The Not So Long Peace?

by Richard Rosecrance

Everyone knows that the expectation of any event is equal to its probability times the consequences which ensue if it occurs. (E = p x c).

A rather improbable event, therefore, can still be worrisome if its consequences are severe. Even if the probability of major war has declined, we cannot neglect war’s possible occurrence. After all, the probability of war in 1914 was quite low, though it still took place.

First, a possible glitch in the decline of major war theory is that when one great power rises to challenge a leader, war is more likely. Of the 13 cases of such challenge since 1500, all but three ended in major conflict. Perhaps the reason for peace since 1945 is that (except for the Cold War) there have been no cases of one Great Power threatening to pass the hegemonic leader in charge. Despite Japan’s surge in the 1980s, it posed  no such threat. Ernest May shows that when the United States surpassed Britain in 1890s, the British acceded to all American demands, on the Venezuelan boundary, the independence of Panama and the Panama Canal, and the growing size of the US Navy. [May Aspen paper, (Summer, 2006)].  In 2020 the United States is unlikely to concede all Chinese claims (to the islands in South China Sea, the absorption of Taiwan, and an unlimited increase in Chinese armaments). What then?

Second, having recently surveyed the events of the two World Wars, a number of historians and political scientists concluded that leadership or the lack thereof can make a huge difference in the occurrence of truly improbable events. [See E. May, R. Rosecrance and Z. Steiner, eds. “History and Neorealism” (2010)] The First World War was in the parlance of the time, “the war to end wars.” Neville Chamberlain shared that conclusion but nonetheless opted for war against Germany on September 3, 1939. Even Hitler wanted to avoid general war, picking individual opponents as one plucks artichoke leaves, one after other; at the same time, if frustrated, he would attack even bigger countries, leading to war with most of the world. Recent data on Chinese Poliburo debates reveals in 1950 that Mao Zedong was one of the few members who would willingly intervene in the Korean War; others including some military leaders preferred to hold back. Mao’s emotional predominance, dictated the outcome. Similar information indicates the majority of the Ex-Com decision-makers in 1962 initially favored bombing or invasion of Cuba, with all of the consequences that might have involved. In 1941 Franklin Roosevelt was willing to push Japan (perhaps toward war) in order to prevent it joining with Germany in the attack on Russia. Inexorable historical trends did not chart leaders’ conclusions. In many if not most of these episodes, a leader acted differently from his associates and from historical trends, with perilous consequences for all concerned.

Steven Pinker rightly says that the probability of major war has been “decimated” but that strictly means reduced by one-tenth, and even if more greatly, we should not be consoled by historical tendencies that no leadership will necessarily follow or even be aware of.

This means that rather than relying on historical trends to protect the world, we have in fact to do something about it. I have suggested a large amalgamation of Europe and the United States to create a positive overbalance of power which will in the end attract China to play an important role in a wider world.

By allandafoe Posted in GT2030

III. War and Peace Among the Rest

by Erik Gartzke

In my previous two blog segments, I outlined an argument that economic development, and the management of international interests, are the primary causes of the Long Peace.  This segment deals with the final two empirical relationships of the Long Peace, the fact that most of the world has benefitted only obliquely from a “Pax Americana,” or Long Peace. 

People, groups and nations fight over either tangible, real goods (territory) that are difficult to divide up, or intangible goods like policy that may be partially public (more than one actor can share in the same benefit).  These are not necessarily attributes of contests, but of the interests of actors in relation to a contest.  A coalition of states ejected Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, while the Iraqis fought alone in part because each side fought with different objectives in mind.  For Iraq to build a coalition, it would have had to agree to split up the oil riches of Kuwait.  The U.S. had little difficulty with a coalition, since this meant “sharing” things like the principle of territorial integrity, collective security, or Middle East stability.  

