Thursday, June 14, 2012

Winning the war on war

I have been reading Joshua Goldstein's fantastic book Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide, which summarizes the state of warfare today and suggests strategies for eliminating it.

The book begins by demonstrating that war has been declining by nearly every measure since World War II. The case is capably made with a cautious use of statistics, at times in grisly detail. Media coverage notwithstanding, no conflict has risen to the level of WWII in recent history. Since the collapse of the U.S.S.R., warfare has declined from the levels of the proxy wars between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, etc. There is no direct war between nations in the world today, and various civil wars are ending faster than they are starting. (In May, he updated the argument on his blog, noting that "Warfare is literally shrinking across the face of the earth.")

Goldstein focuses primarily on UN peacekeeping efforts as the force behind this decline. Peacekeeping forces — though often underfunded and disorganized — can act as impartial observers to help enforce peace agreements, or to oversee elections. In some cases, a conflict will continue even when both sides would gain from its end, simply because neither side can guarantee its safety if the other decides to renege on a peace agreement. UN forces can provide that guarantee and circumvent this frustrating impasse.

To buttress his arguments, Goldstein cites a study by political scientist Page Fortna:
[According to Fortna] The presence of peacekeepers reduced the risk of renewed war by somewhere between 55 and 85 percent. "The statistical evidence is overwhelming. In short, any way you slice the data, peacekeeping works." Quantitative studies by other researchers "have reached a consensus, and it is an optimistic one." Although these studies find that peacekeeping is less effective in reaching a cease-fire in the first place than in making it last once reached, the success of the latter "has emerged as a strongly robust result in the quantitative literature." Thus, the answer to whether peacekeeping works is "a resounding yes."

This research will create problems for libertarian critics of the UN. How does a person oppose state aggression while simultaneously denouncing an institution which has been remarkably successful at ending warfare— the most direct and brutal form of state aggression? Given the information in this book, libertarians should be much more supportive of UN peacekeeping. (But don't hold your breath.)

In the second half, Goldstein's history of American peace movements, and his analysis of their weaknesses, makes his book an indispensable resource for serious peace activists. He argues that, while it may be an institutional necessity, the tendency of organizations to focus on peace and justice (or freedom, etc.) undermines their activism. The two are inseparable, goes the peace-and-justice reasoning, and this allows groups to survive on justice issues when peace is less popular. In fact, research suggests that the two issues are largely unrelated, and peace organizations, to perpetuate the myth, must promote solutions that have little real-life impact.

Modern peace groups, for this and other reasons, fail to provide relevant information about UN efforts to American voters. If Winning the War on War can correct the oversight, it will do much to promote peace in the world.

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