Saturday, August 25, 2012

Where is World Peace?

In his 2011 book “The Better Nature of Our Angels: Why Violence Has Declined”, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker argues that statistically speaking, the world has seen a steady decline of violence, rape, and deaths as time has progressed. This is great news! We look back at World War I and World War II and see nothing but sheer devastation, and the world of terror that the tragedy of 9/11 fostered has yet to be mitigated. But, according to Pinker’s book, the past century has still been an improvement upon the century before it, and the 19th century an improvement on the century before that. The argument is a simple one: as history progresses, people’s IQs increase, and the smarter we are, the less likely we are to kill in cold blood and act like barbarians towards each other (well, maybe except for Syrians). Eventually, perhaps, there will be no more bloodshed, and the world can enjoy the utopian peace that has been dreamed of for centuries. With all of the optimism Pinker’s book and others like it bring to the world, it may seem tendentious to suggest this optimism is unwarranted. Because until we achieve the utopian peace that has been sought after since the evolution of mankind, there will be bloodshed, and as the paradigm of war continues to shift, it is leaving a vacuum in regions where without the military assistance of more developed countries, there will be nothing but misery. To put it more succinctly, we need to stop letting this paradigm shift for the time being, and begin to fight wars again.
The globalization of the world during the early 20th century lead to World War I in 1914 and World War II just several decades later. The scale of which these wars were fought resulted in unprecedented destruction and millions of deaths, and upon the conclusion of World War II in 1945, world leaders knew that without a serious shift in alliances and global foreign policy, the repercussions of another war would be too severe to recover from. Smaller conflicts continued as the Cold War raged for the next four decades, but the 1990s exhibited “The End of History”, as political scientist Francis Fukuyama so eloquently titled it. There were smaller conflicts, and less of them, as the world entered the new millennium with a refined optimism.
Things have settled down relatively nicely for the world. Global terrorism has evolved and become the world’s greatest threat, and unfortunately the unique ability terrorism has to transcend any and all boundaries has made it more difficult to bridle. But if the Libyan Revolution of last year is any indication, there has been serious change in the way developed nations fight their wars these days. For example, the United States did not put a single soldier on the ground in Libya during the several months the conflict raged, but rather provided NATO with firepower and the aircraft to use it. Considered one of the greater success stories of President Barack Obama’s career, the Libyan Revolution set a major
precedent in reducing casualties and increasing efficiency during war.

But has this precedent been used since Libya? There are ongoing conflicts in virtually every region of the world today that are unhampered by the Western world. Why is that? Syria, the most notable of these conflicts, has claimed over 20,000 lives according to an activist group, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Yes, President Obama stated earlier this week that he was willing to use military force in Syria if President Bashar al-Assad unleashed his arsenal of chemical weapons, but that is unlikely to happen. The United Nations was unsuccessful in garnering support for a multilateral military intervention, and now the U.S. and Europe sit idly by as the revolutionary forces and those still loyal to President Assad continue to slaughter one another. Terse words urging President Assad to step down are moot and a poor demonstration of showmanship, nothing more. It was one of former President Bill Clinton’s biggest failures during his time in office to not act sooner in both former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, and because of his retrospective cognizance of this, I ask: how many more will have to die in Syria before there is armed intervention? Perhaps it will be a hard lesson learned retrospectively for President Obama as well that he should have acted sooner.

I am by no means a warmonger. I am as pacifist as they come, and it saddens me to see such wanton violence so prevalent throughout the world. And to those who argue that the United States’ military budget should be curtailed, and that money can be put to so many better uses, I wholeheartedly concur. But the truth is, the military budget is not being curtailed. In light of the greatest deficit the country has ever faced, the United States continues to outspend the next ten countries combined on military expenditures. If we continue to spend so much, it must be necessary, and we should be putting our military technology to use and helping alleviate the myriad tensions that plague the world. If we continue to look the other way as innocent civilians are killed in so many places - in South Sudan, Syria, Pakistan, Mexico, South Africa, and numerous other countries around the world – then we may just see a reversal of Pinker’s hopeful predictions for the future.


  1. Hi Colin,
    But there might also be a lesson from the world of firefighting - putting out fires too quickly leads to major conflagrations in the long run if nothing else is done - and what's "else" is the removal of the underbrush. Similarly, maybe we should put our defense budgets into alleviating poverty and disease and, where we can without endangering the first two, repression.

  2. Michael,

    I agree that rushing in to certain situations without truly understanding them can be devastating long-term. Furthermore, as we have painfully learned from Afghanistan and Iraq, removing the "underbrush" can be an expensive and long-lasting endeavor. However, it saddens me to see the Syrian conflict continue to rage while we were so successful in assisting the Libyan rebels just last year. Obviously these are two incredibly different states, but the underlying fact is that there can be something done to help innocent Syrians and as of yet, we are not doing it. On your last point, however, I agree that every penny taken from the defense budget and reallocated towards alleviating poverty and disease (and repression) will be exponentially more valuable in that facet.