Belated Remembrance Day post

by John Quiggin on November 12, 2010

Over the fold is the piece I wrote for the Fin which ran yesterday, on Remembrance Day. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the last couple of paras, referring to the present and future, so I need to spell them out a bit more.

First, while I was, in 2002, a fairly enthusiastic supporter of the decision to go to war in Afghanistan, subsequent events and the evolution of my own thinking have led me to qualify that view, and to conclude, in particular, that Australia should withdraw its troops in the near future.

First, some general thoughts

  • War is justified only in self-defence, and only to the extent that there is a reasonable expectation that going to war will yield a better outcome than not doing so
  • Even when war is justified by self-defence, it should not be used as a pretext for securing benefits that go beyond restoration of the status quo ante bellum (bearing in mind that war changes things, so exact restoration is often not feasible).
  • Political and public thinking is biased in favor of the belief that military force is an effective way to deal with political problems and a successful use of military force (even if justified) reinforces this bias. So it is important to create whatever institutional constraints are possible, such as requirements for Parliamentary approval of decisions to go to war
  • Even when justified ex ante, war is unpredictable and likely to go badly. The idea that having started on a war that has turned out badly, we should “see it through” is a mistake

Coming to Afghanistan, I think the self-defence case was clear-cut. The US was attacked by terrorists trained in and led from Afghanistan, by a group supported by the Taliban government. It’s possible to make a hypothetical case that absent the incompetence and malice of the Bush Administration (backed by Blair and Howard in the decision to start a new war in Iraq) that there was a reasonable expectation of success. However, I observe with some discomfort that much the same case is put forward by many on the left who backed the Iraq war, where, however, the self-defence case was a transparent sham. In any case, we are past the point where continuing the war can be expected to produce benefits for either Afghanistan or the world. It would be better to withdraw and spend some of the money saved as a result (many times Afghanistan’s annual national income) on aid.

I concluded my post by saying “On this Remembrance Day, we should honour the sacrifice of all those who died by giving up, once and for all, the belief that war should be part of our national policy.” To be clear, I am not a pacifist and do not oppose fighting in self-defence. The idea that “war should be part of our national policy” means to me, that the use or threat of military force can and should be used to advance our perceived national interest. This idea, which forms the basis of military policy in most countries, appears to to both morally wrong and factually false.

Finally, I collected a fair bit of flak not long ago for writing that the outbreak of the Great War was the critical disaster in the history of the 20th century. I don’t step back from that, but I don’t really want to re-argue the case here, so I’m not going to respond to disputes about it.

It is now ninety-two years since the guns fell silent on the Western Front of what was variously called The Great War, the War to End War and, when both of these descriptions were rendered grimly obsolete after 1939, World War I. The commemorations of the end of the war were similarly renamed, from Armistice Day to Remembrance Day.

The Great War cost the lives of 15 million soldiers and civilians, with another 20 million wounded, many maimed for life, by bullets, high explosive and poison gas. Far from being a war to end war, it brought forth the horrors of Nazism and Bolshevism and paved the way for World War II, and for the long series of conflicts that were collectively called the Cold War.

The consequences of the Great War are easy to see, and some are still with us (for example, the last of Germany’s war debt was repaid only a couple of months ago). The causes, on the other hand, are obscure to the point of invisibility. The spark that set off the war was the assassination of an Austrian archduke. At a marginally deeper level, the rush to war reflected simmering disputes between the European state over colonial possessions, economic rivalry and the like.

More fundamentally, though the cause of the War was a belief in war itself. Political and military leaders, along with the mass of the population, believed that countries could, and should, advance their interests through military force.

A few years before the outbreak of war, British writer Norman Angell had demolished this idea, in a book called The Great Illusion. Angell pointedg out that, in a modern economy, an expansion of national territory through war can provide no significant benefit to the citizens of the ‘victorious’ country, any more than New South Wales would benefit if it could annex Queensland. Any attempt to profit from military victory by confiscating the wealth of the conquered will cause economic damage to the country pursuing such a path, and such damage will far outweigh the temporary benefits of plunder.

Subsequent writers have suggested that Angell’s argument that militarism had become obsolete was refuted by the outbreak of war. But in reality, the whole history of the 20th century demonstrates Angell’s points. The great empires that went to war in 1914 had mostly been destroyed by the time the war ended.

The victorious allies, seemingly determined to test Angell’s arguments, sought massive reparations from Germany, and a combination territorial advantage and strategic influence for themselves. All they achieved was to sow the seeds for Hitler and World War II.

The Axis powers not only confiscated the wealth of the conquered, but brutally enslaved captive populations. Yet with most of the wealth and people of Europe and Asia at their command, they were unable to match the output of the Allies and were ultimately overwhelmed.

Finally, in 1945 the Western Allies had learned some of Angell’s lessons. Instead of seeking to impoverish and exploit Germany and Japan, the Marshall Plan and other initiatives promoted their recovery and prosperity. Stalin, on the other hand, pursued the traditional policy of expropriation, stripping East Germany of much of its capital and shipping it to Russia. The results speak for themselves.

These days, the idea that war is motivated by a desire to seize the assets of other countries is indignantly disclaimed. But marginally more subtle versions of the same fallacious idea remain influential. The idea that military force provides a way of ‘projecting power’ and thereby enhancing the national interest remains a staple of strategic thinking. In plain words, this means that a country with a strong military can threaten war against others who do not do its bidding.

The temptation to solve problems by military force remains strong. Yet the evidence of the 21st century is just as negative as that of the 20th. The US has already spent a trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with little to show for it. The total bill,, will be at least two trillion or about 20 per cent of US GDP. The same money could have saved millions of lives and lifted a billion or more people out of poverty.

On this Remembrance Day, we should honour the sacrifice of all those who died by giving up, once and for all, the belief that war should be part of our national policy.

{ 98 comments }

1

ajay 11.12.10 at 12:38 pm

The great empires that went to war in 1914 had mostly been destroyed by the time the war ended.

True for some (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey); not for others (Britain, France, America, Russia, Japan). These empires were either untouched or increased in size as a result of the Great War.

Your more general point is correct, of course – the argument for war as an instrument of national aggrandisement is more or less dead in the West.
Not elsewhere, though.

2

ogmb 11.12.10 at 12:49 pm

The temptation to solve problems by military force remains strong

And even more so for countries who have replaced their conscription forces with volunteer forces.

3

ejh 11.12.10 at 1:14 pm

Coming to Afghanistan, I think the self-defence case was clear-cut. The US was attacked by terrorists trained in and led from Afghanistan, by a group supported by the Taliban government.

I don’t see that the second sentence supports the first, certainly not to the degree of “clear-cut”. Not least because as I recall the attackers were not Afghans and mostly trained for their attacks in the US. There was certainly a case for demanding the handover of Osama bin Laden: and for pursuing the matter through all available means (not, by definition, a swift process) before resorting to force. But that wasn’t what happened. This was pretty clearly visible at the time.

I think it’s a lot more clear-cut that people who supported the invasion of Afghanistan got it wrong and that people who opposed it got it right.

4

Miguel 11.12.10 at 1:32 pm

@ajay
The Russian empire disappeared in 1917 and what emerged in its place was a totally different construction.
France and Great Britain, the biggest colonial powers pre-1914, lost much power and influence when compared to the USA, which was much less involved in the war. France was a shadow of its prewar power; Britain, still powerful, had to pay back lots of war credits (mostly to the USA).
Probably USA and Japan are the only empires that gained from the conflict, probably because their level of participation was much less when compared to the European powers. France almost lost an entire generation of men, pretty much losing the will to embark on similar ventures.

5

Henri Vieuxtemps 11.12.10 at 1:34 pm

Second ejh’s 3. Extradition was the issue, and when the Afghan government at the time asked for evidence for the extradition, they were told ‘we have evidence, but we won’t show it to you’.

6

y81 11.12.10 at 1:42 pm

“Even when war is justified by self-defence, it should not be used as a pretext for securing benefits that go beyond restoration of the status quo ante bellum (bearing in mind that war changes things, so exact restoration is often not feasible).”

Really? So the Allies were wrong to establish democratic governments in Germany and Japan? A less militarily aggressive, only mildly anti-Semitic plebescitary dictatorship in Germany should have been our goal, and more than that was wrong? And in the Pacific, I think it’s safe to say that Japan would have agreed to a restoration of the December 6, 1941 status quo at any time in 1945, maybe before, so the entire last year of the war was wrong?

More generally, the left frequently urges that Western governments (e.g., the U.S.) should exert pressure to change governments deemed insufficiently democratic (the Phillipines, South Africa, etc.). Is that wrong? Or is it only wrong to do it after a war?

7

Bob 11.12.10 at 1:44 pm

I agree with ejh and Henri. Barabara Lee was the only Representative who had the courage in Congress to withhold approval of armed aggression against Afghanistan. I admire her and consider her a true patriot.

8

dsquared 11.12.10 at 1:46 pm

I don’t think you’re reading or thinking very carefully or clearly, y81. Your first paragraph is pretty clearly ignoring the parenthesis at the end of the quoted sentence, and your second founders pretty badly on the fact that “the left” did not actually urge war with South Africa or the Phillippines.

9

NomadUK 11.12.10 at 2:04 pm

Coming to Afghanistan, I think the self-defence case was clear-cut

This is the misperception that allows this atrocity to continue. Afghanistan is the ‘good war’; Iraq was the ‘bad war’.

10

novakant 11.12.10 at 2:15 pm

There was nothing “clear-cut” about it, that’s why the Bush administration went to great lengths trying to redefine international law – and they failed miserably. This much should be obvious.

