Author Archive

Great-Power War to 2030

by Joshua S. Goldstein

Making predictions about social trends of any kind is extremely difficult and arguably impossible. Past efforts at prediction have been notoriously unsuccessful, as Dan Gardner has shown compellingly in his recent book Future Babble. In my opinion we just do not understand war and international relations well enough to predict anything twenty years into the future.

Certainly if the trends of recent decades continue, the coming decades will be more peaceful. But that’s an “if.” There’s no guarantee that recent trends will continue. Nonetheless, by recognizing recent trends away from war we can craft policies based on past successes, such as increasing support for the United Nations.

I’d like to address one common fear about war in the coming decades – the rise of China relative to the United States. Political scientist and leading “realist” John Mearsheimer (2010: 382) has written that “to put it bluntly: China cannot rise peacefully.” My view, by contrast, is that a great-power war involving China is possible alright, but not inevitable and actually not even that likely.

Must a rising China inevitably come to blows with the United States as the former hegemonic power in decline? The analogy is to the rise of Germany and the challenge it posed to Britain before the World Wars. But China, unlike 19th-century Germany, follows a “peaceful rise” strategy and has not fought a single military battle in 25 years (the only permanent UN Security Council member in that category). Also Germany felt denied its due status in the international system, as it came late to the colonial game and had few overseas possessions. But China has its due status as a permanent veto-wielding member of the UNSC, thanks to the foresight of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the creation of the UN, back when China’s power was anything but great.

China’s leaders stay in power by delivering economic prosperity based on international trade. A future war against the United States or another great power would wreck the pursuit of this trade-based wealth. That would be irrational on the part of China’s leadership, which has so far proven both peaceful and generally rather cautious in world affairs. Given that a great-power war in the nuclear age would be absolutely catastrophic for the participants, one would have to assume a level of craziness or stupidity from China’s leaders that completely departs from their behavior in recent decades. They may be exasperating as negotiating partners, or brutal as human-rights abusers, but they are not crazy.

The most dangerous possibility of war would involve an accidental or unintended escalation of a U.S.-Chinese conflict over Taiwan. The American position is deliberately ambiguous about whether the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense in the event China attacked to re-integrate the island by force. The United States has for decades officially recognized that Taiwan is part of “one China,” and does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country. At the same time, however, the United States sells arms to Taiwan and implies that it might use military means to prevent forceful re-integration. Fortunately, China-Taiwan trade and communication have been increasingly rapidly, and the chances of a declaration of independence, or some other reason for a Chinese attack, are decreasing.

As for the South China Sea, the conflicts there are worrisome but so far have tended to produce calibrated ballets of diplomatic and military maneuvering rather than conquest by force. The stakes in oil and minerals undersea in that area may be lucrative, but they in no way would outweigh the enormous costs of international wars in the region.

Mistakes could happen, trends could shift, things could go badly. But it would be wrong to think of negative outcomes as inevitable, or unstoppable. All evidence suggests that sound policy choices have good prospects to steer U.S.-Chinese relations, as well as those among other great powers, away from war in the coming years.

 

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Joshua S. Goldstein is professor emeritus of international relations at American University and research scholar at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His book Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide (2011) documents the reduction in the number, size and scope of the world’s wars in recent decades.

By VADM (ret.) Yoji Koda, JMSDF

Preface

It is my estimate that, even around 2030, the alliance between Japan and the United States will remain a core enabler of the security of the Asia-Western Pacific region. The division of labor between Japan and the United States with respect to fundamental roles and missions – i.e., the defensive power of Japan and the offensive power of the United States, US nuclear deterrence, and Japan’s responsibility of providing military bases to the United States – will be maintained over the next two decades. However, if the future world includes new challenges of precision strike and nuclear weapons proliferation, there will be several issues for Japan to consider that have not been recognized as problems in the current alliance posture.

Precision strike

In Japan, the requirement for defense against precision strike was for a long time overshadowed by the Cold War nuclear competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. In addition, the capacity for longer-range precision strike was considered a monopoly of the United States during the Cold War, and the Soviet Union, which had some relevant capabilities, was well deterred by the strategic balance.

