GLOBAL PEACE AND CONFLICT
Throughout history conflict and war have mostly been caused by the determination to take the resources of others, or to take more than a fair share of the available resources. The armed conflicts in the world today are mostly explicable in these terms. It is not possible to understand the problem of peace and war in the world today if we do not connect it to the taken for granted affluence of rich countries.
Our high "living standards" in rich countries would not be possible if we were not getting far more than our fair share of the world’s resources. The global economy is massively unjust; it increasingly allocates most of the world’s wealth to the rich few. This is not possible without a) the deprivation of the Third World, because most of their resources are flowing to the rich countries, and b) armed conflict, because the situation cannot be maintained without the use of force and violence. If we insist on remaining as affluent as we are we will have to support repressive regimes and remain heavily armed and ready to use force to preserve our access to more than our fair share of the world’s wealth.
CONSIDER OUR SITUATION
Š Resources are scarce and many are being depleted at a rapid rate.
Š Rich countries are heavily and increasingly dependent on imports for their resources and energy. We have only about 15% of the world’s population but we get about 80% of resources produced.
Š Thus the distribution of world resource use is extremely unjust; a few rich countries are getting most of them, through the normal operation of the global market economy. If the already-rich countries insist on becoming even richer the distributions will become even worse.
Š Many of the resources the rich countries consume are taken from poor countries through normal economic processes which seriously deprive the majority of the world's people. For example much of the best Third World land grows crops to export, not to feed hungry local people.
Š World population will probably reach 9+ billion somewhere after 2060, so there are likely to be 1.5 times as many people demanding resources as there are now.
Š Land available for agriculture might not increase at all, because the rate at which it is being eroded and otherwise lost to production. Water resources, fish and forests are rapidly becoming more scarce. There will be much greater demand for these biological resources in the near future. However the most serious problems are probably going to be set by the peaking of petroleum supply, possibly between 2005 and 2010. (See http://socialwork.arts.unsw.edu.au/tsw/D08ThePetroleumSit.html)
Š If all the people the world will probably have by 2060 were to have the per capita resource consumption that people in rich countries average now, demand for resources would be about 8 times as great as it is now.
...and everyone, including even people in the richest countries, is obsessed with increasing living standards, economic output, production and consumption and affluence as fast as possible and without end!
The inescapable conclusion:-
While all parties remain dedicated to greater and greater affluence regardless of how rich they already are, and there are nowhere near enough resources to enable all to be as affluent as the rich are now, there can be no outcome other than increasing competition and conflict between nations for resources and markets.
In other words, global peace is not possible unless there is movement towards a society in which we can all live well on far lower per capita resource use rates than at present.
Global peace is not possible without global justice
The global economy is extremely unjust. The few, maybe 15%, of the world’s people who live in rich countries are taking about 80% of the resources produced in the world each year. It is not just that they get most of the resources on sale ( …which they do simply by being able to pay most for them in the global market economy). The economy also enables much of the productive capacity of the Third World, especially its land and labour, to be put into producing things to export to rich world supermarkets. This is why conventional development can be seen as a process of legitimised plunder. It mostly develops industries and structures which deliver resources and wealth to the rich while ignoring the needs of billions of people and taking from them the capacity to produce for themselves to meet their own basic needs. (For detailed critical discussion of development see http://socialwork.arts.unsw.edu.au/tsw/08b-Third-World-Lng.html
Note that global justice is not a matter of us giving the Third World more of our resources. Many of the resources we get are taken from the Third World in the first place, through the market system at little benefit to its people.
It is remarkable that the Third World has expressed so little outrage at this situation. This is partly because Third World countries are ruled by elites who have a strong interest in perpetuating a system they benefit from too. (What benefit does the average Nigerian get from the export of oil to the rich countries?)
The first way in which the global economic situation generates armed conflict and violence is evident in the effort Third World elites make to preserve their privileges by keeping their people down. In some cases this has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. These brutal and greedy regimes are eager to sell their national forests etc. to the corporations from rich countries. Often rich countries are propping up these governments, i.e., supporting them in a war against their own people.
