John Gittings

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Preface to The Glorious Art of Peace: Paths to Peace in a New Age of War, Oxford University Press, paperback, November 2018

War is sown from war; from the smallest comes the greatest; from one comes two; from a jesting one comes a fierce and bloody one, and the plague arising in one place, spreads to the nearest peoples and is even carried into the most distant places. (Desiderius Erasmus, 1516).1

In the six years since the first edition of this book appeared, the world has become a more dangerous place. Or rather, we have been compelled by events to appreciate dangers which either lay beneath the surface or which we were reluctant to contemplate before. And the message of this book, that the rich historical record of peace thought and argument offers a better approach to those dangers than the failed dogmas and strategies which have led too often to war, becomes ever more relevant. The 21st century, far from becoming an era of international peace and development as was once predicted, has seen a proliferation of conflict and violence, intolerance and inequality, with the renewed menace of nuclear weapons threatening our entire future. The usual conduct of international relations has clearly failed when we can turn on the radio and hear a calm discussion about the possibility of nuclear war in East Asia or the chances of a Third World War between "Russia and the West" (sometimes these are even the subject of black humour). Does not the world deserve better, a century after the First World War ended, and why do the lessons of that war still fail to be learnt?
I belong to the generation that protested against Britain's and France's reckless Suez war in 1956, and joined the anti-nuclear movement two years later when the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was founded. We believed that by the beginning of the 21st century we would either have rid the world of nuclear weapons or would all be dead as a result of nuclear war by accident or design. The opportunity for real nuclear disarmament would indeed occur after the cold war ended, but it was never properly grasped by the main nuclear powers -- one of many missed opportunities in the 1990s to take advantage of the international thaw and achieve a real "peace dividend".
As I finish writing this preface, the Trump administration's Nuclear Posture Review has called for new types of nuclear weapons to give the US a more "flexible" range of options, so as to maintain nuclear superiority over Russia. President Vladimir Putin in turn has announced a new array of "invincible" nuclear delivery systems, including underwater and hypersonic weapons. A renewed nuclear arms race between the two Cold War superpowers is now under way, while the North Korean nuclear crisis has highlighted the danger of further proliferation.
Internationally we have placed our faith in the United Nations, and that faith has not been altogether dashed. The world would be an even less safe place without the UN's peace-keeping efforts, and millions would die young or go hungry if it were not for its humanitarian and specialized agencies such as UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization. Though criticised for failures which are often really the fault of its member states, the UN is still a universal body to which all such states, large and small, feel obliged to appeal. Yet the refusal of the strongest powers to allow reform of the Security Council has left it helpless, crippled by the veto, to keep the peace in major world crises. The permanent members of the Council (China, France, Russia, the UK and US) have continued to block meaningful progress towards nuclear disarmament, flouting the will of the vast majority of members of the General Assembly.
The UN has also been powerless to prevent or restrain a series of wars as reckless as that of Suez, or even more so: Afghanistan, a proxy war between the super-powers and the breeding-ground for Islamic terrorism; Iraq, correctly labelled by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as an illegal war; Libya, where a Security Council resolution with limited aims was twisted to justify regime change, and most recently Yemen. Behind all these wars lurks the distant, too often forgotten, shadow of Vietnam. None of these wars can even pretend to be justified by necessity -- they have been wars of choice. It is often argued that the character of war has changed and that most wars now are civil conflicts, yet the wars mentioned above have all involved major external powers, while many civil wars are entangled with foreign intervention (often a euphemism for invasion) as has been notably the case in Syria. Nor has the character of war changed so as to limit its impact on civilian populations; on the contrary, modern weaponry including drones results in even more indiscriminate slaughter with civilians as the victims.
The world is now confronted with new dangers triggered or exacerbated by the consequences of these wars in ways that can no longer be ignored: terrorist bombs on streets around the world, and the shameful sight of desperate migrants dying in the Mediterranean as they seek entry to the wealthy continent of Europe, raise serious questions about the destructive wars and widening inequalities which have fuelled both phenomena. The same is true of the climate change crisis that has begun to generate natural disasters affecting developed countries which before were mostly untouched. The causes are multiple and should not be over-simplified, but common-sense suggests that national governments have made things much, much, worse: both by what they have done -- this series of disastrous wars -- and what has been left undone -- a failure to fully fund and support the real struggles against world poverty and inequality (and against the underlying exploitation of labour and resources by ruling elites and powerful multinationals) . Looming over all of this is the urgent need for an all-out struggle against climate change which threatens the future of humanity.
In sum, the threat of nuclear conflict, the growth of terrorism, the rise of authoritarian rule and the warping of democracy typified by the electoral success of Donald Trump, the growing evidence of climate change, the spread of civil wars and population flight have combined in a dystopian storm which overwhelms humanity's general tendency to look on the bright side and hope for the best. The international system based upon nation-states with their own agendas and interests and relying in the last (or often not-so-last) resort upon war or the threat of war, is no longer fit for purpose, and it will have to change or humanity will face terrible consequences.
This has long been clear to far-sighted peace thinkers2 and over the past century and a half successive attempts have been made to reshape the conduct of international affairs on a more peaceful basis, as described in this book. Each attempt began as a response to the shock of war, each was undermined by a subsequent war, and yet each left a legacy which became the basis for further action. The efforts of the peace societies in the second half of the 19th century to restrict war by arbitration and arms limitation were spurred by the emerging horrors of modern warfare; the First World War, which shattered those hopes, led to the internationalist goals of the League of Nations. Although these were shattered in turn by the Second World War, the search for a more peaceful world order resumed with the creation of the United Nations. Its declared aim, in the very first words of the Charter, was "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war".
These high hopes were soon frustrated by the onset of the cold war and the proxy hot wars which it generated. Yet though less emphatically than after either of the two great wars, a new quest was launched at the end of the cold war, this time driven by wider concerns that included climate change and global inequality as well as nuclear proliferation, regional conflict (especially in the Middle East) and the need for UN reform.The failure to fully grasp this opportunity to re-structure the world system in the 1990s and early 21st century should be seen as one of the greatest tragedies of our modern age, yet it can still be redeemed.
This is an entirely practical endeavour: the concept of peace has always been much more than a fine sentiment, a splendid ideal, and the simple absence of war. Over the last two millennia, there has been a powerful and multi-stranded narrative of peace, expressed in different forms and in different environments, challenging the more strident discourse of war. This trajectory of pacific thought is not just of scholarly interest but can still enrich a contemporary debate on how to fashion a more peaceful world. In this book I trace it from ancient China and Greece, through early Christian teachings to the humanist thinkers of the Renaissance, onwards in an increasingly rich dialogue through the Enlightenment into the 19th and early 20th centuries when peace became a political campaigning issue from which the modern peace movement can be said to have emerged.
Four basic propositions may be drawn from this long history of peace thought, all of which help to understand and confront the dangers facing the world today:

