Martin Shaw/Global Society and International Relations/Chapters 1/2/3/4/5/7
The new politics of war
Contents: The left and the politics of war; Socialism and the international state system; The consequences of the Cold War; The politics of the new world order; The Gulf and the new politics of war
The theoretical debates explored in this book have their corollaries in a new ferment - and indeed confusion - about appropriate political responses. In the final two chapters, the politics of the new international situation are explored in the light of the global society perspective. The wars of the post-Cold War era are posing classic issues of the legitimacy of armed violence - on the part of states, political movements and also international institutions - in new forms. They also pose issues of agency and strategy, especially within civil society, which challenge the conceptions of social movements during the previous period.
In this section of the book we approach the political implications of the new context from two angles. In this chapter we examine the ways in which socialist, and especially Marxist, concepts of war, which have been influential on the Western left, are fundamentally challenged by the new situation. It is argued that the redundancy of war between the major powers, combined with the resurgence of bloody conflicts on the margins of the Western world, creates a particularly acute dilemma to which the old positions of the left do not provide a valid response. There is an urgency to re-evaluate the legacy of the Cold War, and to build on the inter-state cooperation which has been established, rather than to condemn it in terms of traditional concepts of imperialism.
In chapter 7, we extend this argument into a full-blown case for a politics of global responsibility, and examine the critical issues of the relationships betwen the institutions and means of state power, on the one hand, and the development of global civil society, on the other.
The left and the politics of war
The political left throughout the world has yet to come to terms with the consequences of the end of the Cold War. The international system is undergoing fundamental change, but socialists are divided, not only among themselves but often within themselves, over how to respond to the change. The confused response to the challenge of the Gulf War represented the larger difficulties of the left in dealing with the new international situation. There is a crisis of socialist theory and practice which reflects the historic difficulties of the left in dealing with the issues raised by war and the international system. This section tries to outline the theoretical and political context which frames the current dilemmas.
The problem of war is a central one for any political position in any period. The politics of war can be framed in absolute terms of right and wrong, but these are rarely found adequate by large numbers of people. The nature of wars and the issues they pose are transformed in each historical period. This means that to transpose theories and political responses developed to deal with the wars of one period, into a radically different succeeding stage, is fraught with difficulties.
Socialist thought has been particularly handicapped by weakly developed ideas of war and, throughout the twentieth century, by the persistence of attitudes to war inherited from its founders in the nineteenth. Classical socialist thought was formulated during the long nineteenth century 'peace' - the century between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. During this period, it was self-evident to most social theorists that the historic changes were those in economic organisation and class structure, rather than in warfare. Although the founders of Marxism never indulged themselves in the optimistic view of a peaceful industrial society which was advanced by Comte, and Engels is rightly celebrated as a military theorist, war hardly occupied a significant place in Marx's theoretical system. Changes in warfare were seen as consequences of the social and, above all, technological revolutions brought about by capitalist industrialisation. They were not seen as causes of major social, economic or political change.
The political corollary of this approach was a resolutely realist attitude towards war. For Marx and Engels, the major wars of their time (such as the American civil war) were important in so far as the victory of one side or the other advanced or hindered social and political progress. The later Engels saw some of the revolutionary potential of the contradictions in mass militarism, but neither he nor Marx saw war as such as a political problem, any more than they saw it as a core theoretical issue. Their contempt for the ('petit bourgeois') pacifism which influenced more utopian strands of socialist thought reflected a consistent belief that the nature of war itself - as opposed to its consequences - was not a central issue.
These attitudes were reflected in Marx' and Engels' response to Clausewitz, whose theory of war, derived from the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, can be seen in retrospect as a contribution to be compared with their own theorisation of the socio-economic changes involved in the industrial revolution, and of the political changes involved in the French Revolution itself. The founding fathers of Marxism took from Clausewitz his analogy of warfare with commerce, and his insistence that war should be seen as a continuation of politics. They neglected his more fundamental insights on the nature of war: its special destructive character as a process based on force, its peculiarity as a very different means of continuing political struggle, its tendency towards 'absolute war'.
These characteristics of Marx' and Engels' approach to war were carried over with disastrous results into the early twentieth century heyday of revolutionary Marxism. Writers like Luxemburg, Lenin and Bukharin, theorists of the age of imperialism, developed - with varying success - new theoretical models to explain the relationships of the economic, political and military dimensions of international competition. They did little, however, to pinpoint the ways in which the social organisation of modern industrial capitalism - the creation of concentrated, disciplined workforces, and of mass politics and means of communication - had laid the foundation for a new mode of warfare, total war. Still less did they understand the social and political consequences of this form of warfare.
Even faced with the slaughter of the trenches, the response of revolutionary Marxists was resolutely within the realist frame bequeathed by the founders. Opposition to imperialist war was not opposition to war as such, but the basis for revolutionary civil war. There were those, like Luxemburg, whose appeals for resistance resonated with genuine anguish over the nature of the violence being perpetrated, and in whose hands the call for civil war seemed to lose its violent content and become almost purely political. The outcome, however, was hardly consonant with her humanitarianism: the civil war in Russia, on both sides, was as brutal as civil war can be.
