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Despite Libya warmongering is down



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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August 30, 2011

I wonder how many journalists covering Libya are aware that the African continent is the world’s most peaceful when it comes to interstate wars. Moreover, its number of civil, ethnic and tribal wars has been on the decline for sometime. Levels of conflict in Africa have never been so low in all the centuries African history has been written.
We are brainwashed by headlines and the television news to think otherwise, not just about Africa but about the world at large. The trains that are late get into the news. Those, the overwhelming majority, that arrive on time don’t.
During the presidency of President George W. Bush we were so battered by his approach to the world that we began to see, if not reds under the bed as in the old days of the Cold War, big black horrors of one kind or another. Under Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, his military chief, Colin Powell, said “I’m running out of villains”. Under Bush, as his secretary of state, Powell kept quiet. But he had hit the nail on its head.
Who in the world is threatening who at the moment? The number of interstate wars has never been so low. Neither has the number of territorial disputes. The number of coups has fallen dramatically.
Even in the time of Bush, who appeared to manufacture the reasons for warfare, these trends were well under way. Apart from Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan the world was largely at peace. In Latin America there was no conflict between its nations, which has been true for a long time. In Asia there was some rubbing of shoulders in the South China Sea between China and its neighbours but no shots fired. Iraq aside, the Middle East has had no all out wars in recent years. Iran, the present day scourge of the West, has not been to war for centuries.
In Europe since the wars of ex-Yugoslavia there has only been one war - the short-lived war between Russia and Georgia in 2008. But less than a 1000 people died which doesn’t qualify it as a “war” in the statistical tables recording war compiled by the authoritative Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).
Looking ahead where can we reasonably expect war in the next decade?  Could it be between Syria and Israel, the US and Iran, Pakistan and India, Vietnam and China, Uganda and Sudan, North Korea and South Korea?
All are plausible candidates for war. But all are dead set against it. All are long standing antagonists but none show signs of stirring the waters. Moreover, the world’s political climate is against it and this is the important thing. Unlike in previous centuries it is no longer an honourable thing to make war, as the West has found to its cost in Iraq and Afghanistan. Economically it is a disaster. In the age of the “electronic herd” of investors, war or political chaos means a rush for the door.
Ethnic conflict has been falling steadily since 1960 according to Sipri. Repression and political discrimination have been declining, according to the Minorities at Risk Project at the University of Maryland. The average number of battle deaths per conflict has been steadily going down. According to Christopher Fettweis in his revealing new book, “Dangerous Times?”, the risk of the average person dying in battle has been plummeting since World War II and even more rapidly so since the end of the Cold War. Mass slaughter is sharply down. Likewise the number of large-scale human rights abuses, one-sided violence against civilians, continues to decline. The number of terrorist attacks is far smaller than it was during the Cold War. Most important, non violence as a tool of change is on the up- witness the Arab Spring- but unfortunately not in Libya.

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We can dare to say there has never been a time like this in recorded history.
There are still those in the old Cold War nations who say we need nuclear weapons to keep the peace, but the evidence points the other way. There are no nuclear states in Central or South America but these regions have been virtually free of interstate wars for decades. Nuclear balance is not responsible for the growing peacefulness of Africa. The decline of civil wars and ethnic conflict, now a world-wide phenomenon, owes nothing to nuclear deterrence. Europe, the continent which over the centuries was the most warlike corner of the world, has found an enduring peace without the need for nuclear balance.
Alexander Hamilton warned that people are “ambitious, vindictive and rapacious”. Many are. But is seems most are not. For the present we have the worst aspects of human nature under some sort of control. We have to make sure we keep it that way. But first we have to get the right perspective, and thus not provoke war.

Copyright © 2011 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172
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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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