Power and Protest (social movements) in the 20th Century:
Chapter 4: The peace, anti-war and anti-nuclear movements
Section 4: War and Peace Today
Links with other documents: Imagining Other Index Page
Social Movements Contents Page
Links with other sections of Chapter 4: The Peace, Anti-War and Anti-Nuclear Movements:
Section 1(the anti-war movement)
Section 2 (the anti-nuclear movement)
Section 3 (non-violence)
Section 5 (Conclusion)
Section 6 (Updates)
Outline of this section:
Part 1: How much of a problem is war – costs of war - can war be justified: "just war"?
Part 2: The extent of arms – the arms trade - nuclear stockpiles.
Part 4: Deterrence – do nuclear weapons keep the peace?
Part 5: The extent of war in the 20th century.
Part 6: 'liberal interventionism'
Note: topics such as
Part 1: How much of a problem is war today? What is war good for?
Of the major threats that face the people of the world at present (environmental degradation and climate change, AIDS and other illnesses, poverty, war and violence) – war seems to be both a problem that ought to be easy to solve and yet which also in practice is the hardest to remove.
According to Hilary Benn, currently Foreign Minister, about 45 million people every year are affected by war.
Below (Part 5:extent of war in the 20th century) there are some more figures concerning the suffering that war continues to inflict on ordinary people in the 20th century. Also go to updates
I do not mean to under-state the problems of illness and
climate change: illness (and especially AIDS) kills many people; and in
Recent estimates by Oxfam (11.10.07) give the cost of
It is worth noting also, as Oxfam points out:
- 50% of African countries are at war; and in times of conflict, economies shrink by an average of 15%. Nations at war also have 50% more infant deaths, and life expectancy is reduced by 5 years. They also have 15% more undernourished infants.
- In circumstances of war, most deaths (14 times the number of direct deaths) are indirect, resulting from loss of livelihood, loss of health, disruption of the economy, etc.
- The calculations given do not take into account the effects of war in one country on its neighbours.
- The biggest problem is small arms “washing around the continent” – and there has been a rise in armed robberies, gang violence, murders, rustling etc all associated with the availability of small arms.
Estimates of the costs of war in specific African countries:
The problem of war
War is different to other problems:
- it is entirely the result of human actions and failings
- it is acknowledged by most people as not the only way – nor the best way – to solve conflict
- it seems to many people to be preventable. As the Peace Pledge Union (hyperlink?) says: “Wars will cease when men refuse to fight.”6
The aim of the peace movement is, simply, a world without war. Yet, little seems to be happening to remove war altogether.
I deal with the vested interests of arms manufacturers below (section 2) – other factors that militate against the removal of war seem to me to be largely psychological and social: people whose lives are secure and who feel content in themselves are far less likely to resort to any kind of violence; there is also the all-too-human tendency to take the apparently easy or quick way out when faced with conflict; and finally that old enemy: habit…
“Just war” arguments and the opposition to pacifism.
Some –for example David Aaronovitch (writing in The Observer on Remembrance day a few years ago) argue that whilst war is not always the best solution to conflict (“In almost all cases, talking, negotiating and compromising are better than the unpredictable and extreme violence of war” he says), the kind of wars that Britain has been involved in under Tony Blair were necessary to remove suffering (which may well be worse than the suffering brought by war) or to avoid suffering in the future: in Kosovo the genocide carried out by the Serbs, in Afghanistan the Taliban’s persecution and fanaticism; in Iraq the Baath “hard men” (who tortured and killed thousands of their opponents – mostly democrats); in Sierra Leone, where amputation by the militias was widespread; and against the Hutu Interahamwe. Aaronovitch believes that “We still depend… on men and women who will, if necessary, die on our behalf. And I must express my astonishment and gratitude that they will.”