Contrast that with the situation today. China will gain longer-range precision strike capabilities before 2030. If other regional nations also join the precision strike club by that time, this will greatly complicate Japan’s defense planning. It is especially the precision strike capability provided by long-range cruise missiles (CM) that will pose a security problem for Japan. North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and China all may develop or further develop precision weapons utilizing cruise missile delivery systems in the next two decades. For Japan, relative to Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), which has been an example of successful Japan-US cooperation, building an effective defense network against precision strike will be more difficult.

In this situation, some may wonder if more than before aggressive voices within Japan will argue that Japan should obtain its own strategic CM striking capability. It is certain that an increasing number of Japanese will support this opinion; however, if the Japanese and US governments make a strong case for the continued credibility of the alliance, this hard-line trend of opinion will not become a significant political factor.

Nuclear weapons proliferation

It is just a matter of time before Japan will be targeted by North Korean nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. Japan was targeted by Soviet nuclear weapons in the Cold War and, possibly, faces a similar threat from Russia and China today. So nuclear weapons proliferation is far from a new issue for Japan; however, if such proliferation expands to other regional nations, this will be serious problem.

A key question for Japan will be whether to remain a non-nuclear nation in the face of the spread of nuclear weapons in the Asia-Pacific region. In such an environment, the following points would have to be considered.

First, what are the costs and benefits of becoming nuclear-armed? It is clear that Japan would lose much more than it would gain in such a situation. Remaining a non-nuclear nation under the current alliance with the United States would be a much wiser and more practical decision for Japan.

Second, a key issue for Japan and the United States in this environment will be how to continue to convince the Japanese people of the credibility of the US nuclear deterrent. Some in Japan have expressed growing concern about the status of the US deterrent, and, unfortunately, neither government has made sufficient effort to convince people about the deterrent’s reliability. In particular, since Prime Minister Koizumi’s tenure, the government of Japan (GOJ) has not adopted any productive reassurance measures, and if this situation continues, a majority of the Japanese people might have a strong appetite for an independent nuclear weapons capability. Both Japan and the United States should take this risk into account, and should resume bilateral nuclear dialogues as soon as possible.

Concluding thoughts

Japan will have several options for meeting the challenges of the emerging security environment. New measures should be taken to keep highly trained and operationally capable US forces in the region to counter emerging anti-access/area denial (AA/AD) strategies. These would include an at-sea BMD to protect the US Navy’s Carrier Strike Groups. Also, a more robust anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability against the latest submarines should be developed. In addition, protective measures to secure and maintain the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities of allied forces against an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attack in the region should be established. EMP is not widely discussed yet but will be a good tool to neutralize allied C4ISR nerve centers and networks. Finally, construction of a defense network against precision strike will also be critical for future Japan-US cooperation. Efforts along all of the above lines will enable the future operational and strike capabilities of US forces deployed in the region.

One last idea is to develop Japan’s own AA/AD capabilities. For example, Japan could develop long-range anti-ship cruise missiles to counter an adversary’s naval and carrier strike forces, and also deny their freedom of movement. Conventional submarines and vast numbers of modern sea-bed mines would be Japan’s other AA/AD assets. These are just some parts of a potential suite of Japanese AA/AD tools in the 2030s. In this context, without taking “eye for eye” measures, there are several flexible options to meet future security challenges, while maintaining Japan’s long-established defense-only posture under the alliance. This could be the Japanese version of Asymmetric Warfare.

Yoji Koda is Vice Admiral (ret.), Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force.

Will the Long Peace Persist?

We live during an era of historically unprecedented peace. Whether we look over timescales of decades or centuries, wars have become less frequent. Figure 1 (data drawn from Pinker’s excellent new book, original sources include here and here) illustrates the downward trend in five measures. There are fewer Great Power wars, fewer wars in Western Europe, fewer years during which a Great Power war is ongoing, and less redistribution of territory after wars. Other trends, not as readily quantified, are evident. Countries no longer covet each other’s territory, or fear invasion and military coercion, like they have throughout most of history. National identities and aspirations are based less on martial glory, honor, and dominance. The relative absence of war, and especially Great Power war, since the end of WWII has been referred to as the Long Peace. As unbelievable as it may seem to readers of history, these and other trends suggest to many scholars that the Long Peace is likely to persist.