The fact that democracies are no less likely to use force in general reflects the fact that they fight non-democracies more often than non-democracies fight each other.  It is tempting, if difficult, to explain this behavior with regime type, but very easy to explain it in terms of development.  Democracies — mostly prosperous, advanced societies — are fighting with the poor more often than poor nations — typically non-democracies — fight each other in large part because they can.  Development makes it is easier to project power, increasing the number of states that a nation can physically fight.  Poor states seldom fight anyone, if for no other reason than that they are not physically capable of doing so.  A peace between Rwanda and Belize is not, and never has been, remarkable.   Yet, while development makes states better able to fight far from home, it also gradually reduces their interest in doing so for the purpose of direct material gain.  Developed states face economic conditions that mean they much prefer to buy, rather than conquer.  In a study with Dominic Rohner, we show that imperialism initially waxed with power projection capabilities, and then waned.

In contrast, if prosperous states prefer to buy their goods rather than fight for them, they are fully ready to fight to assert preferred policies.  The bulk of developed/non-developed conflict can be explained in terms of Western nations attempting to impose their preferred policies on the developing world.  Sometimes, these interventions have a normative flavor (Kosovo, Kuwait, Somalia), but the exceptions and inconsistencies suggest that these have less to do with principle than self-interested.  Instability in the developing world is ignored if it is likely to remain localized (Rwanda, Congo).  Western interest is piqued when and if there is the danger of spillover to important economic or political interests (oil, trade, etc).

The decline of territorial conflict in the developed world (associated with democracies), and a large scale consensus about international politics, has led to peace in Europe and elsewhere.  In other regions, peace has been maintained by default, either because nations were incapable of projecting power (Africa, parts of Latin America), or because differences over policy were not easily remedied by war (the U.S. and the Soviet Union, China).   There is no reason to believe that Europe will see a return of war in future decades.   Similarly, Russia is in no position to assert its dissatisfaction with world affairs more than indirectly, in peripheral disputes.  China alone remains a major power capable of attempting to thwart or even upend important aspects of the prevailing order.  While there are increasing calls to contain China, it may be prove more fruitful to ensure that China’s interests are addressed and that it prefers some version of the status quo to a costly transformation. 

The one place most likely to see more war in the future is the one least touched by the Long Peace.  Broadening prosperity will see an increasing number of nations willing and able to pursue old grudges that previously were outside their grasp.  At the same time, multipolar politics and a declining hegemon will make it more difficult to police the global commons as effectively as in the past, particularly given the increasing capabilities of developing states.  We see this today in talk of a nuclear Iran and in U.S. efforts to co-opt nations such as India.  Coming decades may well reveal a race between the unraveling of an existing international hierarchy and growing international power and prosperity generally.  If developing nations are quick to evolve economically, there will be little time for their leaders to act to address territorial disputes before territory becomes redundant in a modernizing world.  If instead these nations stagnate economically, numerous reasons will appear to seek to revise their borders and reassert authority over lands that are tempting and tractable only temporarily. 

Finally, the effects of development on peace assume that the labor costs of occupation will remain high for developed societies.  Western nations (the United States in particular) have begun to automate their militaries.  If pilotless drones or ground vehicles substitute capital for labor in sufficient numbers, then territorial conquest may again prove profitable.  In the movie Terminator, warlike machines take over the world.  It may soon be possible, if no less horrible, that part of the planet will be dominated by predatory machines (run remotely by human beings), created not by evil computers or automated empires, but by the citizens of the very democracies that we look up to today for humanity, civilization, and peace.  Those who believe that democracy prevents states from doing evil abroad should look to history.



Erik Gartzke is an associate professor of political science at UC San Diego. Gartzke’s primary area of study involves the impact of information and institutions on war and peace. He applies bargaining theory, rational choice institutional theory, concepts of power and social identity, and statistical analysis to four substantive areas of interest: 1) The liberal peace, 2) international institutions, 3) diplomacy, and 4) the system overall.

By allandafoe Posted in GT2030

II. Developmental Peace as a Piece of the Long Peace

by Erik Gartzke

In my last segment, I argued that the Long Peace is really a composite of four relationships, and that the most important of these — Cold War stability — is either the result of factors that will not persist, or results from the ideological nature of the contest in ways that have yet to be carefully analyzed.  Perhaps because of the complexity and possible irrelevance of the Cold War, attention has increasingly shifted to the liberal peace as a guide to the future. 