Admittedly, the main
point of this particular article was to rebut arguments put by others to the
effect that we ought to be shown more of the horror of war, so that we would be
less inclined to fight. Aaronovitch
quotes Philip Kerr in the New Statesman, who says that it is amazing that
people like Tony Blair – brought up in the ‘60s when the anti-war movement was
at its height, and when images of the suffering in
Still, Aaronovitch spoils his case in two respects: firstly,
the examples he gives are not of
people dying “on our behalf” as I understand the expression (the army was not
trying to protect us when it went to
Secondly, as so many do in discussing these issues, he simply gets over-emotive: “Just as there are armchair warriors, who run none of the risks that they recommend for others, so there are armchair pacifists whose commitment isn’t tested by the threat to families and friends. Just other peoples’ families and friends.” In other words, pacifists are cowards who will sacrifice other people for their principles – an old and insulting argument, which ignores the bravery of pacifists in holding on to principles despite being surrounded by hostility (the white feathers that women used to put on young men who were not at the front), and it avoids the pacifist case against war, and any arguments for alternatives to war – other than his advocacy of negotiation etc.
Some argue that some wars are “just”. Lord Charles Guthrie and Sir Michael Quinlan have recently published a book called Just War. They spell out a number of criteria that they say are necessary in order to describe a war as “just”. There must be:
Reasonable Prospect of Success
And war must be the Last Resort.
Given these criteria, the authors believe that there have
been instances recently when we should have gone to war sooner: in the former
These author also argue, however, that the invasion of Iraq
in 2003 did not fit the “just war” criteria – the likely threat/damage to the
west of any
A recent short piece by Giles Fraser also criticises the use of the ‘just war’ argument today:
- he says
the just war argument arose when
Part 2. The extent of arms and the preparation for war.
Some statistics concerning war and armaments need to be better known. Some of the following figures are from The Gaia Peace Atlas, ed. By F. Barnaby (Pan 1988), others are more up-to-date. The point is though to show how vast the stockpile of arms is:
The quantity of arms in the world:
There are enough nuclear weapons (some 12,000 in the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries) to kill everyone on earth 12 times.
At the end of the cold war NATO had some 1.9 million troops, the Warsaw Pact had 2.7 million.
Together the military budgets of NATO (which requires a
massive budget deficit in the
Total world spending on the military is $1,204 billion per annum (2006 figure) according to the World Disarmament Campaign. The UK contributes $52.9 billion (£30 billion), which is nearly five times as much as is spent (by all countries) on overseas aid. It is 50 times what is being spent tackling climate change. Oxfam and UNICEF estimate that to provide education for every child in the world would cost $8 billion a year – a fraction (four days’ worth) of what is spent on arms. Vastly more is spent on currency speculation…
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council – which is supposed to “formulate plans for a system for the regulation of armaments (Art. 26) – account for 80% of the world arms trade.
The arms trade – and some consequences of it:
Total arms exports in 2003 ($ billion) (Leo Hickman, Guardian 12.09.05):
Top importers 1998 – 2002 (mostly from the US, unless otherwise stated) – in: North Africa and the Middle East ($12 billion), China (mostly from Russia: $8.8), Taiwan ($6.8), India ($4.8 – mostly from Russia), Turkey ($4.6), Saudi Arabia ($4.3), Greece ($3.9), South Korea ($3.4), Egypt ($3.25), UK ($3.1), Israel ($3.0).
Other regimes that have been criticized for poor human
rights records etc, and who are involved in the arms trade include:
Mark Thomas, the journalist and stand-up comic, has been investigating what is on sale at arms fairs, and he has found torture equipment such as leg irons, also stun guns, cluster weapons etc, and even items which are banned for export under British law. (Richard Norton-Taylor, Guardian 07.07.07). A cross-party committee of MPs has called for customs officers to patrol arms fairs to look out for such breaches of the law.
