War Have a Future?
Sohail Inayatullah (1)
Professor, Tamkang University, Taiwan; Sunshine Coast
November 19, 2003
"War is the darkest spot on humanity's history."
"Struggle is the essence of life."
P.R. Sarkar (2)
Given that the 20th century was one of the bloodiest
ever, and that scores of low grade wars are currently
maiming and killing countless thousands, asking if war
has a future may appear ludicrous. (3)
But we must raise that question. We must challenge the
notion that war is here to stay as if it were an
evolutionary natural. Not only do we need to devise new
methods to resolve international conflicts, we need to
challenge the entire notion of armed conflict,
symmetrical and asymmetrical.
Doing so requires a multi-level approach. The
traditional view of ending war begins with the two poles
- the individual and the state. This is often described
as: Peace must begin in the hearts and minds of men and
women or that states need a super-ordinate authority (a
world governance structure or at least global treaties)
to ensure that war is not the preferred (or among the
possible) method of conflict resolution.
But clearly more is needed beyond the individual inner
and the collective outer pole. First of all, we need to
move beyond this litany to the systemic level.
Transforming the system of
Ending war means essentially transforming the nature
of the arms export industry. One option is to make the
export of killing products illegal, as with dangerous
drugs. This would have great benefits for the whole
world, even if it reduces the profits of the leading arm
manufacturing nations - the USA, China, Britain, Israel
and other rogue armament nations. (4) However, given
current economic dependence on arms exports, as with
tobacco exports, nations should be given a decade to
overcome their addiction to easy arms money. Of course,
there would still be illegal arms smuggling but at least
the large states would not be condoning it.
However, this measure alone would not work unless
there were security guarantees for those states afraid of
aggression. That is, states import arms because they are
afraid of enemies within the nation and without (and use
this fear to hold on to and extend their power). As well,
the military elite in all states becomes accustomed to
living in a shopping plaza with endless goodies. Global
disincentives would be needed as well. A world governance
structure that could provide security - through a type of
insurance scheme or through a global police system - may
help to reduce the demand aspect of global weapons. The
supply option would require big states to end their
addiction to easy money. The billions saved could be
spent on forming peace activist forces trained in
mediation and peace-keeping skills.
The military-industrial complex is not the only
problem. Other dimensions of the system need
transformation including education. The educational
system helps to create not war but certainly the
conditions for war. Moments of national trauma become
part of identity creation. Whether it is the defeat of
Serbs in Kosovo; the Star Spangled Banner and the victory
of the American colonists over the British; Anzacs and
Gallipoli; Partition in South Asia, or even the murder of
Hussain at Karbala for the Shias -war defines who we are.
Instead we need peace education that celebrates ahimsa,
that celebrates moments of transcendence, that teaches us
how to mediate conflict and that celebrates the
challenges humanity has faced (not any particular tribe
within it). Doing so means rewriting the textbooks in
nearly every nation and moving away from the Great Man or
Dynastic theory of macrohistory. (5) Creating alternative
futures requires not only requires a rethinking and
reacting of the present but recovering our lost and
Transformation must occur in other parts of our life
as well, most urgently, in the global economy in creating
a "glocalization" where poverty is ended, and wealth
circulates with more justice than at present.
Transforming the worldviews
Underneath this system of war is a defining worldview.
This worldview has a variety of pillars. The central
pillar is patriarchy or dominator oriented politics.
Truth, nature and reality are defined in dominator terms
and not in partnership terms. Second, evolution is seen
as survival of the fittest and thus war is seen as just
in terms - since the fittest have survived - instead of
an evolutionary failure. (6) Third, identity is defined
in terms of geo-sentiment, race or linguistic politics
and not in more universal terms. Religion is seen as
exclusionary, the chosen few, or those with special
access to the transcendental.
Thus, challenging the idea of war as 'natural', means
challenging these three pillars. Firstly, by asserting
that cooperation can lead to mutual learning. Second,
evolution is not merely about survival of the fittest,
but involves three additional aspects. These are (a) an
attraction to the sublime, even spiritual, (b) that
evolution is not random but can be guided through human
reason and action and (c) evolution can become ethical.
Third that we can develop a planetary Gaian
consciousness. However, in our quest for universal peace,
this does not mean that we are forgetful of injustices.
Movements to counter linguistic, religious, cultural
suppression and oppression are necessary to create a
better society. However, these movements, even as they
claim authenticity and essentialize gender, language and
economy need over time to move out of their identity
polities and become part of a global consciousness.
Otherwise, they will reinforce the traumas of history as
they focus on the "enemy" and not on the desired
This worldview transformation is a change in the
broader field of what it means to be human. Field change
means moving outside the two main symbols we use to
metaphor war. This is the hawk and the dove. Can there be
a third space, another species that can represent a world
without war but with justice? Coming up with a new
metaphor will not solve the issue, but our failure to do
so highlights our conceptual problems. Perhaps looking
for stories in our evolutionary past - up and down the
food chain - is not the way to go. Creating a post-war
world may mean looking to the future for ways out.
Prior to the war on Saddam Hussain and Iraq, Robert
Muller (7) commented that he was not depressed at what
might happen, since millions were in fact waging peace.
