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Forsberg Responds

All of the commentators agree that the risk of a great-power war or major regional war is virtually non-existent today and will remain so for another 10-20 years. If this were recognized in Washington, US military spending could be cut by $150-$200 billion per year. Only Congressman Ron Dellums, however, stresses the enormous opportunity cost to America and the world of the tremendous excess in US military spending.

Most of the commentators also agree that if the United States and other large nations fail to change course during this propitious period, new risks of great-power war or major regional war are likely to appear. Raimo V”yrynen claims that the cycle of great-power war may not recur because the "globalization of the world economy and the differentiation of economic and military power" make major war impractical. Playing down the risk of a new Cold War in Asia, he argues that the one issue that could lead to great-power war--the future of Taiwan--is unlikely to do so. Bruce Russett sees a more grim possibility: a contest between the United States and China along the lines of the historic great-power contests that have taken place every 50 years or so.

While generally in agreement with my assessment of the risks of large and small wars and supportive of my proposals for minimizing future risks of major war, the commentators propose additional policy measures and social changes which, in their view, are needed to end major war, or war more generally, or both.

Edward Luttwak alone opposes all of my proposals, arguing that unilateral arming can be helpful in preventing war, and that multilateral peacekeeping and arms control measures can undermine peace. I have no quarrel with the idea that in a war-filled world, arms may deter war. My concern is how to use the unusual juncture in great-power relations to move toward a world largely without war: on this matter, Luttwak has no comment.

Dellums, Russett, Ulrich Albrecht, and Carl Kaysen call for politically-oriented steps to supplement the arms reductions and restructuring that I recommend. Kaysen, Russett, and Albrecht stress the importance of a point I make too briefly: strengthening international organizations, particularly the United Nations and regional security associations, "to replace self-help" in security matters, and to engage Russia, China, and other nations in the forms of international interaction that minimize the likelihood of armed confrontation. Dellums sets out useful "cornerstones" of US foreign and defense policy--supporting the expansion of human rights, democracy, economic justice, arms control, diplomacy, and peacekeeping; and he proposes several near-term policy initiatives which would complement the medium- and longer-term measures I propose: beginning the START III talks now (so that Russia can avoid building up to START II levels), restraining US and global arms sales, strengthening the UN and the US role in peacekeeping, and changing Federal budget priorities.

Bob Borosage and V”yrynen assert that massive social change is a condition for moving toward the abolition of war. V”yrynen argues that the end of civil and ethnic war requires "nothing less than the restructuring of power relations [within conflict-ridden societies]." Borosage, claiming that I display "an ineffably American fixation on technology and technical fixes," concludes, "No justice, no peace."

These comments and some others miss a central aspect of the case for arms control: Arms limits and reductions are not a substitute for moral and institutional change, but a vehicle for international dialogue on security issues, a means of organizing government and grassroots efforts to end war as an instrument of policy, a way to keep energy and attention focused on that goal, and a measure of progress toward it.

Furthermore, changes in the military dimension of security policy are likely to be far more effective in ending war than is generally realized. An analogy with family violence shows why: Until recently, it was considered normal for parents to beat children and, in some areas, for husbands to beat wives. As violence in the home became less acceptable, parents and husbands found other ways to express their feelings and set limits. The decline in family violence was a product neither of less conflict, nor of alternative means of dealing with conflict (which already existed), but of the respect for the dignity and worth of the individual which is embedded in modern democratic values, and which has grown with the spread of those values.

Arms control and disarmament, taken alone, are certainly not means to a lasting world peace. Arms reductions that limit the use of armed force to narrowly defensive situations are, however, essential to the ultimate transformation of public values in which war ceases to be an acceptable means to political or economic ends. That change, in turn, will spell the end of war as a socially-sanctioned institution.

Originally published in the October/ November 1997 issue of Boston Review



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