In 2005, more than 240 tonnes of weapons were shipped from
British arms sales:
- go to 19 of the 20 countries the government has identified
as “countries of concern”, according to its own weapons sales report (July
2007). These countries include
- it is worth noting also that arms sales to
Reed-Elsevier, one of the largest academic publishers in the
world – they own The Lancet – also run the DSEI international arms fir in
The arms industry is the second largest industry in the world,
after oil… The global arms trade amounts to $21 billion a year, and one person
dies every minute as a result of armed violence. That is, over a thousand a
day, and half a million men, women and children every year. There are
approximately 640 million small arms in individual hands around the world. (Some of these figures are from Bianca
Jagger, writing in the Guardian on various dates including
The biggest arms corporations – according to “defense news” (see section 5 for references) – are:
1. Lockheed Martin: military sales $36.46 billion, manufacturing F16s and Trident missiles
2. Boeing: military sales $30.79 billion
3. Northrup Grumman: $23.33 billion, making warships, nuclear powered aircraft carriers, B2 (stealth) bombers, radar for F16s
4. BAE: $20.5 billion, makes the Eurofighter. See below for more on BAE
5. Raytheon: $ 18.2 billion, makes Stinger, Tomahawk and other missiles.
The arms trade, far from making life more secure, increases poverty and insecurity (see also “make poverty history”):
- arms traders will sell to any
buyer, no matter how corrupt and repressive – e.g.
- many arms purchases are in
countries where there is actual or potential conflict:
- arms are already very widely distributed and production is spread widely, involving more and more countries and individuals: 639 million small arms circulate in the world today; these are produced by more than 1,135 companies in 98 countries; nearly 8 million small arms are manufactured each year; up to 100 million Kalashnikov rifles have been produced; over 59% of small arms are privately owned, as against 38% in the hands of government forces, and less than 3% held by the police; in 2003, guns could be bought for $10 in Iraq (see section 5 for references to e.g. “control arms”)
- British-made night-vision
equipment has been found by the Israelis in Hizbullah bunkers (The Times,
21.08.06), whilst British-made parts are being supplied to
- the “so-called war on terror… is fuelling the proliferation of weapons” says Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty: “Many countries, including the US, have relaxed controls on sales of arms to allies known to have appalling human rights records” (Guardian 10.10 2003). SIPRI reports that arms expenditure has begun to increase again, having dropped up to 1998 (annual report 2001).
- Kofi Annan has said that the
death toll from small arms “dwarfs that of other weapons systems, and in most
years greatly exceeds the toll of the
- resources are distributed to arms producers and away from the countries buying or receiving them, let alone to countries needing economic assistance (see next section).
Comparing arms expenditure with aid to the “third world” is also revealing:
Every year governments spend over $1 trillion on “defence” (the figure was $1.035 trillion in 2004) and only 60 billion on aid.
In 2005, the G8 countries spent the following ($ billion):
US 455.4 19
Japan 42.4 8.9
From 1998 to 2001 the US,
Oxfam is campaigning for an Arms Trade Treaty – so far 45 – 50 governments have backed the idea.
US spent 25% of its total government spending on defence, and 1% on aid, in 2003.
What else could the money be spent on?
In 2005, the
In one and a half days the
Others have made estimates of what the money spent on the
- providing comprehensive health care for 82 million American children
- the salaries of 32 million teachers
- halving the number of hungry people in the world
- providing HIV/AIDS immunization and drugs for all victims in developing countries for two years
- providing water and sanitation for 200 million who need it…
etc, etc… !!!!
Government spending by sector in 2003/4 (£ billion):
Social welfare 154.9
Education 60.9 - the cost of a Chinook helicopter, at £37 million, would pay for 4 new schools to be built
Debt interest 22.9
According to some (see Guardian 04.11.06), the costs of renewing and operating the Trident missile system, at £76 billion, is remarkably similar to what it would cost to reduce CO2 by 60%, to the levels needed by 2030. See www.guardian.co.uk/environment
Arms Trade (
Good to see that Reed Elsevier has finally agreed not to sponsor arms trade exhibitions any more (G today): it has sold DSEi, ITC, and LAAD defence exhibitions to Clarion Events (chief executive: Simon Kimble)Victory for CAAT, writers on The Lancet, and other well-known writers..
