PREFACE: PEACE IN A DANGEROUS AGE
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
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
1 Desiderius Erasmus. The Education of a Christian Prince , 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
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.