Skip to content

Paths to a Durable Peace

December 9, 2014

These past few weeks we’ve been discussing a lot about international relations and war and peace. Today I want to finally lay out paths to a durable peace. Today we discuss how to create the best peace we can hope for.

But before we do that, reader, go and revisit the following articles:

  1. We Shouldn’t All be Pacifist
  2. Why Military Power is Paramount to Peace
  3. Military Power and Appeasement
  4. The Security Dilemma and Its Solutions
  5. Democracy – A Condition for Peace?
  6. Hegemonic wars can be avoided (NB: This essay got selected for the essay gallery in my online course “Conditions of War and Peace as being “excellent” from hundreds of essays)

These articles will form the foundation of what I say today, and should be read first before tackling today’s content. These articles laid out in significant detail the historical and theoretical “proof” of ideas. Today I deal with all the aforementioned ideas, and break into new content. This will be a long article. It is the culmination of weeks of study and thought. The summary:

Military power is the core of peace, and is always needed. Military power is the basis of short term management of peace and war. Military power in espionage is vital in solving the security dilemma. However, the ‘field’ / international environment in which military power operates is a product of other factors like democracy and free trade. These factors do not automatically bring peace and may increase short term instability, but they play a large role in the peace of the future. It is important – within limits – to work to these goals. Peace may be in the future, but it is right now in the making. Peace is never permanent, however, and many ever changing variables affect international relations like culture / history and domestic politics. Therefore, we must move from theory to practice.

Military Power – the core of peace

Role in Keeping Peace

Military power plays a core role in keeping peace. Without the threat of armed retaliation, there is no answer to any aggressor. The aggressor can simply say “Or else what?” to any pacifist response.

War is terrible. The price of victory can be immense. And so it should be. If the price were low, more wars would be fought.

The use of military power rests on deterrence and the balance of power. Attack


There are limits to the ability of force to keep peace though. Firstly, deterrence cannot work against suicide bombers, and very often fails against regimes bent on war. You can’t deter those bent on dying (a problem fighting terrorism). Deterrence also fails against powers who believe an attack is imminent. If one believes an attack is imminent, then you can’t deter them from a pre-emptive strike, or from building up arms.

The second limitation with military power is that its inherently zero-sum. Military power is inherently relative (up to nuclear weapons and total annihilation that is…) , meaning that its like a see-saw. If one power strengthens its forces, the see-saw goes down (they have greater influence), yet another power goes up on the see-saw (their influence decreases) . Add the down and up of the see-saw though, and it balances out.

The point here is that the application of military power is inherently limited. To use an analogy, military power is like macroeconomics and the business cycle – military power and its use smoothes cycles of tensions in international relations. However, to make the cycle less volatile in economics you need microeconomics to promote long term structural reform that makes the management of the economy easier. Applying this to military power, and we see that because military power is zero-sum, to ensure “peace” we need to look elsewhere to long-term improvement that will make future management of war and peace easier.

Democracy – building long term peace

Role in Keeping Peace

I mentioned above how military power acts to manage the economy. The type of situation it manages, however, is often a product of other factors. If most powers have historical, cultural and democratic ties and are allies, for instance, there’s less to manage than if all powers are historical and ideological enemies. The point here is that while military power is the ultimate, the final restraint to aggression, it works much better if we have other factors in play.

One of the most powerful is democracy. Stable democracies have not fought each other in recent memory. Democracies, by the nature of their institutional structure, devolve power to the people and let them moderate high risk decisions. Democracy often correlates with a set of values, and builds ties between nations. Furthermore, by making every country democratic, ideological differences largely disappear. Finally – and this is a controversial argument – one could argue that democracy is associated and necessitates social conditions like freedom of speech, free trade etc. that both foster tolerance of others, and create the economic and military structures best equipped to handle peace.

Add all of these up, and democracy is seen as a long term solution that makes stopping war much easier.


Democracy is a powerful, long-term force, yet it has serious limitations in the short term.

In the short term democracy causes instability because it devolves power. Democracy can splinter a nation, cause a power vacuum and cause mass instability. Just look at the new democracies in the Middle East. Think Egypt, and ponder why it chose to revert to an authoritarian army government.

The other limitation is that democracy is very unstable in the short term. Until democracy is entrenched, its structures are merely something to be exploited. Eg. The Nazi policy of legality. I think the case study of Weimar Germany shows how new democracies are inherently unstable, and that order needs to be enforced… by the military.

Democracy is also a powerful precursor to nationalism, which is NOT a force for peace. Giving everyone a voice is also a powerful way to spread nationalism, or inculcate people into a grand vision. It gives parties the incentive to bombard civilians with propaganda if they can vote etc.

All this is simply to say that democracy is severely limited in the short term in bringing peace. In fact, military power is required to manage the short term instability that democracy brings. This leads us to our final limitation – its very hard to enforce democracy on an unwilling nation.

Free Trade – building long term peace

Role in Keeping Peace

I haven’t really delved deeply into the role of free trade in this series because my Coursera course “Conditions of War and Peace” did not dwell on it. Let’s deal with it now though.

