon” as an enemy it will surely act like one. What is there to keep the world from another conflict? This is an issue I am skeptical about, but it is also an issue where I hope I am wrong.


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