Tag Archives: martin van creveld

Martin van Creveld asks: the more, the better for nuclear proliferation?

Summary:  For over a decade the US and Israel have scared us with stories about the imminent threat of Iran’s nukes, a louder version of a game they’ve played since 1984. Here Martin van Creveld gives a very different view of the problem.  (1st of 2 posts today.}

Nuclear Kraken

Release the Kraken! Art by lchappell

 

More May Be Better

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 2 April 2015

Here with his generous permission

 

Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May be Better was the title of an article published back in 1981 by the redoubtable political scientist Kenneth Waltz. Going against the prevailing wisdom, Waltz argued that nuclear proliferation might not be all bad. Nuclear weapons, he wrote, had prevented the US and the USSR from going to war against each other; as, by all historical logic since the days of Athens and Sparta in the fifth century BC, they should have done. Instead they circled each other like dogs, occasionally barking and baring their teeth but never actually biting. Such was the fear the weapons inspired that other nuclear countries would probably follow suit.

To quote Winston Churchill, peace might be the sturdy child of terror.

Since then over thirty years have passed. Though Waltz himself died in 2013, his light goes marching on. At the time he published his article there were just five nuclear countries (the US, the USSR, Britain, France, and China). Plus one, Israel, which had the bomb but put anybody who dared say so in jail. Since then three (India, Pakistan, and North Korea) have been added, raising the total to nine. Yet on no occasion did any of these states fight a major war against any other major, read nuclear, power.

And how about Iran? First, note that no country has taken nearly as long as Iran did to develop its nuclear program. Started during the 1970s under the Shah, suspended during the 1980s as the Iranians were fighting Saddam Hussein (who had invaded Iran), and renewed in the early 1990s, that program has still not borne fruit. This suggests that, when the Iranians say, as they repeatedly have, that they do not want to build a bomb they are sincere, at least up to a point. All they want is the infrastructure that will enable them to build it quickly should the need arise. That is a desire they have in common with quite some other countries such as Sweden, Japan, and Australia.

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Martin van Creveld asks “War! What is it good for?”

Summary:  Since we appear to be locked into a long war, we should understand the nature of war and how its changing. Fortunately there are books explaining this in clear language. In today’s post Martin van Creveld reviews one of the best of the new ones, by a Stanford professor of classics.

Your breath first kindled the dead coal of wars
And brought in matter that should feed this fire;
And now ’tis far too huge to be blown out
With that same weak wind which enkindled it.

King John Act V, scene 2.

What War is Good For

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 3 December 2014

Review of War! What Is It Good For? by Ian Morris (2014, 496 pp).

Morris, a professor of classics and of history at Stanford University, thinks he can distinguish between two kinds of war. The first kind, which he calls “counterproductive war,” is waged by non-state entities against each other and also against what more developed communities exist.

It is the oldest form of war by far, consisting of skirmishes and raids and leading to little but death and destruction. It prevalence was responsible for the fact that, among the simplest known societies such as the Yanomamo of Brazil, as many as 10-20% of all people used to come to a violent end. It goes without saying that a population consisting of tribes, all constantly fighting each other for honor and for resources such as water, cattle and women cannot produce much by way of a civilization. As Morris, quoting Thomas Hobbes, says, its members’ lives are almost certain to be nasty, brutish and short.

Enter the other kind of war, which Morris calls “productive.” Productive war was made possible by certain technical and organizational innovations the first and most important of which was the invention of agriculture. It enabled the “stationary bandits” who best knew how to use them to break the cycle and set out on the way to empire-building.

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Martin van Creveld explains why our actions in the Syrian civil war will fail

Summary:  Today Martin van Creveld, one of our generation’s most acute geopolitical analysts, gives a brilliant brief on the Syrian civil war, putting it in the larger context of America’s mad Middle Eastern policy. I recommend reading, especially his conclusions.   (2nd of 2 posts today.}

“Any wise enemy is better than an ignorant friend.”
— Arab proverb.

Bashar al Assad. Photo by Reuters.

Bashar al Assad. Photo by Reuters.

