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July 14, 2009


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Short answer: no.

As a cynic, I'd agree with the assessment that these days, imperial wars are simply waged under new labels. The country that I live in maintains military presence in Afghanistan, and it seems to me that this year has witnessed a definite shift in the public perception of the operation. The media, and the reservists who volunteer for the task after their conscription, have suddenly become aware that it's no longer a plain old garden-variety peace-keeping operation. Instead, it's a conflict; perhaps a low-profile one, but nonetheless a steadily deteriorating and escalating one. It's war. The banner of the United Nations makes it no different from those wars that were fought under the banner of Corpus Evangelicorum or the Holy Alliance.

Also, I wouldn't say that the World has become more peaceful since 1989. To use Europe as an example, during those four decades that preceded 1989, the Continent didn't see one single inter-state war or even a serious civil war, with the possible exception of the Hungarian Insurrection. Terrorism, rioting and violence, but no war. On the other hand, after 1989, there have been at least a few genuine inter-state wars as well as more than enough civil wars. The previous European outsourcing of conflicts to the Third World or overseas theatres has been accompanied with a new outbreak of conflicts on European soil. And the process is still unraveling. As you probably noted, Mueller wrote the paper that Noel linked in 2007, so obviously it doesn't include the Second South Ossetian War, which was very much an inter-state war between Russia and Georgia.

By the way, the map on the UCDP database is somewhat, shall we say, arbitrary. According to the survey, Britain and Spain have experienced "one or more minor war and conflict" since 1989, but France hasn't? This in spite of the fact that with the exception of the Second Gulf War, France has participated in every World Tour of the same traveling band that Spain and Britain are members of, and has also pursued a successful solo career. I might also note that countries such as Italy, Poland and Estonia - all of which are labeled with white on that map - have dispatched troops to Iraq, and of the supposedly peaceful African countries, Namibia was involved in the Congolese Civil War; this was the main reason why Finland decided to cut the bilateral development aid programs with Namibia.

Also, I think that Mueller is making a false analogy when he equates warfare as a political instrument with the institution of slavery, and suggests that since slavery has been done away with, the same might happen also to war. These two are simply not similar. Slavery has merely cultural and socio-economic roots, whereas violence and killing are forms of behaviour which are characteristic to our species. In short, war really is a biological imperative. Most of us feel the need to hurt and kill, just as most of us feel the need to have sex. This factor is, incidentally, already briefly addressed on the pages 11-12 in Mueller's paper.

"Objective viability" or "economic effectiveness" have nothing to do with it. Mueller seems willing to subscribe to the false conclusion that we're somehow prone to rational behaviour by nature. To his credit, he admits that he may be wrong, so I must do the same; however, I'd argue that any belief in human rationalism is simply unwarranted.

Again, to use the comparison with sexual relationships: partnership and marriage can, by definition, also be described as completely irrational and objectively unviable acts, because they can only end badly. The outcome will be either divorce, or the death of the spouse. Thus, in both cases, a person who hooks up with another person is inevitably setting him/herself up for a tragic experience somewhere down the line. It's completely irrational, no?

Still, people do it. Why? I suppose that in the meantime, they get kicks out of it, and there are probably some medium-term benefits to be gained. And also, as said, it's a form of behaviour which is characteristic to our species; indeed, it's necessary for our survival as a species. The same applies to violence, which persists even in times of peace.

Organized war is a good method for a human society to collectively get its rocks off on regular basis. One doesn't have to be directly involved to feel the thrill. I was in Poland back in the last August, and many locals were, as expected, following the developments in Georgia with passion. The national factor can play out much like the gender factor. Women have experienced the thrill of war when they've willingly, even with delight, sent their husbands, brothers and sons off to battle, and maintained the homefront with fanaticism; similarly, a non-militarized nation can still admire and support the undertakings of more bellicose nations. War has its role, and you need to have one, somewhere, just to get your fix.

Of course, as national antagonisms and national interests change, actual war may become less likely in some regions of the World, so I must agree that Mueller's argument is certainly partly correct. The Scandinavian countries haven't resorted to violence in their mutual relations since 1814, for example. Still, all the four Nordic countries have participated in military campaigns against other nations.

I'm also willing to accept that total war, as witnessed during the 20th century, may become a thing of the past. But otherwise, I think we're just in a temporary remission.


J. J.

Damn. What he said. :^)

I appear to have won this solitaire bet:


but that was just for 2005.

The administration's strategy on Honduras/Zelaya which you described as 'perfect' if a little cynical looks to be on the verge of blowing up in their face with much potential bloodshed.



I for one, am not interested in a liberal Kissinger.

Hi, Iduutut!

Well, I'm not a big fan of Kissinger; he wasn't very good at realpolitik.

That said, the Obama Administration is being less than idealistic in letting the OAS carry the water here.

But consider the options.

(1) Support Micheletti. That puts the U.S. government against the rest of the hemisphere, most of whose governments had no choice but to oppose Zelaya's ouster ... and does nothing to keep Zelaya from trying to sneak back into Honduras.

No gain for Honduras, same current problem.

(2) Impose sanctions on Honduras worse that the two-day embargo that its neighbors imposed or the current partial aid postponment. That backs Micheletti into a corner, short-circuits the current talks underway with Arias, imposes great suffering on the Honduran people ... and does nothing to keep Zelaya from trying to sneak back into Honduras.

Big loss for Honduras, same current problem.

I guess we also could have invaded to reinstall Zelaya, but that seems unwise in another way.

So I have to say that absent a better course of action, keeping our options open and our nose clean was and is the best policy. We spoke loudly but with some creative ambiguity and let the OAS take the lead. Cynical, and obviously the best course of action for the people of the United States ... but it's also hard to see how the alternatives would have been better for the people of Honduras.

Unless there is a different, less cynical option that I missed?

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