11

almostinfamous 11.12.10 at 2:38 pm

I agree with m. nomad above. the afghan invasion was perpetrated under the same flimsy veil as the iraq one, though the proximity to the 9/11 events clouded many peoples’ reasoning.

no evidence has been brought forth(if it exists outside bin laden’s propaganda and Pentagon thought experiments) that further attacks of the nature or scale of 9/11 were going to be conducted on US territory with the involvement of the taliban(i.e, the de facto govt.)

this is further underscored by the imprisonment of several ‘dangerous’ people in guantanamo and other US military establishments who have yet to be convicted of any crime or conspiracy to commit them.

12

roger 11.12.10 at 3:22 pm

I think there is something else to be said about the case against the Taliban – in fact, the same case was and is against the Pakistan government. Pakistani secret service members fought with the Taliban against the U.S. forces in November 2001, making their sense of things crystal clear. They were airlifted, along with many Talibani leaders, from Kunduz with the Bush administration’s approval. This was nine years ago, and we are to believe that since then, Osama bin Laden has been withstanding the continuous and concentrated hostility of the Pakistan government, in whose territory he found refuge in December, 2001.

This is, of course, a fairy tale only Americans can believe. Embarrassingly, Pakistan, to whom we fork over billions in military aid, has been a great supporter of Osama bin Laden and other Islamicist paramilitaries. Although perhaps it isn’t so embarrassing – without bin Laden to wave around, would the Pentagon have been able to gin up the approximately three trillion + that has flowed into it over the past nine years?

So it turned out to be a good deal all the way around. Americans were led by the nose to attack the one Sunni dominated country in the Middle East that was pretty free of any connection with OBL, Iraq, while ignoring the obvious links between bin Laden and Saudi Arabia (our “democratic’ ally, as Blair once put it in a moment of spectacular mendacity) and the financial and military support from Pakistan both before 9/11 and since.

It is a funny war. Not so funny for Afghanistani dead, of course, and it might not even cause dead American GIs to chuckle, but for our tough American leaders – whose toughness always consists of ‘making decisions” rather than in something petty like getting near bullets – this war has been a triumph from start to finish.

13

ajay 11.12.10 at 3:36 pm

And in the Pacific, I think it’s safe to say that Japan would have agreed to a restoration of the December 6, 1941 status quo at any time in 1945

I don’t think so. Remember that the Japanese court in 1941 considered the status quo – complete with oil embargo, etc – so unacceptable and unsustainable that war was their only alternative. Why do you think their minds would have changed? Do you have any evidence of Japanese leaders suggesting peace on the basis of status quo ante?

14

salazar 11.12.10 at 3:41 pm

@ 1 and 4: The Russian Empire didn’t just disappear: The successor state had to give away Poland, Finland and the Baltics — meaning much of the old empire’s industrial base. Then, you had the civil war and the massive — and bloody — social transformation that followed.

15

Gene O'Grady 11.12.10 at 4:13 pm

A little Eurocentric on when the war started? Japan had been at war since at least 1937, probably 1931, and arguably 1894 — a war in which American volunteers kept the Chinese navy from complete annihilation.

At the risk of being a patriotic American for the first time in my life, I think the post-1945 settlement is a convincing argument against the return to status quo ante arrangements.

16

Another Roger 11.12.10 at 4:22 pm

The best illustration of Angell’s thesis must be Adam Tooze’s definitive book on the Nazi economy ‘The Wages of Destruction’.

Götz Aly’s Hitler’s Beneficiaries makes the opposite case arguing that at the micro-level Germans did so well out of the systematised plunder of Europe to make the regime genuinely popular – Tooze and others dispute some of his figures and thus his overall conclusion however.

But there is of course an argument that the systematic destruction of Germany and Japan’s economies proved creative (in Schumpterian terms) in that they both became industrial superpowers after their war….

17

piglet 11.12.10 at 4:37 pm

Further to roger’s remarks at 11, we should at least remember to what extent the Taliban government was a creation of U.S. Afghanistan policy, which not only helped keep a brutal civil war alive in Afghanistan for decades (since 1978) but also, in that civil war, fought on the side of religious extremists who were as anti-American as they were anti-Russian, in order to defeat a socialist government that had kept the schools and Universities in Khaboul open for girls and women. There is probably no more disgusting example in history of what results from a policy of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

18

ajay 11.12.10 at 4:43 pm

16: the DPRA wasn’t exactly Sweden, piglet. The knowledge that her sisters in Kabul are getting to do BAs is only mild consolation to a rural Afghan whose village has just been nerve-gassed.

19

roac 11.12.10 at 4:45 pm

dsquared at 7: Sorry, but the parenthetical is not a sufficient basis for lowering the eyebrows raised by the basic position. Which appears, not only to y81, to be: The war aim of the Allies in WWII should have been the restoration of Germany to its borders as of Aug. 31, 1939 (including the former Czechoslovakia and Austria), with the retention of the Nazi Party in power.

20

piglet 11.12.10 at 4:46 pm

15: Germany came out of WW II extremely lucky. It suffered much less destruction than its victims, suffered very little punishment after the war (especially the West). There is a sense in which Germany came out as a winner, especially after 1990 when it emerged as the dominant player of a rising European Union. Some observers have even depicted the EU as the fulfillment of long-term German imperialistic ambitions dating back to before WW I. There is some plausibility to that view but I think these authors vastly exaggerate the actual power that Germany can wield within the EU.

21

piglet 11.12.10 at 4:54 pm

“16: the DPRA wasn’t exactly Sweden, piglet.”

Afghanistan governed first by Islamist war lords, who after the Soviet retreat had no better idea than to turn against each other (it was then that Kabul was destroyed), and then by the Taliban, was clearly worse by orders of magnitude than the DPRA.

The knowledge that her sisters in Kabul are getting to do BAs is only mild consolation to a rural Afghan whose village has just been nerve-gassed.

Unfortunately you could make almost the same statement about the current condition of Afghanistan, if you replace the nerve-gassed village with a bombed out wedding party. Except, that is, for the part of the women getting BAs in Kabul – from what I gather, the position of Afghan women 20 years after “liberation” from Soviet occupation and 9 years after liberation from the Taliban is still vastly worse than it was 30, 40 years ago.

22

piglet 11.12.10 at 4:58 pm

And I’m sorry to say that but this is a direct result of U.S. Afghanistan policy and it was even predictable at the time when everybody in the West was so enamored with those bearded Mujaheddin “freedom fighters”.

23

geo 11.12.10 at 5:09 pm

I agree entirely with ejh@3 and HV @5. The right to use military force in self-defense only applies when an attack is “imminent and overwhelming.” Otherwise, international law is very clear: one must pursue legal and diplomatic remedies, which the US not only neglected but explicitly and emphatically refused to do. It was obvious immediately that the Afghan war violted the spirit, if not the letter, of international law.

And let’s not forget that, as Chomsky correctly pointed out at the time, large-scale bombing put hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, at risk — not a certainty, but a not-negligible risk, which would have been enough to deter any decent government — of starvation.

24

zamfir 11.12.10 at 5:14 pm

Piglet, don’t call such ideas plausible. Jonah Goldberg might write a book about it.

25

ajay 11.12.10 at 5:23 pm

piglet: Germany came out of WW II extremely lucky. It suffered much less destruction than its victims, suffered very little punishment after the war

I think I may just let that one hang there for a bit like a fart in a crowded lift, while we get on to the sheer lunacy of piglet’s assumption that civilian casualties in Afghan right now (7,000 killed in the last four and a half years, mostly by the Taliban) are remotely comparable to casualties during the Soviet war, when a million Afghan civilians died in nine years.

26

Salient 11.12.10 at 6:05 pm

It was curiously and hauntingly beautiful to me that all the CT threads were silent for ~ the 24 hours of Armistice Day.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind…

…Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.

27

Norwegian Guy 11.12.10 at 6:23 pm

These days, the idea that war is motivated by a desire to seize the assets of other countries is indignantly disclaimed. But marginally more subtle versions of the same fallacious idea remain influential. The idea that military force provides a way of ‘projecting power’ and thereby enhancing the national interest remains a staple of strategic thinking. In plain words, this means that a country with a strong military can threaten war against others who do not do its bidding.

I don’t disagree, but aren’t often wars these day motivated, not by the national interest, but by some kind of idealistic, often humanitarian, justification. Teaching the swarthy foreigners western values by bombing them to the stone age is usually the goal. Perhaps that’s enhancing the national interest in some abstract sense, but I’ve never heard politicians say stuff like: War is in our national interest because our companies need to build some pipelines or whatever, we need military bases, etc. So it’s hard to point to any national interest, whether real or perceived. Isn’t that in fact what much of the realist criticism of the wars are, that they’re not advancing the national interest, but rather hurting it?

28

Matt 11.12.10 at 6:24 pm

Some observers have even depicted the EU as the fulfillment of long-term German imperialistic ambitions dating back to before WW I.

I prefer to think of it as the fulfillment of Henri IVth’s “Grand Design”, dating back long before WWI. I think that’s at least as plausible.

29

dsquared 11.12.10 at 6:29 pm

Some observers have even depicted the EU as the fulfillment of long-term German imperialistic ambitions dating back to before WW I

I would not call these people “observers”, anymore than I would call the guy at the end of the street who thinks he can see fairies dancing down Eversholt Street an “eyewitness”.