Figure 1

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But unlike the robust decline in interpersonal and domestic governmental violence (again, see Pinker), it is not as obvious that the human costs of war have declined over time. Figure 2 illustrates two other important measures that don’t show a decline: except for the most recent few decades, battle deaths in Great Power wars and battle deaths as a proportion of population in Europe don’t show an obvious decrease. While recent decades do seem particularly peaceful given these long-term trends, we would hardly want to be complacent about this trend. Many previous decade-long spans of peace ended in devastating wars.

Figure 2

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It may be, then, that wars have become vastly more destructive, especially with the invention of nuclear weapons, leading countries to be more cautious about their use of military coercion. The net costs of war on humanity, however, may not have decreased. The Cuban Missile Crisis ended with little bloodshed; however, it could have ended with hundreds of millions of deaths. Such a counterfactual would add a massive spike to the right end of the lines in Figure 2, and mute any discussion of a Long Peace.

Aggregate data like the above gives us some, but not a lot, of confidence that the world has moved beyond war. To probe the persistence of this Long Peace, it would be helpful to know what factors have made the world more peaceful, and the extent to which these factors are likely to persist into the future. Potential causes of the peace include increases in trade, democracy, the difficulty of coercing wealth, global empathy, Great Power stability, the empowerment of women, and the deterrent effects of nuclear weapons. Global Trends 2030 identifies a number of other factors pertinent to the future probability of war, including power transitions, declining US military superiority, resource scarcity, new coercive technologies (such as cyberweapons, precision-strike capability, and bioweapons), and unresolved regional conflicts.

Wars are rare, but when they occur they alter the course of history. Any projection of what the world will be like decades into the future needs to evaluate the probability and character of war, and especially Great Power war. This week we can look forward to a set of eminent scholars sharing their thoughts about whether the Long Peace will persist. Contributors include: Erik Gartzke, (UC San Diego),Benjamin Fordham (Binghamton), Joshua Goldstein (American), Steven Pinker (Harvard), Jack S. Levy(Rutgers), Richard Rosecrance (Harvard), Bradley Thayer (Baylor), and William Thompson (Indiana).

 

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Allan Dafoe is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale University. His research examines the causes of war, with emphases on the character and causes of the liberal peace, reputational phenomena such as honor and tests of resolve, and escalation dynamics.

 

References

Pinker, S. 2011. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Penguin Group.

Levy, J. S., & Thompson, W. R. 2011. The Arc of War: Origins, Escalation, and Transformation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Levy, J. S. 1983. War in the Modern Great Power System 1495–1975. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Long, W. J., & Brecke, P. 2003. War and Reconciliation: Reason and Emotion in Conflict Resolution. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Zacher, M. W. 2001. The Territorial Integrity Norm: International Boundaries and the Use of Force. International Organization, 55, 215-250.

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In order to prepare for the topic this week, I have included some information of the current gas energy outlook, discussed very briefly on technologies then provided views from both proponents and opponents of the shale gas development activities. I ended with some of the questions and hope the bloggers will answer/comment to address the shale gas challenges.

 Energy Outlook

The Annual Energy Outlook 2012 (Ref. 1) published by DOE reported a modest growth in demand for energy over the next 25 years and increased domestic crude oil and natural gas production, largely driven by rising production from tight oil and shale resources. As a result, U.S. reliance on imported oil is reduced; domestic production of natural gas exceeds consumption, allowing for net exports; a growing share of U.S. electric power generation is met with natural gas and renewables; and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions remain below their 2005 level from 2010 to 2035, even in the absence of new Federal policies designed to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Shale gas production increases from 5.0 trillion cubic feet per year in 2010 (23 percent of total U.S. dry gas production) to 13.6 trillion cubic feet per year in 2035 (49 percent of total U.S. dry gas production).

Shale Gas Technology

Shale gas is a natural gas produced from shale. It is part of what is described as ‘unconventional gas’ (versus ‘conventional gas’ as gas sourced from discrete fields or pools localized in structural stratigraphical traps by the boundary of gas and water) and is obtained from low permeability reservoir in coal, tight sands formation, and shale. The accumulations of gas tend to be diffuse and spread over large geographical areas. As a result, it is much more difficult to extract (Refs. 2, 3). The shale gas production has accelerated due to advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies.