The most important result of the failures of nineteenth century socialists (especially Marxists) to theorise war and respond politically to war as a problem in its own right, was that the fate of socialism became tied to war in ways which had not been foreseen, and which deformed the whole socialist project.
Nineteenth century socialists had agreed, to a very large extent, that socialism would involve the cooperative control of the associated producers over the means of production. They had agreed, to a similar degree, that the state would be less rather than more powerful - in Marx's phrase, notorious in the light of twentieth century history, that it would wither away. As socialists began to see a prospect of power within parliamentary democracy they sought an accomodation with capitalism, and to use existing states for their own purposes. This turn towards statism among socialists reflected, however, the growing power of states in national economies and societies as war-preparation grew. The incorporation of the workers into parliamentary democracy was itself largely a trade-off for universal military service. The new citizenship of the mass bourgeois democracies equated political rights with military duty. Socialists still toyed with the more genuinely democratic idea of citizens' or workers' militias, but these were being overtaken by the statist direction of modern capitalism.
The statist trend in socialism was overwhelmingly confirmed by the actual experience of total war. State intervention produced war economies in most of the combatant states of 1914-18. In these economies, states planned, directed and even nationalised capital - and labour. They were described by many as 'war socialism', and although socialists saw that economies and states were still capitalist, many identified state intervention as a powerful demonstration of the possibilities of public action. The indigenous socialist traditions of Western countries became ever more fully statist, in a relatively benign reformist sense.
A similar fate overtook, with far greater vengeance, the revolutionary Marxism which succeeded in Russia. Civil war proved no mere extension of political struggle: in its harsh conditions the proletariat was decimated, the democracy of workers' councils became a sham, and the revolutionary party a near-monolith. The council-state became a party-state, and extreme centralism and dictatorship prospered. The Bolsheviks' lack of steer on war and militarism led some of their most talented thinkers to embrace the military commandism of 'war communism' as a model of the future - making a monstrous virtue out of appalling necessity. They were, it is evident with hindsight, literally digging their own graves, as the foundations were laid for Stalinist totalitarianism.
As a result of war - world war, civil war - socialism in both its social-democratic and revolutionary forms had become irredeemably linked with statism. It could be said, of course, that for a whole historical period 'socialism' prospered in this association. The polarisation of Europe between revolutionary communism, counter-revolutionary fascism and parliamentary democracy, which resulted from the First World War, in turn led to a new, highly politicised and ideologised military conflict. In the aftermath of the Second World War, statism was a dominant trend in the Western world, and social democracy (in Western Europe at least) a major beneficiary. In Russia, Stalinism gained a new legitimacy from the patriotic struggle, while its armies annexed East-Central Europe to the 'socialist world', and militarised revolutions brought China, Yugoslavia and Albania, North Vietnam and North Korea into the 'socialist camp'.
We know now, of course, that this statisation and militarisation of socialism, in both its forms, was not only a distortion of the socialist project, but in the longer term self-defeating. The heyday of the welfare state in Western Europe, and of Stalinist reconstruction in the East, was over by the late 1960s. The inefficiencies of the bureacratic forms of statism were becoming manifest, and the radical socialist critique, based on workers' democracy and self-management, was outdone by the late 1970s by a new private-capitalist, neo-liberal ideology. The crisis of Western social democracy in the 1980s has now been dwarfed by the complete collapse of Stalinism. The main beneficiary, in the short term at least, is the right-wing market approach, which is gaining a clear political victory in the East and a more muted triumph - given the recession - but a triumph nonetheless in the West.
All this is familiar, but the background is not. What has largely escaped attention is that, with the demise of total war, the economic, social and political basis for mid-century statism has collapsed. From the mid-1950s onwards, nuclear weaponry has had an accelerating influence on war-preparation. Its primary effect has been to demobilise societies: war no longer depends, as it did in 1914-18 and 1939-45, on extensive, and labour-intensive, war industries; on mass armies and conscription; on mass civil defence; on sustained ideological mobilisation during years of battles. At the touch of a button, nuclear missiles can achieve all the destruction (and more) that formerly took a massive, ongoing social organisation to produce. High-technology weaponry required requires large resources, but few people, and little mobilisation.
The social and political effects of this military transformation have been slower to appear, but even before the end of the Cold War, they became decisive. It is no accident that Britain has seen one of the sharpest versions of this experience: the most complete model of 'democratic' mass militarism in 1939-45, it has been since the early 1960s the most completely demobilised, nuclear-reliant of all major states. The exceptionally strong welfare state consensus of the 1940s and 1950s became brittle in the 1970s and 1980s; social participation became dispensible, for the conservative tradition, precisely as and because military participation disappeared.
Statist socialism, in its social democratic as well as Stalinist form, was a variant of the politics of total war. Now that this era is left behind - and the end of the Cold War is the culmination of a historical process spread over the last four decades - socialism can only be reconstructed on a different basis. The socialism of the twenty-first century will not only have to be fundamentally less statist; it will have to settle accounts with the problems of war and militarisation which, largely untheorised in the nineteenth century, have bedevilled it in the twentieth.
