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Difficult Reforms

Raimo Vayrynen

The thesis that traditional war between states is becoming an increasingly unlikely event in international relations is not a new one. It has been argued most extensively by Martin van Creveld and supported by scholars of different persuasions, from believers in democratic peace (in particular Michael Doyle and Bruce M. Russett) through defenders of the historical civilizing process (Norbert Elias and Dieter Senghaas) to those holding the Schumpeterian view that capitalism is good for peace (Erich Weede). Yet there are good reasons to repeat this thesis and make efforts to develop it further as Randall Forsberg has done.

Forsberg makes an interesting contribution to the debate by arguing that, in addition to the spread of democratic values and economic interdependence, military technology has strongly contributed to the impracticability of war between major military powers. New platforms and smart weapons either assure superiority to one party or make war too destructive to be politically meaningful. It is important to note that this development is due to both nuclear weapons and changes in conventional military technology. Paradoxically, military strength can be a friend of (armed) peace.

Forsberg proposes several remedies to reduce the risk of a major military confrontation. Her main suggestion is to control the offensive, long-range military capabilities whose very existence forces other countries to emulate the pattern set by the leading power. She does not, however, pay adequate attention to the new military-industrial complex which sustains high levels of military spending even in the absence of any serious external threat. We would need a new theory of such a complex to replace the fragments developed in the 1960s and the 1970s. This theory should consider the restructured, globalized, and technology-intensive nature of modern capitalism and the role of defense industries in it. It should consider especially the new forms of power that have enabled the military to retain its privileges.

Over a long term, Forsberg assumes that military competition between major powers can recur and lead to wars between them, especially in East Asia. In doing so, she agrees with Robert Gilpin, who concludes that "it would be a mistake to assume that the cycle of great powers with its attendant consequences has been broken." They may be right, although I am more hopeful. The globalization of the world economy and the differentiation of economic and military power create a disjuncture in which the conduct of a major war is becoming impractical. In East Asia, the main issue is whether Taiwan will declare its independence and whether in that case other major actors will permit China to counteract this move by military means.

Forsberg rightly observes that the military stalemate in high politics is associated with the increasing discrepancies between interstate and intrastate wars on the one hand and warfare and social violence on the other. A main trend is the rise of the internal use of force in almost every part of the world. This violence is not strategic in the larger sense, but social; it is embedded in fragmenting political and economic structures in which the tools of violence are used to establish local power centers and extract private economic gains. The private stronghold created by Radovan Karadzic in Pale, Republika Sprska, is a prototypical example of a military power base used for private enrichment.

Against this backdrop, Hans Magnus Enzensberger is obviously wrong in saying that civil wars are "waged without stakes on either side, that they are wars about nothing at all" (original emphasis). He is, however, right in observing that today's civil wars are often nonideological, "molecular," and that their violence has epidemic traits, as the Rwandan genocide in 1994 so clearly showed. The social embeddedness and passions of violence mean that it is difficult to develop instrumental strategies by which civil violence in urban (e.g., Karachi and Sao Paulo) or rural (e.g., the Rift Valley in Kenya) areas can be uprooted.

Forsberg makes a strong case for the abolition of war as a step in the elimination of various "social bads." She probably agrees with Barbara Ehrenreich that instead of hating the warriors, "opposition could at last develop to the institution of war itself." A problem in Forsberg's fine analysis and policy recommendations is that they do not consider the social and functional nature of violence, whose abolition calls for, in addition to pragmatic steps towards demilitarization, major institutional reforms within conflict- ridden societies. These reforms are immensely difficult to accomplish, as they require nothing less than the restructuring of power relations.

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



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