I am anti-war. I opposed the strikes in Syria, I think America has no place being in Afghanistan and I REALLY don’t want to see war with Russia. But that’s not human nature unfortunately.
So much of human achievement stems from man’s desire to wage war and conquer. Technological progress, medical advances, everyday gadgets we take for granted. Conflict supercharges human ingenuity. Even a concept as simple as straight flat roads came about out of necessity, during the expansionary phase of the Roman empire. We, as a species, define ourselves through competition. We strive to outdo those around us, and suppressing that most basic of urges has left the west stunted. We have reached a plateau, become too comfortable, too inclusive. Such overly utopian views are poison to human development. Wars, famines, diseases, all of these things serve an evolutionary imperative where the strong (both physically and mentally) survive and the next generation becomes that little bit more advanced. But here’s the kicker, you can achieve this effect without a single shot being fired.
Monotheistic religions today tell stories of the apocalypse. The goal of each is to unite many disparate factions under a single banner so that a “final battle” can occur. Islam, Christianity, Judaism all preach this goal. Collectivism takes many paths but “all roads lead to Rome” as the saying goes.
The cold war worked as a binary conflict because in terms of nuclear arsenals the Americans and Russians were the only real game in town. It lead to years of prosperity, the atomic age, the development of the internet through the creation of ARPANET. Compare the death toll with WW1 and WW2 however and it’s not even in the same universe. Tension and the potential for wiping out the entire world in nuclear fire were the price to be paid. Such is the nature of any binary game. The positions are fixed, fail states are defined, Mutually Assured Destruction is a zero- sum game. The problem with this system, as Kubrick demonstrated so artfully in Dr Strangelove, is that suddenly global annihilation becomes almost inevitable. Human error or a leader having one bad day can set in motion an extinction level event.
The proliferation of Nuclear weapons actually has the potential to prevent wars. I think this is what Trump was going for when he said that more nations should have nukes. The idea that one does not have to form up with one particular nation in order to feel protected from a nuclear capable enemy state. This allows for shifting alliances, it presents an opportunity to do away with the old orgs. To scrap NATO and the UN and return to an idea of co-operation rather than fealty. Couple this with his comments on international trade, doing away with massive agreements like the TPP. Entering bespoke, bilateral negotiations to ensure tailored solutions allowing for rapid adaptation as needs arise (Trump has clearly read Adam Smith). Understand this and you begin to understand the thinking behind the Trump plan in its original form.
Organising ourselves into blocs leads to stagnation. They allow us to become comfortable with our neighbours, safe in the knowledge we’re covered by the “attack on one” principals espoused by NATO and the like. But here’s the problem, such organisations can actually lead to significantly larger scale warfare. NATO is a classic example. In the days where the only real superpowers were Russia and America it made sense. It was a time of binary warfare. One on one, staring down the enemy. But these two monolithic nations are not the only game in town anymore. India and China are rising, staking their claim to global power. A binary system will naturally force these two nations to pick sides in any coming conflict.
Now we’re getting into some good old-fashioned game theory. Shifting, conflicting alliances prevent world wars, blocs guarantee them. Imagine if America declared war on Iran tomorrow. A conflict between two nations has limited scope, unfortunately due to our incessant need to form binding alliances it is not so simple however. War with Iran likely would mean the involvement of NK, China, Pakistan, Russia. Fixed alliances are force multipliers. It’s a guarantee of support that can embolden, but also ensures that a single spark could set the world on fire. By removing ourselves from these fixed agreements the natural ebb and flow of alliances can take over.
As any competent game-theorist will tell you, complexity leads to inaction. The greater the number of outcomes, the lower the probability of picking the right one. This leads to hedged bets and approaching the game from a loss-minimisation mentality. Increasing the number of sides in a conflict forces players to constantly reassess their positions. To treat each player with a degree of caution. Take the Prisoner’s Dilemma as an example:
Two men face jail for a crime. They are each offered the same deal. Outcomes will be based on either one of them talking, both of them talking or neither. The question is one of self-preservation, and the mentality is winner takes all. However, as the number of players increases the number of potential outcomes rises exponentially. Sub groupings form with conflicting goals and approaches. Suddenly paranoia forces everyone to take the safest option because no one player can be counted on to act predictably. At the same time, no one personal conflict can tip the game for fear of retribution should you pick the wrong side.
Now take that to a global scale:
Lets say country A gets into an international pissing contest with country B. Now A may be friendly with countries C, D and E. But outside of a world of fixed agreements there is nothing preventing country B from forming friendships with all of the above. Suddenly C, D & E are conflicted when war breaks out. They are more likely to focus on resolution than simply taking a side. Some will refuse to intervene due to fear of picking the wrong side. Alliances can be broken in the cases of rogue nations with minimal long term ramifications should a bad actor suddenly spring up. Flexibility and conflicting loyalties serve to keep conflicts small scale. Essentially turning the geopolitical landscape into a free market. Where foreign policy action denotes a country’s value. Not contracts and clauses.
Is this system perfect? By no means, it will lead to more death. It will make us feel less like “one global family”. The trade-off however, is that it takes global annihilation off the table to such a degree as we ever could. It lessens the likelihood of one power gaining dominion over the entire world. It turns a macro problem into a micro. Contains and limits scope on the one hand, but on the other it forces us to become more self-sufficient. To evolve, both culturally and physically.
This is one of many trade-offs that humanity is hurtling towards at this time. They’re all connected and ultimately the choices fall along a single line. Put it this way, there’s a reason the collective human psyche is locked in a war of globalism vs nationalism.
Pave Darker is a political activist and contributor to New Media Central. You can follow him on Twitter @darkpaver
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