Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Do We Need Another World War?

Ask the average guy on the street if we need another world war and he might respond with, “We need another world war like I need a hole in the head.”   Yet, there are medical conditions which can be solved by holes in the head, such as cranial swelling, i.e. when your brain gets too big for your skull.

War, according to Carl von Clausewitz, is merely the continuation of politics by other means.  In other words, when talking fails to resolve an issue in need of resolution, military force will accomplish what persuasion couldn’t.

However, winning a war, which, in Clausewitz’ view, means achieving political goals via military means, is easier said than done.  As Machiavelli warned, It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.

The end results of WWII are consistent with Machiavelli’s warning.  Nazi Germany, Japan and Italy started the war to, inter alia, create a new world order and they succeeded, in part.  At war’s end, a new world order was created, with the US on top.

Having proved its dominance on the battlefield (leaving aside, for this essay, the stunning success of the Russians against the Germans), and carrying the big stick in the form of Atomic Weapons, the US could talk softly, solving, for a time, international financial conundrums which had proven intractable within the context of the League of Nations.  From this perspective, the “success” of the UN, IMF and World Bank, in contrast to the “failure” of the League of Nations is more a function of US power exercised through the new international institutions than some new-found commitment to cooperation. 

Of course, US dominance of world politics was due not just to military might but to its substantial Gold holdings, undamaged by war capital infrastructure, domestic commodity resources, and sheer economic size.  It seems to me the more recent failures of international financial institutions is more a function of the US resource depletion, gold reserve and capital infrastructure exports, and rapid economic growth of China and other populous nations, than some new found weakness in those institutions. 

Defendants don’t fear the Judge who imposes sentence but the power of the state behind him. 

The last world war was, in a sense, a schoolyard brawl decisively won, and broadcast globally, by the strongest kid, who happened to have the richest parents.        

I ask the opening question from the above perspective.  Do we need another world war to breathe new life and power into current or new international financial institutions- solving problems currently deemed intractable?

Barring a new enlightened faith in the virtues of international cooperation by top policy makers, and given the pressing need to apportion financial losses accruing from, inter alia, unprofitable international investments, the answer may be yes. 

Fasten your seat belts.


STS said...

Well might you ask, Dude. The word "need" fits rather awkwardly, but I understand the thought.

Does human tribal response to resource scarcity drive us to war? Does a settled oligarchic power structure get rearranged only at gun point?

Jimmy Carter's ill-fated challenge to treat the energy crisis as "the moral equivalent of war" -- echoing William James' 1906 essay of that title -- speaks directly to the issue. We seem to have no cultural mechanism for serious 'mobilization' to a large-scale problem other than war, or warlike dictatorship (there is a fair amount of saber-rattling used as a substitute when leaders lack the resources for real violence). The rest of the time, it's always "the market" that decides -- that euphemism for oligarchic decision making leavened by brief episodes of much-hyped but less-than-world altering innovation. Teh Google is teh awesome, but banking and oil money still drive US policy.

So what will get us out of this "Great Recession"? Bureaucratic wrangling at G-20 meetings seem unlikely to make a material difference. Free market fundamentalists reassure us that "all will be well in the garden" and counsel patience. I sure hope they are right, because the policy consensus seems be that governments must shrink. The resulting pressure on the working class (the sherpas who carry the baggage when aristocrats visit mountain tops) will push them towards violence. We'd better pray for the Free Market Rapture -- where all true believers are carried away to a vibrant economic recovery -- to get us out of the crunch.