Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Future wars?

Two articles in the Jerusalem Post with provocative titles caught my attention: "War is really going out of style" by Joshua Goldstein and Steven Pinker (reproduced from the New York Times) and "Islamism: the Communism of the 21st century" by Barry Rubin." Now, in principle these two articles have completely different views of what the future holds.

The former avers that war is getting less and less likely, that the mega-wars of the past, WWI and WWII, will never be followed by a sequel called WWIII, that the great powers have not fought each other since the Korean War, that the European powers that used to indulge in wars regularly have not done so for many years, and that the typical wars now are relatively low level local flareups that are over in a few months. By contrast, the latter article makes the supposition that we are in for a long protracted period of warfare, in which the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated North African countries join together with other Sunni elements, Saudi Arabia and various terrorist groups, with possible support from Shia Iran, and declare war on the West, the US, EU and Israel. This is seen as a parallel to the "Cold War" that existed between the West and the Communist dominated countries, including Russia, Eastern Europe, China and others. They can't both be right, so which one is the most likely to be right.

The basis for the concept that the probability of war is diminishing is that the number of people (both combatants and civilians) actually being killed in wars each year has actually diminished according to statistics since WWII. Apparently, even the last Gulf War in 2003 that killed 5,000 US and ca. 100,000 Iraqis, was not enough to reverse the trend, and it is now over. Neither the Afghanistan war, nor the Libyan civil war that finished recently killed enough people to change the trend. Also, the 5,000 or so killed in Syria and the few hundred killed in the past few years in the Israel-Palestine conflict do nothing to alter this trend. One explanation given for the trend is that more countries are now democracies (the former Iron Curtain countries, the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia) and democracies don't fight wars with each other. Also, the basis for war was that larger land mass resulted in greater economic power, but that isn't true any more with technology replacing food and other natural products as the main source of commerce. Another factor is the general concept of human rights that has taken hold throughout the world and thru the United Nations (however broken that organization might be) that war as a means of settling disputes between countries and peoples is no longer acceptable. That the bombing of cities and tactics such as carpet bombing are strictly out-of-date. However, this article, written from what could be called a liberal humanist point of view, does not even mention Iran. Neither does it mention pure hatred as a cause of war, such as that manifested by Pres. Ahmediejad of Iran against Israel.

Barry Rubin in his article points out that there is no such thing as "moderate" Islamism, that the Muslim Brotherhood is an extreme anti-Western Islamist party from its origins and that there are already ties between these parties throughout N. Africa and indeed into Gaza controlled by Hamas, which is the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood (PM Haniyeh of Hamas is currently visiting Egypt), and into Syria, where the predominant opposition party to Assad is the Muslim Brotherhood. At the moment they are of course weak, militarily and economically. But, it takes a lot of self-deception for the West to believe that this combination will not in the future threaten Europe and the US. Rubin also does not dwell on Iran, the most likely cause of a proximal war. But, whether or not there is a war over Iran, the whole weight of the resurgent radicalized Muslim world can be expected to challenge the West in the not-too-distant future.

If I were to compare these arguments, I would say that the so-called trend, that the total number of casualties from wars may be decreasing, could quickly be reversed due to the growth of militant Islam. For example, the current war between Kenya and the Somali Al-Shabab and the continuing war in Nigeria between the Government and the Islamist Boko Haram. But the likelihood is that as the technological basis of war increases, wars will result in less casualties and will favor the more technologically developed side. For example, the increasing use of pilotless drones that can give pin-point targeting and other robots will reduce the loss of lives for both the attackers and the defenders. I think that wars will continue to be a feature of human societies, but that technological innovations, rather than other causes, will actually reduce the number of human casualties.


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