30

Salient 11.12.10 at 6:44 pm

…I was reading yesterday some misc. bits [pdf] related to Wilson’s re-election campaign, in which he kept us out of war allegedly had strong emotive and cognitive traction among the public, even in the face of commonly acknowledged attacks on the U.S. I don’t know how we revert to that zeitgeist mentality, or even how to push in that direction, but there’s a bit of cold comfort in the fact that such a sentiment could be salient enough to tip an election. Perhaps we can orient sentiment in that direction again.

The right to use military force in self-defense only applies when an attack is “imminent and overwhelming.”

That seems necessary, but in light of Afghanistan, worrisome as a sufficient condition. Do the ‘lessons of 9/11’ tell us we should at least add the word sustained or repeated or ongoing to this? Should a group of hijackers (or even a group of militant government representatives) be implicitly granted the power to authorize or justify war against their country of allegiance, by launching a one-off strike?

Would there be harm in encoding into international law, that in order to be granted legal authorization for war, one must prove that not only has an attack happened, but that the attack is ongoing and will continue to be life-destroying at some specified rate? I suppose nuclear or biochemical weapon hypotheticals might have some salience here, but in much the way that under certain extreme cases a killing that is obviously murder in the letter of the law is not prosecuted, I suspect nobody would demand fealty to the letter of international law in response to such an attack anyway. Better to argue that the law should attend to cases like localized attacks by bombing cargo or plane-hijacking, where the rogue actors in question seem to want to incite war: making war in reaction to such an attack illegal, might have a quixotically deterrent effect on those attacks.

31

Shelley 11.12.10 at 7:01 pm

My characters live in the era between the two great wars, but I think the major point here is your last one: the idea of war as a “solution” often discounts that it inherently tears apart people, community, sanity, and hope.

32

nickj 11.12.10 at 7:19 pm

Coming to Afghanistan, I think the self-defence case was clear-cut. The US was attacked by terrorists trained in and led from Afghanistan, by a group supported by the Taliban government.

If it was a matter of self defence, shouldn’t the US have invaded Saudi Arabia? Silly question, I know…

33

John Quiggin 11.12.10 at 7:37 pm

Salient,in my view, self-defence is a necessary, not a sufficient condition. There has to be also an expectation that war will produce net benefits.

In retrospect, and maybe even with clearer views at the time, it might be possible to conclude that future attacks like 9/11 could have been prevented without resort to war. But there was little doubt about the intentions of AQ to continue such attacks whenever possible, as it has done. And contrary to some claims made above, the response of the Taliban government demonstrated such patent bad faith (part of a long track record) that the Bush Administration looked trustworthy by contrast.

There is, also, a notion of proportionality, which we’ve debated here at length, and which is I think covered by my notion of the status quo ante. That is, seizing on an isolated attack as a pretext for all-out war turns self-defence into aggression.

34

geo 11.12.10 at 8:13 pm

the response of the Taliban government demonstrated such patent bad faith (part of a long track record) that the Bush Administration looked trustworthy by contrast

Could you say something more about this? Like Henri @5, I was under the impression that “when the Afghan government at the time asked for evidence for the extradition, they were told ‘we have evidence, but we won’t show it to you’”.

35

ejh 11.12.10 at 10:21 pm

But there was little doubt about the intentions of AQ to continue such attacks whenever possible, as it has done. And contrary to some claims made above, the response of the Taliban government demonstrated such patent bad faith (part of a long track record) that the Bush Administration looked trustworthy by contrast.

a. there was no evidence presented that any other attacks were imminent
b. no serious effort was made by the Bush Administration to pursue any course other than invasion: as I recall it was only six weeks between 9/11 and the invasion.

You got it wrong, John. You don’t have to acknowledge it or anything, I don’t like that sort of stuff, but at the same time, you got it wrong and it’s not worth trying to claim otherwise nine years down the track. The war was a crock.

36

ejh 11.12.10 at 10:33 pm

I mean it’s worth thinking about that nine years business. What has the war been about, for nine years? It was supposed to be about grabbing OBL and his chums, at the start. Well, after they’d knocked downthe Taliban and let OBL slip, what then? What’s been going on since? What has anything that has happened since got to do with self-defence against planned and imminent attack? When thing like this are written:

In any case, we are past the point where continuing the war can be expected to produce benefits for either Afghanistan or the world

when did we get to that point? During what period was the war “expected to produce benefits”? For three years? Five years? Seven?

Why has it taken nine years for people who made this mistake to quarter-acknowledge it?

37

jon livesey 11.12.10 at 11:08 pm

“War is justified only in self-defence, and only to the extent that there is a reasonable expectation that going to war will yield a better outcome than not doing so”

Like a lot of high-sounding sentiments, this looks great at first glance. Who could argue with the proposition that war is only justifiable in self-defence, and sometimes not even then.

But that’s about it for the Second World War, though. In 1939 neither France nor the UK were threatened by imminent invasion, and yet they declared war anyway. And they declared war because they feared that *eventually* they would be threatened.

In other words, even though not in immediate danger, they thought ahead to the future and found the prospect of what sort of Europe unopposed German aggression would produce to be quite threatening. France feared losing all its allies, and the UK feared that a German domination of all of Europe would make the UK’s strategic position untenable.

But apparently they were wrong. They didn’t wage war in self-defence; only in pursuit of heading off a future in which they *might* be faced with self-defence as an imperative. Maybe they should have waited until France was totally isolated. Maybe the UK ought to have waited even longer; until France fell and the UK was isolated.

Oh, and by the way. Apparently you are not going to respond to this, but I think your analysis of the origins of the Great War are both wrong and tendentious. There is ample documentary evidence that the Great War was not “sparked” and did not come from “simmering tensions”, but was in fact deliberately planned by Germany. It’s been a long-running pacifist misrepresentation to portray the Great War as some sort of giant mistake that can be avoided in future by “giving up war” or some such ideal, but I’m not sure you can give up war when one party, Germany, sees war as a legitimate instrument to cement its position of power. Giving up war when aggressors are willing to wage war simply hands the future to aggressors.

38

Mrs Tilton 11.12.10 at 11:18 pm

Jon Livesey is funny.

39

Zamfir 11.12.10 at 11:23 pm

jon, I don’t see your point about WW2. Supporting allies who are under attack seems to be perfectly within the concept of self-defence. That’s after all how JQ from Australia sees involvement in Afghanistan as legitimate.

40

Salient 11.12.10 at 11:24 pm

There has to be also an expectation that war will produce net benefits.

JQ, fair response; I was trying [feebly, and perhaps foolishly!] to construct a more objective set of characteristics than what was set forth… I’m operating under the assumption that anything that can’t be measured or quantified, will be argued in favor of war the next go-around. In other words, if we say there must be “net benefits” then the people arguing for the 2013 War In Iran will say there are net benefits. If we say there must be proportionality, the people arguing for the 2013 War In Iran will somehow speciously argue that “projections of plausible futures indicate they will attack us with a nuclear weapon and if they did then our planned response would be proportional and we can’t wait for them to strike first” or some such nonsense. I’m trying to figure out ways to potentially tie the hands of a really slippery devil’s advocate who could actually argue in favor of proportionality of the Iraq War to the U.N. Security Council…

Of course, I don’t know why I’m trying to do this. Not the best use of my time or my feeble brain. What I should be doing is trying to figure out [or learn from someone else] a formula of action:

Given a war that is obviously patently unjust to a subpopulation P living in the aggressor state, suppose each person x in P is willing to invest e(x) amount of energy in stopping the war, roughly normally distributed over some positive expectation value. If a person knows their own e(x), how can they / should they expend that energy optimally, to have the greatest possible negative impact on the war effort, within constraints of moral action? This presupposes they can’t or won’t or don’t know how to organize as a collective in advance and coordinate action (though they can certainly expend their energy trying to organize), and they are acting independently, but that they all have access to the same information about what independent action is most effective. What should that information be? What should people do, to stop the next immoral state aggressive action?

I’ve read some really good thinking on the subject and have my own little thoughts, but might as well ask the question and listen, instead of talking… once we have established in our own minds that a war is unjust, if we are a citizen of the aggressor state, what efficient/energy-optimal courses of action are available to us?

The countervailing force of international law drastically failed us. Twice in my view, once, perhaps, in your view. And again, surely, the next go around. Maybe (if folks have thoughts to share) we could set aside determinations of whether a war is unjust [which like you said have been hashed out before] and discuss how justice-minded citizens of an aggressor state should respond to that failure, once we’re in agreement that the aggression = injustice.

It’s not like Iraq was, to us, a borderline case subject to dispute…

41

piglet 11.12.10 at 11:36 pm

I think I may just let that one hang there for a bit like a fart in a crowded lift, while we get on to the sheer lunacy of piglet’s assumption that civilian casualties in Afghan right now (7,000 killed in the last four and a half years, mostly by the Taliban) are remotely comparable to casualties during the Soviet war, when a million Afghan civilians died in nine years.

ajay, what you call a “Soviet war” was a civil war with Soviet and US participation. Both sides did a lot of killing and part of my point is that the US helped keep the bloodshed alive. Second, the million casualties cited are not substantiated by any verifiable source (the source given by wikipedia is BBC but BBC has no source). Substantial warfare occurred after the Soviet retreat. Kabul was not destroyed until then, and it was due to infighting Mujaheddin warlords. This period was followed by the Taliban war against the Mujaheddin government, and that was followed by the US-led war against the Taliban (oh and 9/11 also happened). I have no idea why you cite the last four and a half years as comparison figure. The US occupation has been going on for 9 years and the casualties vastly exceed the figure you are giving.