Socialism and the international state system
The international system based on competition between states, in which war has been the ultimate mode of conflict resolution, has been characterised by 'realist' international theorists as anarchic. Socialists have generally seen this anarchy as a reflection - or at most a form - of the anarchy of capitalist production with its competitive markets. Socialist solutions to the problems of international anarchy and war have rested on the project of a cooperative socialist commonwealth at a global level.
Socialists have tended, therefore, not to recognise the international state system as distinct from international capitalism. The statism of socialism in political practice corresponds to an under-theorisation of the state system in Marxism. Marx, of course, wrote little about it. Later Marxists have generally followed him in writing about 'the state', failing to recognise that capitalism, as a global system, does not have a state, but a competitive state system - which developed from the European state system which preceded capitalist development. Marxist writing about 'the state' has moreover tended to reduce it to the results of national class struggles. Lenin's State and Revolution, for example, although written in the depths of the First World War, attributes the 'monstrous, bureaucratic' growth of the state which it describes to the effects of class struggle - rather than to the manifestly more determining militarisation which was transforming states and societies on all sides when Lenin wrote.
The revolutionary Marxists of the First World War disagreed in analysing the forms which capitals, states and their rivalries took, and in the explanations which they offered - Lenin, Luxemburg and Bukharin presenting different versions of 'imperialism'. They agreed however in ascribing the heightened international anarchy of their times to the intensified competition between corporate capitals. They saw a unified super-imperialism, with a world state, as a theoretical possibility but something which in practice would never be achieved. Bukharin's model of competing 'national state capitalisms', waging fused economic, political and military struggles, was perhaps the most radical, in the weight which it gave to inter-state as opposed to inter-capital conflict. It was also the most over-simplified, in seeing the future in terms of endless militarised conflicts between rival capitalist states ('imperialist pirate states') which had converted their economies into state capitalisms and suppressed all democracy.
The political positions which went with these theoretical models of the international system were of course based on class politics, involving the equal rejection of all imperialisms, and a revolutionary attitude towards their conflicts and wars - to the point of 'defeatism' and the call, as we have seen, for civil war. The emergence of the revolutionary Soviet Union, and its consolidation as a Stalinist state, complicated matters. During the phase of war communism, writers like Bukharin actually envisaged war between the revolutionary and capitalist states as a higher phase of class struggle. This was perhaps the nadir in the militarisation of socialism, although it has had even more alarming echoes in the positions of those socialists who supported
Soviet nuclear weapons (the reductio ad absurdam of these was the view of a few Trotskyists that a Third World War would offer revolutionary possibilities in the same ways as the First).
It is enough to mention such issues to show that the revolutionary Marxist positions of the early twentieth century cannot be sustained. Indeed this was obvious during the Second World War, when the politicisation of international conflict, between fascist-authoritarian, bourgeois-democratic and Stalinist camps made it impossible to understand the war in simple 'inter-imperialist' terms. The outcome of the war was moreover a profound transformation, not only of war itself (due to nuclear weapons) but of the international system. The total defeat of Germany and Japan, the subordination of Britain and other Western European states (whose empires were finally pulled apart in the aftermath), left only the Soviet Union as a counter-point to American power. The stage was set for the 'bipolar world' which lasted from the late 1940s to the late 1980s.
The consequences of the Cold War
How we understand the Cold War system is clearly crucial for determining where we are today. Clearly the conflict between the USSR and the West was more than just a conflict of great powers: it was intensified by differences of socio-economic organisation, political structure and ideology. Whether, in the end, we see this as deformed socialism, deformed capitalism, or something which was neither one nor the other, is in a sense irrelevant to the effects which its conflict with the mainstream of Western capitalism had on the international system and global society. (In the terms which concerned classical Marxism, it is now apparent that the Stalinist system which prevailed in the USSR and Eastern Europe - versions of which survive only precariously in China, Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea - was a gigantic regional digression rather than a world-historical alternative.)
The Cold War involved, at one level, the simplest possible form of international anarchy, in which only two protagonists counted. This was why it appeared, in the nuclear arms race, as the purest kind of military competition, in which at a certain point technology took over - in an 'exterminist' momentum. It is easy now to discount the dangers of nuclear war, but in the early 1980s, when the USA was installing Pershing II missiles in West Germany which could reach Moscow in under ten minutes, the room for political (let alone economic) calculation in a crisis was fast disappearing.
At other levels, however, the Cold War involved complex political and economic integration. Within each bloc, the Cold War disciplined the subordinate states as well as peoples. This was most obvious in the Soviet bloc, in which the competition with the West was the key lever enabling the Soviet leaders to hold the Eastern European states to the USSR, and through military-patriotic institutions and ideology, the peoples of the USSR to its state. The insuffiency of these imposed military ties, at all levels, and the failure to develop parallel economic and political institutions in effective and legitimate forms, explains much about the eventual collapse of the system.
