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THE WAR ADDICTION

Why do military methods present themselves as the only realistic option in international disputes? Partly because that is where the human race collectively has invested its resources. It has been doing this throughout recorded history, as has most recently been illustrated by Azar Gat in the eight hundred or so pages of his War in Human Civilization (Oxford, 2006). But it is important to bear in mind that this is a matter of custom and choice, not of biological programming: a point authoritatively made by the 1986 UNESCO conference in Seville. The social obstacles to finding alternatives to the hugely destructive war habit are indeed formidable, but they are not doomed to failure by our human nature. And in the atomic age it has at last become clear that the persistence of the war habit threatens all life on earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately the war mode remains intensely seductive in its promise of quick solutions to intractable problems. The US/UK attack on Iraq was based on the strategy of ‘Shock and Awe’: paralysing ‘the adversary by deploying overwhelming force. How feeble, by way of contrast, were the alternative proposals set out at the same time by Scilla Elworthy of the Oxford Research Group. These are described in an article in The Guardian by Jonathan Freedland, 19th February 2003. She proposed that the sanctions imposed on Iraq should be lifted on condition that part of the oil revenues received by Iraq should go into a UN administered fund. This money would go to Iraq if it permitted the return of the many Iraqi exiles whose safety would be guaranteed by international inspectors. She had in mind the way the communist regimes in eastern Europe ended, like the fascist regimes in Spain and Portugal – eroded by a multitude of contacts with the outside world.

These ideas lacked glamour and implied months of tortuous negotiation with no clear result guaranteed, but how much better the prospects for the people of Iraq would have been if Scilla Elworthy had been in the White House instead of George W. Bush. The really dreadful thing is that he seems to have learned so little from the bankruptcy of the Shock and Awe policy that the same approach is in contemplation with Iran. One unintended consequence of eliminating Saddam Hussein was to increase Iran’s influence in the region. One reason for Saddam’s oppressive methods was that he belonged to a minority community holding down the majority Shia population. The Shias are now dominant, and on that account natural allies for Shia Iran. The Bush administration seems to think that this unwelcome influence can be countered only by mobilising the international community against the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, with an intention to repeat Shock and Awe as an ultimate sanction.

A nuclear-armed Iran? It’s true that many Iranians would like to see Iran possess nuclear weapons – to deter an American attack. This view has been put forcibly by an Iranian journalist exiled in Canada, Hossein Derakhshan, but clearly his is not a lone voice. The interesting thing is that the Supreme Leader of Iran, the ultimate boss, Ayatollah Khamenei, regards nuclear weapons as un-Islamic and unaffordable. There will be no Iranian nukes while he is around. An innocent disarmament campaigner might imagine that this encouraging fact would be seized on as a step towards strengthening the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but no such thing. The fact itself has been successfully deleted from the public consciousness: even such seasoned peaceniks as Scilla Elsworthy and Bruce Kent didn’t seem to know about the Ayatollah’s virtual membership of CND until I drew their attention to it. Church leaders in Scotland judge it imprudent to risk associating themselves with an Ayatollah, even if he is sound on this one issue. Meanwhile American pundits are fantasising about Iran’s leaders welcoming a nuclear holocaust that will transport them to paradise and the pundits (and the rest of us) to the other place.

It is hard not to be depressed by the world’s apparently incurable addiction to the war method. But an addiction it is, and one can only hope that when its incompatibility with human survival sinks in sufficiently we will stop taking the drug. Alas, the withdrawal symptoms may seem too severe to be bearable. Some alcoholics prefer risking cirrhosis of the liver to adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Geoffrey Carnall

 
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