Afghanistan is full of the bitterest of ironies.
1) Morally and legally speaking, the US presence in Afghanistan since 2001 is no more justifiable than the Soviet presence was during the 1980s and the U.S. is no more justified calling its opponents “terrorists” than the Soviet Union was at the time (when we in the West cheered them as “freedom fighters”).
2) Women’s rights, although they have been an important issue in justifying the US intervention, are now in worse shape than they were 30-40 years ago, and
3) the US presence in Afghanistan is justified by the need to fight an enemy that probably wouldn’t even exist without the catastrophically misguided U.S. policy of supporting Islamic extremists just because they happened to hate the Soviets. And 9/11 almost certainly wouldn’t have happened either.

42

Phil 11.12.10 at 11:44 pm

When thing like this are written:

In any case, we are past the point where continuing the war can be expected to produce benefits for either Afghanistan or the world

when did we get to that point?

The BBC News a few weeks back ran one of those pieces about how the Afghan government is all grown up and ready to govern Afghanistan (with a bit of help), concluding with a portentous line about how the future of Afghanistan will be decided by people like these, viz. Afghans. For me, the reflection this prompted wasn’t the chin-stroking “we’ve won the war but can we win the peace?” they seemed to be pitching for, so much as “if the future of Afghanistan is still to be decided (unsurprisingly), and if it’s going to be decided by Afghans (unsurprisingly), then what exactly is the British Army doing there?”

43

geo 11.12.10 at 11:47 pm

@37: I’m not sure you can give up war when one party … sees war as a legitimate instrument to cement its position of power. Giving up war when aggressors are willing to wage war simply hands the future to aggressors.

This is a serious position that deserves an answer. I’m not sure there was any good answer before the adoption of the UN Charter. But after two cataclysmic global conflicts, there was a moment of sober realism, in which all countries at least professed to recognize that war as an instrument of policy was criminal and suicidal. They set up a quite promising legal mechanism for enforcing this international consensus. It obliged countries who feared future aggression to present a case to the Security Council for international preventive action, and it obliged all UN members to respond to the Security Council’s levy of economic sanctions and military force to carry out its decisions.

It was obvious from the first that this legal regime could work only if the most powerful countries took their legal responsibilities under it seriously. And it soon became obvious that the most powerful country by far had no intention of doing so. During its wars in Korea, Indochina, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and its many military interventions in the Middle East, Central America, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere, the US has never complied with its obligations to report regularly and fully to the Security Council, seek its authorization on a continuing basis for any military action, and abide by its decisions. American contempt for the UN and international law has been so chronic and flagrant that their moral force has been seriously eroded. Whether they can function as any sort of restraint on the policies of any states depends, as always, on the most powerful states. Given the record of the last sixty years, it seems doubtful.

44

bianca steele 11.13.10 at 12:40 am

@43 I suppose we’ll soon see whether the Chinese are prepared to do that.

45

Omega Centauri 11.13.10 at 3:31 am

Like Jon Livsay, I have some issues with “War is justified only in self-defence, and only to the extent that there is a reasonable expectation that going to war will yield a better outcome than not doing so”.
My problem is simple stability, which some might think of as deterrence. Taken literally, it means that the weaker party has to concede to the demands of the stronger party, because it cannot come out better from hostilities. The fact that a weaker nation, may fight against a stronger invader is supposed to give the later pause. The Swiss military philosophy, was to make sure the cost (to the invader) of conquest was greater than any conceivable gain. In a world with bullies, there is no substitute for standing up to them.

46

John Quiggin 11.13.10 at 5:24 am

@45, Sure, but the deterrent effect is one of the beneficial outcomes of being willing to fight in self-defence, so there is no contradiction.

47

NomadUK 11.13.10 at 7:48 am

@44: Perhaps they would be more likely to do so had the US spent the past 60 years strengthening the rule of international law and the UN Charter instead of tearing it to pieces.

48

zamfir 11.13.10 at 8:17 am

Omega, that point would be stronger if Switzerland regularly invaded its neighbours as deterrent.

49

Chris Bertram 11.13.10 at 8:21 am

Having defended the legitimacy of the Afghanistan war at the time, and for similar reasons to JQ, I’m in the same boat as he is, and of the same mind. Whether or not the war was prudent, the US certainly had a permission under international law to do what it did, on grounds of self-defence. (That may not chime with what the average blog commenter here at CT thinks of when the words ‘self-defence’ are used.)

50

NomadUK 11.13.10 at 8:30 am

the US certainly had a permission under international law to do what it did, on grounds of self-defence.

No, it didn’t. There was absolutely no likelihood of any further attack, so there was no clear and present danger to the US, and there was no evidence that the attack was sponsored directly by the government of the country upon which the US launched its invasion. The US response was punitive and utterly disproportionate.

The invasion was completely indefensible at the time, and is even more so now.

51

Chris Bertram 11.13.10 at 8:49 am

Having got that out of the way, I’d like to express a little scepticism about JQ’s claim that there is never economic advantage to be gained from warfare. Norway is a very wealthy country partly because of its oil resources. Presumably, a state that incorporated Norway and diverted its oil revenues to pay for infrastructure development, meet social-security and healthcare costs etc would be benefitting economically. (Obviously in the real world, you’d have to factor in the unwillingness of the Norwegians to be incorporated, but those costs are going to vary depending on circumstances.)

It is just the flip side of secession, isn’t it. If the Flemings would benefit from independence from Belgium and not having to fund welfare benefits in Francophone Belgium, then Walloons benefit from the incorporation of Flemings in a single state. Other things being equal (which they wouldn’t be), then an independent Wallonia would have an economic motive forcibly to incorporate Flanders in a single entity. I don’t know whether NSW would benefit by annexing Queensland, but all that we need are a few cases where there are benefits. Using a richer, smaller neighbour to fund infrastructure and welfare for a wider population seems to be such a case. Where am I going wrong John?

52

Jack Strocchi 11.13.10 at 9:22 am

Pr Q said:

The temptation to solve problems by military force remains strong. Yet the evidence of the 21st century is just as negative as that of the 20th

[snip]

The idea that “war should be part of our national policy” means to me, that the use or threat of military force can and should be used to advance our perceived national interest. This idea, which forms the basis of military policy in most countries, appears to to both morally wrong and factually false.

On this Remembrance Day, we should honour the sacrifice of all those who died by giving up, once and for all, the belief that war should be part of our national policy.

Shorter Quiggin: The threat (or use) of inter-political violence is no longer a legitimate mode of achieving social-status dominance,  as with inter-personal violence. Which implies the need for an effective global peace-maker – a Leviathan.

FWIW I am in whole-hearted agreement with this conclusion. If offensive war was ever justified (say in the era when civilized empires conquered barbarous tribes) then that time is long past.

I suggest a new “Law of Military Futility”:

War against civilized states (eg EU) is irrational since net gains are improbable in practice. War against barbarous tribes (eg Afghanistan) is pointless since net gains are impossible in theory. Therefore all offensive war is wrong.

We would all be better off if the world’s military forces were turned into organically-armed international rescue services – Thunderbirds are Go!

53

Jack Strocchi 11.13.10 at 9:28 am

Pr Q said:

The temptation to solve problems by military force remains strong. Yet the evidence of the 21st century is just as negative as that of the 20th

The idea that “war should be part of our national policy” means to me, that the use or threat of military force can and should be used to advance our perceived national interest. This idea, which forms the basis of military policy in most countries, appears to to both morally wrong and factually false.

On this Remembrance Day, we should honour the sacrifice of all those who died by giving up, once and for all, the belief that war should be part of our national policy.

Shorter Quiggin: The threat (or use) of inter-political violence is no longer a legitimate mode of achieving social-status dominance,  as with inter-personal violence. Which implies the need for an effective global peace-maker – a Leviathan.

FWIW I am in whole-hearted agreement with this conclusion. If offensive war was ever justified (say in the era when civilized empires conquered barbarous tribes) then that time is long past.

I suggest a new “Law of Military Futility”:

War against civilized states (eg EU) is irrational since net gains are improbable in practice. War against barbarous tribes (eg Afghanistan) is pointless since net gains are impossible in theory. Therefore all offensive war is wrong.

We would all be better off if the world’s military forces were turned into organically-armed international rescue services – Thunderbirds are Go!

54

Jack Strocchi 11.13.10 at 9:57 am

NomadUK @ #47

Perhaps they would be more likely to do so had the US spent the past 60 years strengthening the rule of international law and the UN Charter instead of tearing it to pieces

The US’s waged a defensive Cold War for 60 years – containment and proportionate response – that was broadly in line with Pr Q’s legalist philosophy. Which is not to say it was not guilty of over-reach in particular cases, such as Vietnam.

Once the Cold War ended and the threat of Soviet & Maoist communism receded the dominant US was tempted into a more offensive strategy . First Kosovo and then Iraq II. An implication is that the balance of power has its uses, particularly with a power that prefers to obtain dominance through making money, rather than waging war.

The fact that you overlook the monstrous nature of totalitarian communist aggression amd the US’s defence of international law in Korea and Iraq I substantially discredits your position.

55

Ken Lovell 11.13.10 at 11:08 am

It’s interesting to consider a counter-factual 1939 narrative in which the now-despised appeasers allowed Germany to occupy Poland. It’s difficult to see how the ensuing events could possibly have exceeded the horrors of what actually occurred. Hitler had no desire to go to war with France or Great Britain; perhaps (probably) he would have proceeded with his invasion of Russia with an outcome that is impossible to predict with confidence.

On any utilitarian analysis, avoiding war in 1939 was the correct decision. But of course Churchillian concepts of honour and national destiny far outweighed any rational consideration of the greatest good for the greatest number.

Today, childish ideas like American exceptionalism and the USA as global peace maker seem to carry much more weight in policy-making than any calm calculus of the interests of real people who are in harm’s way.

