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The Politics of Peace

Carl Kaysen

The core of Forsberg's analysis is the proposition that in the last half-century or so the risk-reward balance has moved decisively against what might be termed "realist war"--war by major powers to increase their power and wealth, and that the imbalance against war will continue in the next. So far, however, these same powers have not changed their military policies and their conceptions of the role of force in international relations appropriately. She urges that they do so by a wide program of arms reductions and arms control designed to eliminate their capability to initiate major wars. Simultaneously, they should renounce and delegitimize war as an instrument of national policy.

Should the major powers do so, the initiators of "small wars"--guerrilla wars as instruments of political conflict, ethnic conflicts, other civil wars, irredentist border wars--would lose the reinforcement of the wider acceptance of war's legitimacy. Thus these small wars would also lose legitimacy and their prevalence would decline accordingly.

Failure of the large powerful and potentially powerful nations to follow the paths Forsberg indicates might well lead to a renewal of major-power conflict despite the prospect of costs far outweighing benefits, presumably the consequences of the security dilemma and/or the internal political need for external enemies, though she does not say so explicitly.

I believe her core proposition about the risk-reward balance is essentially correct, but I cannot accept the centrality of the policy measures she proposes, or her leap from the end of major war to the end of all war. Forsberg at least sketches the disarmament and arms control measures she sees as necessary to prevent renewals of major-power conflict, but she omits any discussion of their sufficiency.

In order to delegitimize war, alternative means for resolving international conflicts must develop to the point where their legitimacy and efficacy is widely recognized, and violent conflict within states must be seen as an appropriate matter of international concern. Only then can common security replace self-help by individual nations and alliances as the fundamental basis for international peace and security. The UN and the regional associations (OAS, etc.) already provide a framework for dealing with international conflict; the scope of "state sovereignty" in protecting actions within state borders has been shrinking over the last several decades, if not longer. But further changes in these institutions are required, and what they should be and how they can be brought about are large subjects that require much discussion. The appropriate development of these institutions is at least as necessary to ensure the continuing absence of major-power war as the arms control and disarmament measures Forsberg points to. And only that development can offer the prospect of ending "small" as well as "large" wars. The direction of causality runs from politics to arms control as well as the reverse, and the heavier weight is in the first direction.

At a minimum, the Security Council requires enlargement to achieve wider legitimacy, and that process raises difficult questions about the veto power of the present permanent members. To achieve greater efficacy may be an even more difficult task. The Security Council must be able to do more in conflict resolution and termination than provide a seal of approval on the decisions of a few major powers, if war is to be truly displaced from its current role in politics, international and domestic. That means a vastly improved peacekeeping department, a better and more reliable financial basis for its operation, and probably a substantial, capable rapid-reaction force plus mobilizable backup forces that can be deployed by Security Council decisions.

This very summary list indicates the magnitude of the political changes needed in the relations of the major powers to the UN and the regional organizations in the United States above all, but in China, Russia, France and Great Britain as well. To bring about such change is the most challenging task that lies before those who seek the end of war.

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



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