Murari Sharma: How Long Will Wars Continue?

Marx has said, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” One may quibble about this statement, but there is little doubt that the history of mankind is the history of wars. The Treaty of Westphalia, the League of Nations or the United Nations has not eliminated wars. Wars between states have reduced after the collapse of the communist bloc, but civil wars have become more common. The age-old quest for permanent peace continues to remain elusive.

Clausewitz defines war as “an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.” Although the weaker party may provoke the stronger into war with its pinpricks, the latter declares war on the former. In civil war, the weaker party tries to force its will on the stronger opponent through opportunistic guerilla attacks. Though it may sound simplistic to suggest that wars and civil wars are the two sides of the same coin, they actually are. One often leads to the other if the stakeholders do not widely agree on the settlement of the existing crisis.

Take, for instance, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Taliban started civil war and captured Kabul with the help of Al-Qaida; western countries declared war against the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan; after the Taliban were chased out of power, they started civil war again. The Kurds began civil war in Iraq; the western countries first declared a no-fly-zone over the Kurd area and then launched a full-scale attack on Baghdad; now the Islamic State has started civil war against the Baghdad regime. Libya has taken a similar route. Syria will do the same. The Ukrainian civil war might have already escalated into war, except that Russia has not formally declared its involvement there. What next? It depends on the settlement.

Why do wars continue? To impose one’s will on others, as Clausewitz says, is only part of the answer. There are several other reasons as well. Trade in arms is one. Although arms trade ($43 billion dollars in 2013) is miniscule compared to the international trade in commodities ($18.8 trillion), it is one of the most profitable trades. It is largely a sellers’ market in which they can dictate the terms of trade and set the price. So arms exporters would not want wars, and profit from arms sales, to be things of the past.

Another reason is that, to sell weapons, the producers have to prove to the buyers the worth of their products sold at the often-exorbitant price. Though controlled experiments may give some clue, they do not offer the same insight about the arms’ killing capacity and range, as do the live uses in a real war. For instance, America tested its atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their bunker-buster bomb in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Yet another reason is political influence and market access. Since the sellers dictate the terms of trade, imported weapons arrive with political influence on their back. No wonder, the largest five arms exporters — the United States, Russia, Germany, China, and France (2009-13) — are also most influential nations. Political influence is crucial, for it gives such countries access to the markets for their other products and services and to the raw materials in the buyer nations. These countries would not want to lose their influence by not producing and selling arms.

Finally, war is a gargantuan industry. It employs millions of people around the world directly and indirectly and contributes to the growth of other industries. For instance, in the United States alone, there are more than a million people in uniform and an equal number in defense related civilian workforce. US arms producer sell nearly $250 billion dollar weapons to the American and foreign governments; the largest ten of them have in their payroll more than a million people; the rest employ as many or more people.

Arms industry also contributes to the invention of commercial products and services. The global positioning system, jeeps, telegraphy, radar, microwave oven, drones, nylon, canned food, air travels, the Internet, etc. are some of the military inventions that have been innovated into commercial products and services. There products have earned billions of dollars for the inventors and innovators. Those countries benefiting from such inventions and innovations would not want the wars go away and military investment in technology development vanish.

If the arms producer and exporter countries want wars to continue, why do they talk about peace? Well, they have other interests too, besides selling arms. As mentioned already, they want to win political influence and access to market for non-arms products and to raw material are some reasons. Besides, they want to open investment opportunities and protect their investment in the rest of the world as well. Once they have won political influence, they seek peace to advance their other interests.

Powerful countries try to stir trouble in those nations where their opponents hold sway. They support anti-government forces with money and weapons to start civil war there. When the opponent-supported regime is pulled down and the opponent is driven out, the victor may sell weapons to both sides, as the United States is doing to Israel and Arab states, or one sides, as most in other cases. Sometimes neighboring countries suffer the collateral damage. For instance, western countries have fomented ethnic trouble in Nepal to stir Tibet and destabilize China.

During the Cold War, the two superpowers — United States and USSR — supported their client states in the Third World to wage war against each other in which their weapons and strategy could be tested. In 2009-13, they are still the largest exporters of arms: US share in arms trade was 29 percent, followed by Russia’s 27 percent and Germany’s 7 percent. Other large exporters of arms are China, France, and the United Kingdom. Now these nations often support intra-state wars.

Powerful countries tray to bring into their fold those states that have deep pockets to spend on arms, that are engaged in conflict, or that have strategic materials like oil, gas, uranium, etc. No wonder, the largest importer of arms during 2009-13 was India (conflict with Pakistan and threat from China), followed by China (threat from the United States and Russia), Pakistan (conflict with India and terrorist threats), and the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia (both rich in oil and gas, deep in pockets, and frightened with Iran and Israel).

There is a convergence of interest between arms sellers and buyers. The former want profit and political influence and the latter want increased offensive and defensive capacities with imported weapons. As long as this convergence continues, there will be wars and conflicts. Countries with most powerful weapons do not fight with each other due to the fear of mutually assured destruction; so they induce proxy conflicts where there is none in the name of rights, dignities or something else. Such wars make the arms seller richer and more powerful and the buyers poorer and less powerful.

The world is run by the rich and powerful. In an anarchic realm of international relations, they mercilessly pursue their national interest, which might be presented in an ethical and moral wrap. The UNESCO Constitution says, “. . . since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” So wars will continue and the quest for permanent peace will remain elusive until defenses of peace are not built in the minds of men.


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