by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor
Can war and violent conflict be eliminated forever? In this article, I reflect about war, which is de facto about peace. War should be abolished forever. In the past 75 years, we have seen at least three transformations related to armed conflicts: the Cold War (1946-1991); the post-Cold War (1991-2011); and this last period of time (post-post) in which we see events happening – a bewildering present – Arab Spring, theo-terrorism, globalisation of migration, in many cases culminating in civil wars or at least feeding fragile states.
Events determine politics
We live in exciting times. Events often determine the outcome of elections. It happens that certain world leaders create events and express themselves with tactless statements. The commotion on the status of Jerusalem is a recent example. Consequences of these statements are not always calculated.
Officials are expected to cover more than ever the “events policies”. Urgent events happening create pressing responses to act. Examples are the refugee or migration crisis; terrorist acts related to the Islamic State (Daesh); and the rising trend of extremist and exclusive political nationalism related to a populist mentality and/or authoritarian nationalism. Citizens expect their political leaders to act consequently and urge them to immediately deal with these challenges: result-oriented.
Some of the powerful still believe in war making
In my opinion, war has no future. Wars are no longer declared, they simply begin. Wars happen because the ones who start them think they can win them. Wars usually start with at least one side confident about the outcome. Campaigning to go to war always presents a glorious victory within reach!
You cannot abolish war by continuing to wage war. War does not solve conflicts. Enough is known to get on with the business of outlawing war and finding better means to resolve disputes. War should be abolished just as slavery was eradicated centuries ago.
The contradiction we live in today is that states continue to prepare for war while professing to wish to legislate it out of existence. A recent example is the fact that political leaders want to get rid of nuclear weapons and, at the same time, decide to modernise their nuclear arsenals to be significant for the next two generations or so. Nuclear weapons states decided to modernise their arsenals. At the most recent count, the Russian Federation has 1,796 nuclear warheads and 508 missiles; the USA has 1,367 warheads and 681 missiles. Both are upgrading relatively old systems. The financial costs of such a modernisation are huge.
War is inherently immoral
We need more focus on the conviction that war is inherently immoral because of its costs to human well-being. Over the last century around 0.7 % of the world’s population died in armed conflicts. There are over 65 million refugees forced to flee their homes and their livelihood. Perhaps 600,000 people have died since 2011 by civil wars in Syria (including more than half a million), in Yemen, in Libya and Iraq, and 17 million people from that region have been displaced from their homes. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan (and partly Iraq) are hosting most of the Syrian refugees.
The laws defining the conditions whether to go to war – ius ad bellum – and the laws defining how to deal within a war – ius in bello – (proportionality and distinct combatancy/non-combatancy or military/civilian for instance), did not seek to make war illegal. They did try instead to make it less miserable. With the phenomenon of “collateral damage”, we see that there is such a thing as “non-combatants immunity” — that means that civilians should be spared but also that even weapons directed at purely military targets could affect people with no combat role.
Rapid evolution in technology and communication
Efficiency in transport, speed and communications make war more likely. From 1850, weaponry techniques and the speed of projectiles began to transform military confrontation into a truly inhumane event. The then industrial principles of mass production were converted to martial arts and put at the service of mass destruction. The German victory over France in 1871 for instance was made possible by impressive mobilisation of its forces, appreciating the role of railroads in getting men to the front. The railway infrastructure made the movements of troops during the First World War practical. During the Second World War, highways, especially in Germany, made the fast mobility of tanks and troops possible.
The Second World War resulted in unprecedented levels of killings, with conflicts in Asia and Europe merging, the murder of millions of civilians on an industrial scale, and every type of warfare — naval encounters, massive air raids, lightning offensives, dogged defending, and partisan resistance, concluding with atomic bombs. This was total warfare!
Militarism meant allowing military figures, arms manufacturers, and patriotic themes to dominate public life. Manufacturers want to make money, profits. Arms dealers view every new type of weapon, from machine guns to torpedoes, from heavy artillery to the Kalashnikovs, from drones to killer robots, as a business opportunity.
Weapons kill, even if they are not used!
Disarmament is urgently needed. Vast sums are spent on preparing for war. The total military expenditures for 2016 according to SIPRI are 1.69 trillion dollars. That is 0.4 % higher compared with 2015. Weapons kill, even if they are not used! Saudi Arabia spends 10.4 % of its GDP on defence; Iran has 3 % and Israel spends 5.8 % on defence. The Middle East has a high security risk with Israel having nuclear weapons and having the Saudis (Sunnis) and Iranians (Shiites) as the two major opponents in the region.
Military expenditure is wasteful. Weaponry absorbs tax revenues, and contributes to scarce resources. Armament firms encourage conflict to increase demands for their products, frequently based on feelings of distrust, fear, exclusive nationalism or patriotism. Extreme nationalism is a driver of conflict and war. Some political and public opinion makers see their national sovereignty as a god — and nationalism as a religion. That can result in the rejection of international cooperation. The main motive is “Si vis pacem, para bellum” – “if you want peace, prepare for war”.
Research in warfare is main driver of change
Technology and the development of research and new findings in modern warfare are the main drivers of change in warfare. New types of weapons make war more possible. Atomic bombs were used for the first time in August 1945 when they were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, obliterating both and most of their residents. This is seen as a steep change in warfare. The then driving argument of using the atomic bomb was to stop the war. Over the next decade, with tests of new and even more powerful weapons, the likely character of a nuclear war became clear. The humanitarian impact of the use of atomic bombs and of nuclear tests in all their dimensions is immense. The possibility of accidental war has becoming prominent.
