Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Peace through superior fire power

Democracy again this afternoon, but for now, a quick return to war.

I suggested some of the pro-war lot support peace through superior fire power - certainly, that is the import of their pleas for internationalist intervention on human rights. They are suggesting that only a military might organised to protect all humans on earth can achieve peace and security. The Janjaweed of Sudan must be brought to book, and if the Sudanese Government will not use force, then the world community must apply that force.

This is, of course, a profoundly pessimistic Hobbsian view of the world, of a war of each against all that must be quashed by the permanent war of the Leviathantine state against all. Hobbes was writing around a time of immense civil war and distress, not disimilar to the perpetual state of the modern world, so the similarity in times may lie behind the similarity in ideas.

Unpacking this idea a little, we can understand the pro-war position further. Waltzer argues against Clausewitz that war is not necessarilly unlimited, and indeed, is usually limited, thus there is moral choice involved in the waging of war. I would argue that Waltzer is incorrect, it is not moral choice that limits war, it is, rather, and axis of the stakes on one side and the relative available means on another.

What I mean is, that an army will not take actions it does not feel are (generally) necessary. In limited war, for limited gains, the army will take the minimum loses and use of resources in order to win. A hopelessly outmatched army will capitulate if the stakes are low enough. A supremely overwhelming army will try to win with the minimum commitment of resources. Two evenly matched sides with strong commitment to the war will engage in utter utter carnage.

The restraints of war are an effect of the lack of need for certain types of force, and the recognition that atrocity raises the stakes for the opposition. Powerful armies with solid motivation will fight cleanly, small armies with much to gain will tend to fight dirty. Thus, in a world of full spectrum dominance, the future will be the apparently moral Leviathon - America, for now - versus the barbarous interlopers.

To my mind, this project is counter productive, because it neglects the fact that the more military predominant America will become, the more its rivals, facing supreme existential threat, will be driven to fight back by atrocity. Where war produces thousands of small atrocities, mostly unplanned and distributed around a theatre, terrorists will are driven to use the most destructive force in conscious and applied actions. The world where might equals right will find plenty of aspirants with the will to seize the power of might.


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