1. The long-term costs of war will almost always outweigh its short-term gains.
The metaphor used, in the quotation at the start of this preface, by the great humanist peace thinker Desiderius Erasmus to describe the knock-on effect of war was that of the plague so common in his day. Today it is said that wars and military interventions are likely to lead, sooner or later, to the unpleasant phenomenon of "blowback" -- a term which describes how a defective firearm can injure the person firing it.3 The meaning of both metaphors is that wars have consequences, and often these will lead to further wars, whether of a formal nature or, as is increasingly evident today, manifested in societal breakdown and terrorism. (As the centenary of the First World War is remembered, it is also useful to regard the Second World War as consequential to the First.).
Nowhere is this more evident today than in a broad arc of nations, already disintegrating or under threat, from Afghanistan in Central Asia to Libya in North Africa, and running through much of the Middle East. When this new edition is published the war in Afghanistan will have lasted three times as long as either of the two world wars and shows no sign of coming to an end, demonstrating "blowback" in its clearest form: the line of descent between the Western-backed mujahedeen in the 1980s and the Taliban/Al Qaida and other forms of Islamist extremism is well established. It is also a decade and a half since the invasion of Iraq which, apart from the huge loss of life and social dislocation continuing to this day, has helped to loosen the soil for multiple conflicts with multiple actors both within and outside its borders. The genuine resistance to oppression by the Assad regime in Syria was compromised by foreign interventions, and the regional shocks and dislocations caused by the Iraq and Syrian wars have sharpened the enmity between Iran and Saudi Arabia -- manifested disastrously in Yemen, also giving an explosive dimension to the Kurdish problem in no less than three countries (Turkey, Syria and Iraq).
The case of Libya is particularly instructive: By the early 2010s it was widely accepted that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 had been at the very least a "mistake" (only its principal authors led by the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair continue to defend it). Most of those who backed the war now chorus that they were misled by "faulty intelligence" and admit that that there was a disastrous failure to plan for the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. Yet both "mistakes" were then committed anew in the war in Libya in 2011, as would be identified in a devastating report compiled five years later by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. The intervention by the UK and France, relying on a limited mandate to protect civilians from the UN Security Council, the Commitee concluded, "was not informed by accurate intelligence" and had then "drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change. That policy was not underpinned by a strategy to support and shape post-Gaddafi Libya".4 The result of this misguided policy has been to create a chaotic and fractured state which is also a source of instability elsewhere.