Rich countries go to a great deal of effort to keep in place in the Third World the governments and policies that benefit the rich countries, including use of aid, military equipment and actual invasion. Brutal Third World regimes are often supported or installed by the rich countries because they are willing to give the rich countries the access they want to Third World resources and markets. The rich countries use skulduggery and violence on a large scale to support such regimes. (On the existence and functioning of our empire, see http://socialwork.arts.unsw.edu.au/tsw/10-Our-Empire.html)
Often rebels, war lords and rival factions fight ruthlessly to get control of the supply of diamonds, timber, oil etc., often funded and armed by rich world governments and corporations in an effort to come out aligned with the winning side, or just to have their mines protected. This is common in Africa. The local people not only get none of the wealth produced, they suffer brutal harassment, while the resources are of course sold eventually to rich countries.
The Structural Adjustment Packages inflicted on indebted poor countries by the World Bank have contributed to many serious conflicts by destroying the Third World government’s meagre capacity to provide assistance to its poorest and thereby provoking huge social problems. This was an important cause of the Rwanda genocide and of the break up of Yugoslavia. (See Chussodovsky’s The Globalisation of Poverty, 1997.) Those SAPs force countries to give corporations greater freedom to access the country’s resources, markets, again fuelling problems leading to violence while increasing resource flows to the rich.
Rich world military force is deployed in the world’s “trouble spots” to be used against or to deter “rebel/communist/subversive/insurgent/terrorist” groups who might disrupt “order”, and to deal with those “…threatening our vital interests.” For example how long do you think we could go on getting most of the world’s oil if we did not have huge military forces patrolling the seas, in bases in the Middle East, supporting ruling elites who are hated by many of their people, e.g., the Saudi royal family? It is in our “vital interests” that most of the world’s oil continues to flow to us and not to benefit the ordinary people of Nigeria, Iraq, etc. Any one calling for radical redistribution of these wealth flows so that poor people get more/some of it, is of course an insurgent, communist, terrorist…etc.
Then there are the outright massive invasions rich countries carry out, usually justified in noble-sounding terms such as “humanitarian aid”, “preventing genocide”, “resisting communist advance”, “getting rid of a dictator”, and “opposing terrorism.” Sometimes there is some validity in these claims but always the action achieves important economic or political goals for the rich countries. There are many cases where they totally ignore the need for humanitarian intervention (notably Rwanda, East Timor), and where they not only ignore but support dictators or take no action against genocide, or support regimes that murder their own people…because it is in their interests not to act. Where they do launch military action you can be sure they will end up with resources, markets, military bases, control they didn’t have before. For instance Yugoslavia and Iraq were socialist states, with no private ownership of major industries and resources and no place for foreign corporations … but now these economies and firms are in the hands of western corporations operating in a market economy. Before the invasion Iraq oil was controlled by the state, but early in 2007 the industry was massively restructured and most of the oil revenue will now go to western corporations.
Would the 1991 war waged by the West to expel Iraq from Kuwait have broken out if Kuwait had only been a major exporter of carrots instead of oil? Why was there no war to expel Israel from its invasion of South Lebanon, or Indonesia when it invaded East Timor?
In other words, arms and violence are needed to maintain our empire, to guarantee our access to more than our fair share of the world’s resources. If we insist on having a way of life that is far more extravagant than all can share and that is only possible for the few of us, and if we take far more than our fair share of the world's resources, much of it from Third World regions, then we will need lots of military force and the readiness to use it. We also have to supply arms to the Third World regimes that will keep their societies to the economic policies that suit us.
Speaking to American soldiers at Camp Stanley, Korea, President Johnson said, "Don't forget, there are two hundred million of us in a world of three billion. They want what we've got -- and we are not going to give it to them!"
If that is our attitude, and it seems to be, then we had better remain heavily armed!
To put it another way,
Š We cannot have global peace without global justice.
Š We cannot have global justice unless the rich countries cease grabbing so much of he world's wealth.
Think about security.
We all want to be secure from armed conflict. The conventional solution has always been to try to build up the armed might to defend against attack…while doing nothing to change the factors that ultimately cause armed conflict. There can be no security in a world where no one questions the drive to get richer when it is totally impossible for all to be rich, or where the push for greater wealth must lead to conflict over resources and markets.
The best way to be secure is not by increasing military force but by changing to ways that enable all to live without taking more than their fair share. However a peaceful world order cannot be achieved unless we shift to The Simpler Way, which would enable all to live well without taking more than their fair share or exploiting other regions.
The (unwitting) hypocrisy of much of the Peace Movement.
In general the Peace Movement fails to attend to the focal theme being stressed here. It has been largely made up of middle class people in rich countries who are pleading for an end to armed conflict while they go on living affluently… which they do not recognise as the main cause of conflict in the world. The movement does not say, “We can’t have peace in the world unless we the over-consuming few shift to much simpler living standards and ways”.
Similarly people who criticise President Bush for invading Iraq and planning to invade Iran, and all the previous American Presidents who presided over numerous invasions, assassinations and coups, fail to realise that unless things like this are done they cannot go on enjoying their high “living standards”.
And most ordinary people have no idea that unless these things are done their supermarkets will not be well stocked.
Just as mindless are pleas and admonitions designed to get us to “love one another” and to “make peace, not war”, as if the cause of war is a choice individuals make to dislike and harm each other. It never seems to occur to most people that the basic causes are to do with international relations, foreign policy and imperial plunder, or the ceaseless quest by corporations and shoppers for more and more throughput.
Greed and history
The last several thousand years of human history can mostly be put in terms of people trying to grab more than their fair share of the available wealth and power. Consider the behaviour of states over recent centuries, constantly jockeying diplomatically and fighting each other. Why? Simply because they are never content to live with what they have or content to organise satisfactory lifestyles for themselves within their own borders. There are always energetic "entrepreneurs" who are not happy just to be very wealthy, so they go out looking for even more resources and markets, and try to outmanoeuvre and bully their rivals. States try to increase their wealth, territory, status and power, usually via normal economic strategies, but before long they often come to blows. This is largely what history has been about.
Many groups of people haven’t done this. Many tribes maintain stable social systems within stable boundaries and are not constantly seeking to outsmart or steal from their neighbours. This is not true of all tribes, but it is true of some, and it is totally foreign to Western culture with its restless urge to go out and acquire more, conquer, build empires and take over markets, or one way or another to get more and more, with no concept of ever having enough wealth.
Most people fail to grasp any of this. They wonder why there are conflict and poverty and poor nations. Every now and then their leaders tell them their children must go to war and slaughter the children of other people just like themselves. They don’t like this much but it never occurs to them that they have brought it on their own heads by being enthusiastic supporters of and beneficiaries of the grabbing that has led to the conflict. They have been enthusiastic about the empire building, the quest for more markets, the pursuit of national prestige, and they all want to be members of “a great and powerful nation”. Why can’t they be content to be members of a noble and admirable nation, or a caring nation? Above all they want the high "living standards" they can’t have without taking more than their fair share. But they would angrily reject the claim that they are greedy; they only want normal, “nice” things. They don’t realise that lifestyles regarded as normal in rich countries are far more resource expensive than all people could ever have. We can’t solve the problem until people who go to supermarkets realise what they are doing; i.e., understand that they are participating in and reinforcing the injustice and the plunder that requires and generates armed conflict in the world.
What about the corporations?
The main beneficiaries of the way the world work are the transnational corporations. Many of them are directly involved in the nasty actions that are taken to preserve and run the empire. However it is a mistake to hold them and the governments whose foreign policies facilitate corporate goals as the only responsible agents. The system could not function without the acquiescence of people in general or without their eager consumption of the products the corporations supply to our supermarkets and petrol stations.
The failure to question -- The refusal to ask why.