Nuclear stockpiles and proliferation:
Finally: the extent of the stockpiles, and the continuing spread of nuclear weapons is worrying:
Total estimated nuclear stockpile (bombs ready to be used, whether in planes, submarines or missiles):
[Source: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, (cited with article by Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, in Guardian, 06.08.02]
US: 8,000 (or 12,070 according to New Internationalist, August 1999)
addition, NATO planes carrying nuclear weapons are to be found in:
And of course, war is not the only consequence of nuclear weapons: alongside the production of nuclear weapons there has been the growth of so-called peaceful nuclear power i.e. electricity generating stations. These raise many environmental and security questions. See CSR Chapter 6 The Environment
Part 3. BAE and the arms trade etc
especially by the Guardian, show the extent of corruption linked to the
government’s arms deals, and the way that the government will try to cover up
such corruption. (See section 5 for links to Campaign Against the Arms Trade,
and Guardian on Freedom of Information). The deal with
See Amnesty International (web links section 5).
As early as 2003, it was revealed that BAE had a £60 million
slush fund to provide gifts and prostitutes to Saudi officials – such as Prince
The Guardian has been following up allegations of
corruption. At one point (
An internal DESO (Defence Export Services Organisation) document explains its guidelines for arms sales (George Monbiot, Guardian 240807): “In certain parts of the world it has become commonplace for special commissions to be required”. Monbiot describes “special commission” as civil service code for a bribe.
The DESO was founded 40 years ago to smooth out foreign
deals for British arms companies. It co-ordinates government support for arms
exporters, provides marketing expertise and military advice to exporters,
organises exhibitions and promotional tours. It has over 600 civilian and
military employees. Its activities, together with those of the ECGD (Exports
Credits Guarantee Department – part of the dept. of Trade and Industry), reveal
the importance the government attaches to arms exports. The ECGD provides
insurance cover for all
- Note: in July 2007 it was announced that the DESO was to be closed down, and the criticism it had received from CAAT and others no doubt played a part in this. However, as CAAT acknowledges, (see its website) the “closure” is symbolic rather than real. DESO still has a website, and seems to have been re-organised rather than closed down!
In the light of the Guardian’s findings, the SFO was obliged to investigate the allegations against BAE.
The permanent secretary at the MoD, Sir Kevin Tebbit, prevented the Ministry’s fraud squad from investigating the allegations against BAE; Tebbit failed to tell his minister about the SFO investigation, and even tipped off the chairman of BAE about a confidential letter he had received from the SFO!!! It seems, says George Monbiot, that arms companies are immune from inquiry or prosecution…
For 14 years the government has suppressed a report by the National Audit Office into the Al Yamamah deals, with the auditor general even refusing to hand the report over to the SFO.
In June 2007 it was revealed that over £1 billion has been channeled to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, as payment for ensuring that the Al-Yamamah deal proceeded. These payments were authorized by the MoD, and are alleged to have continued after 2002 when such bribes were made illegal in this country.
The Serious Fraud Office started an investigation, but when the Saudis threatened not to buy more arms from us, the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith instructed them to drop the case, citing “national security”.
These payments were authorized by the Minister of Defence, and are alleged to have continued after 2002, when such bribes were made illegal in this country.
The serious Fraud Office started an investigation, but when the Saudis threatened not to buy more arms from us the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith instructed then to drop the case, citing “national security”.
The DESO allegedly oversaw these payments and has done this for 40 years (Guardian June 2007).
BAE, perhaps naturally, deny any wrongdoing. Their Chief Executive Mike Turner says: “We have always had very strong ethical policies and processes… We have complied fully with the SFO requests.” None of this seems to have damaged the company: its value rose when soaring profits were announced (Mark Milner, Guardian 23.02.07). Full year earnings rose last year by a third, to £1.2 billion, and on this announcement shares rose almost 20p to 466.5p, (making it the second highest climber on the day in the top 100 listed companies).
See George Monbiot’s website (References in SM Chapter 4 Section 5).
Carne Ross (*), a former diplomat, adds (
(*) See Carne Ross’s website (Section 5 References), and his book: Independent Diplomat: Dispatches from an Unaccountable Elite. Also see Amnesty International.