The argument with free trade goes that nations benefit from free trade with each other, and that these benefits act as a deterrent to war. The more of these benefits, the more countries have to lose by going to war. A good example here would be the US and China. They have a powerful economic interdependence that acts as a stabilising force in international relations.

Also, unlike military power yet like democracy, free trade isn’t a zero sum game. Both sides are winners in free trade (normally) . Free trade can always be expanded. Etc. Thus as a long term force for good free trade can keep reaping us benefits.

Finally, it can be argued that economic ties are the first step to stronger diplomatic ties and then strategic ties. Economic cooperation links to strategic cooperation. Imagine, a nation is showing a degree of trustworthiness in its trade dealings, so you can now see what you couldn’t see before – that it could be a solid strategic power.

These points seem to point towards peace.


You’re probably getting the idea by now that no single factor ensures peace. So it is with free trade. There is a massive problem with free trade as a condition for peace.

Free trade depends upon nations getting goods at cheaper prices via comparative advantage. ‘Cheaper’ meaning there is still a cost.

But what if you can take what you want at a lower ‘cost’? What if invading a country and stealing its resources is ‘cheaper’ (after damages, losses etc.) than buying them?

Free trade is useless here!

Put more rigourously, free trade acts to deter war when the price of invasion is higher than the price of the goods being bought, or the expected price of goods over a given timeframe. Lets call this our price floor. Above this price of invasion, free trade continually adds “benefits” into the equation that make the real ‘cost’ of invasion higher. So once the pricefloor is reached, yes, free trade can generally act to upport peace. The only question here is, how do we make that initial price of invasion high enough to make free trade a force for peace?

You guessed it – military power. Be it allied militaries, international peacekeepers or the nation itself responding, the cost of invasion must be made high enough to make peace the preferable course.

And in our world of a relatively interventionist US, with international peacekeepers (UN), extremely close economic ties and more, the cost of invasion is normally far too high, and far too risky. Normally.

I should also note that sometimes economics is ignored, and other factors prevail. People thought that before WWI in the Belle Epoch that because trade between the major European powers was flourishing that war would never happen.

WWI happened. Economics isn’t the only factor considered in going to war.

Free trade has its limits.

Other Factors

International Institutions – building long term peace

Role in Keeping Peace

Professor Fujiwara was a fairly strong proponent of international institutions for keeping peace. I’m not though.

The first way international institutions keep peace is through arms control. Arms control mitigates the security dilemma and with it the chance of war.

Secondly, int. institutions like the UN sometimes send in ‘peacekeepers’ into countries. The idea is that they keep peace. More on this in ‘limitations.’

Lastly, and an argument I’m more fond of, if we call organisations like NATO, APEC, and ASEAN international instituions then we have an argument that international organisations boost ties between nations, strengthening prospects for peace. I’d also argue that NATO, in particular, is a more effective peacekeeping force than the UN.


Within a nation, there are ‘police’ that are extremely effective at preventing ‘crime’. The police are supported by the entire nation, and citizens recognise their authority for the most part.

International organisations are not an equivalent. The UN’s peacekeepers are not supported by every nation. Instead, nations act out of self-interest. They disregard UN mandates (think, Iraq War) . Alliances like NATO are strategic alliances wherein people are voluntarily bound. Not forcibly bound.

There is no world government. Whatever pretence international organisations have as to effectiveness is limited when not backed by the force of the sword. International organisations do good work economically, socially, culturally etc. They can foster economic development (World Bank), trade (WTO) and other conditions conducive to peace. But at the final hurdle, they collapse and national militaries come to the fore. (examples…)

And, ultimately, I think this is a good thing. To have a world government is a very dangerous idea, in my view. You see, in any nation state the nation comes into being generally through some sort of unified identity (which immigration / social divisions can undermine, but anyhow). This unity and identity changes over time, but it exists. People belong to and identify with it.

Now think of a world government. For every single country to obey its dictums, vote in its elections etc. the government would need to be monocultural, and demand agreement. The world would be extremely monotonous. But the truly scary thing is that you have no recourse against the government. Nothing. Don’t like the government? You can’t change government. Want to move countries? Who cares… they all obey the same authority. You want to take up arms? Good luck against a government with all the military resources of every single country on Earth pitted against you.

The cure here could be worse than the disease.

However, even putting aside these concerns, the track record of the UN in terms of peacekeeping is poor. Think Yugoslavia in the 1990s; it was NATO forces that stopped the killing, not UN forces. NATO is no brilliant solution either. The aerial campaign of NATO’s over Libya was extremely successful in achieving “hard power” (military force) dominance) , yet here we are years later with a failed state, because a military alliance (nor any other int. organisation) did not then stabilise and develop Libya.

International institutions are yet another factor that could be helpful in the long-term in making the management of peace simpler, yet also one I have my doubts about.

Culture / History – an ever changing variable

Role in Keeping Peace

Shared cultural and historical ties build the foundations of peace. Being complete opposites often fosters xenophobia, isolationism and hostility.

