Thursday, August 26, 2004

Some Lessons from War

Peace Pledge Union Online has a slightly out-of-date (09/06/03) catalog of major wars and armed conflicts around the world. As of a year ago, the wars and armed conflicts listed below were in progress (country, year of onset, characterization of conflict). My interpretation follows the list.
Algeria 1992 civil war and civilian unrest
Burundi 1988 ethnic conflict continuing despite peace process
Congo-Brazzaville 1997 ethnic violence and aftermath
Congo-DR 1998 civil war, some moves towards peace
Kenya 1990 ethnic violence
Liberia 2000 rebel insurgency and cross-border conflicts
Nigeria 1997 recurrent ethnic, religious and political conflict
Somalia 1988 civil war and factional struggles
Sudan 1984 civil war
Uganda 1990 rebel/ethnic violence

America (i.e., the American continents)
Colombia 1986 civil war
Peru 1983 civil war declining

South Asia
Afghanistan 1978 civil war; recurrent international involvement
India 1947 recurrent territorial dispute in Kashmir
Kashmir 1947 recurrent territorial dispute
Pakistan 1947 recurrent territorial dispute in Kashmir
Sri Lanka 1984 civil war

Southeast Asia
Burma 1948 political and ethnic struggle
Indonesia (West Papua) 1969 independence struggle
Philippines 1971 civil/sectarian war

Russia 1999 renewed separatist war
Yugoslavia/Kosovo 1999 ethnic/separatist violence/NATO war aftermath

Middle East
Iraq 1990 interstate war; ethnic conflict
Israel 1982 interstate war; political/ethnic violence
A few of the conflicts may have abated in the last year, but several have intensified, and there are some new ones. But those changes don't affect the moral I draw when I think about the list in the context of history:

1. Most wars and armed conflicts have nothing to do with the United States. The U.S. is not now -- nor has it ever been -- the leading cause of violence in the world. The U.S. didn't start World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the War in Vietnam, or the Gulf War of 1990-91. Nor did the U.S. start the present war in Iraq -- but that's another discussion.

2. American might has, since 1945, sheltered the world from a massive war.

3. Armed conflict becomes less likely when representative government prevails, because it promotes the rule of law, which permits free markets to flourish (even allowing for the inevitable degree of regulation that attends representative government). The resulting prospect of stability and prosperity makes religious, tribal, and sectional rivalries less important in the scheme of life. Even the notable exception of Israel vs. Palestine proves the rule, for it is as much as anything else a war waged by a poor, despotic entity (Palestine) against a free and relatively prosperous one (Israel).

I do not mean to say that all conflict can be averted by the spread of representative government, the rule of law, and free markets. There are zealots in the world, and they will remain zealots regardless of democracy and prosperity -- sometimes out of spite. The war on terror is a war against implacable zealots who care not for democracy, and we must fight those zealots by all means. But the spread of representative government, the rule of law, and prosperity eventually will diminish the zealots' ability to elicit financial support and enlist suicide-fodder.

I am not calling for a "crusade" to bring representative government and free markets to all corners of the Earth. But -- in addition to doing what we must do militarily to clean out the nest of vipers in the Middle East -- we should use peaceful influence to promote the rule of law and the development of free markets whenever and wherever we can. To the extent that we can do those things, the world will be a more peaceful and prosperous place -- for Americans as well as others.