I wish to make a few observations about Randall Forsberg’s bold and impressive case for the abolition of war:
1. Forsberg’s argument suggests helpful analogies with the abolition of slavery and child labor (at least in our part of the world). She might have added that these methods for extracting labor were abandoned not only because of humanistic insight (though that was certainly involved), but also because they were no longer considered necessary for preserving society. It cost the United States a civil war to bring this understanding to the South—which should remind us that insight into constructive social possibilities may not be shared in all quarters.
The analogous argument, applied to Forsberg’s concerns, is that major war is not only too destructive to offer a viable political option, but that, as the age of mass production turns into the information age, the war objectives of the past—gaining additional land or other material resources—have increasingly been superseded by less materialistic goals. Moreover, as Forsberg argues, the success of democracy has undercut the political objective of past wars—namely, the defeat of competing political systems. These considerations are, I believe, much more important to Forsberg’s argument than the fact that modern weapons are so destructive.
2. One major disclaimer: In her assessment of potential wars, Forsberg restricts herself to the present array of nation-states, and offers a convincing argument about current risks in the Middle East and elsewhere. But a number of these nation-states are not very stable and may face violent transformation. Perhaps we will see further splintering of the former Soviet Union. And growing contradictions between flourishing market production and authoritarian Party rule in China may end in a break-up of the country and a return to warlordism. Perhaps fighting will be confined to these territories. But civil war in large countries such as Russia or China certainly ought to be classified as “major war.”
3. Forsberg’s argument could be strengthened with regard to strategies for abolishing major war. The positive changes in Europe have been greatly facilitated by political steps: the Helsinki process was not an end in itself, but it did help reduce tension between the blocs that were then dominant in Europe. Confidence-building measures such as joint monitoring of military maneuvers or gradual disarmament steps such as the Conventional Forces Treaty of 1990 certainly had a value of their own, but the overarching political lesson was that alternative political approaches to the security dilemma were feasible and successful.
4. At the United Nations headquarters in New York, planners are presently undecided whether another special session of the General Assembly about disarmament would make sense. The first such session (in 1978) made a real contribution by transporting the innovative Helsinki philosophy to a global forum. The subsequent sessions were much less helpful. If ground-breaking concepts such as Forsberg’s idea about ending war could be placed on the agenda, one really could expect new life in the UN, whose ultimate goal (according to the Charter) remains the abolition of war.