War, at least the sort of war that is declared between nations, that involves armies and mass mobilisation hasn’t happened for some time and in the absence of such threats it would be easy to think that somehow we have got past war. That would be a foolish thing to think.
If anything the world is getting more, not less, dangerous. Here’s five reasons why I think that.
The end of Pax Americana
For some time now war has been kept in check by the threat of retaliation from America. It remains the world’s foremost military power and despite the mess in the Middle East there are few leaders aspiring to be the next Saddam Hussein by tempting America’s patience. However, the military gap is closing and there are a few countries (China, Russia and North Korea for example) where their own military capability is enough to give the US pause for thought.
No one who doesn’t live at the White House is thinking they could rule the world but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few bullies around willing to flex their muscle on what they consider their patch. China remains expansive in its ambitions and Japan is moving away from its pacifist constitution as a result. The China-Taiwan relationship remains unsolved and uneasy for example. As does Kashmir, Palestine, Korea, Syria, Yemen and Ukraine. It was Russia’s actions in Ukraine that leads Philip Jenkins to argue that the next ‘war’ will not be in Asia but the Baltic.
Nobel peace prizes notwithstanding there are more nuclear nations now than ever and not only are there no indications that anyone is going to give them up any time soon but instead more nations trying to figure out how they might secretly get them too. The news that North Korea is going to participate in this year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea is welcome but it would be naive to think this means NK will stop shooting rockets and developing its nuclear weapons programme.
New York is finally taking down its old, misleading ‘Fallout Shelter’ signs which have been up for decades, not because the nuclear threat is over but because in the event of a nuclear threat people might follow them and get hurt. Then of course there are worries about those who could actually launch the weapons, which is why this idea is getting recycled: Presidential murder as a deterrent to nuclear war.
Rise of nationalism
Borders are tightening, far-right views are growing, fear of the ‘other’ is spreading. Western Europe and the US has seen an astonishing resurgence in views that were, a generation ago, deemed unthinkable. While victories at the ballot box in major powers have largely been avoided it would be ridiculous to suggest the nationalists have been defeated. Globalisation is an unstoppable force and migratory pressures from the Middle-East and Africa in particular will only serve to keep this particular fire burning for some time to come.
For the past 70 years the move towards democratic models of government combined with generally capitalist economies has seen the world become more inter-connected and more peaceful. But democracy is not embraced everywhere, is loathed in a number of significant places and undermined in plenty of others. Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Russia, China, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, nearly all of the Middle East & North Africa, Myanmar, Cambodia, Cuba, Venezuela, large parts of Central Asia, Pakistan, Maldives are all places that off the top of my head have become less not more democratic over the past decade or continue stubbornly resistant to the charms of democracy.
Not only that but in strong democracies there is a malaise, a distrust of elites, media, establishment than is undermining debate and participation. Plus there are pressures to our concepts of freedom of speech.
All of these ingredients combined to form a potent mix and you can spice it up with hackers, technological warfare, a global recession, climate change and a host of other things. As a result it remains important that the church is a force for peace, (number #4 being the traditional vulnerability).
Whatever happens it’s good to know that Switzerland, for one, is prepared for the collapse of civilisation.
What do you think? Too pessimistic? If so, why?