2. Every effort should be made to avoid war through negotiation, and negotiation requires good faith and compromise.

"Hardly any peace is so bad that it is not preferable to the most justifiable war.” said Erasmus,5 and today this applies a fortiori to efforts to prevent nuclear war. The year 2017 marked the 70th anniversary of the Doomsday Clock, the graphic assessment of the threat level to global peace and security projected by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS), and in January the clock was advanced to two and a half minutes to midnight. By comparison, it had been at 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 -- the year of maximum post-cold war optimism. The BAS explained that "Over the course of 2016, the global security landscape darkened as the international community failed to come effectively to grips with humanity's most pressing existential threats, nuclear weapons and climate change...: Progress in reducing the overall threat of nuclear war has stalled and in many ways, gone into reverse."6 In January 2018 the BAS found "the danger to be even greater, the need for action more urgent" -- and advanced the clock another thirty seconds to just two minutes.
More evidence has also emerged of how close the world came to nuclear disaster, by accident or design, during the cold war, and how the danger still remains. In 2014 a Chatham House (Too Close for Comfort) report7 warned that the risks were "higher than previously thought" and judged that "for as long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of an inadvertent, accidental or deliberate detonation remains". This followed a detailed study, Command and Control, by the American investigative journalist Eric Schlosser of nuclear accidents and near-misses over previous decades -- ("Start Worrying" was the headline in The Economist's review) . The continued presence of nuclear arsenals, Schlosser concluded, was "a collective death wish, barely suppressed".8 And former US Defence Secretary William Perry stated in 2016 that "The probability of a nuclear calamity is higher today, I believe, than it was during the cold war. A new danger has been rising in the past three years and that is the possibility there might be a nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia-- brought about by a substantial miscalculation, a false alarm."9
At the UN, frustration with the refusal of the five recognised nuclear weapons states -- China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, designated as such by the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ) -- to make any progress towards meaningful nuclear disarmament came to a head with the total failure of the 2015 NPT Review Conference. More than a hundred nations then joined a new initiative to work towards an international legal ban on nuclear weapons, which bore fruit with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted at the UN General Assembly on 7 July 2017 following a vote where 122 nations -- 63 percent of the UN membership -- were in favour.
The failure of international diplomacy to prevent nuclear proliferation and the danger that this poses for the future was highlighted in 2017 by the North Korea nuclear crisis. Negotiations between the US and North Korea over the past quarter of a century have been difficult on both sides. Dealings with Pyongyang have been complicated by its hostile rhetoric, opaque political culture and suspicions of bad faith. However, US policy has also been characterised by hesitation, prejudice and at critical times outright opposition to a negotiated deal. An opportunity to reach agreement was missed in 2000 when President Clinton was invited to Pyongyang but left the issue to the incoming Bush administration which aborted the negotiations, branding North Korea as part of the "axis of evil". Pyongyang then stepped up its drive for a nuclear capability. If the opening of a new dialogue between President Trump and Kim Jong-un (after a dangerous exchange of nuclear threats) should lead to a settlement, it will demonstrate perversely that nuclear weapons can strengthen the hand of a smaller against a larger power10
The potential Iranian nuclear crisis of 2017, when a shift in US policy threatened an agreement reached with difficulty after 13 years of negotiation, also demonstrated a lack of good faith that would be likely to dissuade any other potential nuclear power from going down the negotiating road. All of this should be seen in the larger context of the five officially recognised nuclear powers maintaining over decades that nuclear weapons were necessary for them but bad for anyone else. If this absurdist situation has worked - up to a point - for many years (with the important exceptions of India, Pakistan and Israel), it is now falling apart with the danger of nuclear "break-outs" by countries which had hitherto shown self-restraint in the Middle East and East Asia.
3. Peace requires freedom from poverty and oppression as well as the absence of war.

