As polemology gains in fashion,1 the carefully detailed guide by Forsberg, Dean, and Mendlovitz on lessening the probability of war is both timely and useful. Speculating on the future of war as a basic societal phenomenon is engaging, but providing a putative path to its eclipse, even if partial, is decidedly more suggestive and so more welcome.
The chief assumption of Global Action is that nations arm, and even go to war, to defend their sovereignty. So if international arrangements (military, diplomatic, and economic) protected the security and sovereignty of nation-states, most governments would be ready to reduce armaments and abandon the age-old principle that national security can be assured only by national armies, and that conflict can be resolved most decisively by combat-a zero sum game in which the winners satisfy their national interests at the expense of the losers.
The authors persuasively explain how war can be avoided between states that arm for their own defense. But what if this tacit assumption does not obtain? Will the approach work in the case of recidivist states or corrupt governments? What about Turkey and Greece, for example? Here are two nations, NATO allies, with evident common economic interests. Yet they have come to the brink of war several times in the past two decades, and spend more than four percent of their GNP in war preparations. Can transparency, confidence-building measures, and persistent grassroots organizing for peace avoid war between these two virtual belligerents? In all probability not, because the motives of the two nations for arming excessively are not nationally rational, but only parochially rational.
Turkey is a large, vibrant nation of 60 million favored by the US and the European Union on strategic and economic grounds. Given its deeply fragmented sociocultural fabric, the civil war with 20 percent of its population, its unstable economy (80 percent annual rate of inflation), and the low standard of living of a large fraction of its people, one would think that Turkey would eschew armaments. But its government is a scantily disguised military dictatorship behind a transparent chador of democracy. It is a recidivist nation still chaffing at the loss of the mighty Ottoman empire a scant two hundred years ago. Moreover, modern Turks derive from the Turkic tribes that emerged from eastern Siberia to conquer central, western, southwestern Asia by armed violence under determined leaders like Ghengis Khan and Tamerlaine.2 None of this is rational of course, but sometimes history decides policies and events. This legacy of armed violence colors Turkey’s approach to international relations, even today. Not all Turks share these impulses: the academic, industrial, and merchant classes are peaceful and non-expansionist. They would welcome “Global Action” and this is an available opportunity for success.
Turkey’s bellicose rhetoric provides the substrate for the Greek armaments extravaganza ($24 billion in the next five years) and annual military budgets of $4 billion or more.3 But the actual armaments dynamic (in this country as well) derives from parochial, even personal motives. What is known in Athens as the “Intertwined Interests” of arms merchants, mass media moguls, ambitious politicians, and local high-tech magnates exploit the public’s insecurity and virulent nationalism to accumulate exorbitant personal fortunes or fill the coffers of political parties by a process of feverish weapons acquisitions. The Greeks rarely buy high-tech weapons that are cost effective and cheap; they buy the most expensive weapons. (Bribes to those that make the procurement decisions run routinely to five percent and merchants’ profits between 10 and 20 percent of a weapon system’s price.)
But as in the case of Turkey, the Greek merchant class, banking industry, tourist industry, and most other industrialists oppose the feverish arms race with Turkey while the country is struggling to meet the Maastricht criteria and join the Common European Currency. Could Global Action to Prevent War succeed in these seemingly irredeemable cases? The answer is a cautious “yes,” if the carefully described mobilization of public opinion proposed by Forsberg, Dean, and Mendlovitz is expanded beyond the grassroots to encompass the free enterprise elites in both nations. The Turkish military will not countenance self-imposed reduction of their influence and importance by disarming, even gradually. The Greek “intertwined interests” will not willingly give up the $3-5 billion profit they anticipate from the acquisition of expensive but dubiously effective weapons systems by the Greek armed forces.
But there are socioeconomic groups in both nations with at least nothing to gain and probably much to lose from crises, preparations for war, and reckless arming. If mobilized, they could bias the defense policies of both nations towards more sober behavior. A revised Global Action to Prevent War proposal could well prescribe, in addition to the grassroots approach, the processes and mechanisms that could engage the economic and intellectual elites of such nations to the cause of war prevention.
1 See for example M. Mandelbaum, “Is Major War Obsolete,” Survival, Winter 1998-99, and Steve Walt, “Never Say Never,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 1999.
2 Jean Paul Roux, The History of the Turks (Fayard: Librerie Authene Artheme, 1984). forces, would cut by 15 percent.
3The Military Balance, 1998-99 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies).