There is an argument being made, chiefly by people like Steven Pinker, that war is on the decline. Humanity is making progress and in the last 70 years or so the world has become a more peaceful place. I’m not so sure and I’m not alone in thinking that. Michael Mann says,
Critiquing Pinker’s statistics on war fatalities, I show that the overall pattern is not a decline in war, but substantial variation between periods and places. War has not declined and current trends are slightly in the opposite direction….Globally war and violence are not declining, but they are being transformed.
Unfortunately from Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan, Ukraine, the Congo there is still plenty of war and death around. Even if it hasn’t escalated to great power battles it isn’t because nations aren’t fighting over influence. it only takes two minutes to understand that in Syria where the Iranians, Russians, Saudis, Turks, Americans and a host of other minor players are all involved.
One of the reasons that there hasn’t been a major great power war is that these nations are now nuclear. The lack of war has been hailed as proof of concept. We need nuclear weapons so that we will never have to use them. It’s the sort of logic that only politicians use.
The problem is that it is no longer just ‘great powers’ (US, Russia, China, Britain & France) that have nuclear weapons. Israel, India, Pakistan and now North Korea do too. As a result the world is not a more peaceful place, it is a more dangerous one.
At a recent international security conference the chairman of the Munich Security Conference, German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger, summed it up by saying simply, “The world has moved closer — much too close — to the brink of major interstate war.” It is like 1914 again — except we have nuclear weapons.
Now I understand the topic of conversation at a security conference is always war and a statement like that generates headlines but I also happen to think that it’s true.
A recent virtual roundtable on presidential first use of nuclear weapons revealed considerable unease at the state of the nuclear situation and not all of it because the US has the most unpredictable President of the nuclear era.
These fears are only exacerbated by news that Russia has developed nuclear weapons designed to bypass missile defences. We’re still in a nuclear arms race folks, it’s just no longer about who has the most.
So a meeting between President Trump will not persuade North Korea to give up its weapons – the fact that they have them is why they feel they can now negotiate. Assuming that the meeting doesn’t actually makes things worse (I can’t think why some people would think that?) there’s no way they’re giving up what they’ve sacrificed mightily to obtain.
I argued here that the reality of a nuclear weapon and a loss of confidence in the protection of the US would push both South Korea & Japan down the road of nuclear weapons. As it happens those aren’t the nations next in line at the nuclear checkout. That would be Iran & Saudi Arabia.
President Trump is on record as not a fan of the deal with Iran about their nuclear weapons programme. He has said he will pull the US out of the deal. Iran was along with North Korea the closest to having nuclear weapons and this may well speed up not slow down that process. If that happens Saudi Arabia won’t be far behind and they may even get there with the help of the US.
So how comfortable do you feel about a world in which India & Pakistan have nuclear weapons, North Korea does and then in that calm oasis of peace known as the Middle East – a nuclear Israel, Iran & Saudi Arabia? The chances that there would be a war to prevent that scenario is quite high.
Of course all this is speculation and talk until the day it isn’t.