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Why Does The International Peace Sometimes Facilitate The Break Out of War?


The Montreal Review, June, 2010


"Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness." (James 3:18)


In peacetime, states and politicians have to think about the lessons of war, the dangers of future conflicts and their consequences, and vice-versa, in times of war, the peace must be always considered. Yet, although nobody rejects this simple truth, it is very hard to implement it in real situations. This is so because in times of peace, the states usually think about their security and since they feel capable of offensive, they think that they may use the chance that the peace gives them to resolve issues that may never be resolved in another time. International peace and stability create the illusion that the state, usually the powerful state, has a rare chance to increase its security or to expand its influence.

The examples for peace used for war are numerous. In 1939, Germany assured its Eastern flange with pacts, first with Poland (1934) and later with Soviet Russia (Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, 1939), and felt herself advantageous and secure in West, because of the discord between France and Britain regarding German revisionist policy. Hitler thought that he could exploit the general reluctance of the Western democracies for war. In 1930s, the Great Depression shook the world, America seemed paralyzed, concerned with its own economic problems, Soviet Russia was weakened by the weaves of the Stalinist terror, France did not have real power on the continent without the support of Britain, and Britain was deaf for France's pathologic suspiciousness to Germany. Hitler had the support of Italy and Japan, two nations that also checked the realities of the international system through violation of treaties and aggressive foreign policy. The configuration of powers in the international system seemed perfect for Germany either for a successful security policy or for imperial expansion. But the Nazi government did not assess the realities of this environment. They were right to act in uniting all territories with considerable German population (destroying the Versailles system), but they were wrong to think that the successful security policy might be unfolded into expansionism.

The realties were the following: America was in economic troubles and followed politics of isolationism, but she still remained the biggest and most important economy in the world and a powerful ally of Britain and France. Although its military pact with Germany (Tripartite Pact , 1940) Japan had no plans to attack the Soviets in case of war in Europe, in fact in 1941 Japan signed non-aggression pact with Communist Russia (The Neutrality Pact) that survived during the Second World War. The terror weakened the Soviets, but their potential for mobilization was great since they ultimately were a totalitarian state. Britain wouldn't tolerate German expansion beyond the territories that were historically German and it would act in support of France in case of war. Germany alone did not have the economic and military power to win an imperial war. And finally, the project for an imaginable empire of the Third Reich, treating the East European nations as slaves, was a sheer lunacy.

Nazi Germany interpreted the realities of the international system with selfish ambition, Nazi's political "wisdom" was wrong. The expansionist ambitions often demand one-dimensional understanding of the realities, because expansionism does not permit pessimism. After 1939, when the Versailles system was destroyed with audacious, but perfectly opportunistic steps, Hitler was blinded by optimism, and his foreign policy was transformed from greedy opportunism to hazard. The character of this man and his regime were dangerously exposed to the risks of self-deception and mythology. His political success at home and abroad was due to the huge distortions in the international and domestic environments created by the cataclysm of the First World War and the ascent of the new technological era. Now it is easy to predict that a man and regime that relied entirely on the external conditions and the opportunities they offered would not survive an unfavourable for them change in environment. Actually, as a self-regulating organism, the international system created these totalitarian regimes, intoxicated with mysticism, to use their madness as a tool for reordering the world in accordance with the requirements of the new technological and political realities. In the beginning of the twentieth century, the world was pregnant with new national sentiments bubbling in the so-called "world periphery." And the two great wars as well as the Cold War helped the birth of these new peoples and meanwhile showed how dangerous and bloody the war between technologically advanced nations is.

Another example showing how time of peace is used is the post-Cold War period. After the collapse of the Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the fall of the communist regime in Moscow in 1992, the bi-polar world known for the second half of twentieth century had been replaced for a short time by a unipolar system gravitating around the United States. In two months, between November and December 1989, nearly all Soviet satellites in East Europe changed their orbit of development. In 1991the Soviet Union dissolved, Russia bogged down in internal contradictions and economic troubles, and the U.S. found itself with untied arms to act in every part of the world. In these first years after the Cold War, the United States had a rare ideological, technological, economic, and military superiority. The most unusual in the situation of the U.S. supremacy was its ideological power, the former communist countries, even Russia, had a romantic view of the American system of government, and the capitalist liberal democracy for the very first time became an undisputed model for imitation all over the world.

Long Telegram

How do Americans use the unexpected gift of the Providence? They did not win the Cold War with offensive politics, the victory dropped in their hands alone, but for years, they had had enough wisdom to follow the cautious politics of containment, brilliantly formulated in1947 by George Kennan in his article "The Sources of Soviet Conduct". America guessed the right way during the Cold War, she was aware of the realities of the war, but surely, she did not think about the time of peace. Nobody expected such a spectacular collapse of the communist bloc, and consequently few were prepared to offer a reasonable policy in case of peace. In the 1990s, Washington, understandably, continued to direct its foreign policy under the momentum of the old strategies and models and used the chance to elevate American security with the enlargement of NATO. The inclusion of East European states in the North-Atlantic Pact including Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and the omission of Ukraine and creation of Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council proved successful. The Gulf War (1990-1991) was a partial success, because the coalition - thirty-four nations led by the United States - missed the chance to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein and so it missed the opportunity to show that states with heterogeneous interests can successfully act in concert against a supposedly criminal state.

George Kennan

After the Cold War, the United States has been using the peace with partial success. It has lost most of its ideological credit with the wars in the Middle East and recently with the financial crisis. The wars in the Middle East have not brought the desired security. It is difficult to say what would be the world if Saddam Hussein were still in power and whether his regime in Iraq wouldn't be more successful for the general balance of power in the region and in containment of Iran. But if we follow the basic logic of peacemaking that brings security, we would conclude that the offensive politics do not lead to sustainable order and security, nor suffice to eliminate all treats, because every offensive war destroys one enemy while creating two more in his place. One thing is sure, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that started after 9/11 showed the limits of the American power. And this information is important for American national security and from here for the international peace. The wars actually changed the political players in Washington with the presidency of Barack Obama. Another important thing is the character of American political system, which is much more suited for flexibility and does not permit stiff-necked policy that is typical for totalitarian or authoritarian regimes. Modern democracy is more peaceful than any other form of government.

As many analysts insist today 1, it is time for America to start thinking about peace before her influence reaches the lowest point when the states hostile to her decide that the superpower is exhausted enough to be successfully attacked.

In peacetime, states must remember the risks of the modern war. Technologies and modern communications make the success of any offensive materially and ideologically uncertain both at home and abroad. With the presence of Internet, digital whistleblowers such as WikiLeaks, and social channels such as Facebook and Twitter, state propaganda is becoming much more ineffective, especially in democratic countries. Technological capabilities of the modern enemy, either conventional military force or non-conventional (guerillas and insurgents), can turn every conflict into a war of exhaustion. Democracies do not win long wars initiated by their own governments...



To contact the author, please write to themontrealreview@gmail.com

1 Only in the recent months (2010) three big books on American power have been published - "Superpower Illusions" by Jack F. Matlock Jr., "The Power Course" by Giulio Gallarotty, and "The Power Problem" by Christopher A. Preble. Michael Mandelbaum wrote a review of these works for the May/June issue of the Foreign Policy Magazine under the title "Overpowered? Questioning the Wisdom of American Restraint"



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