Our history has seen the possible intentional use of nuclear weapons, as for instance during the Korean War in early 50’s, the Berlin Crisis in 1961, the Cuba Missile Crisis in 1962, the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the latest in Ukraine in 2014. The distinction between rhetoric and bluff and the way sometimes-foolish politicians are dealing with or thinking about nuclear weapons make it all very dangerous.
Further possible proliferation of atomic bombs, human errors, miscalculations or mechanical malfunction of these weapons of mass destruction became also a main driver for diplomats to come to a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in July 2017. The strategy of nuclear deterrence became unbelievable because of the real risks were out of control. Nuclear deterrence can no longer be tolerated. The use of, the threat with and the possession of nuclear weapons are illegal and immoral.
The world is much safer when treaties for global disarmament are reached. But that is not enough. We have seen treaties on anti-personnel mines, the so-called Ottawa Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The main challenges remain to have key players signing and ratifying these treaties and at the same time have them implemented in a constructive way. Treaties do not guarantee the outlawing of war making in general.
Who are the masters of modern warfare? Drones for instance brought together many critical technologies: highly efficient regimes, advanced sensors, global positioning systems, and instantaneous communications. Their operators could identify, monitor, and then strike a target thousands of miles away, without putting lives in direct danger. War making takes place from a distance — such as drone pilots. These pilots could live a normal life. A pilot can visit his wife who just gave birth to a child in the maternity ward after just killing someone on the other side of the planet. Unmanned systems kill without seeing the other. Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams talks about “it” as doing the killing. It is not me or you who kills; it is a neutral body, an “it”. Almost everything is delegated to machines.
Duration of civil wars has extended
The days of armed conflict between nation-states are ending – although it still happens and is still possible. The number of civil wars or intrastate conflicts has increased. The duration of civil wars has extended. Civilians are part of the struggle and many of them are the victims of it. Some of these civil wars are rather “regional war zones” where certain groups and their actions moved without regard for national boundaries. Borders have become progressively less relevant.
About 4 % of civil wars were internationalised in 1991; 40 % had become so in 2015. This is certainly true of the Middle Eastern civil wars, all of which began as local conflicts, but have become internationalised which made possible solutions of these conflicts even more complicated! Wars in Iraq and Syria are examples. In its 17th year, the campaign in Afghanistan is the longest in U.S. military history and the Taliban are resurgent.
Peacekeeping and policing
The only reason for nations to have a military capacity is for the capacity of peace missions and in cases of self-defence under strict criteria. For two decades, France has headed the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. China is bidding to take over the lead of this. There is a good reason for China doing so. It is the second largest funder of peacekeeping operations, paying 10 % of the 8 billion dollars budget, and it deploys more blue helmets (2,639 at present) than the other four permanent Security Council members combined.
Although here we can make an argument that some military capacity can be required for purposes of both national and international policing. Policing is not the same as war making. Some nations have no armies, and have a good functioning police system instead.
I believe that war, all war, can be abolished. Bombing cannot win wars! War is a terrible way to settle disputes: there are far better forms of settlement and they now need to be applied. States should be encouraged more than ever to seek for arbitration, mediation, negotiations, dialogue and diplomacy instead of war to solve disputes. Political problems should only be solved by political means.
Need for quality governance
Part of the problem is the quality of those states that are malfunctioning. Disturbing phenomena are so-called failed states. They are also called collapsed states, troubled states, fragile states, states-at-risk or weak states. Sometimes these countries have fragmented populations, weak political institutions and a propensity for rule by violence. A fragile state mostly lacks representation and accountability, stable legal standards, and checks to coercive action by the state, combined with an inability to control territory and borders. Fragility is concentrated especially in cities. Failed states cannot end violence. A degree of political stability is needed. Success means strengthening institutions, ensuring that no minority is excluded and all enjoy opportunities for political and cultural expression, competent economic management, an absence of corruption, and responsive administration.
Some states (of the total of 193) are a danger to themselves and their neighbours and need to be put into an international equivalent of intensive care. Several of these states in crisis are the breeding ground for more violence, chaos and anarchy. The United Nations or intergovernmental bodies such as the Organisation of American States or the African Union have, in my opinion, a role to play in policing those states. Development of peacekeeping forces (composed partly of civilians, police and military) for both inter-state as well as civil wars is a mechanism that can work effectively, if there is enough ground to keep the peace! Some 47 UN peacekeeping missions were initiated between 1991 and 2011, nearly three times as many as during the previous four decades.
Ethnic cleansing, mass killings or genocides remain a serious challenge in our world. A few examples are the killing fields in Cambodia in the 70’s, Rwanda in 1994, Srebrenica in 1995 and Rohingya in 2017. How to prevent these? The international community has the responsibility to prevent crisis and armed conflict and to protect civilians. The General Assembly of the UN agreed to take the responsibility to protect (RtoP) populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Efforts should be made to resolve the underlying root causes of armed conflict that includes fundamental security, well-being, and justice for all its citizens. Needless to say, this is an unfinished agenda!
 For instance US President Trump on the status of Jerusalem: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/06/world/middleeast/trump-jerusalem-israel-capital.html
Photo courtesy of the Aleppo Media Centre.