Aggressive wars and conflicts- that is those not waged in direct defence of a nation or region, cause massive destruction to human life and its environment as well as future generations.
Therefore it is morally incumbent on all governments to avoid or minimise the horrendous social and economic consequences.
In addition, wars are not only immoral but also illegal under national and international law. At the Nuremberg trials following the defeat of Nazi Germany, aggressive wars were judged to constitute the worst of international crimes, with prevention the major reason for founding the United Nations.
Methods for managing such conflicts and avoiding escalation between major powers have been greatly bolstered since the end of WW2, with the creation of institutions such as the UN, NATO and later the EU. In addition, new methods of mediation and diplomacy have gradually evolved in which third party nations and groups are involved in the resolution of conflict and peacekeeping processes. Although these methods are far from perfect, there are grounds for optimism that over time, combined with increasing globalisation ensuring the intermeshing of all national interests and cultures, major conflicts between and within states will become impossible to sustain.
Post cold war there have been numerous civil and neighbouring national conflicts, often involving ethnic or separatist groups, creating great suffering and subsequent large flows of refugees. However a study of wars and armed conflict, The Human Security Report: War and Peace in the 21st Century, shows that the number of armed conflicts has fallen by 40% since the end of the Cold War.
So far in the 21st century an average of 20,000 to 30,000 people each year have suffered violent deaths in wars within and between states, compared with more than 200,000 each year through most of the 1990’s. At the same time, the number of people killed in conflicts has been falling continuously since 1950. Terrorism kills comparatively few people compared with wars, genocide and even traffic accidents. This decline is attributed to the post 1992 increase in UN preventative diplomacy and peace keeping missions and also to the rise and effectiveness of NGOs in drawing attention to crimes perpetrated by or with the knowledge of governments.
Also since its establishment, the UN has played a significant role as effective peacemaker, with a positive outcome achieved in 66% of peace missions. There has been a sixfold increase in UN efforts to prevent wars from starting, a four fold increase in UN peacemaking missions to end unresolved conflicts and an eleven fold increase in the number of states made subject to UN sanctions.
There is gradually emerging through the slow painful process of evolutionary trial and error, mechanisms for containing and resolving violent conflicts, involving the combined efforts of the international community- Governments, NGOs, the UN, WTO, IMF, together with regional and local national alliances.
The social forces unleashed by the expansion of technological, economic and political knowledge, have ensured that no nation can remain in isolation for very long. As globalisation accelerates, pressures are placed on all states by their peers to meet minimum standards of human rights as well as good governance. Failure to respond to these pressures can result in a state becoming a pariah- paying the price of reduced trade, financial support and a lower standard of living for its population.
A variety of techniques from mediation and peace-keeping to trade sanctions and threat of reprisal, are being applied in order to force warring parties to the peace table. These have been applied with mixed success in Bosnia, Kosovo, Kashmir, Northern Ireland and the Sudan, while high-pressure mediation is continuing in more intractable conflict areas such as Palestine, Somalia, The Republic of Congo, North Korea and Burma. There is no doubt that that we are witnessing the evolutionary genesis of globally mediated methods for permanently maintaining peace across the planet.
The principle of mutual support and cooperation between states provides an evolutionary win-win for all stakeholders. As has been demonstrated throughout history, competition for resources can on its own achieve short term gains for the dominant parties; but without cooperation, this will inevitably lead to conflict and war, resulting in loss and eventual for all parties. Support for the floundering economies affected by climate change and conflict in Asia, Africa, Central Asia and South America, will be a crucial test for the international community in the future; demonstrating its capacity for support and cooperation on a global scale.
Since 1945 there have been two major developments in the practice of war and peace; the rise of human rights law in peacetime and the strengthening of international humanitarian law in wartime. The relationship between a government and its citizens is now more transparent because of democracy, with government officials increasingly held responsible for violations of human rights. There is a need in conflicts to make a clear distinction between oppressors and oppressed, between the guilty and the innocent. Nations held captive by dictators and despots should not be doubly punished by collective sanctions and outside violence. Killing innocents to save innocents is an unacceptable moral choice. With hindsight it is clear that In Iraq the Security Council should have sought the option Hussein’s indictment by an international criminal tribunal as a perpetrator of war crimes and should not have imposed sanctions and turned a blind eye to war by the US, which over a decade has cost at least a half a million civilian lives.
A new system of international justice based on the UN Human Rights Charter can also provide a road to post-conflict reconciliation. The new model can contribute to peace and democracy for states emerging from the massive trauma of violent war and genocide.
One approach being implemented is the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. These deal with acts of violence and repression committed by the State that occurred in a country’s recent past. Commissions cannot impose sentences or award damages, but are authorised by the state, lasting about 2 years and then disbanding. There are currently three such commissions in operation; in Morocco, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Paraguay, with three new commissions being established in Indonesia, Liberia and Burundi.