The observation that developed democracies seldom fight each other is arguably the most important discovery in the recent study of international relations.  Yet, before we credit democracy with peace, we must consider the possibility that whatever causes democracy is itself responsible for the relative absence of conflict among liberal states.[1]   Unfortunately, researchers have yet to agree on a canonical explanation for democracy, making it difficult to determine whether the causes of democracy might themselves be the causes of peace.  What I outline below is thus speculative, only partly backed by evidence and by logic. 

As I noted in the last segment, peace requires that no nation perceive a benefit from acting aggressively.  It is tempting to believe that democracy could accomplish this.  Yet, while  western liberal democracies are certainly “nice” to each other, there are several reasons to wonder whether this is due to democracy, per se.  We already know that democracies are not more peaceful monadically.  In addition, Mousseau shows that only rich democracies benefit from democratic peace.  If democratic peace only works among satisfied states, then perhaps it is these states’ circumstances, rather than their politics, that leads these nations to cooperate.  My own work suggests that countries with similar interests are much less likely to fight, independent of regime type.  This may explain the effect of democratic peace by itself, though this claim is disputed by others.  In a forthcoming paper, I also show that the strength of the democratic peace seems to be declining as the number and diversity of democracies grows.  Researchers have begun to distinguish between “good” (i.e. liberal) and “bad” democracies (Zakaria).  It will come as no surprise to readers if democracy in the Middle East and North Africa produces regimes that are not Western friends.  Finally, the democratic peace has proven surprisingly resistant to coherent explanation.  As Charles Lipson quips “We know it works in practice.  Now we have to see if it works in theory!

There remains something intuitive about the claim that democracy and peace are related.  Yet, this may be because democracy comes from peace, rather than producing it.  Indeed, democracy alone among domestic political systems requires peace as a prerequisite.  As soon as the loser in an election takes up arms to reassert political success, democracy is in jeopardy.   Domestically, democracy requires that political losers prefer defeat to the use of force.  The same must be true internationally of course in order to maintain stability. 

A compatibility of interests helps to account for democracy within and the lack of conflict between polities.  A society in which the population lacks a critical consensus about policies is unlikely to form or survive as a democracy.  Tensions between policy preferences should tend to either prevent democratization or destroy it, as political losers cannot accept defeat on peaceful terms.  This is the story of Weimar Germany and indeed of the U.S. Civil War.  If, in addition, democracy tends to form domestically only when populations are centrist in their preferences, then the “median” or “pivotal” actor in these centrist democracies will tend to be more similar than the pivotal preferences among autocracies (given the effect of majoritarian rule).  Democracy will be associated with moderate foreign policies, not because democracy causes moderation, but because moderation causes democracy. 

At the same time, nations fight over more than just policy differences.  Tangible material goods can also form the basis for conflict.  Here, it is economic development that appears to play a crucial role.  In published and unpublished research, I have shown that developed states are much less likely to fight over territory (though no less prone to dispute policy differences).  The rising cost of labor associated with economic development has meant that most modern nations prefer to buy the fruits of territory rather than seek to conquer (steal) land directly.  Economic development also just happens to be the most widely used and accepted predictor of domestic political liberalization.  Prosperous, which just happen to cluster geographically, are both much less prone to fight over where their borders ought to be and much more likely to be democratic.  The increasing productivity of labor and the inefficiency of coercion make it much more appealing to govern societies through consent, rather than through coercion.  Conquest, and tyranny, no longer pay.  This implies that development leads both to a decline in territorial conquest and to a rise in democracy. 

Growth in the number of democracies in the world may provide enough impetus to sustain and even broaden the Long Peace, if the causes of peace lie largely in political liberalization.   Systemic liberal peace advocates have suggested exactly this relationship.  However, stable democracy has been slow to materialize in many regions; the shift to majoritarian rule has not coincided with the consolidation of liberal norms or institutions often thought to be the key factors in promoting liberal international peace.  Similarly, there is some evidence that the democratic peace is not as robust after the Cold War.  If instead development causes a shift away from territorial aggression, then there is reason for hope in the very processes that appear to be leading to a multipolar world.  China, India, and other developing nations may join the West in eventually eschewing conquest as a viable foreign policy option. 

