The Great Pacification

Since the end of the Second World War, the major powers of the world have lived in relative peace. While there have been wars and conflicts  — Vietnam, Afghanistan (twice), Iraq (twice), the Congo, Rwanda, Israel and Palestine, the Iran-Iraq war, the Mexican and Colombian drug wars, the Lebanese civil war — these have been localised and at a much smaller scale than the violence that ripped the world apart during the Second World War. The recent downward trend is clear: Many thinkers believe that this trend of pacification is unstoppable. Steven Pinker, for example, claims:

Violence has been in decline for thousands of years, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in the existence of our species. The decline, to be sure, has not been smooth. It has not brought violence down to zero, and it is not guaranteed to continue. But it is a persistent historical development, visible on scales from millennia to years, from the waging of wars to the spanking of children.

While the relative decline of violence and the growth of global commerce is a cause for celebration, those who want to proclaim that the dawn of the 21st Century is the dawn of a new long-lasting era of global peace may be overly optimistic. It is possible that we are on the edge of a precipice and that this era of relative peace is merely a calm before a new global storm. Militarism and the military-industrial complex never really went away — the military of the United States is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world. Weapons contractors are still gorging on multi-trillion dollar military spending. Let’s consider another Great Moderation — the moderation of the financial system previous to the bursting of the bubble in 2008.

One of the most striking features of the economic landscape over the past twenty years or so has been a substantial decline in macroeconomic volatility. Ben Bernanke (2004)

Bernanke attributed this outgrowth of macroeconomic stability to policy — that through macroeconomic engineering, governments had created a new era of financial and economic stability. Of course, Bernanke was wrong — in fact those tools of macroeconomic stabilisation were at that very moment inflating housing and securitisation bubbles, which burst in 2008 ushering in a new 1930s-style depression. It is more than possible that we are in a similar peace bubble that might soon burst. Pinker highlights some possible underlying causes for this decline in violent conflict:

The most obvious of these pacifying forces has been the state, with its monopoly on the legitimate use of force. A disinterested judiciary and police can defuse the temptation of exploitative attack, inhibit the impulse for revenge and circumvent the self-serving biases that make all parties to a dispute believe that they are on the side of the angels. We see evidence of the pacifying effects of government in the way that rates of killing declined following the expansion and consolidation of states in tribal societies and in medieval Europe. And we can watch the movie in reverse when violence erupts in zones of anarchy, such as the Wild West, failed states and neighborhoods controlled by mafias and street gangs, who can’t call 911 or file a lawsuit to resolve their disputes but have to administer their own rough justice.

Really? The state is the pacifying force? This is an astonishing claim. Sixty years ago, states across the world mobilised to engage in mass-killing the like of which the world had never seen — industrial slaughter of astonishing efficiency. The concentration of power in the state has at times led to more violence, not less. World War 2 left sixty million dead. Communist nations slaughtered almost 100 million in the pursuit of communism. Statism has a bloody history, and the power of the state to wage total destruction has only increased in the intervening years. Pinker continues:

Another pacifying force has been commerce, a game in which everybody can win. As technological progress allows the exchange of goods and ideas over longer distances and among larger groups of trading partners, other people become more valuable alive than dead. They switch from being targets of demonization and dehumanization to potential partners in reciprocal altruism. For example, though the relationship today between America and China is far from warm, we are unlikely to declare war on them or vice versa. Morality aside, they make too much of our stuff, and we owe them too much money. A third peacemaker has been cosmopolitanism—the expansion of people’s parochial little worlds through literacy, mobility, education, science, history, journalism and mass media. These forms of virtual reality can prompt people to take the perspective of people unlike themselves and to expand their circle of sympathy to embrace them.

Commerce has been an extremely effective incentive toward peace. But commerce may not be enough. Globalisation and mass commerce became a reality a century ago, just prior to the first global war. The world was linked together by new technologies that made it possible to ship products cheaply from one side of the globe to the other, to communicate virtually instantaneously over huge distances, and a new culture of cosmopolitanism. Yet the world still went to war.

It is complacent to assume that interdependency will necessitate peace. The relationship between China and the United States today is superficially similar to that between Great Britain and Germany in 1914. Germany and China — the rising industrial behemoths, fiercely nationalistic and determined to establish themselves and their currencies on the world stage. Great Britain and the United States  — the overstretched global superpowers intent on retaining their primacy and reserve currency status even in spite of huge and growing debt and military overstretch.

In fact, a high degree of interdependency can breed resentment and hatred. Interconnected liabilities between nations can lead to war, as creditors seek their pound of flesh, and debtors seek to renege on their debts. Chinese officials have claimed to have felt that the United States is forcing them to support American deficits by buying treasuries.

Who is to say that China might not view the prize of Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines as worthy of transforming their giant manufacturing base into a giant war machine and writing down their treasury bonds? Who is to say that the United States might not risk antagonising Russia and China and disrupting global trade by attacking Iran? There are plenty of other potential flash-points too — Afghanistan, Pakistan, Venezuela, Egypt, South Africa, Georgia, Syria and more. Commerce and cosmopolitanism may have provided incentives for peace, but the Great Pacification has been built upon a bedrock of nuclear warheads. Mutually assured destruction is by far the largest force that has kept the nuclear-armed nations at peace for the past sixty seven years.