56

Henri Vieuxtemps 11.13.10 at 11:46 am

It’s interesting to consider a counter-factual 1939 narrative in which the now-despised appeasers .

What are you talking about, it’s not a counter-factual: they did allow Germany to occupy Poland. There’s a reason why their response is known as “the Phoney War”.

57

Hidari 11.13.10 at 12:01 pm

#56 and #55

If you are serious about this you might enjoy Christopher Priest’s excellent novel The Separation which posits an idea very similar to (but not identical to) this. The link above also contains the bibliography of Priest’s research for the novel. In the afterword he notes that, given all we have gone through since 1945, the arguments of the so-called ‘Appeasers’ sound a lot better now than they probably did at the time, an argument with which it is hard to disagree.

58

Jack Strocchi 11.13.10 at 12:06 pm

Chris Bertram @ #55 said:

I’d like to express a little scepticism about JQ’s claim that there is never economic advantage to be gained from warfare…Using a richer, smaller neighbour to fund infrastructure and welfare for a wider population seems to be such a case. Where am I going wrong John?

Allow me. A state aspiring to regional hegemony attempting to invade a smaller richer state in order to plunder its resources would attract counter-valing power – either from actual hegemons, rivals in the balance of power or an international coalition of states acting with UN legal authority.

The flip side of an aggressor acquiring a valuable strategic or economic asset is that status-quo powers will lose access to that asset on favourable terms. Its not likely that status-quo powers would accept that lying down. No rational consortium of states is going to stand by and let an aggressive rival state empower itself by turning-over a local state into a satrap or colony.

Experience shows that defensive coalitions can impose unacceptable costs on the aggressor power, often by subsidizing the local resistance. So the calculus of unprovoked exploitative aggression remains unprofitable.

The US’s invasion of Iraq is “the exception that proves the rule” since that aggression was not motivated by a desire for economic exploitation. Most states more or less grasped this (or at least that was my prediction ex-ante) which is why their opposition was mainly diplomatic rather than military.

59

Hidari 11.13.10 at 12:10 pm

Just to be clear, by ‘appeasers’ I meant ‘radical’ or ‘absolute’ pacifists on the Left, not those ‘appeasers’ in the Tory party in the UK who wished to ‘appease’ Hitler because they actually quite liked the Nazis.

60

matt mckeon 11.13.10 at 1:46 pm

Hitler and Nazi Germany were determined to have a rematch with France, so I don’t know how that particular war could have been avoided by actions by the French and British.

Hitler and Nazi Germany were also determined to have a genocidal war with the Soviet Union, and attacked them in the midst of the Soviets assisting the Nazis wholeheartedly. So either opposition or cooperation seem to bring the same response: invasion. Only it isn’t a response, the attacks on France and the USSR were long planned objectives of Hitler and the Nazis.

61

matt mckeon 11.13.10 at 1:49 pm

This is a question. Does the 1950-53 Korean War fall within “legitimate war?” It’s defense against aggression, and military action to defend South Korea was authorized by the UN, and the war ended when the antebellum status quo was re established.

62

matt mckeon 11.13.10 at 2:15 pm

“The temptation to solve problems by military force remains strong.”

Especially for the US because we can’t perceive any downside. Politically its a winner. Most of the people we kill are so umimportant we don’t even count them. The US military people getting killed are all professionals, and the reality of their deaths are more sanitized then the dead from the American Civil War. Have you ever seen an American corpse from the Iraq War on the news or in a newspaper? Even flag draped coffins were deemed to be too upsetting. There is zero chance of the “enemy” winning, or even inflicting heavy losses.

We go to war because its easy, and the decision makers don’t know anyone who gets hurt, and are never in danger of getting hurt themselves.

63

John Quiggin 11.13.10 at 6:26 pm

Matt @61 The Korean War is a prime example of a defensive war turning into a failed war of aggression. The US forces quickly drove the North Koreans army out of South Korea and were then in a position to impose a peace based on the status quo ante – they could have demanded substantial disarmament and so on. Instead, McArthur decided to conquer the whole country, and pushed on to the Chinese border, thereby bringing the Chinese into the war. Several bloody years later, the status quo ante was restored.

64

Chris Bertram 11.13.10 at 7:43 pm

Strocchi “Allow me …”

Utterly irrelevant, I’m afraid. I’m sure John’s contention that it would be irrational for NSW to invade Queensland has nothing to do with the thought that this would attract countervailing power, but rather with some idea that it would not enhance the economic power of NSW to incorporate the Queensland in this way rather than having Queensland as a regular trading partner. So the point of my counterexamples is to suggest that there may be reasons to do with the distribution of tax revenues that appear to make it rational to extend jurisdiction. I’m sure JQ has a reply, but I’m interested to know what it is.

65

Tom Hurka 11.13.10 at 9:46 pm

@45, 46

The deterrent effect will not be very large if the failure of the aggression only restores the aggressor to his position in the status quo ante, i.e. he can attempt aggression and if he fails he’s no worse off. Even Vitoria (if I recall correctly) allowed forcible disarmament of a failed aggressor, to make repeat aggression by it less likely than it would have been without the aggression. Does JQ disagree?

It’s been reported that Iraq’s nuclear program was fairly far advanced in 1991. Does JQ think the Gulf War allies should have left that program alone — it was part of the status quo ante — so Saddam could attempt aggression again once he had nuclear weapons?

I agree entirely that a war of self-defence becomes unjust if it turns into a war of territorial expansion. But it goes way too far to say that the goal of a just war can be only the restoration of the status quo. By committing aggression a state makes itself liable to forcible disarmament, to make its capacity for aggression less than it was before it aggressed. And the prospect that that may happen is a vital part of deterrence.

66

Gary Lord 11.13.10 at 10:34 pm

I would think that the USA’s real agenda in Afghanistan was clearly demonstrated by their failure to apprehend OBL at Tora Bora (where apparently last-minute orders from “high up” let him escape) and their earlier dismissal of a Taleban offer to avoid invasion by handing over OBL. And let’s not forget how all the Bin Laden’s were allowed to fly out of the USA after 9/11…

So I disagree with Prof Q. on the idea of Afghanistan being a just war, much less a war of “defence”, but aside from that, it’s worth saying thanks for this otherwise excellent article.

67

Substance McGravitas 11.14.10 at 12:03 am

And let’s not forget how all the Bin Laden’s were allowed to fly out of the USA after 9/11…

Note: http://www.snopes.com/rumors/flights.asp

68

John Quiggin 11.14.10 at 12:16 am

Tom Hurka, as I mentioned @63, I think it is reasonable to demand disarmament on the part of an aggressor.

Chris, the Norwegian government currently gets about $US 5 billion a year from its oil resources, and the total value of its fund is less than $300 billion
http://www.qfinance.com/country-profiles/norway
which suggests to me an extractable surplus of the order of maybe $10 billion a year. My rough estimate, based on recent wars is that it costs about $1 million a year to keep a US soldier in the field (with an equal amount in deferred costs of health care etc, but let’s be conservative and say $500 000, meaning that the revenue would be sufficient to support 20 000 troops. The Norwegian army has a current strength of 20 000 (50 000 when fully mobilised) so it looks like a losing bet before you even start to consider sanctions, guerilla resistance, sabotage etc.

The general point is that extractable resources can make for some nice icing on the cake of a modern economy, but they aren’t really that important. It’s something I try in vain to point out time and again – people can’t get their head around the fact that, say, health care is a much bigger deal, in economic terms, than oil. In its various forms, marketing and advertising is probably bigger than oil.

69

Lemuel Pitkin 11.14.10 at 12:39 am

This post is right on.

70

Jack Strocchi 11.14.10 at 1:38 am

Chris Bertram @ #64 said:

Utterly irrelevant, I’m afraid…So the point of my counterexamples is to suggest that there may be reasons to do with the distribution of tax revenues that appear to make it rational to extend jurisdiction.

I beg your pardon. When you use phrases like “economic advantage to be gained from warfare”, “a state that incorporated Norway” and “unwillingness of the Norwegians to be incorporated” I recklessly assumed that you were referring to an Anschluss-style hostile takeover.

I did not realise you were alluding to some bloodless “extension of the tax jurisdiction” in order to effect a more economic “distribution of tax revenues”. But a federal accession, such as AUS or the EU, is a consensual political move and, by definition, non-violent. That is “irrelevant” to Pr Q’s thesis since there are no military costs to the aggressor from national resistance or global opposition.

Assuming benign global hegemon, stable balance of power or lawful international posse its probable that rival powers will oppose aggressive economic exploitation by a regional hegemon, thereby imposing unacceptable costs on the aggressor state. If Russia tried to take-over Norway the US and EU would impose heavy costs, which would greatly exceed the benefits of Norway’s oil money.

Great powers have largely learned this lesson which is why they have gotten out of the empire building game. Aggressive wars of economic exploitation did not exactly work out to the benefit of the aggressor, in the case of Nazis and Nippons. The next generation have figured out that resource acquisition is cheaper through commercial buy-outs rather than coercive take-overs. Even revolutionaries have jumped on the business bandwagon, look at the way the “shock therapist” oligarchs have cleaned out Russia, spending a trifle on whacking a few rival businessmen and journos.

The obvious recent example of a regional hegemon gambling on a hostile take over of “a richer, smaller neighbour to fund infrastructure and welfare for a wider population” was Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The Iraqi’s got hammered by the US-UN coalition, thereby proving Pr Q’s point.

I dont like violence Tom. I’m a businessman. Blood is a big expense.

