“War is an instrument entirely inefficient towards redressing wrong and multiplies, instead of indemnifying, losses.”
Before the onset of civilisation, there may have been tribal skirmishes but there was not organised warfare between competing military forces. It was not until agriculture allowed for societal specialisation, hierarchy, and the generation of a warrior class loyal to a military or political leader or social system, that wars began in earnest. Agriculture required defence of boundaries and crops. Such defence required the specialisation of a warrior class organised into military forces. Such forces required organisation and a willing youthful pool of potential soldiers. But legitimate purposes of defence can also be turned to offensive uses. Leaders throughout history have been adept in justifying aggressive war in terms of defence. War is a byproduct of civilisation and World War is a byproduct of more civilised community and world society.
In World War I, soldiers mostly slaughtered other soldiers. In World War II, cities and civilians became targets. By our own cleverness, we have created instruments capable of destroying ourselves. The creation of nuclear weapons has made the world too dangerous for warfare, but if warfare requires a high level of socio-economic organisation, peace requires an even higher level of socio-economic organisation. The United Nations Charter prohibits the use of force between nations except under very limited conditions of self-defence or when the Security Council authorises the use of force. This prohibition, as we all know, has not been very successful, largely because the major powers have relied upon the law of force rather than the force of law. We have created a situation in which either warfare or humanity is obsolete. We humans can choose. We can choose to put an end to warfare or we can continue to run the risk of World War III to put to an end to us. This is the way that Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein put it in a 1955 statement calling for an end to warfare:
“Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race, or shall mankind renounce war?”
The sooner we realise this, the sooner we can get on with the necessary task of abolishing nuclear weapons and building a warless world. In doing so, we will save vast resources that can be used to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals to end poverty, improve health, protect the environment, and better the lives of people everywhere. Today there are many wars raging in the world but none of them seems to threaten a new World War. Or do they? Wars in the Middle East, violent demonstrations in Greece and China, terrorist attacks in Pakistan and India, the crisis between Russia and Georgia, North Korea and South Korea, will they have an even more horrific outcome than they already do? Is this new, great war going to be a nuclear one?
Has the human mind improved? Have we buried ghosts of the past and learned from our mistakes, or is the only resolution to the situation today a new war after which our world won’t exist?
A Third World War is not inevitable as big political powers continue to fight for control of resources, territory, or influence. The fighting is triggered by lack of willingness to compromise. The willingness to compromise is also a function of the relative power of the adversaries. The ‘cold war’ did not deteriorate into a real war because the US and the USSR (now Russia) felt matched in power, but several small wars-by-proxy were waged when one side felt achievement through force was possible. In Afghanistan, for example, the Soviets invaded expecting low opposition, resulting in the US funding of the Mujahadin or Taliban. A war in Europe between NATO and the USSR did not break out because it was deemed unwinnable. The first and Second World Wars were a result of one block expecting an easy win. The commanders of the Imperial German Army in World War I expected to be in Paris within few weeks. In today’s world, the strengthening of new blocks along with their armies, such as the Chinese Army, the resurgent Russian army, and so forth is accompanied with a dwindling and over-stretched US Army, with reduced NATO support and no European army whatsoever. It is therefore to be expected that the blocks gaining power will consider military success to be more likely, resulting in greater use of military force.
The US and Russia, among others, disagree on what is going on in Syria, but the war in Syria does not represent major change for any of the world powers. Russia and the US are on different sides more due to protecting their interests than ideological differences, and Syria does not represent the primary concern of either country.