In the West, the military ties were both more voluntary, on the part of elites but also to some extent electorates, and - crucially - they were reinforced by political and economic cooperation between states. The central achievement of the Cold War period is that, as a result of the military unity of the West, immense steps forward have been taken in integration of states and economies. Institutionally, of course, this has been taken furthest in Western Europe. Here there has been a striking dialectic of military and political-economic change. Military defeat or weakening of the major European states in the Second World War, and mutual military dependence on the USA in the Cold War, were the essential conditions for the development of European integration. This integration, in turn, has had the effect of eliminating any future possibility of wars between the major European states. This is surely a historic advance of the Cold War period.
This point can be extended - albeit that its longer-term implications are more controversial - to the West as a whole. The military dependence of Japan, Australasia and the newly industrialising states of the Pacific Rim on the USA has been no less profound than that of Western Europe. The development of intra-Western institutions such as NATO, OECD, GATT and the Group of 7 has consolidated an unprecedented degree of political as well as economic interdependence among the major capitalist states. Although these institutions impinge less on the sovereignty of individual states than those of the EC on its members, they represent a parallel integration which embodies the same dialectic that we can see in the EC case. The West's economic integration is predicated on the same military interdependence, and it has the same consequence: that war between the major capitalist blocs (North America, Western Europe, Japan) and between individual Western states in general has become virtually inconceivable.
The point can be extended still further, to the relations between the Cold War adversaries themselves. Although the manifest expression of their conflict was the threat of a nuclear holocaust, the subtext was one of increasing cooperation. The unique circumstance of a prolonged bipolar conflict, mediated by military technology and taking place under conditions of modern bureaucracy and surveillance, enabled the Cold Warriors to engage in unprecedented mutual monitoring. Out of the early phases of the Cold War, rudimentary cooperation developed, so that by the time of the Second Cold War in the 1980s, the USA and USSR maintained extensive, institutionalised contacts.
The latent consequence of the Cold War was therefore a structure of cooperation between the superpowers, which remains in place with post-Soviet Russia. Indeed what is now happening is that the limited cooperation of the Cold War is being extended into much more inclusive economic and political cooperation - however much the process of extension is fraught with conflicts and contradictions. Although it is obviously too early to see these developments consolidated, the overall result of the Cold War is clear. Although there was a real danger of nuclear war - and we were absolutely right to be concerned about it however small it was - the possibility of war between Russia and the West has now all but been removed. Further integration of Russia and other ex-Soviet states with the West, however problematic in economic and political terms, will almost certainly consolidate this extension of peaceful capitalism.
To take this argument further is more difficult, and when we look at Bosnia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Moldova, as well as Cambodia, Liberia, Somalia and other areas of the so-called Third World, it is obvious that the notion of a 'peaceful' post-Cold War world has very definite limits. It is equally obvious that the cooperation among the major capitalist states is often extremely weak, ineffectual and hamfisted when it comes to dealing with such open sores in global society. In no sense can the extension of international institutions like the UN and the IMF, which incorporate most or all of the world's states, be relied upon to eliminate the dangers of war between them.
We should certainly not minimise these issues, but we should weigh against them the even more crucial gains in the elimination of the danger of major wars, either between the main capitalist states or between East and West. And we should take account of the fact that most major and minor states are closely dependent in myriad ways on Western capitalism, the major Western states and Western-backed international institutions, in ways which may often inhibit inter-state wars, although likely to prove less effective in limiting civil wars, or wars resulting from the break-up of multinational states.
We can see this tendency even in an examination of some of the most problematic regions in world politics. China - although its political future is very uncertain - looks for accomodation rather than conflict with the West. The Middle Eastern states, despite their dangerous rivalries, nearly all have some interest in the US-sponsored 'peace process', and armed stalemate - a regional cold war or wars - looks more likely than all-out conflict. Even in Korea, a rapprochement of North and South has begun, even though the cloud of North Korean nuclear weapons hangs over it. In many regions the tensions are real, for state elites, between the benefits of pursuing conflicts with neighbouring states to the point of war and the costs in terms of wider international relations. The end of the Cold War may have opened a Pandora's box of suppressed nationalisms, but it has also removed the powerful stimulus which American-Soviet rivalry provided to regional conflicts, and has substituted the controlling interest of the West in preventing conflicts among clients getting out of hand, and the interests of those clients in gaining what benefits they can from the new Western supremacy.
The politics of the new world order
The key analytical question is whether the growing economic and political integration of world capitalism, which prevents war among the central states of the system and limits the damage of wars on the margins - from the point of view of the global system if not necessarily for the immediate victims - is likely to be sustained in the longer term. The central political question is whether we should welcome this process, with the new challenges and possibilities which it offers, or reject it as a throwback to untramelled imperialism.
Unreconstructed 'realists' among international relations scholars have been quick to chart the shift from a 'bipolar' to a 'multipolar' world, and to argue the danger of war in Europe and, in the longer term, of armed conflict between a revived Japan and Western Europe and a declining USA. They point, of course, to real issues, but draw misleading conclusions, neglecting the extent to which the shift is to a 'unipolar' as well as to a'multipolar' world. Removing the discipline of the Cold War (and in the East, of the Stalinist system), does indeed allow old national and inter-state rivalries to revive; and creating new states out of an old empire is frought with dangers of conflict. These processes are unlikely, however, to lead to generalised wars among the major states, and to believe that they will is to ignore the effects of the integrating tendencies which we have just described.