How it works: Wells are drilled vertically to intersect the shale formations at depths that typically range from 6,000 to more than 14,000 feet. Above the target depth the well is deviated to achieve a horizontal wellbore within the shale formation, which can be hundreds of feet thick. Wells may be oriented in a direction that is designed to maximize the number of natural fractures present in the shale intersected. These natural fractures can provide pathways for the gas that is present in the rock matrix to flow into the wellbore. Horizontal wellbore sections of 5,000 feet or more may be drilled and lined with metal casing before the well is ready to be hydraulically fractured.

Hydraulic fracturing (Fracking): Beginning at the toe of the long horizontal section of the well, segments of the wellbore are isolated, the casing is perforated, and water is pumped under high pressure (thousands of pounds per square inch) through the perforations, cracking the shale and creating one or more fractures that extend out into the surrounding rock. These fractures continue to propagate, for hundreds of feet or more, until the pumping ceases. Sand carried along in the water props open the fracture after pumping stops and the pressure is relieved. The propped fracture is only a fraction of an inch wide, held open by these sand grains. Each of these fracturing stages can involve as much as 10,000 barrels (420,000 gallons) of water with a pound per gallon of sand. Shale wells have as many as 25 fracture stages, meaning that more than 10 million gallons of water may be pumped into a single well during the completion process. A portion of this water is flowed back immediately when the fracturing process is completed, and is reused. Additional volumes return over time as the well is produced.

Jobs and US Manufacturing

After years of high, volatile natural gas prices, the new economics of shale gas are a “game changer,” creating a competitive advantage for U.S. petrochemical manufacturers, leading to greater U.S. investment and industry growth. America’s chemical companies use ethane, a natural gas liquid derived from shale gas, as a feedstock in numerous applications. Its relatively low price gives U.S. manufacturers an advantage over many competitors around the world that rely on naphtha, a more expensive, oil-based feedstock. Growth in domestic shale gas production is helping to reduce U.S. natural gas prices and create a more stable supply of natural gas and ethane.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC)’s new report (Ref. 4), Shale Gas and New Petrochemicals Investment: Benefits for the Economy, Jobs and US Manufacturing, claimed an opportunity for shale gas to strengthen U.S. manufacturing, boost economic output and create jobs. The ACC report analyzed the impact of a hypothetical, but realistic 25 percent increase in ethane supply on growth in the petrochemical sector. It found that the increase would generate:

. 17,000 new knowledge-intensive, high-paying jobs in the U.S. chemical industry

. 395,000 additional jobs outside the chemical industry (165,000 jobs in other industries that are related to the increase in U.S. chemical production and 230,000 jobs from new capital investment by the chemical industry)

. $4.4 billion more in federal, state, and local tax revenue, annually ($43.9 billion over 10 years)

. A $32.8 billion increase in U.S. chemical production

. $16.2 billion in capital investment by the chemical industry to build new petrochemical and derivatives capacity

. $132.4 billion in U.S. economic output ($83.4 billion related to increased chemical production (including additional supplier and induced impacts) plus $49.0 billion related to capital investment by the U.S. chemical industry)

Another report published by PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP in Dec 2011 (Ref. 5) shared similar views:

. Energy affordability: Lower feedstock and energy costs could help US manufacturers reduce natural gas expense by as much as $11.6 billion annually through 2025

. Demand growth: In 2011, 17 chemical, metal, and industrial manufacturers commented in SEC filings that shale gas development drove demand for their products, compared to none in 2008.

. More jobs: US manufacturing companies could employ approximately one million more workers by 2025 due to the benefits from energy and demand for products used to extract the gas.

Inhibitors or Barriers

However, there has been a growing perception that the shale gas production has polluted the air and consumed too much land and water, and the hydraulic fracturing is a significant threat to drinking water (Ref 3). According to a report from the Chatham House (Ref. 6) two factors could threaten continuing and expanding shale gas production in the United States. The first is the current low domestic gas price, which means that the economics of all gas operations are looking very weak; a fact reflected in the collapse in the rig count, which measures the number of rigs being used for drilling gas wells. In May 2012, this was down over 30% on an annual basis. However, history suggests such low prices will not continue.

