Sunday, July 22, 2007

Peace is not a Pipe Dream; it is a Necessary Ingredient for the Future

Within the individual human psyche, there exists a constant tension between the force and power of the emotions driven by the passions embodied in territory, tribe and nation, and that of reason. The more reactive emotions stem, in large part, from the evolution of the species in an environment that was essentially hostile and in which the forces of nature that impacted human experience were not understood and the causes of calamity were attributed to the gods, malevolent spirits or a particular enemy.

In the beginnings of the human kind, ignorance was prevalent and fear and suspicion dominated and shaped human behavior. Although the advancement of science and technology has shed light upon many aspects of the human experience that were once shrouded in mystery, the inherent tendency to strike out violently against that which is feared and poorly understood remains to haunt human societies. What is particularly unique about humanity in the twenty-first century is the inescapable reality that the application of overwhelming force against a perceived enemy is no longer a viable solution especially considering the destructiveness of modern technological weaponry.

Over the thousands of years of human civilization, great empires have risen and eventually fallen. The cycle of empire building and dissolution has generally followed the same inexorable path. The beginning stage is represented by the rise of a local community of common origin followed by a gradual accretion of power, usually by force. Success at this initial stage leads to an ascendancy through the use of superior military strength that overshadows all adversaries and leads to the conquest of local adversaries. As power becomes increasingly concentrated into an overweening empire, there is a tendency to expand and overextend the sphere of power and domination. This ultimately leads to an exhaustion of resources both material and human. Finally, the empire contracts and ultimately dissolves. The entire process might take place over a thousand years as exemplified by the Roman Empire or a few hundred years as demonstrated by the British Empire.

In all of human history, these cycles of expansion and contraction were tolerable given the low density of human populations on the planet and the relatively benign effects of the primitive weaponry used to wage war on the global environment. This model of collective human behavior where economic, political and social differences and rivalries are settled through violent means is no longer tenable in the modern era.

The essentially tribal nature of human interactions has evolved over the millennia of human civilization into competing national sovereignties. The idea that each nation state is a power unto itself is no longer compatible with the rapidly evolving global character of human endeavor. There is currently too much at stake in maintaining the status quo, especially the survival of the species. The development of technological weaponry, especially nuclear and chemical weapons, has created a situation in which warfare necessarily leads to horrific consequences. Examples of the disastrous effects of protracted conflict can be seen both locally for the populations involved and globally due to the environmental impact as witnessed in the nuclear attacks against the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the use of anti-personnel cluster bombs in Cambodia, the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, the deployment of land mines in Afghanistan and the use of Depleted Uranium (DU) hardened ordnance in Iraq.

The daunting issues that face humanity are no longer local but rather global in nature. The remarkable savagery of the First and Second World Wars of the Twentieth Century awakened the idea of a world organization as a forum for international communication so as to foster dialog between nations and forestall the possibility of future wars of such magnitude. The first experiment in a world organization as a vehicle for adjudicating international disputes was the League of Nations that was created at the aftermath of World War I. This international body met with limited success and was eventually disbanded. This experiment in world governance was followed by the creation of the United Nations at the end of World War II. The United Nations is still extant but remains hostage to the dominance of the powerful industrial nations that constitute the Security Council.

The will to empire is still very much with us. Apparently, no significant lessons have been learned from the horrid and often repeated mistakes of the past. The absolute necessity for true international cooperation as a means to effectively circumvent a catastrophic future that now seems so inevitable is still not recognized. Many nations remain fixated on the ferocious competition for dominance and supremacy at the expense of those sovereignties that are weaker and more fragile. A poignant present-day example of this is the Chinese annexation of Tibet, a process that is currently going on. This competition has usually been over the natural and human resources required to fuel and sustain national economies. The needs for additional natural resources such as land for expansion of national populations or energy and mineral resources have often been the focus of international aggression. As needed resources such as oil or water become scarce, the competition will, by necessity, grow more fierce and explosive.

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