However many local wars are spawned, and however murderous these are for the people involved, they are likely to remain marginal to the new Europe and even more so to the system of Western power as a whole. Where their murderousness becomes too obvious to Western publics, or where - as with the danger of a generalised Balkan war - they threaten to become less marginal, they will now be the object of international interventions, although the rule operating here seems to be, as we shall discuss below, too little and too late.
More critical in the medium and longer term - indeed the central analytical issue which must be resolved - is the balance of power between the main centres of capitalism. It is obvious that the USA is in decline relative, especially, to Japan and other dynamic Asian capitalist economies. Although the Gulf War demonstrated that for the moment, Japan, like Germany, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, was willing to remain America's paymaster, it is indeed likely that at some point early in the next century, at the latest, it will seek political and even military expression of its new power.
Sharper economic and political conflicts between the main capitalist states are certain, now that the constraint of the Cold War is removed; but is there any serious reason to believe that these will or even could take military form? On the contrary, all the signs are that the arguments will be about political (and of course economic) weight within the group of major capitalist states, and hence within the international system as a whole. The military expression of these tensions is likely to concern the role of different states within international peacekeeping - Japan and Germany are edging back towards military recognition in this sense. There is however no scenario which is remotely credible in which the armed forces of these states will be pitted again, as they were in the Second World War, against those of the USA, UK and their allies.
If we reject these scaremongering reactions to current instability, then we are left with the still startling fact that the main tenet of post-Cold War optimism is in fact true: we are now in a world in which, for all its horrifying weaponry and dirty local wars, the prospect of war between the major states in the international system has virtually disappeared. The key political task is to explore the implications of this transformation.
The first consequence is that the politics of disarmament have still a long way to travel. The unravelling of the nuclear arms race, and of the military establishments of the Cold War taken as a whole, has hardly begun. Many political and military leaders are no doubt looking for new 'threats' to justify maintaining their forces, and it it is clear that it will take some years for the full implications of the historic change to be realised. There can be little doubt, however, that in the long run it will not be possible for states to justify maintaining even trimmed-down Cold War military establishments, when the Cold War has receded into history and no big substitute for it has been found. The forces required for 'peacekeeping', although substantial, are very different in quality and quantity from those required for an East-West war. Nuclear weapons are notably redundant. Here is a remarkable opportunity to replace the politics of military defence and deterrence with a politics of security based on international cooperation and addressing global inequalities.
The second result is that the politics of war will cease to be about East-West rivalry, and will now become almost exclusively the politics of global 'policing' and 'peacekeeping'. There will be a complex range of issues, the scope of which is already becoming apparent, from the Ulsters, ex-Yugoslavias and Nagorno-Karabakhs, through the Cambodias, Somalias and Iraqs, to the management of massively-armed rivalries in the Middle East. At one end of the range are the conflicts of irregularly armed ethnic groups in regions where statehood is precarious; at the other end are conflicts of major regional states in some of which nuclear weapons could become involved. Tied up with these problems, of course, are issues of arms production and supply, which connect directly with political and economic issues in the advanced countries. The whole policing/peacekeeping problematic, moreover, is the new bottom line for the structures and levels of military organisation (and expenditure) in Western states.
At the centre of the new wars, most of which arise from ethnic and/or national conflicts within states, or between neighbouring states, are threats to civilian populations. Control over territory focusses on ethnic composition, and although the language of 'ethnic cleansing' arises from the ex-Yugoslav wars, the pattern of genocidal war, aimed at removing people of distinct ethnic origins from a given territory, is common to many cases in Asia and Africa as well as on the eastern and southern edges of Europe. The new wars therefore primarily involve, from the point of view of Western civil society if not Western states, the issue of the protection of civilians. The question which arises is that of how far Western-led intervention (military as well as political), under UN auspices, can actually protect populations at risk.
The left is likely to have more difficulties with this set of issues than with the more straightforward (especially nuclear) disarmament issues, although ultimately they are related. At base the issue is whether the imposition of a 'global consensus' by a US-led coalition of Western states, albeit supported by Russia and China and many other states and mobilised through international institutions, can be supported in any sense, however critically and conditionally. Clearly the specific interests of the dominant partners in this coalition will tend to predominate, leading to selectivity in the cases, levels and forms of intervention. The contrast between Western (and hence UN) responses to the Gulf and ex-Yugoslav crises clearly manifests this. The arrogance and electoral opportunism of declining American (and British) power, whether manifested in abuse of its Japanese paymasters, the cynical manipulation of the Iraqi Kurds and Shi'as, or the deep hypocrisy which has surrounded the Bosnian intervention, will raise many hackles among its allies, as well as on the left.
A third effect is that the role of militarism in society and culture will be radically transformed. Already, during the Cold War, all the Western states 'offshore' from the European continent (US, UK, Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand) have dispensed with conscription. In Western Europe (as in the USSR and Eastern Europe) military service remained, but the historic link between military service and citizenship has been increasingly attenuated, with increasing provision of non-military alternatives (in Germany over one third of young men opt for civilian service although it involves a longer term). Western societies have become increasingly 'post-military', with a militarism of the media rather than mass participation, a trend which is likely to be greatly accelerated in the post-Cold War years. Already, century-old traditions of military service are in question in both Eastern and Western Europe. This creates historic possibilities for a democratic culture with post-military citizenship.
