The world changed with the defeat of Mussolini, Hitler and Japan's imperialists. A new era was opening in international relations. Mussolini's idea of renewed imperial grandeur from Rome was dead, as was respectability for his kind of fascistic authoritarianism. Dead also was the Darwinist justifications for expansion and domination that Hitler employed. And Japan's empire in Asia had fallen away.
British, French and Dutch empires still existed, but all the talk about freedom and independence by the Allied powers during the war encouraged colonized people to step up demands for their own freedom and independence. Colonialism was on the path of dissolution. In the United States blacks stepped up their demands for freedom as well.
Decolonialization would be an imperfect move to freedom. Some within the borders of expansions centuries before would still feel like a conquered people – people in the Kalahari, in the Amazon, on the island of Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia. But over-all, empire was on the decline.
Muslim nations would attempt to destroy the new state of Israel, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein would attempt to absorb little Kuwait – which Hussein reasoned was actually a part of Iraq. There would be border conflicts and the Kashmir dispute, and within Korea and Vietnam would be wars for national unification. But the old wars for domination between the great nation-states or blocs of states were no more.
China would not gobble up India nor would India gobble up China. Iran and Iraq would fight a prolonged war that began as a border dispute, but neither would conquer the other.
At the end of World War II, some, including Stalin, believed that another great war between nation-states would come in about 20 years. And some analysts were to speak of "balance of power" with the Soviet Union on one side and the United States on the other. But these would be the imaginings of people hanging on to a warring-states mentality inspired by their fear of weakness and annihilation.
In the Soviet Union, Stalin feared a war of annihilation from the United States, and in the United States were those who feared Russian armies moving through the whole of Europe, beyond the countries that the Red Army had occupied at the end of World War II to arrive eventually on the eastern shore of the United States. And some feared a new Chinese Communist nation-state trying to duplicate Japan's militaristic expansionism.
Rather than military conquest, the challenge was economic development and trade, to be accompanied by advances in education and applications of science. In Japan, grandeur was no long attributed to military accomplishments. In Germany, Frederick the Great was not worshipped as Hitler had worshipped him.
The war with atomic weapons that might have erupted during the Cold War did not. Nor did Communist revolution engulf the world as some feared it would. The optimism of some moderates proved more sound than the fear and pessimism.
Communist China entered into a working relationship and commerce with the rest of the world, including the United States. In 2012 Burma is joining the world of nations and turning to democracy The rogues have been diminishing in number. Saddam Hussein is gone. Argentina's criminal generals are gone. Pinochet is gone. Idi Amin is gone. Maybe by 2013 Assad will be gone. There are no more bloody wars for independence from foreign rule – as there was in Algeria and Vietnam. Conflicts in ideas and interests will not disappear, but a war by a nation-state to extend its authority and control over another nation-state is history. .
Rather than warring for world domination, economic challenge and a desire for dignity has inspired Arab speaking peoples to what is called the Arab Spring.
There was the terror sponsored by Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, but Gaddafi felt obliged to pull back from his attacks against the West – before his political power was destroyed by a coalition of forces that had the support of the United Nations.
In his book, The Better Angels of our Nature, Steven Pinker writes about a "Long Peace" since 1945.
There were the "experts" soon after '45 (Einstein, C.P. Snow, Herman Khan and others) who thought that a thermonuclear doomsday was likely. It didn't happen. And since 1945 no wars have been fought between major developed countries (the top 44 in per capita income) – with the exception of the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary in 1956, if you want to consider that a war.
Today we take for granted that war is something that happens in smaller, poorer, and more backward countries. (p. 251)
If you add China to the list of great powers we can say that the last war between great powers was the Korean war, which ended in 1953.
Since the late 1940s, no major developed countries has expanded its territory by conquering another country. (Vietnam's civil war doesn't belong in in this category.)
Today the idea of war between France and Germany is an absurdity. Also absurd is the idea of another Russo-Swedish war or British-Spanish war.
Before 1945 if a major power invaded another country, a rival power might express its displeasure on the battlefield. This did not happen when the Soviet Union went to war in Afghanistan or when the US went to war in Afghanistan, Vietnam or Iraq.
Pinker writes of people during much of human history believing in the legitimacy of war. He writes:
Though the psychological components of war have not gone away – dominance, vengeance, callousness, tribalism, goupthink, self-deception – since the late 1940s they have been disaggregated in Europe and other developed countries in a way that has driven down the frequency of war. (p. 252)
He quotes the British military historian Sir Michael Howard, who in 1991 wrote:
[It has become] quite possible that war in the sense of major, organized armed conflict between highly developed societies may not recur, and that a stable framework for international order will become firmly established. (p. 254)
He quotes Azar Gat, an Israeli researcher and author on military history and the Chair of the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University from 1999 to 2003). Gat writes:
Among affluent liberal democracies ... a true state of peace appears to have developed, based on genuine mutual confidence hat war between them is practically eliminated even as an option. Nothing like this had ever existed in history. (p. 255)
Pinker does not claim that war between major powers can never happen. He claims, rightly, that attitudes having changed across centuries and that we are in a era in which a war between the great powers is less likely. More on Pinker's book.
Copyright © 2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.