Solozzo, “Godfather I”

71

john c. halasz 11.14.10 at 2:24 am

If you’re going to cite antique authorities to make your argument, why cite Norman Angell, rather than John Hobson?

72

John Quiggin 11.14.10 at 3:42 am

jch, I must say I find your constant snark pretty annoying, so I’ll reply with a tu quoque. As regards antiquity, Angell was a fairly close contemporary of Heidegger, close enough anyway that Heidegger’s party put him on the death list drawn up in anticipation of an invasion of Britain. Unlike Heidegger he made sense and still does.

As regards Hobson, I must admit to not having read Imperialism, but I’ve always taken Hobson’s argument to be distinct from Angell’s (and mine) in the sense that Hobson argues, given monopolistic/oligopolistic capitalism, imperialist war is a rational policy for the ruling class.

73

Jack Strocchi 11.14.10 at 4:48 am

Ken Lovell @ #55 said:

It’s interesting to consider a counter-factual 1939 narrative in which the now-despised appeasers allowed Germany to occupy Poland. It’s difficult to see how the ensuing events could possibly have exceeded the horrors of what actually occurred…On any utilitarian analysis, avoiding war in 1939 was the correct decision. But of course Churchillian concepts of honour and national destiny far outweighed any rational consideration of the greatest good for the greatest number.

I don’t know about that. On the strategic aspect, this appeasement counter-factual is a non-starter. One need not be a “Churchillian” obsessed with “concepts of honour and national destiny” to know that a German fascist empire controlling colonies in Russia would not make for a stable balance of power.

There is no way imaginable that the French and British empires would have let a resurgent Germany just take-over Eastern Europe without mounting a counter-attack. Which they were odds-on to win, not counting on Hitlers unpredictable strategic genius.

To take one easily imaginable counter-factual, taken seriously by British and American military scientists in the early days of the war: How long before the victorious Nazis produced workable nuclear weapons which they would then have been turned on the RoW, together with their well-developed rocket delivery systems?

On the moral aspect: I can imagine that the mischief a racist totalitarian superpower could have gotten up to, exerting complete dominance over continental Europe, might have “exceeded the horrors that actually occurred”. Not to mention its restless hunger for more once it had absorbed all the wealth of the Slavs, after it had killed or enslaved most of them. I can’t see how “any rational consideration of the greatest good for the greatest number” could let that occur without a fight.

74

john c. halasz 11.14.10 at 5:08 am

Umm… rough sketch, Angell’s argument was that wars yield no net benefit in terms of utility for nations/economies, compared to the gains from international trade (sic), therefore wars not only should, but would cease to be an international modus vivendi, by being overcome through international trade relations and their mutually beneficial gains. Hobson’s argument was that wars are not to the net benefit of nations/economies, especially with regard to the overwhelming majority of their populations, but they might be and often are to the net benefit of imperialist factional interests within the ruling elite, and thus the latter will attempt, with some fair success, to manipulate other ruling elite factions and “popular” opinion generally, to effectuate their projects and aims. Angell’s thesis could be considered prima facie to have been falsified. Hobson’s conjecture remains of at least considerable heuristic interest.

There is a general question of economic historiography as to whether imperialism as a whole yielded net economic gains or was profitable to its sponsoring nations. The Dutch in Indonesia, and maybe the British in India or the French in Algeria might be “positive” instances, but overall, I think the general consensus is that it didn’t yield net gains, (leaving aside the incalculable fates of subject populations). Which would at least suggest that other motive-forces or causes than purely economic ones might be examined to explain its eventualities. (Since the script can’t be run backwards).

(I have no idea what Heidegger has to do with this. He was a “pure” philosopher, not an economist or political thinker, whatever his temporary or permanent over-reach. But it’s not “snark”, but rather a criticism directed at obtuseness or blindspots, to remark upon the gap between conceptual grounds and conclusions. Perhaps if you’d actually read Heidegger, you might more readily understand that point, rather than imagining he personally contacted a Nazi apparatchik to knock off Angell in an invasion that never occurred. Just to speak of having made sense and still doing so.)

75

Chris Bertram 11.14.10 at 11:27 am

Thanks John. Yes, I see the point about extractable resources. I had taken you, though, to be making an argument along the lines halasz attributes to Angell in #74 above. This doesn’t seem to depend on any thought about the costs of maintaining occupying troops etc, but, rather to be a more general idea that, given the possibility of trade, extension of jurisdiction would be economically pointless. Putting extractable resources to one side, I’m not so sure about that, since, clearly (as with Belgium) where we draw the boundaries makes a difference in terms of fiscal winners and losers. So there might be no aggregate economic gain, but there might be significant distributive effects where we draw boundaries differently.

76

John Quiggin 11.14.10 at 11:47 am

Chris, you have to give some kind of consideration to the costs of war, since the Angell point is only true up to a first approximation. A merger between jurisdictions will not, typically, be absolutely neutral in fiscal terms, but it will normally be close enough that it can’t pay to bring it about by force.

77

Tim Worstall 11.14.10 at 1:05 pm

“Allow me. A state aspiring to regional hegemony attempting to invade a smaller richer state in order to plunder its resources would attract counter-valing power – either from actual hegemons, rivals in the balance of power or an international coalition of states acting with UN legal authority.

The flip side of an aggressor acquiring a valuable strategic or economic asset is that status-quo powers will lose access to that asset on favourable terms. Its not likely that status-quo powers would accept that lying down. No rational consortium of states is going to stand by and let an aggressive rival state empower itself by turning-over a local state into a satrap or colony.”

Haven’t we just described Gulf War I there?

78

novakant 11.14.10 at 1:48 pm

It’s simply ignorant to say that the Afghan War was a clear case of “self defense” – maybe one can make such a case, but international law is decidedly not clear on this issue and I’m sure every expert arguing who doesn’t have an agenda to promote would agree.

79

Lemuel Pitkin 11.14.10 at 2:58 pm

While I agree with John Q’s larger point, I’m not sure the claim about the nonexistent economic benefits of war is well-specified.

If we look at how imperialist war has been explained economically in the past — by opponents, but also at times by supporters — access to natural resources isn’t the main goal. Rather, it is the maintenance of an international division of labor favorable to the imperialist country.

If you think that a disproportionate share of the economic surplus ends up at certain parts of the value chain — manufacturing, say, rather than production of raw materials — and you also think the geographic location of those parts is relatively arbitrary, in the sense of not being dictated by natural “endowments”, then it makes perfect sense to think that judicious use of military force could ensure that your country gets the high-value activities, and someone else is stuck with the low-value ones. This is basically Kenneth Pomeranz’s explanation of how military dominance of its hinterland allowed Europe to industrialize first.

Whether maintaining a favorable international division of labor by force is still possible, I don’t know. But it seems pretty clear that many people on both sides of the US’s various wars of aggression, especially in Latin America, have understood the interests at stake in more or less this way. So that’s the argument that needs to be refuted, if we want to claim that military aggressors (which, again, in the modern world means primarily the United States) can’t gain economically.

80

Lemuel Pitkin 11.14.10 at 3:17 pm

I should add that a big part of the benefit of war in this sense comes from its demonstration effect — it deters governments elsewhere in the epriphery that might want to take a more independent path. This is quite explicit, e.g. in Michael Ledeen’s famous justification for the Iraq War: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” (I think Thomas Friedman said something similar.)

I’m not sure how you can quantify this, but if the question is whether imperialist war has economic benefits, showing that the empire “means business” has to be counted in there somehow.

81

Talleyrand 11.15.10 at 3:15 am

RE: the net gains from war, Peter Liberman has a book called Does Conquest Pay? (http://press.princeton.edu/titles/5714.html) . Also, Imperial Germany took a lot of really useful stuff from Romania in WWI. Quiggin says that in WWII the Axis couldn’t win even though it had “most of the wealth and people of Europe and Asia”, as if to prove that war doesn’t pay. But it was Germany and Japan against the US, the USSR, and the British Empire, as well as the conquered peoples, which is a bit like saying that a shop-lifter who gets caught proves that crime doesn’t pay. War does pay if the largest powers in the world don’t go all out (30m dead Russians) to destroy you. If the Allies had been open to a negotiated peace at any point and the Axis had taken them up on it, the Axis could have ended up with a lot more territory and power than they had previously. And neither Germany nor Japan suffered significant losses in their early campaigns against Eastern Europe, France and China. War pays out all over the place.

And the reproduced article is wrong in another way. The Allies did not learn Angell’s lessons. After WWII, the US occupied Japan and Germany and forbid them from having militaries. There are still 10s of thousands of US troops there right now! That, much less than a fictional lack of desire to impoverish and exploit them, helps to explain a lack of resurgence. In fact, if the peace after WWI had been ‘harsher’, i.e. if rather than seek reparations, the Allies had taken steps (like occupation) to ensure that Germany did not rearm, then we wouldn’t have had WWII.

The conclusion is good, if pretty uncontroversial; murder is wrong. But the argument is not.

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ChrisB 11.15.10 at 3:33 am

“The great empires that went to war in 1914 had mostly been destroyed by the time the war ended.”
Yes; but the empires weren’t the only ones involved, and, as has been stressed in some of the recent literature, they weren’t where a lot of the fighting happened. Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, for example, got what they wanted, which was to come into being. The Ukraine in both wars got nothing except soldiers going in different directions rather a lot. Minor powers have interests in wars that are distinct from those of their patrons (witness Israel trying to chivvy America into war with Iran) and Australia, after all, is a minor power.

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John Quiggin 11.15.10 at 5:33 am

“Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, for example, got what they wanted, which was to come into being.”