These changes in the social and cultural significance of militarism, taken together with the shift from nuclear armaments towards global policing and peacemaking, imply a very different context for the politics of war. There is a possibility for an anti-war politics to gain support in increasingly demilitarised societies. At the same time, however, there are difficult dilemmas, in that political intervention by international institutions or Western powers is generally not carried out early enough to pre-empt local or civil wars, and that once these conflicts are under way, only military intervention may offer any real possibility of inhibiting vicious local or civil wars. The idea of war to prevent war has always seemed dangerous, and today's situation - even though military interventions occur under the auspices of international institutions - is no exception.
The Gulf and the new politics of war
The Gulf War raised the new politics of war in a sharp form, but the left as a whole did not give a clear answer. Did the fact that Western interests in oil were clearly involved negate the case for intervention against a state which had committed very blatant aggression against another (and indeed had done the same against Iran only nine years earlier)? Did the fact that there had been no international intervention against other, more pro-Western invaders fatally weaken the case for intervention against Iraq? Much of the left opposed the war, but it hardly resolved these issues, nor was it clear whether opposition concerned international intervention as such, the fact that it was occuring under US leadership, or the forms which it was taking - sanctions, military reinforcement of Saudi Arabia, and finally war against Iraq. Was the left opposing the war because it objected to its political basis, or because it objected to the means of international discipline against Iraq - to war in general, or to the particular kind of war which was launched?
How difficult it is for the left to break with knee-jerk anti-Americanism and anti-imperialism was seen in the often abusive reactions to the 'apostasy' of Fred Halliday. Many critics used a high moral tone - his 'disregard' for loss of life - to underscore a basically political objection to a pro-US position. The moral tone was often out of place, since the critics themselves would have been happy to support (revolutionary) war in other contexts. It was also beside the point to charge 'betrayal', on this moral issue at least, since Halliday's 'realism' in supporting US military action to defeat Iraq was of a piece with his earlier Marxist realism in supporting revolutionary war where necessary.
Halliday's position on the Gulf bares the two central dilemmas in dealing with the 'new international order'. On the one hand, there is the issue of whether, in the last analysis, to support international policing under UN auspices, even where its scope and form are highly coloured by US or Western interests, and have overtones of 'super-imperialism'. On the other hand, there is the issue of war: is it generally, or in specific cases, justified as a means of such policing? Halliday, in the Gulf case, took these two issues together and answered 'yes' to both. While it is certainly correct is that the issues are linked, the connection may be less one-dimensional than Halliday's position suggests. Instead, we may answer 'yes' and 'no', respectively, both in the specific case of the Gulf and in general.
To elaborate: global policing, to ensure the increasing development and application of international law and standards, is essential, and it is unavoidable that it is developed, at best through a reformed UN, largely in ways that will be proposed by the major Western states. It does not follow, however, that all-out war is an appropriate means of policing. In the case of Kuwait, it is arguable first that a more politically interventionist policy on the part of the US, the Western world and the UN might have prevented the Iraqi occupation; secondly that sanctions, reinforced by a military blockade and deterrent forces in Saudi Arabia, although offering no certain outcome, represented a formdable means of pressure on the Iraqi regime; and last but not least, that the costs of the US-led assault for the Iraqi (especially Kurdish and Shi'a) people outweighed any possible benefits in punishing an aggressor state, or for the people of occupied Kuwait.
These issues need to be historically contextualised in an analysis of the changes in the international system and the role of war in general. The most important point is that the creeping abolition of war, as a means of resolving conflicts between the major capitalist states, is an immense gain in every sense. It removes the danger of the nuclear annihilation of human civilisation, and with it the lurking fear which has poisoned culture for four decades. It creates the possibility that resources can be transferred from war-preparation to peaceful uses. How important this gain is, if also how fragile, is surely demonstrated by the horrors we have seen even in the relatively small-scale, partly irregular wars in ex-Yugoslavia, Somalia, Armenia-Azerbaijan and elsewhere. It is important to consolidate this gain in a politics which emphasises that war in general is unacceptable; the onus must be on those who advocate a particular war to argue an exception from this general norm. The use of military force in peacekeeping and even peacemaking, while inevitably crossing the line into war, must be kept as clearly distinguished as possible from it.
The creation of a politically unified capitalist world has other, more specifically political, benefits. It reduces the significance of inter-state rivalries as a political factor. Nationalism remains a vibrant force, of course, in the advanced Western countries as well as the newly liberated East, but where it can no longer lead to war its edge is fundamentally blunted. The integrative tendencies of modernity mean that issues of international cooperation, coordination and intervention are central as never before. The possibilities for developing and popularising a democratic and socialist agenda - for strengthening human rights and democratic control, for reducing international inequalities, for ensuring basic standards of life in all regions, for addressing global environmental issues - are far greater in this context.