One of the most fascinating, puzzling and surprising things about our society is the almost total absence of interest in the question, “Why do we get into wars?” A tiny number of historians delve into the question but governments, military establishments, soldiers who fight in wars, the civilians who get minced, and publics in general show not the slightest interest in the question! Consider the massive amount of time and energy and rhetoric and emotion that goes into the “celebration” of wars, the remembrance services, the recognition of bravery and endurance and sacrifice. Consider the number of books describing heroic campaigns. Consider also the massive investment of brains, resources and dollars in military policy and preparation, such as the time that goes into building another destroyer. Governments spend more than $1000 billion every year on preparing to fight wars. They spend something on ”peace keeping” but they spend almost nothing on trying to prevent conflicts from arising in the first place. War is an astronomically costly business, in dollars, effort, options foregone and destroyed lives. It killed about 160 million people last century. It has plagued human society for about 12,000 years. (It appears that there was none of it before humans established settlements.) Wouldn’t you think that the overwhelmingly focal concerns for human beings would then be, “Why does war occur?”, and “How can we make sure it does not occur again?” Yet almost no one shows the slightest interest in these questions! The books and movies describing and eulogising and lamenting pour out continually. Where are the books trying to explain why war occurs and how to avoid it? The ideological forces at work here are extraordinarily powerful and mysterious.
Huge numbers of people go off to kill each other when they are told to, evidently without any interest in whether or not there is a good reason do so, whether someone has made a mistake, whether there might be another option, whether their leaders are dolts or thieves. They seem to feel no need to check. They certainly show almost no interest in asking whether their own lifestyles or their nation’s foreign policies might be a source of the trouble.
If I told you to go and kill someone would you do it? Or would you ask “Why?”, and expect a very good reason before you did it? The military mind is trained never to ask such questions, but people in general seem to need no training.
In World War 1 many Australians walked hundreds of miles from country regions to cities to enlist, to fight against young Germans and Turks on the other side of the world enlisting with probably the same appallingly unsatisfactory reasons. Many of them actually said they enlisted for adventure. Many enlisted “…to defend the Fatherland.” Many on our side enlisted “…to defend the glorious British Empire”. Did they not understand what an empire is, and that you are not supposed to steal, and that stolen property should be returned?
How many of them would have had the faintest idea why the war had broken out or whether there was a good reason to enlist, or whether the politicians who presided over the creation of the war were the one’s who should have been shot. How many would have enlisted if we could have sat down with them for half an hour to explain a little about international relations, imperialism, the military industrial complex, the class interests that generate war `and the history of war? The British fought 72 colonial wars to conquer their glorious empire. World Wars 1 and 2 were about the Germans challenging the British for dominance of the global system, i.e., for looting rights. A major factor leading to the outbreak of the war with Japan was that country’s effort to get access the resources of the region, and the Americans’ determination not to let them into the spheres they had access to. The politicians always say we are taking this action “…in defence of our interests”, but this mostly means “in defence of our access to distant resources which we don’t want anyone else to have access to, except on our terms”. It is now in the vital interests of Americans that they should be able to go on getting and squandering 25% of the world’s scarce and dwindling oil, while about 4 billion people get almost none of it. They have said they are prepared to go to war against anyone who threatens this access, (The “Carter Doctrine”.)
If soldiers were inclined to demand very good reasons as to why they are being told to slaughter others just like themselves, and what international relations had led their leaders to tell them to do it, and knew a little about the history and causes of war, then there probably wouldn’t be much war.
There cannot be a peaceful world before we have adopted some kind of Simpler Way, enabling all to live very resource-frugally, within highly self-sufficient local economies, thereby eliminating the main cause of armed conflict and of most of the other serious problems facing the planet. Essential to The Simpler Way is the understanding that affluence is not possible for all and is the basic cause of global problems. Even more important, The Simpler Way involves the recognition that affluence interferes with the achievement of a satisfactory life, i.e., that a high quality of life and peace of mind are best achieved through living more simply, frugally and self-sufficiently within cooperative communities and focusing on non-material goals.
For a detailed account of The Simpler Way, see The Alternative, Sustainable Society.
For a short comment on the remarkable failure to think critically about the causes of war, see Why Anzac Day is so disturbing.