Further details emerged during the hearing in February 2008:
(David Leigh, Rob Evans, G 150208) BAE went behind the SFO’s back to Goldsmith
and Tebbitt to say that arms sales would be lost if the investigation
continued. Bandar went to
This story will run and run! A High Court judgment says that the government should not have stopped the SFO inquiry (early 2008), Lord Woolf is appointed (by BAE) to report on the company’s ethics… for more, go to, for example: http://browse.guardian.co.uk/search?site=guardian&search=SFO%20Inquiry%20BAE
Part 4. Deterrence and other counter-arguments to the pacifist/anti-war position:
It is often said that “we have not had war since the Second World War, and this shows that nuclear weapons have kept the peace”.
This seems to me to be quite wrong, on two counts: (i) there have been many wars – just no all-out war directly between nuclear powers and (ii) what peace there has been is not necessarily due to the existence of nuclear weapons.
The belief in “deterrence” is quite widespread, however; witness the wonderful acronym MAD = Mutually Assured Destruction, which is said to be the threat that everyone wants to avoid. But I would argue that the belief that we can (and should!) deter others from attacking us by threatening to destroy them is both false (i.e. erroneous – I am not convinced it works) and immoral:
It is erroneous because the idea that a threatened act of violence can be deterred is based on a narrow and unrealistic view of the causes and nature of violence and aggression:
- someone who believes strongly in the rightness of their cause may embark on violence against seemingly overwhelming odds. The most obvious examples
today are in
obliterate the occupied country if it wanted to. Perhaps none of the occupying powers desire to do this, but if it did, would there be no retaliatory violence?
Every nation has its (“David and Goliath”) stories of victorious struggle against a powerful enemy (the defeat of the Spanish Armada is one of “ours” –
though I believe recent research shows this battle has been distorted in the telling).
- Or, if the attacker is motivated by some “extreme” belief (the desirability of martyrdom; being “better dead than Red” as some put it at the height of the
cold war!), or if they are driven by some abnormal state of mind (paranoia), - will an appeal to rationality (“you’ll get a thrashing!”) have any effect?
if – as is often the case today – a nation or group of people is really
desperate in its need for resources (the conflict in
that without the land or other resources your people will starve, will fear of being killed make the slightest difference?
The “MAD” doctrine is also unreliable because it depends on nation-states reading one another’s intentions correctly, and on nobody playing elaborate games of bluff. During the Cuban missile crisis in the ‘60s, many believed that we were on the brink of a nuclear war, and there was great anxiety that either Khrushchev or Kennedy might make the wrong move: where was the comfort of a belief in mutually assured destruction then? It is possible to argue that war between the US and the USSR was avoided because of nuclear weapons, but (i) it was the presence of nuclear missiles in the first place that brought us to the brink of war, and (ii) all this proves is that two roughly equally balanced nuclear powers may not go directly to war with each other. This seems to me to lead to the really mad idea that every country should have the same number of nuclear weapons!!!
After all, there has been a case of a nuclear power using
its weapons on another – the attacks on
The MAD doctrine is also immoral, to my mind, because even to consider mass destruction of another country – let alone being prepared to put your own country at risk of being destroyed – is morally indefensible. Of course, those who believe in deterrence argue that this is not the point, since no nuclear power really intends causing mass destruction, only to convince their enemies that they might do it! Yet what is the consequence of this argument? How can deterrence work unless countries are able to convince others that they really are prepared to destroy them? And what better way to convince everyone of this than really to be prepared to do it (to do something utterly immoral and repugnant)?
There is also some evidence to show that some countries
would be prepared to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike (i.e. deterrence would
have broken down!): witness the talk of an attack on
Recent arguments about the justification of the atomic
Incidentally, Kamm’s argument reminds me of discussions about utilitarianism: is it right to cause suffering because you believe it will prevent worse suffering? Is it right to torture a person because you believe they might tell you something that will prevent further deaths? The trouble with this position is not knowing where it will end, as well as putting terrible moral responsibility on the would-be perpetrator’s judgment. Was the burning to death of witches justified because it prevented their using their magic to cause people to suffer?
What this all shows, it seems to me, is that there are circumstances in which nuclear weapons will be used – most likely against a country that does not possess them. I not convinced, either, that nuclear war will never occur between two nuclear powers… Either way, the deterrent argument is a weak and very restricted one at best.