It is now clear that most military analyses relating to the future of war are severely skewed and one dimensional, failing to adequately factor in drivers beyond traditional geopolitical and weapons trendlines. These future drivers- primarily globalisation, cyber-culture and global warming are now approaching with the force of a tsunami and will overwhelm all other traditional military drivers by mid-century.
Failing to adequately take their consequences into account is to blindside future reality, with the potential to lead to further irrevocable impacts on a fragile world.
Globalisation involves the interweaving of the cultural, educational, legal, economic, political, and technological protocols of all nations in a dense web of dependencies and relationships. China and the US for example are now joined at the hip despite ideological disparities and are mutually interdependent. The US needs China’s financial reserves to prop up its massive dollar debt, while China needs US markets for a large proportion of its exports. These two superpowers are also indirectly connected by the web of alliance and trade networks of the international community as a whole. They are now both too big, too interconnected and too focussed on trying to improve the quality of life of their own populations to become involved in massive national global wars.
The outstanding template for globalisation is of course the European Union, which now links the economies of 27 nations, that up until a century ago warred continuously, with massive loss of life and potential. Now their populations work together, trade together, marry together and share a common currency. The EU is the third force in an increasingly multi-polar world, counterbalancing both the US and China.
Globalisation is also being accelerated by the Cyber revolution- providing access by all populations to the world’s knowledge base and providing an unstoppable catalyst for democracy, despite short term futile attempts at national censorship. It now mediates civilisation’s social, scientific and commercial progress, with the potential to provide enormous computational and decision power for future global governance.
Simulated war-gaming, involving complex scenario simulations based on holistic social and economic factors, will therefore be increasingly applied to pre-evaluate the potential outcomes of waging war; with the result that military imperatives will play a significantly reduced role in the future.
Cyber warfare will also become increasingly common, used as a proxy for direct weapons-based assault. Recent major attacks on Google as well as 2,500 major companies worldwide, demonstrate the potential for even small groups to wage global economic warfare- hijacking strategic planning data and shutting down critical processes and infrastructure.
But global warming is the biggest challenge, with the greatest potential impact ever faced or ever likely to be faced by our civilisation. By the middle of this century the budgets of all countries, particularly those of the major and middle powers will be focussed on mitigating the disastrous outcomes including- increased frequency and severity of catastrophic events, resulting in massive damage to both the natural and built environment, acidification of oceans, scarcity of food, water and energy, disease pandemics and unprecedented refugee flows.
The stresses on all societies will be enormous, but only through global cooperation will anarchy and conflict will be constrained. This will require planning and allocation of resources on a global scale. The budgets and assets of all major powers including the US, China, India and the EU will need to be synchronised and focussed on avoiding this over-riding threat to the future of humanity. National rivalries will be subsumed and military and weapons programs drastically cut.
A timeline on the evolution of this process is as follows-
By 2020- battlefield strategy will evolve towards one that is increasingly fought in covert form – not through the use of large-scale traditional weaponry as in previous wars, as conventional military values become obsolete. Most attacks will be focused on subduing increasingly integrated terrorist and criminal groups, military juntas and authoritarian regimes as well as minority ehtnic groups.
A high proportion of battlefield operations will be automated, with drones and robots operating remotely and eventually autonomously, using satellite and sensor surveillance and the latest Web based intelligence for decision support. Cyber and economic warfare will also play an increasing role, conducted both by governments and criminal and terrorist groups.
At the same time there will be greater emphasis on a variety of peace-keeping and mediation initiatives, involving a range of alliances between Governments, NGOs and military forces such as the new-look NATO, operating at the local level in cooperation with civilian populations. These strategies will increasingly be applied to support failing and dysfunctional states and establish democratic institutions and are now beginning to be rolled out in Iraq and Afghanistan. This will become the primary template for future military operations.
By 2030- superpower states – US and China, will no longer able to sustain long term conflicts using 20th century arsenals of air, sea and land forces. The US will be forced to abdicate its traditional 20th century role of global military dominance as its resources become spread too thinly and it struggles to maintain quality of life for its population against unsustainable mounting levels of debt.
Similarly China, India and middle power nations will be forced to channel most of their resources to developing infrastructure, capacity and social services. Numerous flashpoints involving quelling local insurgencies and ethnic uprisings will remain. Increasingly the UN and representative government groups such as the present G20 will work together to minimise conflict globally. The EU will be seen as the template for global cooperation and peace-keeping will become the norm for conflict containment.
By 2040 – it is realised by most nations that conflict and wars are increasingly unsupportable. Globalisation continues to accelerate, with the creation of more complex networks of alliances and treaties binding nations and regional groups. At the same time countries start to lose their traditional status, with pressure for more fluid cross border relaxation as in the EU. The mixing of races and nationalities eases pressure for conflict, and provides greater accessibility to global health, education, and knowledge resources.
The reality of climate change, with its increasing frequency of disaster events, forces ideological disparities to play a secondary role.
By 2050- all available global resources are marshalled to overcome the immense problems associated with global warming. The end of wars between nations is in sight.