The second threat to shale gas operations in the United States is growing concern about the negative environmental consequences of fracking, expressed in growing opposition from local communities and NGOs. The 2005 Energy Act explicitly excluded fracking from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Water Act, a clause that has become known as the ‘Cheney-Halliburton Loophole’. A further environmental issue is that water recovered from fracking operations may contain materials from the surrounding rocks. These can include radioactive materials and heavy metals and need to be treated or properly disposed of to avoid contamination of water supply. This is another example of the need for proper regulation to minimize damage from fracking.

Another environmental concern that has surfaced relates to the role of shale gas and climate change. Given the greater energy required to produce shale gas, it might be expected that CO2 emissions would be higher than for conventional gas.

When writing this, some questions were circulating in my head and I listed them below for your food of thoughts. So for next week I hope you write-in and share your thoughts to stimulate further dialogues. I truly believe your ideas/inputs/comments/feedbacks are very critical to address our energy and manufacture challenges.

Food/Questions for Thoughts

Would shale gas R&D effort help toward reducing dependency on coal production?

Would shale gas R&D effort cut into the efforts of renewable energy research?

In a bigger picture, how would shale gas play in the energy security for the US?

Would shale gas projected production create jobs as claimed?

Are there other employment opportunities created to address the environmental concerns of shale gas?

What are the unintended consequences or wild cards of shale gas production?

Are the legal frameworks still playing catch up with technology development?

Could the environmental regulations keep up with technology development?

Would the current political environment change the dynamics of the development?

References:

1. Annual Energy Outlook 2012 with Projection to 2035, DOE, June 2012

2. The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), DOE, March 2011

3. Chemical Engineering Progress, August 2012

4. Shale gas and New Petrochemicals Investment: Benefit for the Economy, Jobs, and US Manufacturing, American Chemistry Council, March 2011

5. Shale Gas, A Renaissance to US Manufacturing? PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, Dec 2011

6. The ‘Shale Gas Revolution’: Developments and Changes, Paul Stevens, Energy, Environment and Resources, August 2012, Chatham House

Climate Change 2030: More Extreme Weather

Climate Change 2030: More Extreme Weather

Empirical evidence alone—without reference to climate models—indicates that a general warming trend is affecting weather and ecosystems with increasing impacts on humans. Recent weather has been characterized by an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events—floods, droughts, tornadoes, glacial lake outbreaks, extreme coastal high-water levels, heat waves, cold spells, etc—and this will continue during the next 20 years.

According to the recent IPCC Special Report on Extreme Events (SREX), climate and socioeconomic trends will reinforce extreme weather, making it more frequent and intense. Although the number of tropical and extratropical cyclones probably will not increase, the average maximum wind speed for tropical cyclones will increase. Meanwhile, population growth and economic development will widen the exposure of people and property. The key unknown is whether improved disaster risk management measures will be adopted to effectively cope with these changing conditions by 2030.

Food security has been aggravated partly because during the last two decades the world’s land masses are experiencing weather conditions outside of expected norms. Observed temperature increases (though enhanced in the Arctic) are not solely a high-latitude phenomenon. Recent scientific work shows that temperature anomalies during growing seasons and droughts have lessened agricultural productivity. Degraded agriculture productivity, when coupled with more protectionist national policies tightening global supply, undercuts food security, especially in impoverished regions.

Flows in the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Niger, Amazon, and Mekong river basins have been diminished by droughts that have been persistent over the past decade. These trends are consistent with the expected effects of increased greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere, but due to the limited observational record (60 years) and a lack of understanding of decadal variability, one cannot discount the possibility that observed trends are due to other natural causes of weather variability.

Dramatic and unforeseen changes are occurring at a faster rate than expected in regions with frozen water. Current estimates suggest that Arctic summer sea ice will vanish in the period 2030-2050. Changes are occurring in the major ice shelves (Greenland and Antarctica) that were unforeseen even five years ago. Future rates of change are currently unpredictable because observed changes have outpaced the development of ice-prediction models. Scientists now estimate sea-level rise (SLR) of one meter or greater by the end of the century, most of which is expected to occur toward the end of the century. Sea-level rise could increase with rapid melt of either the Greenland Ice Sheet or the West Antarctica Ice Shelf. In the next 20 years, barring collapse of the ice shelves, the SLR trend will be modest and consistent with the recent record, about 3.3±0.4mm/year (that is, an additional ~2.5 inches global average sea-level rise). However, even this change, when coupled with potential storm surges from more intense storms and subsidence of delta lands, will have a significant adverse impact on coastal regions and Pacific small-island states.