Part 5. War in the 20th century:
More importantly, although we have not had a nuclear war, we have had plenty of war:
Since 1945 (the end of World War II) and by the 1980s, there were 237 wars: in the 1980s 38 wars were going on, and 200 others had been fought since
Since 1945, at least 20 million people have been killed, in over 100 conflicts: and 95% of the casualties in modern warfare are civilians (source: Institute for
Moreover: - a new war starts every three months, but since 1945 no war has actually been declared!!
- on a typical day 12 wars are being fought
- not a single day has passed when no war has been going on
- 90 states have been involved in war, on the territory of 80 states
- major wars ( = more than 1,000 deaths per year) – of which there have been 120 – have killed 20 million…
only two nations have no armies (
- over 2 million soldiers are deployed overseas
- since the second world war, the main victims of war and armed conflict have been in the less developed world.
About 45 million people every year are affected by war (Hilary Benn).
Having said all this, some people do not feel that war and violence are so much of a problem: Steven Pinker (psychologist at Harvard, author of How the Mind Works, etc) says that he is optimistic about the decline in violence. He says: “… as far as I know, every systematic attempt to document the prevalence of violence over centuries and millennia (and for that matter the past 50 years), particularly in the west, has shown that the overall trend is downward”. This is despite the “bloody history of the 20th century”. See the web magazine “edge” (as reported in Guardian Jan 2007).
I’m not sure what to make of this, but one positive point arises perhaps: even though there is less violence, the public feels that there is too much. I return to this in my Conclusion (SM4 Section 5).
Part 6: Liberal Interventionism
The characteristic of the hegemony of liberalism that Worsthorne calls a “liberal jihad” - its belief that liberals have a duty to “force others to be free” - is shown by the controversy over “liberal interventionism.”
Notes in reverse chronological order (most recent first)
Excellent article by Peter Beaumont, Observer,
Quotes Gareth Evans, a former Australian foreign minister,
and international lawyer, who helped draw up the UN R2P – Responsibility to
Protect – policy. This could well be defunct, as the world powers cannot agree
on where, when and how (or if!) they should intervene in e.g. countries like
May 2008: Simon Jenkins (G 140508) argues we
should go into
“What is sickening is the attempt to squeeze a decision not to help these desperate people into the same ‘liberal interventionist’ ideology as validates billions of pounds on invading, occupying, destabilising, bombing and failing to pacify other peoples whose governments also did not invite intervention. Offending national sovereignty is apparently fine when it involves oil, opium, Islam or a macho yearning to boast ‘regime change’. It is not to be contemplated when it is just a matter of saving hundreds of thousands of lives”.
Feb 2008: David
Miliband (Foreign Secretary) gave a speech in February 2008, in which he argued
that we should bother about the lack of democracy in other countries (
In between (as I see it) the peaceful, non-coercive, ‘soft power’ means described above and military might, there are the ‘hard power’ of sanctions, international criminal proceedings, security guarantees etc. which Miliband identifies as other ways of promoting democracy.
Simon Jenkins, on the other hand, says “It is hardly
credible that two centuries since Immanuel Kant wrestled with this oldest of
ethical conundrums, a British government still cannot tell the difference
between espousing a moral imperative and enforcing one.” He quotes Blair’s
words about liberal interventionism: how he claimed to have “witnessed” the
But Jenkins seems to agree that we were right to intervene
in Kosovo and
The Editor of the Lancet, Dr Richard Horton, points out
(letters, G 140208) that “liberty” is “a fundamental value that transcends the
type of political system we put in place.” Amartya Sen has pointed this out, he
says, along with J.S. Mill and Isaiah
Other letters argue: if Miliband is right, why then do we
not intervene in
Books: as at: Current Affairs books etc...
Collier, Paul: Wars, Guns and Votes: democracy in dangerous places, Bodley Head 20.
Sequel to The Bottom Billion – analysis of 60 poorest
countries. Argues developed world should be prepared to intervene military –
those in developing world who want to keep others out are the ruling elites…
(entrenched elites who are exploiting the ordinary people). Current western
policy is erratic:
Keohane Robert O: Humanitarian Intervention,