Yet can it last? Would the United States really have launched a first-strike had the Soviet Union invaded Western Europe during the Cold War, for example? If so, the global economy and population would have been devastated. If not, mutually assured destruction would have lost credibility. Mutually assured destruction can only act as a check on expansionism if it is credible. So far, no nation has really tested this credibility. Nuclear-armed powers have already engaged in proxy wars, such as Vietnam. How far can the limits be pushed? Would the United States launch a first-strike on China if China were to invade and occupy Taiwan and Japan, for example? Would the United States try to launch a counter-invasion? Or would they back down? Similarly, would Russia and China launch a first-strike on the United States if the United States invades and occupies Iran?

Launching a first-strike is highly unlikely in all cases — mutually assured destruction will remain an effective deterrent to nuclear war. But perhaps not to conventional war and territorial expansionism. With the world mired in the greatest economic depression since the 1930s, it becomes increasingly likely that states — especially those with high unemployment, weak growth, incompetent leadership and angry, disaffected youth —  will (just as they did during the last global depression in the 1930s) turn to expansionism, nationalism, trade war and even physical war. Already, the brittle peace between China and Japan is rupturing, and the old war rhetoric is back. These are the kinds of demonstrations that the Communist Party are now sanctioning:

And already, America and Israel are moving to attack Iran, even in spite of warnings by Chinese and Pakistani officials that this could risk global disruption. Hopefully, the threat of mutually assured destruction and the promise of commerce will continue to be an effective deterrent, and prevent any kind of global war from breaking out. Hopefully, states can work out their differences peacefully. Hopefully nations can keep war profiteers and those who advocate crisis initiation in check. Nothing would be more wonderful than the continuing spread of peace. Yet we must be guarded against complacency. Sixty years of relative peace is not the end of history.

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The Face of “Don’t Ask Questions of the Government”

I know that’s hard to digest in a society where pregnancies and marriages of D-list celebrities make the cover of People magazine, but there comes a point where the public’s right to know needs to take a back seat to matters like national security and diplomacy.

Heads should roll because of the Fast and Furious debacle. We don’t need every detail of that operation to be made public in order for that to happen.

If it were an isolated sting, maybe. But it is at least the third incarnation of a gun-running scheme stretching across two administrations, which means we could be pressing to open Pandora’s Box. We do not want to open Pandora’s Box, not about this and certainly not about a bunch of other potentially scandalous things the federal government has been involved with.

Fast and Furious? Please.

Being told that something’s “none of your business” is slowly being characterized as rude, and if such a statement is coming from the government, it seems incriminating.

Times have changed. Yet, not everything is our business. And in the political arena, there are things that should be and need to be kept quiet. . . .

You see, freedom isn’t entirely free.

It also isn’t squeaky clean.

And sometimes the federal government deems it necessary to get its hands a little dirty in the hopes of achieving something we generally accept as good for the country. 

And maybe it’s better for us not to be so nosy, not to know everything because, to paraphrase the famous line from the movie “A Few Good Men,” many of us won’t be able to handle the truth.

LZ Granderson, CNN Columnist

This is the kind of sophomoric anti-liberty trash that passes for journalism today? Shut your mouth, mind your own business, don’t ask questions of your loving government?

Granderson may be a rabid Obama apologist who would reflexively defend anything Obama says or does, and there’s no law against that. But this man is trying to pass himself off as a journalist!

Journalism is about asking questions that corporations, governments and establishments don’t want to answer. It’s about reporting the full-story, no matter how many toes you step on. It’s about opening up power to real scrutiny. And that is something that the propagandists in big media are often incapable of — which of course is why big media is slowly dying.

I get apoplectic whenever some hawkish deficit-happy foreign policy schmuck advocates American intervention in Syria (no matter how many archaic Turkish planes are shot out of the sky) even more than I did before America struck Iraq.

The utterly bizarre imperative of American intervention in the middle east is thrown into stunning contrast against the background of utter lawlessness and destruction on America’s own border with Mexico as a direct result of the failed drug war. The clowns in successive administrations have spent so much time, effort and energy on policing the borders of Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia, yet they have failed to check the growth of the drug cartels into massive, well-armed organisations.

By trying to obstruct the congressional investigation into the botched gun-running operation Fast and Furious, and instead hiding behind the phoney front of executive privilege Obama and Holder have shown that they have something to hide.

Whatever they are trying to hide should be brought to light. You can’t have an accountable government without checks and balances, and the greatest check to tyranny is transparency.

We need to know the depth and width of Fast and Furious and the programs which preceded it: how was it authorised, how was it designed, how did it go wrong, who was to blame for it going wrong.

We need to know whether or not the widely-spread allegation that the Obama administration has sold guns directly to Los Zetas is true. We need to know whether or not El Chapo and the Sinaloa Cartel are working with the DEA and the Mexican government. (Both of these allegations are widely accepted as fact in Mexico).

We need to know why Obama has chosen to continue the failed drug war, even in spite of overwhelming evidence that the illegality of drugs is the very thing that empowers the criminal cartels, and in spite of the fact that Obama is a former drug user.

We probably won’t get our answers directly from politicians; while it is the responsibility of journalists to ask these kinds of tough questions, politicians will almost always deflect. But I am sure there are some conscientious people inside the DEA, inside the Mexican government, and inside the Justice Department or FBI, or inside the drug cartels who will blow the whistle sooner or later. Anyone who can answer these questions is serving the public good. We can handle the truth, no matter what LZ Granderson or Eric Holder think. We need to hold government to account for its actions.