Improved understanding of the changes in the stratosphere reveal that the ozone layer over the northern hemisphere is diminishing, leading to the possibility of greater ultraviolet (UV) radiation over northern hemisphere countries. Based on a better understanding of climate sensitivity and emissions, the present emissions pathway will lead to approximately 2°C warming by mid-century and approximately 3° to 6°C by end of century, depending on economic performance, technological advances, and energy policy. By 2030 the emissions trajectory will be cast, determining this century’s climate outcome.

by Steven Pinker

Like the other contributors to this conversation, I agree with the statement attributed to Yogi Berra that predictions are hard, especially about the future. No responsible person can predict with certainty whether the Long Peace among great powers and developed states will persist. And because we can witness the unfolding of only one universe one time, any statement of probability can be no more than a statement the theorist’s level of subjective confidence.

Still, that level of confidence can be justified to varying degrees, and it seems to me the quantitative trends underlying The Long Peace (nicely superimposed into a single graph by Allan Dafoe in his introduction) reflect genuine changes in the international system. That is, they are not just a gambler’s lucky streak that is sure to run out, an artifact of the way that wars and their human costs are counted, or a temporary lull in an inexorable cycle.  As such they support a reasonable degree of confidence that The Long Peace will persist (subject to a class of exceptions I will present at the end of this essay).

None of the reasons to dismiss the trends underlying The Long Peace strike me as sound. The wisecracks about the man plummeting off the skyscraper shouting “So far so good!” and the turkey on the eve of Thanksgiving celebrating the 364-day period of coexistence between humans and turkeys respectively assume that history is driven by an inexorable directional force or by a strict cycle. Neither theory of history is supported by data on long-term trends in wars involving great powers or developed countries. In Better Angels I summarized these data (from Jack Levy, Lewis Richardson, Peter Brecke, and others) as a superposition of four patterns (p. 192): (1) No cycles; (2) A big dose of randomness; (3) A long-term escalation in the destructiveness of war, which made a substantial U-turn after 1945; and (4) Long-term declines in the frequency and duration of war. Multiplying the trends in (3) and (4) yields the overall decline in war that we call The Long Peace, and Factor (2) should keep us humble and cautious. But nothing supports the systematic pessimism of the fables about plummeting men or complacent turkeys.

Nor do the cautionary tales about pre-World-War I optimism tell us much, except that we should always be cautious. First, the infamous Norman Angell did not predict that war was impossible, only that it was economically irrational. He feared that ideology and fear might lead the leaders of great powers to blunder into a disastrous war, and he was right. Second, though the world of a century ago had seen unprecedented levels of trade and economic integration, Bruce Russett and John Oneal have shown that when they are measured quantitatively (as a proportion of GDP) they are a tiny fraction of the levels the world has seen since 1945 (Better Angels, p. 286). Russett and Oneal’s two other statistical predictors of peace (democracy and membership in intergovernmental organizations) are also far higher today, and other indicators of war-readiness such as the prevalence and length of conscription, the proportion of the population in uniform, overall prosperity, and the political participation of women are also more favorable today. In the realm of ideas, romantic militarism and nationalism have ceded ground to war aversion and liberal humanism, and of course nowadays we have knowledge of two destructive world wars and an awareness of the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe. In no other realm of human experience could one credibly say that we have learned nothing in the past century and that the assessments of today are no more trustworthy than those of a hundred years ago.

There is, of course, a tragic-poetic vision of the human condition in which we are condemned to repeat history, to be felled by our own hubris, to regress to our nature red in tooth and claw, and so on, but it is not grounded in historical or biological fact. If The Long Peace endures, it would not be the first time in history that a longstanding barbaric institution has been abolished or at least decimated. Wars involving great powers and developed states could very well join human sacrifice, chattel slavery, public torture-executions, auto-da-fés, debtors’ prisons, bear-baiting, foot-binding, gentlemanly dueling, witch hunts, and trephination on the ash heap of history.

