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Unless we dismantle the machinery of war, we are doomed to leave the present without reaching the future


Prof Radmila Nakarada is a GAPP (Government and Public Policy) Distinguished Fellow. She is Professor of Peace Studies and founder of the Centre for Peace Studies at the University of Belgrade, Serbia, and was a member of the Yugoslav Truth and Reconciliation Committee and its first spokesperson.

Since Hiroshima, the human species has invested increasing cognitive and material efforts to produce and perfect the weapons of mass destruction that are capable of eliminating the future as a dimension of human history.

The world is playing out multiple scenarios — the best and the worst of worlds.

Unprecedented wealth and devastating social and environmental consequences; new realms of freedom and the extension of repression (from torture to digital control and global policing of the information world); the celebration of common values and the “ethical cleansing” of the global order by the erosion of the rule of law, ie, the practice of self-exemption and double standards; accumulated knowledge and expanding ignorance — all are simultaneous dimensions of a reality whose intricate interactions and distances are far from being deciphered or grasped.

Practices of resistance and building (local) alternative forms are disconnected, limited in reach, and often experience defeat. This was the case, for instance, when 40 million citizens around the globe protested against the planned intervention in Iraq in 2003, to no avail.

Thus, a question looms: Can a major transformative shift, leading to a desirable scenario, be made by a “thousand cuts” as Wolfgang Streeck puts it, or does it require a different strategy?

A part of the answer lies in recognising the need to refocus on an exceptionally threatening issue — that of war.

Reaffirming peace as the prime imperative of the human species, in other words, respecting life as the highest value, has to become a global cultural and political endeavour (as a character in Amin Maalouf’s novel Nos frères inattendus, says, death is our only enemy, not other nations or races).

Dismantling war as a practice, instrument and institution is the prime precondition to depart securely from the present and reach a desirable future.

But since Hiroshima, the human species has invested increasing cognitive and material efforts to produce and perfect the weapons of mass destruction that are capable of eliminating the future as a dimension of human history.

Since the end of World War 2, instead of upholding consistently the uttered promise “never again”, and above all getting rid of nuclear weapons, humankind has instead opted for, as Paul Virilio points out, the “continuation of total war by other means” by embarking on an “infinite development of armament” that is an “infinite preparation for war”.

This practice was implemented despite arms control treaties, détente, deterrence, and surges of peace movements. It was the consequence of technological advances and the character of the power elites. The sophistication of weapons radicalised the dimension of speed and increased the independence of machines from humans. Machines are gaining the capacity to make decisions, marginalising or even eliminating human reflection as an overriding factor.

This practice of preparing for war has continued in spite of the end of the Cold War. The apocalyptic logic of the arms race, increased military expenditure, and the production of increasingly sophisticated lethal arms have not been suspended, as the military interventions and the display of weapons in ensuing conflicts in the post-Cold War world testify.

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Economic interdependence has been proven to have no preventive capacity, the UN has dissolved into a non-effective preventive and peacemaking institution, and the pain of previous suffering and destruction has not had a lasting, self-restraining or moderating effect.

And so here we are now, amid a new Cold War, as some authors such as Stephen F Cohen put it, a conflict deadlier than the previous one, with numerous military interventions, the highest military expenditure ever, and facing, alongside other conflicts, a war in Ukraine that is generating a global economic, energy and food crisis and with each passing day bringing the world closer to a nuclear showdown.

This is the prime context within which we are deliberating on the transformative scenario in the 21st century — amid the shame and mystery of war, amid the possibility of an apocalypse.

Somewhat paraphrasing Antonio Gramsci, we are leaving the present but without reaching the future.

In order to reach that future, two major conditions are required.

The first is a major transformative shift in the US, the most powerful state in human history. This means the US abandoning its ahistorical project of eternal hegemony, and restraining the power of the military-industrial complex and financial centres which are now beyond democratic control.

It means abandoning the project of maintaining by any means available the capacity to outcompete other nations in all domains. Internally, it requires transforming the neoliberal capitalist paradigm that has for decades assaulted US society (as per Noam Chomsky), polarising it, angering it, silencing it, de-democratising it, and revitalising serious concerns about the future of practices leading to equality, solidarity, social justice and participative democracy.

And second, we need the emergence of a new South, an alliance of victims who are able to think through a paradigm shift by understanding the workings of the global system, its historical traumas, structural hurdles and internal missteps.

In other words, a global transformation in the desired direction requires the transformation of the prime Northern actor, the US, resisting changes it imposes due to its overwhelming military and economic power, and the re-emergence of the voice and alternative practice of the Global South.

These two directions may bring a new “never again”, a chance for the future. DM


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  • Stuart Hulley-Miller says:

    Nice thoughts, ideas and theories. That all disregard human nature. In 1994 I was wading through Mein Kampf and I came across a passage which intrigued me…. I wrote it out longhand and asked
    many of my friends to read it, asking them to guess who had written it ….. almost all of them said Nelson Mandela …. None said Adolf Hitler. It could very easily have been Nelson. We all know the difference between the two but it only really showed years later with Hitler.
    The point is that one never really knows how people will behave and if there is no ‘Policeman’ certain Hitler, Mussolini, Putin and fat North Korean types will do as they please.
    Communism is a great theory that is run by autocratic humans and does not work. Capitalism is not the best theory in the world and is run by mostly democratic humans, and it works better.
    Short answer …. Human Nature will never allow what the writer suggests to work …. No matter how utopian and good it may be.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The end of the Cold War never meant an end in human conflict as Rwanda genocide and the Balkan civil war after the break up of the former Yugoslavia had shown. The fall of the dictator in the former Zaire now the DRC saw the rise of the asymmetric war that has engulfed the Great Lakes region. The issues regarding Sudan and the emergence of South Sudan never meant peace and the current conflict in Ethiopia in the Tigray has shown that artificial peace never works. Darfur remains a challenge within Sudan. The murder of Gaddafi by NATO and the ANC government has meant that the people of Libya have never known peace. The dismemberment of Libya has led to the rise of Islamism in Chad, Mali, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. The Central African Republic has been embroiled in civil war with no end in sight. Uganda is battling the Lord Resistance Army as a result of the brutality of the Museveni military. We have dictators rising in Tunisia and Egypt. These conflicts including Western Saharawi and Morocco are a major headache for the AU that has no resources and the Russian aggression has remove attention from these African conflicts no withstanding the Israel – Palestine conflict and the war in Syria and Yemen.
    To blame the US alone for these conflicts is very simplistic and the tendency to externalise conflicts is to absolve the criminals behind the wars. Our African experience tells us a different story. There is no new cold war but thuggery with a desire for an empire.

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