For the left, this is particularly important. It has suffered historic defeats because the forces unleashed by war have been far stronger than those of labour movements. Socialism has lost out because the divisions between states have been seen as of greater importance than the divisions within societies. It has been crippled by statist and militarising ideas, originating in processes of war-mobilisation for which socialist ideas provided little understanding. The history of twentieth century socialism has been dominated by the processes, which are deeply rooted in the historical contexts in which capitalist industrialism developed in the nineteenth. The emancipation of the core areas of capitalism from the threat of total war is a historic change of the first order.
In these circumstances, we cannot but welcome the trends towards international integration, political as well as economic, and the rise of a new interventionism. The historic dangers lie not in these trends, but in a new fragmentation. If the US retreats into isolationism; if the EC fails to maintain a momentum for union; if the UN fails to develop as a more responsible global institution: then we shall have greater cause to worry. If the responses to crises of all of these are so weak and divided that local wars go unchecked; economic, social and political disintegration in the East spirals down; global environmental problems, and global inequalities, remain unaddressed: then the prospects for a socialist and democratic agenda will be far poorer. The present situation in Western politics, in which petty nationalisms and local economic concerns predominate, is a warning of this downside.
The tasks of socialists in the post-Cold War era are to work with the internationalising and interventionist forces in capitalism, and through democratic political action to develop a different agenda and priorities for the international system. The 'new world order' does not belong to the USA, to the West, or even just to states. It is an increasingly pluralist system of states, and one in which the traditional divides between international politics and national politics, between the affairs of states and those of peoples, are breaking down. The possibilities for political action and social movements to influence international politics have been demonstrated, as we saw in chapter 3, in the roles of Western European peace movements and Eastern European democratic movements in ending the Cold War - as well as negatively by the often destructive role of popular nationalism. The democratic left can help to mould the new world system, if it participates in opening up these new possibilities with its own agenda.
The reshaping of socialist politics for a twenty-first century world, in which war between the major states is no longer a danger, will involve many issues which have already been debated. Attitudes to democracy and markets, global inequalities and ecology, will obviously be crucial, but a clear, historically framed attitude to war is equally important. If war has become redundant between major states in the centre of the international system, war on the periphery, in terms of national/ethnic struggles, inter-state conflicts and Western/international intervention, is now an increasingly critical issue. It is essential to clarify both the basic concepts and the groundrules which apply to these wars.
The historical redundancy of war
The concept of the historical redundancy of war, which is increasingly accepted in the context of relations between the advanced industrial states, applies increasingly on a global scale. Most obviously, the proliferation of nuclear weapons capability means that the destructive potential of regional wars is approaching the same mutually self-defeating dead end in which the East-West conflict ended. At the lower levels of international politics and of destructiveness, it is still true that war offers many potential gains for states and proto-state movements: but we should act as if the historical redundancy of war applied in these cases too. This is because such wars cause immense suffering; because they block economic and political progress; because they often produce militarised and authoritarian regimes; and because they can still have a destabilising impact on larger regional conflicts and the wider international system.
Such a perspective means that the left should abandon some of the political positions of the recent past, and especially its twin belief that wars of national liberation are automatically progressive and Western interventions in the 'third world' automatically bad. It means adopting a perspective on any form of military action with an inbuilt assumption that war and violence are outmoded and self-defeating means; where they can be justified, this must be argued as an exception to a rule of 'historical pacifism'. This standard must be applied to 'liberation' struggles, and the lessons learned from cases like those of Czechoslovakia, with its 'velvet revolution'; South Africa, where political struggle is pushing forward where the bomb failed; and Ireland, where the armed struggle acts as a permanent block to any political solution. The arming of the Bosnian government forces, for example, was no substitute for greater UN intervention to stop the war in Bosnia in 1992-93.
The same standard of the redundancy of war must apply, however, to international interventions as well as to the actions of states and political movements. In a world bristling with military power of all kinds, it is alas unrealistic to believe that the dangers of war can always be averted without resort to military power on the part of those who wish to prevent war. The insertion of UN forces into ex-Yugoslavia, Cambodia or Nagorno-Karabakh may be a necessary means of limiting appalling destruction. 'Peacekeeping' has been the Cinderella of military power in the last forty years, but it deserves a great deal of thought as well as additional resources in the future. Political and where necessary military intervention on behalf of international agencies, with the object of preventing or stopping war, should be a norm rather than an exception, but the tradition of non-aggression should be maintained. It is important that the actions of UN forces are models of restraint in the deployment of military force.
The distinction needs to be made, therefore, between the principles of 'peacekeeping' and 'policing', and the resort to all-out war in the pursuit of these aims. It is here that Halliday's dual position on the Gulf needs to be uncoupled. It was right that a firm international political stance was taken against Iraq, since blatant military aggression is incompatible with any international order, let alone a newly peaceful world. It was extremely positive that virtually all states complied with UN sanctions against Iraq (even if we may argue about the effects on the Iraqi population of the kinds of sanctions imposed), making them unprecedentedly successful. It was justified for the US to send military forces to Saudi Arabia, as there was a real if small risk that Iraq would extend its aggression. What was more dubious was the early choice by the American government of war against Iraq, before the medium-term effects of sanctions were known.