Nor does a realistic, nonromantic view of human nature require perpetual war (and I can speak with some authority on this, having championed a thoroughly unsentimental understanding of the crooked timber of humanity in How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate).  Though Homo sapiens undoubtedly evolved with violent instincts, those instincts are triggered by particular circumstances; they are not a hydraulic urge that must periodically be discharged. And though we evolved motives that can erupt in violence, we also evolved motives that can inhibit violence, including self-control, empathy, a sense of fairness, and open-ended cognitive mechanisms that can devise technologies for reducing violence.

None of this is to say that The Long Peace must endure. On top of the many systematic trends that militate against the resumption of great-power and developed-state war, there are the black swans, long tails, and unknown unknowns that could poke big spikes up into the declining gradient. Perhaps there is some charismatic politician working his way up through the Chinese nomenklatura who dreams of rectifying the intolerable insult of Taiwan once and for all, provoking an American or international response. Perhaps an aging Putin will seek historical immortality and restore Russian greatness by swallowing a former Soviet republic or two. Perhaps terrorists from some liberation movement no one has heard of are plotting an attack of unprecedented destruction, or a utopian ideology is fermenting in the mind of a cunning fanatic somewhere who will take over a major country and try to impose it everywhere.

Certainly no one could rule out these low-probability/high-impact events, or even begin to estimate their cumulative probability. But acknowledging our ignorance about improbable, trend-defying events is different from denying the existence of the trends. It seems to me that the Long Peace is a genuine trend that clusters with other, more-often-than not, more-or-less successful attempts over the course of human history to contain our violent impulses.

 

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Steven Pinker is Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

World War III?

by Richard Rosecrance

Much has been made of the lessening of interstate conflict over the centuries and surely since World War II.  Whether this abstention from war will continue among Great Powers, however, is a function of the cost and benefit of territorial conquest.  Historians have argued that Great Powers got little benefit from additional territory after 1815, though imperialist expansion did not end until 1945.  Since 1950, imperial powers have had to retreat from their colonies and the world has admitted more than 100 new states to the international system.  Even if present-day economic interdependence continues, however, Great Power rivalries, like those from 1890 to 1914, will persist as one major power triumphs over another and alliance systems divide the world.

Since 1500 there have been thirteen cases of one Great Power approaching or passing a hegemonic leader in economic or military terms.  Of these, all but three ended in major war.  The United States passed Britain peacefully in 1890; there was no war when the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union came to an end, and Japan surpassed the Soviet Union economically without incident in 1983.  Two factors seem to be important in preventing war.  First, was there a mere balance of power or a favorable overbalance on the side of peace?  And second, did the erstwhile hegemon accept the territorial and other demands of the rising power?  In 1900 Britain conceded to all US requests; and in 1989, the Soviet Union faced not merely a balance but a huge overbalance of power ranged against it.  Somewhat reluctantly, Russia endorsed democratic governments in its erstwhile satellites and gave independence to its restive Western provinces including the Baltic nations, Belarus, and Ukraine.  In future, China and later India will rise to leading and perhaps hegemonic power status.  Will the United States and the West then concede all Chinese demands?  Will there be an overbalance against Chinese power, with Europe, the United States and Japan aligned together?

If not, the so-called Thucydides’ problem (where the rising power of one major state causes fear in lesser rival nations, which turn to war) might emerge once again.  To avert this outcome, the world needs to draw two conclusions:  the stronger the West, the less likely the conflict, and the more China accepts the existing rules of the international order, e.g., rule of law, intellectual property, property rights, and lessening arms races, the better the prospects of avoiding a new major clash.

The NIC document on the world in 2030 covers all possible bases without resolving these questions.  It accepts prior judgments about the decline of international conflict but also projects the possibility of war as new powers rise to hegemony, supplanting the United States.  I believe the key is to revivify the West by cementing Europe and the United States together and to tie China and India into the world trading system.  Production chains that link differentiated industries in East Asia with those in the West and Japan are entirely new and gratifying elements in the complex interdependence now in place.  These restraints did not exist in 1914.  At that time, all great powers accepted the inevitability of a new clash and did not hesitate when conflict loomed because they thought the war would be quick and it could no longer be postponed.  Today, partly because of nuclear weapons, no one thinks a conflict is inevitable.  The remaining uncertainty is whether a gradually liberalizing China will adhere to the rules of the game noted above, as it allows its internal provinces to follow more closely the models of Taiwan and Hong Kong.

