waning wars | December 27, 2011

Steven Pinker and Joshua Goldstein: War Really is Going Out of Style

In “War Really is Going Out of Style,” their bluntly titled and persuasively argued New York Times Op-Ed, Steven Pinker and Joshua Goldstein write that war is simply not part of the human condition and suggest that, as a species, we are moving away from armed conflict. “The invasion of Iraq was the most recent example of an all-out war between two national armies,” they write. “And it could very well be the last one.” Everywhere you look, war is on the wane. But why? Pinker and Goldstein offer a few reasons:

War no longer pays:

For centuries, wars reallocated huge territories, as empires were agglomerated or dismantled and states wiped off the map. But since shortly after World War II, virtually no borders have changed by force, and no member of the United Nations has disappeared through conquest.

Increased trade makes war less appealing:

War also declines as prosperity and trade rise. Historically, wealth came from land and conquest was profitable. Today, wealth comes from trade, and war only hurts. When leaders’ power depends on delivering economic growth, and when a country’s government becomes richer and stronger than its warlords, war loses its appeal.

A strong international community keeps the peace:

The futility of conquest is part of the emergence of an international community regulated by norms and taboos and wielding more effective tools for managing conflicts. Among those tools, the United Nations’ 100,000 deployed peacekeepers have measurably improved the success of peace agreements in civil wars.

The world simply has less patience for brutality:

Perhaps the deepest cause of the waning of war is a growing repugnance toward institutionalized violence. Brutal customs that were commonplace for millennia have been largely abolished: cannibalism, human sacrifice, heretic-burning, chattel slavery, punitive mutilation, sadistic executions. Could war really be going the way of slave auctions? Nothing in our nature rules it out.

Both Steven Pinker and Joshua Goldstein have recent books out (The Better Angels of Our Nature and Winning the War on War, respectively) espousing the worldwide trend showing that war is on the wane.

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