It’s also true, I guess, that a very large number of people born after 1914 would not have been born if it were not for the war (for example, since their mothers would have married men who were in fact killed, rather than their actual fathers). But it seems kind of strange to put this down as showing that someone benefits from war.

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Myles SG 11.15.10 at 8:56 pm

I agree with John Quiggin in the entirety in this post. I think he’s entirely in the right here.

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Myles SG 11.15.10 at 9:01 pm

“Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, for example, got what they wanted, which was to come into being.”

It’s also true, I guess, that a very large number of people born after 1914 would not have been born if it were not for the war (for example, since their mothers would have married men who were in fact killed, rather than their actual fathers).”

It’s a bit of a weird view, because it presumes that Austria-Hungary would remain static absent the war. It didn’t seem to be the case. Even before the war, the trend was toward greater regional autonomy for the various ethno-linguistic groups of the Dual Monarchy. The eventual shape had the war not taken place, while possibly retaining the Dual Monarchy in form, would likely have resembled something more like a confederation of regions with common fealty toward the Habsburg crown and common military forces, sort of like the pre-1926 British Commonwealth/Empire.

Note that even before the war the Hungarian and Austrian halves of the empire maintained separate capacities for army recruitment, training, depots, etc.

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Myles SG 11.15.10 at 9:05 pm

The problem in Austria-Hungary wasn’t so much despotism (it wasn’t very despotic). It was that the Austro-Hungarian settlement of the previous century was immensely constraining for the ethnic minorities of the empire, not least because the Hungarian half pretty much did its best to block every reform designed to give the minorities more liberties, given that the territory under the Crown of St. Stephen was a lot more tenuously held than the Austrian half, and the Magyar magnates benefitted enormously, and unfairly, from having exaggerated power within the Dual Monarchy completely out of proportion to their numbers. The Austro-Germans, having the dominant culture in Central Europe at the time, had no such worries.

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Jack Strocchi 11.15.10 at 10:07 pm

John Quiggin @ #83 said:

It’s also true, I guess, that a very large number of people born after 1914 would not have been born if it were not for the war (for example, since their mothers would have married men who were in fact killed, rather than their actual fathers). But it seems kind of strange to put this down as showing that someone benefits from war.

That is a poor analogy given the real value most Eastern Europeans put on national independence rather than colonial subordination to Austro-Hungarian empire. Nations are not fungible commodities. That is rather the point of patriotism which is the animating principle behind much war-fare, certainly the Great War.

The Slav’s longed for home rule of the ancient homelands of ancestral memory, and struggled under the yoke of Teutonic-Maygar domination. But no sane person yearned to be the child of a dead unknown soldier, still less disowned their actual father on that account. “Actual father is to forgone father” is not as “alien fatherland is to your own fatherland”.

The eagerness with which Poles, Czechs and Balts embraced national independence after WWI showed that “someone benefit[ed] from the war”. Just as the eagerness with which various Warsaw Pact nations embraced national independence after the Cold War shows that those people still valued national independence, rather than just any old sovereign ruler (especially a Russian one).

You can say, “well, the Great War still wasn’t worth it since national independence to Slavs would have come anyway, sometime later. So their subsequent early liberation does not justify the blood shed or treasure spent.”. That is, in fact, the implicit deal many Slavs made with themselves after WWII when they laboured under Russian domination. And it paid off.

But don’t say “well, that shows people shouldn’t feel that way in the first place”. I’ve tried that argument on my wife and it only makes things worse.

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Myles SG 11.16.10 at 12:33 am

The Slav’s longed for home rule of the ancient homelands of ancestral memory, and struggled under the yoke of Teutonic-Maygar domination.

But you are conflating pan-Slavism with individual, discrete Slavic nationalisms. The Austrian sovereignty cannot co-exist with pan-Slavism, obviously; but it could readily co-exist with individual Slavic nationalisms; indeed, via Wikipedia, “according to Misha Glenny (The Balkans, 1804–1999), the Austrians responded to Hungarian badgering of Czechs by supporting the Croatian national movement in Zagreb.”

I am just trying to point out that the mental imagery of Austrians and Magyars ganging up together on the Czechs, Serbians, Romanians, etc. is a tad inaccurate. There really isn’t a “yoke” in the sense of Prokofiev’s “Russia under the Mongolian yoke” or whatever. It’s more of an unintentional mess, where the Austrians would have been perfect content with an arrangement akin to the relationships between the old dominions of the British empire, a sort of free and common bond of loyalty, except more formalized, akin to the one that used to exist amongst Britain, Canada, Oz, NZ, and South Africa, with Britain as primus inter pares. Sub in Austria (proper), Bohemia, Serbia, Hungary (proper), Transylvannia, Croatia, etc., all perfectly co-equal except with Austria (and possibly Hungary) being primus (and also secundus, I guess) inter pares. The reason this didn’t happen, not to beat up on the Hungarians, was because the Magyar magnates were milking the obsolete system for all it’s worth and not willing to budge an inch.

This was perfectly workable as long as there was no pan-Slavism, and the subsequent history seems to indicate that pan-Slavism did nobody any good and made just about everybody seriously unhappy (well, save the Russians, I guess).

After all, how much, exactly, is the European Union different from the old Austrian arrangement, for the Eastern Europeans at least? The power-center, the primus inter pares (for there surely is one, at least in economic terms), is still German. The currency is simply re-labeled Bundesmark, run out of Frankfurt. If anything, the Austrians would probably have offered a more tolerant arrangement.

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Myles SG 11.16.10 at 12:44 am

And this is a fair point:

“But don’t say “well, that shows people shouldn’t feel that way in the first place”. I’ve tried that argument on my wife and it only makes things worse.”

Yet one doesn’t really know how much pan-Slavic feeling there was at any point in time. There certainly was never much pan-Slavic feeling in Poland. Pan-Slavic feeling among Czechs was negligible at best. Pan-Slavic feeling in the Balkans was noticeable, but seemed to have petered out as soon as the Great War and Russia went to the Bolsheviks.

I just don’t know if the feeling of “we must throw off the Austrian yoke and integrate ourselves into a great Slavic nation” was ever even seriously there, as opposed to “the Austro-Hungarians are really a bunch of bastards and the local functionary is getting on my nerves by denying my children schooling in their own native tongue, etc., and I would rather much prefer to have my country run by its own people.”

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Steve Williams 11.16.10 at 6:01 am

MylesSG@88

‘After all, how much, exactly, is the European Union different from the old Austrian arrangement, for the Eastern Europeans at least? The power-center, the primus inter pares (for there surely is one, at least in economic terms), is still German. The currency is simply re-labeled Bundesmark, run out of Frankfurt. If anything, the Austrians would probably have offered a more tolerant arrangement.’

I’m not qualified to judge the rest of your argument (not being a Central European historian) but this paragraph seems to suffer from the fact that in real life, most Eastern European nations couldn’t wait to join the EU, and most (not all, but most) publics are happy with the results.

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john c. halasz 11.16.10 at 8:13 am

Myles SG:

The old K. und K. empire was so riddle with gratuitous hierarchies and so decrepit that I doubt it could have yielded to effective reform. I’d also doubt the core problem was the Magyar aristocracy rather than the Austrian hierarchy. (The problem of the Magyar nationalists was that they were not an actual majority within their “own” kingdom, hence the rapid assimilation of the Budapest Jews. But that was scarcely the only stumbling-block to effective reform. Aside from which, the Magyars were probably more German-leaning than the Austrians). The thing about the old empires is that they forcibly fostered a mixing of peoples and a lingua franca and relative modus vivendi, such that, with retrospective nostalgia, in the light of the pettiness and malignancy of the ethno-centric nationalisms of “small” peoples, they dubiously appeal to the sensibilities of “cosmopolitan” liberals.

The problem with Quiggin’s view is that it’s fairly empty and tautological. It amounts to saying that war is bad. Who knew? The horror and futility of war is undeniable. But he makes his case entirely on the basis of an economist’s toolkit: the anti-statism, the methodological individualism, the reliance on identifying goods with an extrinsic and basically mechanistic conception of “utility”, the assumption of a continuum of “progress”, as if it were a perpetual motion machine, like economic “growth”, und so weiter. Once one kicks away that soapbox on which he’s standing, that is, once one disallows the conceptual grounds and terms on which he’s basing his case, then his deliverances and judgments are just adventitious opinions, like everyone else’s, based on no special expertise. Worse yet, he evades thinking of the “properly” political dimension to the matter, and phenomenologically mis-describes it: the issues of the organization of power, the constitution of sovereign rule, conflicts over collective “identities” and the competing claims to “justice” attaching to them.

It’s that contest over collective “identities” and their claims to “legitimacy” that lends to war its violent excess, which defies economic “logic” and always supplements its material causes, (over resources, territory, or what not), which renders it so intractable and irrational. (Even obvious aggressors will ideologically transmute and “justify” their actions in terms of defending “our sacred way-of-life”. Similarly, I don’t think the era of high imperialism can be quite explained in terms of entirely economic motives, as a competition between rival national capitals for captive resources and markets, – since the gains from trade with each other surely would have exceeded any gains from the periphery,- nor just as a displacement from rival nationalisms, without taking into account the motive-force of white supremacism, la mission civilatrice, as a rivalrous common ground.) Simply pointing out the sheer destructiveness and general injustice of war and its likely lack of aggregate material gains doesn’t eo ipso obviate its eventualitiy, nor provide an alternative means of political conflict-resolution. And there is nothing to guarantee a priori that impasses of rival claims to “justice” will not or should not occur, nor that such conflicts will not fester long after their initial miscarriages have degenerated and corrupted their “cause”. Indeed, given the finite, mortal nature of human existence, never to be forgotten when considering political affairs and sovereign power, the struggle-unto-death can become its own perverse affirmation of “identity”. Nor does it suffice to imagine that there is always some superior organization of force that can suppress any resort to or use of force, since it is often unequal power relations and the failure or abeyance of their recognition that is at the “root” of violent conflict, so that just reiterates the issue. (That’s not the same as organizing “outside” political pressures).

