Sunday, August 08, 2010

War and peace by the numbers

Many theories about war and peace come from many who experience insight, observe and make common sense judgments, and simply present ideological conclusions. These are all to the good, and research helps to confirm, disconfirm, or complicate these notions.

Familiarity breeds contempt is one old human adage. How does it apply to war and peace?
“War is about 40 times more likely to break out between contiguous states if they are involved in a territorial disagreement that has never been resolved” (Vasquez and Valeriano, 2009, p. 199).

If we wish peace between nation-states, we will work to resolve border disputes. A resolution by military victory is no resolution at all unless the peace negotiations have involved true representation from the contesting parties. A military clash over borders often produces another bloody clash a few years later, when the parties find no satisfaction to their grievances and have rebuilt their militaries. Doing deep conflict transformation until the two cultures accept the borders and those borders are quite porous instead of severely limiting are two methods of mitigating the tendency toward repeat wars between neighboring nation-states.

Militarized Interstate Disputes (MIDs) are those interstate conflicts that involve the use of the military, even if no shots are fired--just as a gun pointed at your head by someone who demands your money worsens in its criminal seriousness from theft to robbery to armed robbery, even when no actual violence occurs. The threat of violence over territorial contests is made more often than over policy disputes or any other sort of disagreements between nation-states. And one use of the military usually predicts more uses, and war more often, with the periods of peace more akin to the victims sulking and plotting revenge in a giant game of passive aggression.

Nation-states with territorial claims against each other are usually devoted to building and maintaining militaries far too large for their social well being and they tend to be nation-states that are generally more militarized for that reason. Looking at the list of the most militarized nation-states on Earth, one finds many such examples. North Korea and South Korea are in the top 30, India and Pakistan are too, China is, and all its neighbors are nervous, trying to mollify that military superpower or trying to form military alliances to protect them. Russia has slipped to number three and is focusing its military on its many border disputes. Indonesia, trying to maintain its control over other people's lands--e.g. West Papua, which is transitioning from a guerrilla insurgency to a nonviolent civil society independence movement--is in that top 30. Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia all are in this most militarily powerful 15 percent of the world's nation-states and certainly all have border uncertainties. The US is number one and has no border disputes with contiguous nations, but it is occupying at least two other nation-states and is running its empire of bases around the world; it is the great exception to the contiguous state findings as a correlate to militarization.

How can nonviolence affect these particularly nettlesome and often tragic problems? There are a number of ways, including but not limited to:
~~dialog at all levels, even if it's only by phone conference or online
~~civil society crossborder peace coalitions
~~cultural exchanges stressing peaceful intersections and future diversity initiatives
~~expose the elites who profit from these conflicts

~~civil society support for peace-oriented, demilitarizing leadership

(below: West Papuan civil society demonstrates for freedom, 8 July 2010)

It is crucial to both comfort and confront those embroiled in the challenges of the transcendent meaning of land, a project that is delicate and usually such a zero-sum problem that it is avoided by peace-desiring people. That is a mistake. These ancient 'heart-of-our-people' emotional attachments to land are simply maladaptive and outdated guarantees of misery. My basic confrontive question to those who evoke these shibboleths for war is, "Do you struggle for your ancestors or for your children, because those choices are very different."

If we struggle for our ancestors, we must have Jerusalem just for us, we absolutely require the Kosovo Polje, Kashmir is not negotiable, Seoul is ours, and South Ossetia or Chechnya may require years of blood on all sides, but we cannot give up.

If we struggle for our children, we help them make friends on all sides, we teach them languages and conflict transformational skills. We build peace with our neighbors and enrich our children's lives.

If we choose the civil society path toward peace and if we create a more peaceful and prosperous life for our children, can we doubt that the best of our ancestors would be pleased? We can even resolve that conflict, but it takes disciplined effort, not driven by news cycles or current crisis. The peace people know this and they need our support, wherever they are.

Vasquez, John A., and Valeriano, Brandon (2009). Territory as a source of conflict and a road to peace. In Bercovitch, Jacob; Kremenyuk, Victor; & Zartman, I. William (Eds.). The Sage handbook of conflict. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p.p. 193-209.

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