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September 12, 2000

War Is Dead, Hooray, Hooray


by Joseph Stromberg

AIN’T GONNA STUDY WAR NO MORE

By now a large body of work exists which makes the claim that organized, large-scale war between nation-states is waning, obsolete, or just plain gone from the horizon. A good book which makes this argument is John E. Mueller’s Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War (New York: Basic Books, 1989). Martin van Creveld, already discussed in this space makes a similar point. Nuclear weapons are thought to have played a role in this happy outcome.

UN potentates, Battlin’ Balkan Billy, Strobe-Light Talbot, and Madeleine (not the one in the old children’s rhyme) like to harp on this theme, too. They do so in the shadow of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which we once thought was just a bit of hot air but which has become for some people the founding document of our phony-baloney 20th-century international "law."

EPPUR SI MUOVE

Yet the bombs still fall, people are killed by armed forces, and everything under the sun can be brought in under Uncle Sam’s definition of legitimate military target. What can this mean?

I think it means that "peace-keeping" as a new name for war is the grossest imperialist imposture of our times. As Tacitus said of the Romans, they make a desert and call it peace. It’s always good to be in charge of the definitions.

So people are still injured in organized fashion by armed forces deployed by states. On the other hand, it may be that wars of the older kind in which there were some agreed-upon rules and in which both sides had standing are less likely to occur. We no longer fight morally similar states; we only deal with "criminals," whose criminal nature stands revealed in their very failure to submit.

This is the psychology and language of empire. Warfare conducted within this framework corresponds nicely to the liberals’ favorite overseas activity: the one-sided ideologically motivated massacre.

TAKE UP THE WHITE MAN’S BOURBON

This brings us to the fascinating movement to re-annex Africa! We have to go beyond asking if two wrongs make a right and ask ourselves does a whole series of wrongs make a right? Or do they just make a further wrong?

The call for large-scale intervention in Africa comes from Right, Left, and Center. Douglas Hurd, former British Minister for Foreign Affairs, calls for putting disorderly regions under UN trusteeship. Some fellow at National Review is getting his safari gear together right now. From the Center, Center/Left and Left, great mobs of academics chime in, including Kenyan scholar Ali Mazrui and American academics David Rieff, William Pfaff, Gerald Helman, and Steven Ratner. Deon Geldenhuys provides a good summary of this literature, but unfortunately his article is in Afrikaans. You can still go to his footnotes, however.1

Mazrui envisions UN trusteeships – "but less Western and more international" and "‘inter-African colonization,’ whereby an African Security Council of five regional states takes responsibility to save their continent’s troubled states." Rieff holds that the great powers must step in "to stabilize the military situation, after which the UN will administer protectorates." Pfaff wants a kind of neo-colonialism to set things right, by addressing European responsibility for everything that is wrong in Africa.

Helman and Ratner put forward three "models" of UN guardianship "over ill-fated states like Yugoslavia, Georgia, Haiti, Liberia, Somalia, and Sudan." In the first, UN bureaucrats "are available to run the fallen state" but with "ultimate decision-making left with the local government" (you bet). Next comes conservatorship, in which "the failed state gives over specific governing functions to the UN, as with the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) in the early nineties." The third and most radical plan is direct UN trusteeship of the old [League] type." Here, "the concerned state stands down of its own free will from control over its internal and external affairs for a specified time period. The UN or group of states will come in as administrative authority until elections for a new government can be held."

Over the last few decades, Western powers have stepped in to promote "restoration or reconstruction of the internal political order of [failing] states." Putting the best possible face on things, Geldenhuys describes the interveners’ goals as "furthering of good government, rebuilding of state structures, nation-building, and promotion of peace." This good work is often "welcomed… by the most important internal political groupings, something that gives a cooperative character to the undertaking." A cynic might think that this is a case of one faction calling in armed foreigners to guarantee their victory. But that can’t be, since the proclaimed role model for all these armed philanthropists is the system found in "Western market democracies," i.e., the advanced bureaucratized welfare-warfare state. Oh, yes, and End of History.

When they’re not involved in shooting people and bombing strictly defined military targets, the armed international do-gooders will "establish democracy," "promote respect for human rights and the supremacy of law," "subordinate the military to civil authority and (re)build a dynamic civil society." On the eighth day, I suppose they’ll rest, and then it’s on to Nation Building by "sharpening the sense of national identity and loyalty among members of heterogeneous populations."

A sharpened national identity is a good thing in Africa, whereas in would be very, very wicked in Europe or North America. Does everyone follow this?

BLUE PITH HELMET AND MATCHING HANDKERCHIEF

How to actually achieve all these things? Clearly, you have to have order. To get that, you have to enforce "peace" by blowing things up. There seem to be four facets to this. First, there is peacemaking, which means that "an external party prevents or decides a conflict." We used to call that interference, big power politics, imperialism, and a few other things. Now comes peacekeeping, which "secures the results of a peace agreement by… the deploying of peace forces." Peace building comes into play to "address underlying socio-economic and other problems in order to give a lasting basis for the peace agreement." Peace enforcement – my favorite – is last, and "can refer either to enforcement of existing agreements or to enforcement of solutions, even against the sense [will] of the conflicting parties." An imposed peace – a Diktat perhaps?

IMPERIALISM WITH A BETTER PRESS AGENT

The means to all the above include "mediation, economic and military support, UN peace forces, election help" etc. Outside intervention in the nineties affected a number of "troubled states, among them, Somalia, Cambodia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Bosnia-Herzegovina." Also helped by "cooperative outside efforts" were "South Africa, Russia, El Salvador and Haïti."

This short list is, it seems to me, rather decisive. How many of these societies were actually helped by US/Western imperial interventions? I can’t blame the political science types for building models. I can blame them for not questioning the rhetoric of statesmen and interests allied to states.

There’s a lot that might get overlooked if you start believing what governments say about their activities and motives. You might, for example, miss the crucial distinction between peaceful world order and empire, for one.

Notes

  1. Deon Geldenhuys, "Staatsverval," Politeia, 18, 2 (1999). From the third heading forward, text within quotation marks comes from Geldenhuys's essay (my translations), including his paraphrases of other writers' points. Single quotes indicate that he is quoting someone else directly.
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    Joseph R. Stromberg has been writing for libertarian publications since 1973, including The Individualist, Reason, the Journal of Libertarian Studies, Libertarian Review, and the Agorist Quarterly, and is completing a set of essays on America's wars. He was recently named the JoAnn B. Rothbard Historian in Residence at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. His column, "The Old Cause," appears alternating Fridays on Antiwar.com.

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