Real peace means freedom from poverty and oppression as well as the absence of war -- peace thinkers today follow Johan Galtung, one of the founders of modern peace studies, in referring to this as Positive Peace.11 It has also been long understood that there is no such thing as peace in one country: self-interest alone dictates that our neighbours should also enjoy peace, and today in a globalised world our neighbours extend across that world. As Immanuel Kant already saw clearly, "a violation of rights in one place is felt throughout the world".12

The UN agencies and other international bodies work hard to promote development and reduce poverty, ill-health and deprivation, and there are frequent claims that global poverty is fast decreasing. "Extreme poverty", currently defined as earning less than $1.90 a day, has fallen to less than 10 percent of the world's population, and newspaper headlines often term this simply as "poverty". This is certainly a significant improvement though much of it is accounted for by East Asia (mainly China and Indonesia) and South Asia (mainly India). But the World Bank has another more realistic measurement which is less often referred to: "moderate poverty", defined as earning less than $3.10 a day (and this includes the value of, for example, food that is grown at home). Entire reports on global poverty are issued without even mentioning this measure and yet, in a total of 89 countries considered in a World Bank study, 23% or around 1.5 billion people were estimated to live between the extreme poverty and the moderate poverty lines as of 2013 (note that this estimate does not include those living in extreme poverty).These and similar figures suggest that around one in five of the world's total population is living in poverty -- a rather different picture. 13

Poverty goes hand in hand with unemployment, or with employment that does not pay enough to sustain a basic standard of living. In 2017 the International Labour Organisation reported that "nearly half of workers in Southern Asia and nearly two-thirds of workers in sub-Saharan Africa [were] living in extreme or moderate working poverty (i.e. living on less than US$3.10 per day in purchasing power terms)." Across the world, but particularly in these two regions, the number of workers in vulnerable forms of employment -- marginal or precarious work with no social protection -- was increasing: in 2017 it was expected to total 1.4 billion worldwide, 14 per cent of global population.14

We cannot say that poverty and unemployment are the sole cause of mass migration but it is common sense to conclude that they are powerful contributory drivers. We cannot explain the growth of Islamist terrorism entirely in terms of wars and resulting social dislocation, but it is reasonable to infer that de-stabilising whole societies does help clear the ground for an extremist appeal. We cannot claim that if the funding for economic development did not have to compete with military spending these social evils across the world would all be solved, but it is logical to suppose that far higher levels of funding would make a significant difference. Unless we recognise the urgency of these problems and unless the proportions of GDP spent on arms and development are reversed, we may be sure that nothing much will change for the better. And this will require confronting and exposing the shadowy world of the international arms industry, the target of peace campaigners for the past century and a half, but still a powerful stimulus to arms races and war.

4. The future of the world requires genuine globalism based not only on trade but on international cooperation for peace .
The narrative of peace, which extended from the humanists of the Renaissance to the 20th century, has increasingly focused on the need for international cooperation that would transcend national and even continental boundaries. The growing inter-dependence of the world as technology and communications developed was translated into a new global culture, pre-figured poetically in Tennyson's "parliament of nations" and expressed rhetorically in Victor Hugo's vision of "the electric wire of concord [which] will encircle the globe...". The goal of a "genuine society of nations", which the peace societies of the 19th century pursued and promoted, became a universal ideal which pragmatic political leaders were obliged to acknowledge. The horrors of war and especially of two world wars, spurred and inspired the formation first of the League of Nations and then the United Nations,
Yet the paradox of our present age is that while trade, communications, finance and media have become globalised, the internationalist outlook that should have expanded to accompany these changes has on the contrary lost ground to a narrowing of vision , along national, religious, and ethnic lines. The dominance of "Realist" thinking which during the cold war had a pernicious effect upon global political culture, has never been shaken off and now informs what could be the start of a new cold war. The leader of the world's most powerful nation has proclaimed proudly that national interest will come first and foremost, and has expressed contempt for the United Nations. In the face of challenges that ignore national boundaries such as global warming (and, as argued here, the constant threat of nuclear disaster) the world community faces an uphill struggle against short-sighted self-interest. The admitted defects of the United Nations are talked up while the idealism which it embodies is ignored or regarded as out-of-date. The weakness of the UN as a peace-keeping body was highlighted in the Iraq war and has been shown again in its difficulties in tackling more recent crises such as the Syrian civil war and the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.
Failure to reform the UN Security Council is an important factor behind these other failures. In the September 2000 Millennium Declaration, every UN member agreed "to intensify our efforts to achieve a comprehensive reform of the Security Council in all its aspects", but nothing has been achieved. It may seem quixotic even to contemplate the difficult challenge of overcoming the current veto power of the Permanent Five nations. Yet whether the veto is actually used or whether its use is only threatened, it has had a crippling effect, particularly in the Middle East where it has been deployed over many years by the US and more recently by Russia to protect Israel and Syria respectively from necessary scrutiny and censure. The vast majority of UN members continue to regard Security Council reform as an urgent task for good reason: their view was expressed in 2017 by the representative of the "L69 group" -- a coalition of more than 40 developing countries engaged in the negotiations. The failure to date, it was said, stemmed not from a lack of will or desire on the part of member states, but from the obduracy of a minority that failed to respect the larger sentiment of the General Assembly. "In no other purportedly democratic space have we seen the wish of 85 per cent of the membership of an organization not lead to action".15