It is argued (with justification) that there was no certainty, or even reasonable probability, that sanctions would have compelled Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. According to the criteria offered here, however, the onus was on those who advocated war to prove that this was the only viable course, the effects of which would be superior to those of war. It is certainly arguable that the slow erosion of Saddam Hussein's position by sanctions might have been more damaging to him than the polarising effects of war, which consolidated his position in the ruling elite (he also chose war). The suffering of the remaining inhabitants of Kuwait was made worse, in the short term, while appalling suffering was undoubtedly caused both directly and indirectly to Iraqi civilians, and notably the Shi'ite and Kurdish minorities. This is not to mention the wholesale killing of Iraqi troops, many of whom belonged to these same minorities. In addition, we should take into account the environmental damage. The restoration of Kuwait was achieved, but at great cost. We may add to these direct factors (last but not least) the damage that was done to the emerging culture of peace, by the media coverage of a 'successful' war.
The Gulf War cast a great shadow over the hopes for post-Cold War peace. At the same time, looking to the future, the most dangerous regional military power in the world (Iraq had already precipitated the war with Iran, the bloodiest since Vietnam) has indeed been weakened, even if this might have been achieved by other means. Precedents have been established in the international inspection and destruction of weaponry, including nuclear weapons, and in intervention (however limited) to protect threatened minorities. The US has been able to exert greater leverage on Middle Eastern states, raising hopes - if not of a genuine peace settlement - of preventing further highly dangerous wars between states in the region.
The ex-Yugoslav crisis raises these issues in a very different form, since all-out war has been the last thing that Western states have wished to wage there. The West has clarified the principles which should govern the situation - respect for both inter-republican borders and the rights of minorities, non-recognition of territorial gains or population movements achieved by force - only after Serbian aggression has made these almost unachievable. It may be that, once the war got under way, the only way to obtain any approximation to these admirable principles was, in fact, by greater Western military involvement. If the West had actively intervened, politically, to attempt to oversee the post-Communist restructuring of Yugoslavia and insist on the principles now elaborated, two or three years ago, war might have been averted. If only the West had given priority to political solutions of the Kosova and Macedonian problems (which at the time of writing seem potentially very dangerous), it would be more likely that we will avoid the wider Balkan war which everyone must fear.
The ex-Yugoslav situation underlines, then, the case for international policing in a political sense, while it makes no case for the resort to all-out war (no one can believe that a Baghdad-style bombardment of Belgrade would help the victims of Serbian aggression in Bosnia or Croatia). It focusses attention on the variety of roles for 'limited' military action to support international political intervention: on the range of options from the protection of UN monitors and relief convoys, to which the Western powers have reluctantly agreed, through to air power or large ground forces to protect civilian populations and establish 'safe havens', or even to push back the Serbian occupiers of large parts of Bosnia.
There are no easy answers to these questions. The crucial point for socialists is that they define a new political debate, in which nation-states are subject to international standards of democracy, human rights, minority rights, etc; the institutions of the world order are increasingly seen as existing to uphold such standards; and military power is legitimated only in so far as it plays a constructive part in achieving these ends. Correspondingly, therefore, there is a new military debate (or in conventional terms 'defence debate') in which the politics of global policing, peacekeeping and peacemaking rather than Cold War increasingly defines an instrinsically more limited role for military power.
Socialist voices in the new debates
Socialism may seem so discredited that socialist voices may seem to have little to offer in these new debates. And yet they may have much to offer, as long as they recognise clearly how the world, and the arguments, have changed. The critiques of capitalist power are still relevant, but their significance is transformed by the new situation. If it is not viable to denounce each and every Western intervention as 'imperialist', it is still relevant to criticise where specific interests - whether it be in oil or electoral success - distort the priorities of Western states. More fundamentally, we need a critique of the ways in which the major Western states have resisted endowing international institutions with real substance, have refused to give real priority to means of anticipating international difficulties, still cling too much to the idea of national 'sovereignty', and above all react to crises too little, too unimaginatively, and too late.
The socialist tradition was, before its statisation by war, a thoroughly societally-based politics. It can still offer, positively, the idea that international policy must be based on a thoroughgoing attempt to redress global inequalities; to attack global environmental problems; to institute democratic principles, including human rights, protection for minorities and political democracy, at the heart of international interventions; and to minimise the use of military violence. While all these ideas are paid lip service in mainstream liberal-democratic debate - and thus establish a common field of argument - all of them are thoroughly compromised or downgraded in the practice of Western states. Socialists should be their most consistent and enthusiastic advocates at every turn.
Socialists ought, indeed, to be the most insistent on the new context. If anything is left of socialism, it must surely be its critical capacity, the ability to criticise mercilessly what exists, and to see realities in a comprehensive historical perspective. The historical irony of the Cold War is that it has created the possibility of a peaceful international system. If this possibility is turned into a more lasting reality in the twenty-first century, it may make it possible to renew the agenda of social transformation after its war-marked historic defeats in the twentieth.
Copyright ©Martin Shaw 2000. Chapters are available to download for personal study only. Any unauthorised reproduction, electronic or printed, is an infringement of copyright.