by Cheryl Rofer
I’d like to thank Mark and others for the discussion about what decreasing the numbers of nuclear weapons and even eliminating them might do to the world. I remain unconvinced, however, that eliminating them, or decreasing them significantly, would take us back to the bad old days of 1913.
First, however, a word about my method. Mark took my argument to be that democracies don’t go to war against each other. My earlier post probably wasn’t clear, but that’s not what I said, and I’m going in a different direction. I find that argument to be poorly supported. I am working out a longer and more complex argument here; I find blogging and discussion useful for that sort of thing. So we’re in the middle of a work in progress: sometimes it may look like one thing and sometimes something else.
Mark argues several points.
1) None of the autocrats of 1913 was as autocratic as we may think.
The state, not the monarch, is what ran Europe in 1913 and in 1918 nearly all of these crowned rulers were swept away without a trace, like a predatory insect discarding an old shell as it grew larger and stronger.But what constitutes the state? The military? The bureaucracy? The people? Perhaps the crowned rulers were swept away because the war made obvious the inadequacies of the old system(s).
I was not arguing that the crowned rulers held all power, but rather that all power flowed back to them. So they chose the ministers, they chose the limits of the ministers’ power. I agree with Mark that the movement had been for some time away from unlimited monarchical power; the English Civil War and the French Revolution had certainly been early manifestations of that movement. But nonetheless, much of the old structure, particularly the “family business” aspect of interrelated monarchies, where cousins ruled Europe, remained.
The structure of the world today is very different. I’ll ignore the few monarchies and dictatorships that remain; they are not interconnected in the way Europe was in 1913. If I had to argue abstractions, which I’d rather not do, I would argue that it was both the centralized national power and the interconnectedness through family that destabilized Europe in the early 20th century.
The strategic calculus regarding the value of nuclear weapons to a state does not remain unchanged with reductions in nuclear arsenals, the value actually increases in the sense that each nuclear weapon becomes more significant as there are fewer of them. Nuclear weapons become more prestigious and, once the US and Russia move to very low numbers of warheads, have greater military significance to the ayatollahs, military dictators, presidents for life, nationalist demagogues and terrorists who might like to have some.Quite the opposite can be argued as well: by hanging on to their immense nuclear arsenals, the US and Russia are demonstrating to the world how important they think those weapons are, how prestigious. By eliminating them, they would be signaling that those weapons are not important to their defense. I do agree, however, that one or two or a half-dozen are nice deterrents for a small country to have.
A world that formally abolishes nuclear weapons, or reduces them to the point where major war appears to be a “survivable” risk even if they are used, creates incentives for states to wage war where previously the fear of nuclear escalation made statesmen pull back from the brink.I’m not sure it would “create incentives” as much as, perhaps, remove disincentives. The world had not been without war since 1945, although it has been without great-power war. This could have been a result of the fear of nuclear escalation, or it could have been a profound fatigue with worldwide slaughter after the first half of the twentieth century. I doubt that these two variables can be separated, but the formation of the European Union seems to argue for the second as predominant.
Human nature does not change.I will allow David Brooks to refute this. He starts by noting the many views of “human nature” that are “floating around all at once.” And I would start by asking what is meant here by “human nature.” I suspect that Mark is saying that there will always be wars, which, just as much as a statement about human nature, needs to be supported.
Brooks is speaking about evolutionary psychology specifically, but it is evolutionary psychology and thinking like it that supports the idea that there will always be wars. History says that we have always had wars, or at least as far back as we have reliable records. But we have always had duels…until we outlawed them. We have always had slavery…until we outlawed it. We have outlawed chemical and biological weapons, which we may or may not always have had. We don’t even dress up our military, and certainly not our civilian leaders in the manner of that superb photo Mark picked out.
Part of human nature is the ability to evaluate our situation and to change our behavior. As Brooks says,
Evolutionary psychology leaves the impression that human nature was carved a hundred thousand years ago, and then history sort of stopped. But human nature adapts to the continual flow of information—adjusting to the ancient information contained in genes and the current information contained in today’s news in a continuous, idiosyncratic blend.So we should be able to consider, and work toward, outlawing nuclear weapons.
Nothing says that we must have war, even less a particular kind of implement for war.