Yes, it was unlikely that Bush and Hussain were capable
of a peaceful and just resolution but the stupidity of
their worldviews had motivated millions to express their
frustrations, and to call for, indeed, meme the
possibility of a new world.
Another world is possible! We need a field that begins
the process of moving beyond the world of hawks and
doves. And a world that recognizes that multiple
traditions are required to transform war and peace.
Within our histories are resources of peace, whether
Islamic, Vedic, Christian, Buddhist or secular.
But first we must challenge the litany of war. Unless
it is contested, we will assume that because it is, it
always will be. The next task is to challenge the systems
that support war: the military-industrial export complex;
national education systems; our historical identities. We
also need to challenge the worldviews that both support
and are perpetuated by war: patriarchy and survival of
Ultimately, we need a new story of what it means to be
What then are the alternative futures of war?
First, war now and war forever. We cannot
transform war because it is at the root of who we are as
humans - violent and greedy for land, territory and
ideas. History is an example of this. Whether it is
capitalists ruling, or prime ministers and priests or
warriors and kings, or workers revolting, it is war that
results and is used by each social class to maintain
power. Of course, other forms of power are used first -
ideas, wealth, definitional power - but violent power
remains ever ready to be used to maintain authority. The
nature of war changes depending on which social class is
in power (worker, warrior, intellectual or capitalist)
and also changes depending on the nature of technology.
Most recently it has been air power with real time
surveillance that have changed the nature of war.
Nano-technology will enable humanity's war capacity and
behavior to become both more destructive and more
precisely targeted. The capacity of one leader to hold a
population hostage - as with Milosevic, Pol Pot, Saddam
Hussain - is likely to decrease dramatically. However, at
the same time, the capacity of any person to hold a
nation hostage will increase.
Second, war disappears. It does so because of
changes in the system of war (the military-industrial
complex), changes in the worldview that supports war
(patriarchy, capitalism, identity politics) and changes
in the nature of what it means to be human - an
evolutionary movement toward full humanness. This is the
idealistic view, however we have had periods in history
without war. Moreover, humans have begun to imagine a
world without war. To create the new means being able to
first conceptualize it. Next is finding the means to make
the impossible, possible. The last stage is merely one of
details. The details in this case are about creating a
culture of meditation and of conflict resolution. This
means making it central in schooling at one level, and
beginning to create the process of global-local
governance, where war becomes impossible.
Third, war becomes ritualized or contained.
Generally, in this future, we move to a peace culture,
but periods of war remain. However, these are rapidly
contained or conducted with the authority of a global
governance system. War remains an option, even if a less
desirable one. As well, war is used by those challenging
the world governance system, and by areas not totally
integrated by the world system. War could even become
ritualized, either conducted through virtual means or via
sports. In such ways, aggression is contained and
Fourth, war itself changes. Genetic engineering
and other invasive technological procedures search for
the "aggression gene" with the hope of eliminating the
behavior that leads to war. Deeper efforts to transform
systems of war are not attempted, as nations are
unwilling to let go of their war-industry profits . War
and weapons of mass destruction remain in the hands of
the most powerful nations, while war and violence are
seen as issues that can be fixed through the right
technologies. The removal of war is used as a way to
maintain the status-quo. In this future, the danger and
horror of war become governmentalized, used to maintain
power. Some states reserve the right to manipulate the
"aggression" gene to make even fiercer fighters.
Which of these futures is most likely? Historical
experience suggests the first scenario - war now and
forever (perpetual war). The most compelling future and
the one informed by new readings of evolutionary theory,
suggests that "war disappears" is possible. However,
since new ideas are often appropriated by structures of
power, we could expect the containment of war or the
geneticization of war.
What should we do? Remain idealistic about creating a
future without war while we act in ways to create the
second scenario: peace within, mediation and conflict
resolution in our institutions, and participate in the
wider struggle against systems and worldviews that create
1. Professor, Tamkang University, Taiwan; Sunshine
Coast University, Australia. www.metafuture.org.
Associate editor, New Renaissance. www.ru.org.
I wish to thank Patricia Kelly of the University of the
Sunshine Coast for her considerable editorial assistance
in preparing this article.
2. For more on Sarkar, see Sohail Inayatullah,
Understanding Sarkar: The Indian Episteme, Macrohistory
and Transformative Knowledge. Leiden, Brill, 2002.
3. For more details, see the works of Johan Galtung.
He remains the inspiration of this essay. See: www.transcend.org.
4. Certainly realizing this will not be easy. It would
require international treaties that could be verified.
But why might this occur? As with other regulations,
pressure from lobby groups, social movements and
nongovernmental organizations might lead to new arms
sales regulations. In addition, a global regime is
possible if a player wants advantage, that is, because of
too many arms dealers, a particular player, like the USA
intervenes to regulate the market so that it can enhance
its own trading at the expense of others. It also may be
realized in a step by step fashion, that is, certain arms
are banned - land mines - as a first step, and then
slowly other arms are banned. Of course, ultimately, only
a true world government or strict governance system could
control arms trading.
5. The work of Riane Eisler is exemplary - www.partnershipway.org
6. David Loye's alternative reading of Darwin is
crucial here. See David Loye, Darwin's Lost Theory of
Love. Iuniverse, 2000
Article by Lynee Twist, March 14, 2003.
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