For Whom the Bells Toll

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 11 June 2015

For Bashir Assad, the bells have been tolling. If one believes the media, he and the regime he represents are on their last legs. Whether or not that is true is not at issue here — similar predictions have been heard ever since civil war broke out in Syria four years ago. What I do want to do is take a look at the origins of the war, the way it has been going, and what the future may look like in case the predictions come true.

The decisive fact about the Assad — meaning, in Arabic, “Lion” — family is that they are Alawites. The Alawites are a section within the Sunni Shia tradition. They do not, however, form part of the mainstream. Some Islamic scholars do not even regard them as Muslims; claiming that they are basically pagans who worship the moon and the stars. The community is scattered among Syria, Turkey and Lebanon. It is, however, only in Syria that they form a significant minority, counting perhaps one seventh of the population. That explains why Bashir’s paternal grandfather, Ali Suleiman al Assad (1875-1963), supported French colonial rule. He and his fellow Alawites knew well enough how majority Muslims deal with minority ones.

Suleiman’s son Hafez made his career as an air force officer. In 1963 he took part in a coup that brought the Ba’ath, a party that professed a curious mixture of secularism, nationalism, and socialism, to power. In 1966 he co-authored another coup, this time one that took place inside the Ba’ath leadership; in 1970, following a third coup, he assumed power as a military dictator. He did not, however, do much to change the nature of the regime. The latter remained what it had been. An amalgam of secularism, nationalism, “Arab” socialism; and of course the kind of brutal police state which seems to be more or less the only kind most Arabs understand and can live under.

{Read the rest at Martin van Creveld’s website}

Martin van Creveld asks: why do American kids kill?

Summary:  Today Martin van Creveld looks at an aspect of America that amazes foreigners — not just our stratospheric murder rate, but the incredible rate of murders by children. We feel righteous superiority about Arabs sending their children as suicide bombers, but prefer not to think about the greater number of American children killing on their own initiative. We are exceptional.   (1st of 2 posts today.}

Killer kids

Why American Kids Kill

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 2 July 2014
Posted here with his generous permission.

American kids keep killing each other, their teachers, and any other adults who happen to be present when they go berserk. Since December 2012 alone there have been some 74 school shootings, more than two a month on the average. Each time something of the kind happens the media go even more berserk than the children themselves. So far neither metal detectors at the gates nor armed guards in the corridors seem to have made much of a difference. Proposals for dealing with the problem have ranged from providing teachers with handguns to covering students with bullet-proof blankets.

As a foreigner who has spent some years in the U.S while his children went to school there, and who has written a book (in Russian) about the U.S, I may be in a better position than many others to shed some light on this question. Here, then, are my observations.

Healthcare for children

Owing to the way the healthcare system is constructed, American infants are more likely than some others to die during their early months or years. For many years now, even the States that do best in this respect tend to lag behind many other developed countries, including some that are much poorer. Though America’s fertility rate may be the highest among developed countries, its kids are skimped on before they are born as well as immediately after birth. Arguably the fact that the problem affects lower-class socio-economic families much more than it does those above them only makes things worse.

Child care spending

Compared to many other developed countries, America spends relatively little of its public wealth on raising its children. Family payments, measured in absolute numbers, are lower than in Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the U.K. They are also much lower than the OECD average. Relative to the earned incomes of employed single mothers, the overall value of cash transfers per family is low and declining. As a result, the percentage of children who live in poverty is higher than in most other developed countries.

Parental tyranny: Over-parenting

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The great powers slid into WWI. Martin van Creveld asks if we might do so again.

Summary:  Talk of another Cold War fills our news, with some forecasting a hot war with Russia — perhaps even WWIII. Today Martin van Creveld looks at the last great power rivalry that drifted into war, and explains why it’s not likely to happen again.  (2nd of 2 posts today.}

Your Government Needs You

The eternal call to war.

 

Slithering into War

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 19 June 2014

Posted here with his generous permission.

 

As the centennial of the outbreak of World War I approaches, a deluge of new publications seeks to commemorate it and to re-interpret it. Among the best of the lot is Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (2014). That is why I have chosen to discuss it here.

