No Justice, No Peace
The beginning of this century was a time of extraordinary promise. The British
Navy policed the seas. The nations of the world were more entangled in trade
and exchange than atany time since. The ruling houses of the leading nations
of Europe were bound by marriage. A stable and relatively peaceful balance
of power had been maintained in Europe for decades. The industrial revolution
was generating new wealth, and, as Norman Angell argued in a best-selling
book, making war unprofitable. Arms control negotiations focused on limiting
the buildup of navies, the offensive weapons of the time. Immanuel Kant's
prediction that the liberalizing influence of commerce, democracy and law
could produce perpetual peace seemed prescient. There followed the most violent
century in recorded history.
Now, as Randy Forsberg notes, the new millennium
begins at another remarkable time. Of the day's great powers, only the United
States sustains a global military force. The others, by experience or circumstance,
are wedded to defensive postures: Germany and Japan from defeat in World War
II, Russia from bankruptcy, China from poverty and backwardness. Once again,
a global economy is being forged. The information revolution is generating
new wealth. Powerful global corporations and banks find war unprofitable.
The liberalizing influence of commerce and the spread of democracy suggest
that a new era of peace may be possible.
Forsberg, renowned for her historic work on the freeze campaign, now focuses
our attention on arms control--on limiting offensive capabilities to bring
an end to war. In doing so, she displays an ineffably American fixation on
technology and technical fixes--as both solution and problem, answer and threat.
Yet in its own muddle, her argument reveals the shortcomings of this approach.
Forsberg argues that nuclear weapons have made all-out war "unthinkable."
If that were so, then why all the fuss around the freeze in the early 1980s?
Rather than shoring up non-proliferation, the US should be peddling nuclear
arms to trouble spots across the world, increasing stability and making money
at the same time. But Forsberg herself warns that in most of the world--the
Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia--the acquisition of weapons of mass
destruction "increases the risk that they will be used on cities." Sounds
like thinkable all-out war to me. Some America First-ers would suggest that
the leaders of the rest of the world aren't as responsible as those in the
current nuclear powers. But Forsberg surely would be the first to point out
that only US leaders have actually used a nuclear weapon in warfare "on cities."
Forsberg also suggests that "smart weapons" have made "protracted major war
impracticable," more costly than profitable even for the winner. But it didn't
take "smart bombs" to make conventional war unprofitable--as World War II
demonstrated to every major combatant except the United States. In fact, smart
bombs offer the (generally false) promise of "surgical strikes," salving the
conscience of warriors launching attacks on cities, as the US military did
on Baghdad. They might arguably make all-out conventional war more rather
than less likely.
Forsberg implies that the countries that spend more on their military seem
less likely to become embroiled in war. But as the US has shown since the
Cold War--in Panama and the Persian Gulf--spend enough and you can embroil
others in war, while you simply enjoy relatively bloodless triumphs.
In passing, Forsberg also notes that the spread of democratic values makes
war less likely, echoing the popular theme that democratic nations don't make
war (at least against each other). Surely democracies are preferable to dictatorships,
but it is worth remembering that Hitler was elected. The US, the most stable
and secure of democratic nations, managed to go to war--overt or covert--about
once every 18 months during the Cold War years. The spread of democracy in
Algeria, Saudi Arabia or the emirates, Jordan or Iraq (at least prior to the
Gulf War) has been deemed so threatening to peace that the US works actively
to suppress it.
Moreover, commerce and trade, with their sober calculations of profit and
loss, have not yet sufficed to end war. In many ways, the global economy was
more integrated at the beginning of this century than it is today. And today,
the destruction--creative or not--wrought by the global economy seeds brutal
conflicts which feel like major wars to those caught in them.
What needs to be done to secure the blessings of this age? Forsberg suggests
that we should focus on ridding ourselves on the very weapons she earlier
argued made war virtually unthinkable. She sensibly favors a strategic shift
from offensive postures to defensive defense--to defense postures and weapons
mixes that are less useful for offensive operations and preclude cross-border
operations. Logic aside, the argument is unconvincing.
First, in every country the military argues that the best place to fight
any potential war is on someone else's territory, and the best way to deter
any attack is to be ready to do exactly that. More sensible arguments by arms
controllers will be a difficult sell. Second, as Forsberg notes, the capacity
to defend the borders of a large country--like China, Russia, the European
Union, India, Indonesia--entails the same mobility as that needed to invade
Third, the US claims an impossible exemption. As Forsberg notes, the US demands
the ability to defend its allies--in the Middle East, Europe and Asia -- from
external (and possibly internal) attack. This has justified maintaining military
spending at virtually Cold War levels to pay for a conventional force that
can be dispatched rapidly to all corners of the earth. If the US sustains
this capacity, it is hard to believe, as Forsberg admits, that other countries
will voluntarily limit themselves to a defensive defense (instead, Russia
and China are more likely to go to a hair-trigger nuclear posture). Yet in
her argument here Forsberg gives the US a limited pass.
Finally, military strategies change. Creating an advanced military isn't
easy or cheap, but a move from a self-limiting defensive posture to an offensive
one doesn't take much. A decade ago, the Chinese army--built for defense and
so backward it communicated by banging on drums--still managed to invade Vietnam.
Technology provides neither cause nor cure for war. Neither the arms race
nor arms control brought the Cold War to a peaceful end: it was the internal
collapse of the Soviet Union, and the decision by Mikhail Gorbachev to end
the game. Dtente furthered the erosion, particularly in Eastern Europe. The
campaigns for disarmament and against nuclear war helped expose the madness
of the arms race. But the Red Army went from fiend to sometime friend not
through arms control, but by the transformation of a political and economic
No justice, no peace. In this extraordinary time, our focus should be on
building the structures of peace--the harder, softer tasks of securing minimal
decency, bolstering democracy and the rule of law, strengthening international
peacekeeping and peacemaking institutions, and dealing with such real world
causes of tension as economic upheaval, mass displacement, environmental catastrophe,
resource rivalries, religious and nationalist passions. Resolute campaigning
against war--for disarmament, for peaceful resolution of disputes, against
foreign interventions, against incessant arms development--is surely a part
of this. Arms control proposals like Forsberg's offer, at best, creative way
stations along the way. But peace comes not from a perfect arsenal or a military
posture, but from a continuing process of diplomacy, finding peaceful resolution
of disputes, creating justice, building a rule of law and reason.