This isn’t really an area of policy for international relations, but building closer cultural ties etc. can have a small impact on the peace process. Arguably, as the world becomes more “westernised” or “Americanised”, we move towards what could be called cultural hegemony – all cultures being of the same type. Like any hegemony, stability results. (Instability results when hegemony is challenged)

The sort of people who argue culture has an impact are those who link culture to policy positions, like freedom of speech, free trade etc. When people say of those in North Korea “if only they knew how we lived, the dictatorship would crumble”, attacking censorship, they’re basically saying “if they see our culture and its results, they’ll support us”.


Culture is a small, important part to peace, yet I think its clear without a military or the other factors peace is threatened. Also, a world of a single culture is a significant sacrifice to make just to see a little less war.

Finally, culture, history, social bonds and all such things are things largely out of the hands of policymakers. History has already happened (barring rewriting!), culture exists today, society makes its own social mores, not governments. Culture is emblematic of a ton of factors that affect the peace process, yet aren’t really something governments consciously control.

Domestic Politics – a critical factor

International relations. States. Standing armies. Diplomats, Espionage. Power projection. Inter-regional security pacts. The world of international relations can sometimes sound like it is being played out on a grand stage by wise or cold and calculating statesmen, moving pieces on a majestic chessboard. Perhaps this exists to a point.

But I think that this is also a misleading view, because domestic politics is an extremely powerful force affecting states.

Role in Keeping Peace / Limitations

Let us start with the view that rulers are influenced by their subjects. This is certainly true in a democracy. It is also true in authoritarian regimes. The threat of revolution and revolt must be tempered. To get the greatest support for war the public must be onside.

Domestic politics plays a vital influence on the world stage. Changes of government in countries affect policy. Democracy, as a form of domestic politics, we have already seen makes a large influence.

So too does nationalism. Nationalism is essentially the galvanisation of the people towards national unity. That’s domestic politics.

US isolationism in the 1920s was largely a product of domestic products. Isolationism impacts the balance of power.

Whether extremism or moderate leaders rule counts. Do you have balance, or ideological fundamentalism?

Domestic sentiment in Egypt has led to changes of government and shifts of power in the Middle East.

The domestic Anti-Semitic sentiments in Europe in the early 20th century had an impact on the nature of WWII. The notion of Lebensraum was based on ideas of Aryan superiority. Was this the reason the Germans voted Hitler? No. But, all the domestic politics behind Hitler’s accession certainly mattered. National outrage against the Treaty of Versailles strengthened conservatives in Weimar Germany, greatly influencing Germany until Hitler’s accession, it being one of Hitler’s main propaganda issues.

Domestic politics counts.

Its also always variable.

There are always similarities between situations, yet situations are never exactly the same. Times change, the players at the centre of power change. Domestic sentiments change. Social attitudes behind government change. The writing of history changes. Domestic politics always changes, and yet it is so vital to war and peace.

Which brings us finally to…

From Theory to Practice

Today we’ve covered a lot of theory, a lot of it based on historical examples from my previous posts. We’ve found out a great deal. In summary:

  • Espionage is key to solving the security dilemma and ensuring peace
  • Military power is critical to managing war and peace, however…
  • To build long term peace we need democracy and free trade…
  • But to build long term peace, we need short term stability provided by the military. Democracy and free trade need protection in their infancy.
  • In practice international institutions have proven ineffective, and a world government is a bad answer to war.
  • There are lots of other factors – economic development, culture, history etc. that influence war / peace…
  • The most important of these is domestic politics, which has a great impact. Think nationalism.
  • Many of these variable are forever changing.

Make no mistake, this knowledge is invaluable and we need it. If we strive for pacifism we will see war. If we neglect espionage miscalculation will arise. If we neglect democracy and free trade we can’t build a future peace. These principles need to be followed. It doesn’t matter how much ‘on the ground’ knowledge we have if we know not where we head. Walking quickly in a given direction is useless without a guide as to where one should be headed. So it is with principles and international relations.

However, principles can only get you so far. At what point does democracy become stable? How do different cultures react to the use of force? Is an international institution applicable in a set region of the globe? Let’s get more specific. Specifically when after 9/11 did the world turn from sympathy to America to disdain for its unilateral actions? Should we expand espionage after PRISM and the Snowden and Wikileaks scandals? Should we pursue multilateral trade agreements despite the fact that this will likely weaken the relative power of the US and ruling powers and thus weaken the power of deterrence? Should we pursue trade if it strengthens China and thus sees China challenge the US as hegemon and cause instability in South East Asia?

These are hard questions. They require a great deal of knowledge, and information situated to the present. The world is always changing. The relative place of principles shifts on ever changing tides. Stay forever oblivious to the tides and your ship will crash upon the distant shore. Instead, you must be a wise captain, always correcting course, watching for approaching vessels, and of course, dealing with your crew – analogous to domestic politics.

Because the tides are always changing we never quite have the perfect answer, and past courses are but guides to creating peace. We cannot rest on our laurels. We need to know history, economics, social trends, political paradigms… and we need to keep it up to date, while understanding the historical past.

I have written a great deal these past weeks on war and peace, yet ultimately its but the surface of what one needs to know to enforce peace. Nobody said it is easy.

Its time to put theory into practice. Peace may be in the future, but it is right now in the making.


From → Foundations

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: