Civilians in the Path of War
Philippe Delmas seeks to persuade us that there will be no New World Order, if that means a world without war. He believes that the future will bring wars in profusion, largely because the world places false hopes in the concept of legal order, which he holds to be no substitute for the strength of traditional states. Currently a counselor at the French finance ministry and formerly an analyst at the Quai d'Orsay, France's foreign ministry, Delmas is equally pessimistic about the prospects for peace through economic integration, which he sees as a source of, rather than a cure for, material rivalries.
What follows is a brisk Anglo-Saxon summary of an extremely French book. To say that Monsieur Delmas has a capacity to infuriate a pragmatic Englishman is to put the case mildly. For page after page, his prose recalls to me those unbearable afternoons of philo in the lycee where I had been sent to learn French in 1951 -- to an English mind, a farrago of wordplay, hollow conceptualization, and false antitheses. For instance, "The political map of the world was frozen so that the entire planet would not freeze in a nuclear winter." It may sound better in French -- reading along, I kept on catching myself guessing at the original -- but "la carte politique du monde se congelait à fin que la planète entière ne soit pas gelée par un hiver nucléaire" is not a particularly arresting thought even in retranslation. If he means that the Cold War kept the lid on regional conflicts between the superpowers' client states, why doesn't he say so?
There is much more, and much worse. The book reads in part like Giscard d'Estaing in a post-presidential mood -- lofty, know-it-all, and world-weary -- and in part like long extracts from an Economist regional survey, full of declining GNPs, rising birthrates, unauthorized technology transfers, and multinational corporate dealings with weak governments. The author is particularly keen on multinationals, as keen as Frederick Forsyth or Jeffrey Archer, and as impressed as their readers are supposed to be by the number of multinationals that have budgets larger than those of most sovereign states. Multinationals bulk large in his cosmology as underminers of elected governments, alternative sources of power, and enemies of international economic arrangements. But international organizations also cause him gloom with their false promise of harmony through harmonization, if I can invent a phrase that Delmas himself does not actually inflict on us.
ACTION, NOT WORDS
Buried somewhere in his opening chapters, the author does have the beginnings of a case to make. He identifies the end of the Cold War, and the nuclear disarmament by the superpowers that preceded and followed it, as an important change in the international security system. Nuclear deterrence made states behave whether they possessed nuclear weapons or merely sheltered in a possessor's shadow. In the retreat from deterrence, states have sought new guarantees of good behavior in the creation of systems based on law. Those systems constitute what he calls "order," as distinct from "power" exercised by dominant politics. In a lengthy reworking of the Hobbesian idea that "covenants without swords are but words," he argues that international law has no force of itself, that its imposition requires actions, that action must take a military form, and that, in consequence, "war has a rosy future."
In support of this prognosis, we have the long Economist-style passages on economic disparities between and within regions, exacerbated by the activities of multinational corporations. Common markets, tariff agreements, single currencies, and the like, Delmas writes, can only palliate and must in the long run erode the "order" that systems of law -- the United Nations and its subsidiary and local imitations -- seek to sustain.
Delmas is not the first to offer such a vision of the future. In his book The Transformation of War, Martin Van Creveld, an Israeli scholar, proposed something similar, though much more directly. (It is an interesting thought that Israelis, having adopted English as their international medium of communication, and in a distinctively British form, have liberated them selves from the obscurities of Continental idealism and now talk straight.) Van Creveld also believes that the state is withering away, that multinationals, including criminal conspiracies, are the potencies of the future, and that the world is fated to decline into a condition of chronic insecurity in which the rich will barricade themselves into enclaves and the rest will make do the best they can. Even if one does not agree with Van Creveld, one can at least understand him.
Should one agree? I think not. Both Van Creveld and Delmas really do no more than bring us back to Hobbes' starting point, the war of all against all. Van Creveld gets there empirically, through his observations of the failure of states to deal with terrorism, organized crime, ethnic and religious dissidence, and the lawlessness of rogue regimes, which foster lawbreaking and harbor lawbreakers. He is not impressed by the success of the coalition forces in the Persian Gulf War, believing the survival of Saddam, Qaddafi's Libya, Hamas, and Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front to be more significant indicators of the future. Delmas proceeds a priori. Choosing "order" and "integration" as the concepts by which to define the organizing principles of the post-Cold War world, he has no difficulty demonstrating the contradictions inherent in either, and therefore roams free in pessimism. The more states there are -- he points out that the world now has 200 -- the weaker they will be and the readier to pursue empowering legitimacy by violent emphasis of their ethnic, religious, or ideological differences from their neighbors.
MOUNTAINS OF MOLEHILLS
This is smoke and mirrors. Nuclear weapons have not gone away, and those powers that possess them remain as keen as ever to minimize the number of other states that do. Effective military powers are actually decreasing in number. The multiplication of states is a distraction in serious military analysis. Of the old NATO states, only Britain and France count besides the United States, which exercises the military equivalent of the economic power it possessed in 1946, when its GNP was equal to that of the rest of the world put together. Among the old Warsaw Pact states, only Russia weighs in at all, and then only because of its nuclear arsenal. There are no significant military powers in Africa or most of Asia. India is a potential superpower but must first come out of the nuclear closet. China's superpower status is compromised by its internal problems, which will persist as long as it temporizes between capitalism and communism. Until India and China realize their military potential, strategic power thus rests in the nucleus of the original Western alliance, no matter whether there are 200 or 500 states in the world.
The financial importance of multinational corporations, however much they disperse their activities across international frontiers, does not change the reality of a world of states. The power of multinationals to undermine states is an illusion. No currently existing multinational has succeeded in transforming itself into a Leviathan in the Hobbesian sense, nor does any seem willing to take the risk. All multinationals need the security of a home base that only traditional sovereignties provide, and they may therefore be expected, in any choice between putative profit and political loyalty, to throw in their lot with an existing state that controls an efficient army, an impartial judiciary, and an incorruptible bureaucracy. Whether one uses Van Creveld's empirical analysis or Delmas' a priori approach, the conclusion is the same. No supranational company has a long history. They were either subordinated to states, usually willingly, or else became states themselves, like the East India Company, an outcome to which prevailing ideology is hostile.
Outside of stirring regional contests, weak states in a polymorphous world lack the potential to make trouble for others. No weak state acting on its own has any capacity for power projection. Those that dominate the extraction or movement of vital resources -- as Iraq found to its dismay in 1990-91 -- expose themselves, if they choose to interrupt the flow, to the wrath of states that can project power. The quarrels of weak states threaten to involve stronger states only if they arouse the humanitarian and peacemaking impulses of the more powerful. Such involvements may end in humiliation, as with the United States' intervention in Somalia, but that will in no way alter the realities of power. Potential do-gooders merely learn to let the unteachable settle their quarrels among themselves.
PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH
Self-confident states with strong armies are the only assurance of civilization. To keep the peace, they will have to be tough, as they were during the Persian Gulf War. There they fought to defend the ease that oil brings to their citizens' lives. They may in the future have to squash upstart states that seek to unsettle the world by acquiring weapons of mass destruction. They have proved themselves up to that challenge in the past; it is worth remembering that from the United States the head of the Gulf is the most inaccessible point in the world, yet American forces reached it in war-winning strength, and show no signs of shirking in the future.
As long as that is true, war does not have a rosy future -- at least not war in the sense the world has known it since Napoleon. Superpower war, waged with the maximum potential of weapons available, defies reason, and no great state conducts an unreasonable foreign policy. Wars by weak states that challenge the power of those with a capacity to project force seem doomed to failure. Wars between or within weak states may make heart-rending television, but people have a remarkable capacity to harden their hearts against tragedies they feel are no concern of theirs. War, in my view, is therefore fated to fill few headlines in the newspapers my children and grandchildren will read.