In short, to affirm a Whiggish account of history nowadays requires some considerable counterfactual historical contortionism.

As to Afghanistan, one can well claim that the U.S. had some prima facie causus belli in invading that country, as Quiggin does. (Aside from the general loathsomeness of the Taliban regime, it was also lacking in international recognition anyway). There is a considerable discourse over international law, which can be argued over, but there is no general enforcement power attached to it, and no body of judicially settled precedents to ensure its consistency and coherence. (And it’s not clear that the implied notion of a global sovereign would be humanly desirable). But such “justification” alone doesn’t suffice to make the case. Even if accepted, the consideration of means and ends in undertaking such a military-political enterprise and the daunting obstacles involved needed to be taken into account. (Among other issues, the opium trade, which, ironically, the Taliban, under international pressure, had undertaken to suppress, needed to be considered, since that would obviously provide resources for an insurgency). But, in the event, the invasion was undertaken under the delirious dictates of Field Marshall von Rumsfeld, and so here “we” are. (That the princelings of the Pentagon apparently never considered the prospect of “fourth generation warfare” hasn’t ceased to amaze me). The upshot: it’s mostly better to argue the case against war on grounds of expediency, as more efficacious and insightful, than on narrowly moralistic or legalistic grounds. Otherwise, one might find oneself seduced into defending the indefensible, or else, preaching to the wind, (not that the purity of your soul matters much).

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Jack Strocchi 11.16.10 at 11:30 am

Myles SG #88 said:

But you are conflating pan-Slavism with individual, discrete Slavic nationalisms. The Austrian sovereignty cannot co-exist with pan-Slavism, obviously; but it could readily co-exist with individual Slavic nationalisms

No. I did not refer to Pan-Slavism. I did refer to “Eastern Europeans national independence”…”Poles, Czechs and Balts” opposition to Russian hegemony, which certainly implies a lack of Slavic brotherhood.

Pan-Slavism was yet another 19thC movement cooked up by E. Europeans to enlist Russia in their nationalist cause against A-H. As the A-H dissolved, so did Pan-Slavism. And the more E Europeans got to know Russia, the less the liked it, esp under Bolshevik dispensation.

As empires go the A-H empire was better than most. But its days were numbered as “individual Slavic nationalisms” grew in consciousness.

Myles SG said:

I am just trying to point out that the mental imagery of Austrians and Magyars ganging up together on the Czechs, Serbians, Romanians, etc. is a tad inaccurate.

Its certainly true that the A-H empire was a civilized set-up. Vienna was pretty good in its heyday. A lot of liberals liked the A-H because it ruled lightly.

But no matter how decent they were as an imperial state, they weren’t a nation state to most of their subject peoples. As Orwell said, there is no political feeling that compares to it in strength.

Also the A-H’s could get nasty. I am thinking about the way Austria monstered Serbia on the eve of the Great War. An Austrian militarist did, after all, start World War One, which should give some clue to how bloody-minded they could be. Come to think of an Austrian militarist started the World War Two as well.

That is a pattern.

Myles SG said:

After all, how much, exactly, is the European Union different from the old Austrian arrangement, for the Eastern Europeans at least? The power-center, the primus inter pares (for there surely is one, at least in economic terms), is still German.

Well the EU’s wishy-washy geist allows them to cherish and celebrate their nations cultural identity. Win at soccer. Not have Hussars or Uhlans jangling their spurs as they parade down your street. That sort of thing.

I take your point about Teutonic economic hegemony. It lurks behind the threadbare cover of the EU’s anodyne bureaucracy. The EU is probably more onerous than the A-H since the euro (mark) is a more exacting task-master than the krona. The disorganized or lazy states of the EU will have to lift their game, resign themselves to mendicancy or leave the EU altogether.

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Jack Strocchi 11.16.10 at 1:12 pm

Pr Q said:

The causes, on the other hand, are obscure to the point of invisibility. The spark that set off the war was the assassination of an Austrian archduke. At a marginally deeper level, the rush to war reflected simmering disputes between the European state over colonial possessions, economic rivalry and the like.

I am surprised to see Pr Q drag out that wheezing and panting old nag, the old Hobson-Lenin (H-L) economic theory of imperial militarism, for yet another agonizing lap around the track. Someone fer crissake’ put the animal out of its misery!

Oh well, it might as well be me. Shorter Strocchi: the Great War was caused by Teutonic powers (Austro-Germany) fear of Slavic militancy, either Serbian rebellion  or “Russian steam roller”.

For sure imperialist Great Powers were the key players in the War. But the War was not fought for reasons of imperial economic exploitation, at least not extra-European imperial plunder, as the H-L theory would have it.

Its true that the surviving European powers did clean up with extra-European imperial booty in the aftermath of the War. But these prizes were in the nature of consolations (and reparations) rather than motive war aims.

Certainly Teutonic militarism was imperialist, but it was intra-, rather than extra-, European imperialism. And its motives were essentially strategic rather than economic. Although in both Wars Germany sought massive annexations in the East.

The smoking guns for Teutonic militarism were discovered  long-ago by Luigi Albertini and later developed into a fully fledged theory by Fritz Fischer. Their theory is consistent with the aggressive behaviour of Austrian and German military officials, who initiated war against both Serbia and France (Russia’s ally) respectively.

Fischer’s work revealed the existence of both a “Berlin War Party”, fearful of the “Russian steamroller” gathering momentum. And of course it was no secret that the German “weltpolitik” militarists had for long dreamed of “living space” to the East. The von Schlieffen plan only reinforces the megalomaniac scale of Teutonic militarism.

But of course the real test of Albertini-Fischer was World War Two, which proved to be an almost exact strategic replica of World War One, except with signs changed for Eastern and Western fronts. The German blitzkrieg in the West failed in WWI, but worked in WWII. The German offensive in the East worked in WWI, but failed in WWII.

You would think that once bitten most historians would be twice shy about Teutonic militarism. But liberals, ever since Keynes, have tried to get Austro-Germany off the hook with a “plague on both houses” general attack on all European empires.

They are wrong. Just because Clemenceau, George and Billy Hughes agree on something does not make it wrong.

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Sam C 11.16.10 at 2:01 pm

One of the non-moral issues about the current Afghanistan War is the monumental stupidity of starting it. The history of attempts to control/conquer/subdue Afghanistan in British colonial times suggested the task was near impossible. OK, the days of solar topees and tiffin are some time ago.

But in modern times, the USSR sent in huge numbers of soldiers with much less concern for human rights than westerners might have and came completely unstuck. OK, they had the USA supporting The Other Side out of childish “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” logic, which is one causative factor for the curent mayhem, but that wasn’t decisive.

So how could Bush and Blair and their advisers be so incredibly stupid and unaware of very recent history as to not work out for themselves that if the Russians couldn’t prevail with the gloves off, behaving as absolute bastards, there was no way that US, UK and their camp follower forces could? And if they did, what would the conquered Afghanistan look like, and how would that be a good thing?

Just to be clear I was and am against the war on principle; I’m not suggesting that the war should have gone ahead even if it had been winnable. Wrong and winnable is one thing, wrong and unwinnable makes it immoral and stupid.

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LFC 11.16.10 at 3:08 pm

LP @80: a big part of the benefit of war in this sense comes from its demonstration effect

See here.

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novakant 11.16.10 at 7:11 pm

a big part of the benefit of war in this sense comes from its demonstration effect

Yeah, it demonstrates that a couple of confused twentysomethings are able to entangle the US/UK in two stupid wars for a decade and make us give up our civil liberties in a snap.

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LFC 11.16.10 at 8:00 pm

To clarify, “benefit” here refers to signal-sending to other so-called rogue states. Thus I take the word to be in quotation marks. To the extent the Iraq invasion was intended to have this kind of demonstration effect, the effect clearly didn’t last very long. In the spring of ’03, Iran, perhaps influenced by what was happening in Iraq, offered the Bush administration a ‘grand bargain’ (denuclearization etc. in return for normalization of relations), which the Bush people dismissed out of hand. If they had wanted to take advantage of any (supposed) demonstration effect, that was probably their opportunity, and they missed it.

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Myles SG 11.17.10 at 7:20 am

You would think that once bitten most historians would be twice shy about Teutonic militarism. But liberals, ever since Keynes, have tried to get Austro-Germany off the hook with a “plague on both houses” general attack on all European empires.

I think it does everybody lots of good to get Austro-Germany off the hook, really.

I just don’t think the people in Berlin and Vienna had any idea how destabilizing their plans were. The European scheme of power relations simply was not capable of accommodating a Prussia-Germany that was bigger than it already was in 1914, and yet the drive to the east popped up again and again. And it was certainly not capable of accommodating a bigger Austria-Hungary that had constant border issues.

I have the feeling that the people who were drawing up warplans in Berlin simply thought, “well, after this Germany will be the leading power of all Europe and the world,” but didn’t pause to think that it was simply impossible in the way the European power system has been set in the wake of Congress of Vienna for such a position to be realistic sustainable without Europe ex-Germany collapse into general anarchy. Germany had double the population of France in 1914; it was not simply not realistic that the Third Republic would not collapse into complete chaos if it was reduced to one-third the power of Germany, or even less.

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