Where tensions will remain is in the area of the nature and content of global and regional governance.  Ironically, as the world becomes more integrated, the stakes in having one’s way in the world have become much higher.  Without unipolarity, the world’s leading nations must find new ways to compromise and dissect differences, rather than allowing them to accumulate into indigestible omnibus disputes.  Though the work on international institutions shows relatively little pacific effect, their greatest impact may be yet to come.



Erik Gartzke is an associate professor of political science at UC San Diego. Gartzke’s primary area of study involves the impact of information and institutions on war and peace. He applies bargaining theory, rational choice institutional theory, concepts of power and social identity, and statistical analysis to four substantive areas of interest: 1) The liberal peace, 2) international institutions, 3) diplomacy, and 4) the system overall.

[1] It would by no means be a large exaggeration to say that half of Political Science seeks to explain democracy, while the other half is using democracy to explain other things.

By allandafoe Posted in GT2030

Climate Change 2030: More Extreme Weather

Empirical evidence alone—without reference to climate models—indicates that a general warming trend is affecting weather and ecosystems with increasing impacts on humans. Recent weather has been characterized by an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events—floods, droughts, tornadoes, glacial lake outbreaks, extreme coastal high-water levels, heat waves, cold spells, etc—and this will continue during the next 20 years.

According to the recent IPCC Special Report on Extreme Events (SREX), climate and socioeconomic trends will reinforce extreme weather, making it more frequent and intense. Although the number of tropical and extratropical cyclones probably will not increase, the average maximum wind speed for tropical cyclones will increase. Meanwhile, population growth and economic development will widen the exposure of people and property. The key unknown is whether improved disaster risk management measures will be adopted to effectively cope with these changing conditions by 2030.

Food security has been aggravated partly because during the last two decades the world’s land masses are experiencing weather conditions outside of expected norms. Observed temperature increases (though enhanced in the Arctic) are not solely a high-latitude phenomenon. Recent scientific work shows that temperature anomalies during growing seasons and droughts have lessened agricultural productivity. Degraded agriculture productivity, when coupled with more protectionist national policies tightening global supply, undercuts food security, especially in impoverished regions.

Flows in the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Niger, Amazon, and Mekong river basins have been diminished by droughts that have been persistent over the past decade. These trends are consistent with the expected effects of increased greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere, but due to the limited observational record (60 years) and a lack of understanding of decadal variability, one cannot discount the possibility that observed trends are due to other natural causes of weather variability.

Dramatic and unforeseen changes are occurring at a faster rate than expected in regions with frozen water. Current estimates suggest that Arctic summer sea ice will vanish in the period 2030-2050. Changes are occurring in the major ice shelves (Greenland and Antarctica) that were unforeseen even five years ago. Future rates of change are currently unpredictable because observed changes have outpaced the development of ice-prediction models. Scientists now estimate sea-level rise (SLR) of one meter or greater by the end of the century, most of which is expected to occur toward the end of the century. Sea-level rise could increase with rapid melt of either the Greenland Ice Sheet or the West Antarctica Ice Shelf. In the next 20 years, barring collapse of the ice shelves, the SLR trend will be modest and consistent with the recent record, about 3.3±0.4mm/year (that is, an additional ~2.5 inches global average sea-level rise). However, even this change, when coupled with potential storm surges from more intense storms and subsidence of delta lands, will have a significant adverse impact on coastal regions and Pacific small-island states.

Improved understanding of the changes in the stratosphere reveal that the ozone layer over the northern hemisphere is diminishing, leading to the possibility of greater ultraviolet (UV) radiation over northern hemisphere countries. Based on a better understanding of climate sensitivity and emissions, the present emissions pathway will lead to approximately 2°C warming by mid-century and approximately 3° to 6°C by end of century, depending on economic performance, technological advances, and energy policy. By 2030 the emissions trajectory will be cast, determining this century’s climate outcome.