To conclude: the most fundamental lesson to be learnt from studying peace thinking and peace strategy over the ages, as I seek to do in this book, is that peace can never be achieved in isolation, but depends upon mutual cooperation between neighbours, communities, regions and nations. In spite of setbacks and failures, and the persistence of a political culture which still regards war as the ultimate arbiter of dispute, the dominant spirit of the human race is and always has been to prefer peace to war and to develop by peaceful means, and if this were not the case we as human beings would not still be here today. This is why we should remain optimistic about the future in spite of today's many dangers: humanity is fundamentally programmed to survival by peaceful means, and war and conflict represent not normal health but an abnormal sickness to be overcome. It is undoubtedly a very serious and corrosive sickness. As Bernard Shaw wrote when the first world war finally ended, "war puts a strain on human nature that breaks down the better half of it, and makes the worse half a diabolical virtue".16 However, the challenge should not be dodged because of its difficulty: the combination of lethal technology and environmental degradation means that the stakes are higher than ever before, and a qualitatively new strategy is required which recognises that the world may be on the verge of disaster. As we approach the third decade of the 21st century, the failed assumptions of 19th and 20th century nation-state ideology are no longer acceptable. We need to reject the illusions of war and strive for the realities of peace while fully aware that this has been and always will be an uphill struggle. As a recent UN Secretary General has said: "Peace is not a gift. Peace is something we must all work for, every day, in every country".17
March 2018

1 Desiderius Erasmus. The Education of a Christian Prince [1516], translated with an introduction by  Lester K. Born, Columbia University Records of Civilization, No, 27 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), p. 24.
2 I use the term "peace thinkers" to describe the philosophers, historians, writers, poets and activists and all those who with them thought constructively about peace, from ancient times till today, and who have provided so much inspiration for this book.
3 The first recorded use of the term "blowback" was in a secret CIA history of its 1953 Iran coup, CIA, Clandestine Services History, Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran: November 1952 - August 1953 (March 1954).
4 Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK's future policy options, Third Report of Session 2016, 17. Whether the invasion "drifted" into a policy of regime change, as this report says, or really had that purpose from the start, is another matter.
5 Desiderius Erasmus, The Complaint of Peace, trans. in Robert M Adams ed., The Praise of Folly and Other Writings (New York: Norton, 1989), p.106.
6 Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Journal (online), 25 January 2017.
7 Chatham House ( Royal Institute of International Affairs) Report, "Too Close for Comfort: Cases of Near Nuclear Use and Options for Policy", 28 April 2014.
8 Eric Schlosser, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety (New York: Penguin, 2013), p. 485; The Economist, "Start worrying: Unless things change, an accident may be inevitable", 27 September 2013.
9 The Guardian, 7 January 2016.
10 The opposition of hardliners in the new Bush administration to the existing 1994 agreement with North Korea, and their hostility to any meaningful negotiations in the future, is fully documented in Mike Chinoy, Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis (New York: St Martin's Press, 2008). See also the informed analysis of the North Korean position by former US negotiator Robert Carlin published regularly on the 38 North website.
11 Positive peace as defined by Galtung requires both "equity in human relations" and "the absence of structural and cultural violence", Johan Galtung, Peace by Peaceful Means: Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilization (Oslo: International Peace Research Institute, 1996), p.xx.
12 See Chapter 5, fn 10.
13 Andrés Castañeda et al., Who Are the Poor in the Developing World? (World Bank Poverty and Equity Global Practice Group: New York, October 2016). The Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), gives a similar picture, showing that as of 2013 " a total of 1.45 billion people from 103 countries are multi-dimensionally poor... 26.5% of the people living in these countries.", Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, Global MPI 2017 (Oxford: 2017).
14 International Labour Organization, World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2017 (Geneva: ILO, 2017).
15 19 July 2017, General Assembly, statement by Saint Vincent on behalf of the L69 group.
16 Bernard Shaw, Heartbreak House (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 2000), p. 33.
17 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's remarks at the Peace Bell Ceremony to commemorate the International Day of Peace in New York, 16 September 2016.