 

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  • Richard Rosecrance is Director of the US-China Relations Program of the Belfer Center in Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Adjunct Professor of Public Policy and Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center, and Distinguished Research Professor of Political Science at UCLA.   Among many other books, he has written, The Rise of the Trading StateThe Rise of the Virtual State, and forthcoming, The Return of the West: To Prevent Another World War I  (Yale University Press, Spring, 2013).

by Benjamin Fordham 

I enjoyed Jack Levy’s comments on how the world would have looked to people writing in 1912. As part of my current research, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the three decades before World War I. As Levy pointed out, this last period of great power peace has some interesting parallels with the present one. Like today, the international economy had become increasingly integrated. For good reason, some even refer to this period as the “first age of globalization.” The period also saw the emergence of several new great powers, including Japan, Germany, and the United States. Like emerging powers today, each of these states sought to carve out its own world role and to find, as the German Foreign Secretary put it, a “place in the sun.” Like Levy, I don’t think these parallels we are doomed to repeat the catastrophe of 1914. I want to highlight the different institutional rules governing the international economic system today. The dangers discussed in the NIC report are real, but there is reason for hope when it comes to avoiding great power war.

The rules of the game governing the “first age of globalization” encouraged great powers to pursue foreign policies that made political and military conflict more likely. Declining transportation costs, not more liberal trade policies, drove economic integration. There was no web of international agreements discouraging states from pursuing protectionist trade policies. As Patrick McDonald‘s recent book, The Invisible Hand of Peace, explains nicely, protectionism went hand-in-hand with aggressive foreign policies. Many of the great powers, including the emerging United States, sought to shut foreign competitors out of their home markets even as they sought to expand their own overseas trade and investment. Even though markets and investment opportunities in less developed areas of the world were small, great power policy makers found these areas attractive because they would not export manufactured products. As one American policy maker put it in 1899, they preferred “trade with people who can send you things you ant and cannot produce, and take from you in return things they want and cannot produce; in other words, a trade largely between different zones, and largely with less advanced peoples….” Great powers scrambled to obtain privileged access to these areas through formal or informal imperial control. This zero-sum competition added a political and military component to economic rivalry. Increasing globalization made this dangerous situation worse, not better, in spite of the fact that it also increased the likely cost of a great power war.

In large part because of the international economic institutions constructed after World War II, present day great powers do not face a world in which protectionism and political efforts to secure exclusive market access are the norm. Emerging as well as longstanding powers can now obtain greater benefits from peaceful participation in the international economic system than they could through the predatory foreign policies that were common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They do not need a large military force to secure their place in the sun. Economic competition among the great powers continues, but it is not tied to imperialism and military rivalry in the way it was in 1914.

These international institutional differences are probably more important for continuing great power peace than is the military dominance of the United States. American military supremacy reduces uncertainty about the cost and outcome of a hegemonic war, making such a war less likely. However, as in the 19th Century, higher growth rates in emerging powers strongly suggest that the current American military edge will not last forever. Efforts to sustain it will be self-defeating if they threaten these emerging powers and set off a spiral of military competition. Similarly, major uses of American military power without the support (or at least the consent) of other great powers also risk leading these states to build up their military capabilities in order to limit American freedom of action. The United States will be better served by policies that enhance the benefits that emerging powers like China receive from upholding the status quo.

Although the differences in international institutions give reason for optimism about continuing great power peace, there are no guarantees. These institutions are not immutable. They rest on major power policy makers’ belief that they have more to gain from participation in the present system than they do from alternative foreign policies. Right now, this belief is well founded but it could be undermined if the system ceases to bring material benefits to powers capable of undermining it. If the predatory and imperialistic foreign policies of years leading up to 1914 once again offer real benefits, I suspect that new ideological justifications for them will not be hard to find.

 

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Benjamin O. Fordham is professor of political science at Binghamton University (SUNY). His research on the role of domestic political and economic interests in foreign policy making has been published inInternational Studies QuarterlyInternational Organization, the Journal of Politics, and other journals. He is currently working on a book about the domestic politics of American foreign policy during the 1890-1914 period.