Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is War Obsolete?

Goldstein and Pinker make a good case for the decline/demise of war in the NYT.  There certainly is less war, less violence, and less bloodshed than historically has been the case.  Indeed, so much so that the NYT can publish an article looking back at Libya that tends assert that 100 or so NATO-caused civilian deaths are a big deal.  I don't mean to minimize the trauma that Libyans experienced.  But an air campaign of thousands of bombs over many months with little in the way of forward air observers, and they only had a small number of incidents where civilians were killed?  Um, that is good news, not bad, even if NATO does not want to look into it much.  It is actually evidence of heaps of due diligence and then some (see my twitter feed from last night).

Anyway, back to the demise of war: this piece makes me feel as I am reading Norman Angell's book The Great Illusion, written shortly before World War I, also declaring the end of war, for many of the same reasons--war is less efficient at getting stuff than trade, war is more destructive, and so on.  Again, I agree that the trends exist, but I am not quite so optimistic (and this is not just self-interest of having something to study) about the demise of war.

Citing near-misses between India and Pakistan do not fill me full of assurance.  The US could easily get as arrogant as it was in 2003 and try to defeat another military.  I mean, there are heaps of folks in the US demanding war against Iran.  Iran could easily be tempted by the feeble defenses of Iraq.  Israel has not invaded a neighbor in at least a few months.  Launching a war might be costly to China, but its domestic politics include many dynamics that might lead to poor decision-making.  I am still not sure if Russia is out of the woods of Weimar comparisons.  And things are just swell in Congo and Sudan, yes? Oh, no.  Indeed, the secession of South Sudan means that any new conflict with Sudan would actually count as an inter-state war.  Damned inconvenient....

So, yes, less war, but is war going the way of slavery.  Oops, we have human trafficking.  Never mind.

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