The war itself broke out on 31 July. As one would imagine, the search for its origins began right away. Assuming, of course, that the accusations which the various future belligerent started throwing at each other during the preceding weeks should not be seen as part of that search or, at any rate, as preparation for it.

At first it was a question of pointing fingers at personalities, be it Serb Prime Minister Nikola Pasič, or Austrian Chief of Staff Konrad von Hoeztendorf, or the Russian Tsar, or French prime minister René Viviani, or British foreign minister Edward Grey, or the German Kaiser, or whoever.

Very quickly, however, the hunt expanded to include not only persons but entire peoples. Not just Pasič but all, or at any rate most, Serbs were bad people always ready to throw bombs so to undermine the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in the name of irredentism. Not just Hoetzendorf, but many of the ruling circles in Vienna demanded war in the hope of saving the empire from disintegration. Not just the Tsar but many of his people entertained pan-Slavic dreams of expansion, mostly at the expense of Austria-Hungary. Not just Viviani, but the entire French people formed an arrogant nation used to exercise hegemony over the continent and unable to resign itself to its loss. Not just Grey, but the British people as a whole were hypocritical warmongers determined to hold on to their commercial superiority. Not just the Kaiser, but all Germans were power-drunk militarists.

The list goes on and on.

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The New World Disorder: better, or worse?

Summary:  In today’s post Martin van Creveld, among our time’s top historians and military theorists, looks at the geopolitical state of the world. Are the doomsters right, and it is falling down? Or have we begun a new era of peace with the triumph of western culture around the world?  (1st of 2 posts today.}

The clash of civilizations

The New World Disorder

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 19 March 2015
Posted here with his generous permission.

“A new world order” is in the making, said U.S President George Bush Sr. as the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union, its limbs broken, was lying prostrate. “The end of history” has come, proclaimed famed political scientist Francis Fukuyama. At the core of World War II, Fukuyama explained, stood a titanic struggle between three ideologies: liberal democracy, fascism, and communism. By 1945 fascism had been destroyed. Fifty-something years later, communism too had failed and would not rise again.

But that, Fukuyama continued, was only the beginning. As more and more countries became industrialized and developed a strong middle class, Hollywood and McDonald’s would spread the happy tidings. They would do away with all kinds of cultural relics, globalize the world, and make it safe for liberal democracy. Better still: since everybody knew that democracies never, ever fight each other, war itself would gradually disappear. The new world order, Fukuyama wrote, might be a trifle boring. But that seemed a small price to pay for the blessings of peace and, hopefully ever-spreading prosperity as well.

A quarter of a century later, most of our dreams have been shattered. True, fascism and communism in their classical forms have not made a serious comeback. But autocracy, which is almost as bad, continues to govern large parts of the earth’s population. Some autocratically-governed countries, such as Belarus and North Korea, have done badly. One, Russia, is currently fighting what may be seen either as a war of expansion or as a desperate struggle to assert itself and avoid disintegration. And at least one, China, has done spectacularly well.

As a Chinese friend told me, this is the first period in Chinese history when almost everybody has enough to eat. In a country as large, and over long periods as poor as China used to be, that is no mean achievement. And as a Nigerian student told me: When the Chinese come marching into a “developing” country they do not waste their time preaching democracy and human rights as Westerners always do. Instead they bring dollars, lots and lots of them. Nor are they shy of paying bribes where they think doing so will grease the wheels. The outcome is that, in quite some places, Chinese autocracy, far from being denounced for its lack of democracy and freedom, is praised as a model to follow.

Another widespread belief which did not come true was that wealth, generated by new technologies and better, read less coercive, methods of organization, would keep spreading. It is not that the world has become poorer. Rather what has happened is that the distribution of wealth has changed. As the French economist Thomas Picketty in his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has shown, not since the early years of the twentieth century has the gap between rich and poor been as large as it is at present.

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See our victory in WWII by what didn’t happen afterwards

Summary: On Memorial Day we remember the sacrifices by those who fought in America’s wars. But let us also remember the victories they won. None greater than in WWII. Here the eminent historian Martin van Creveld reminds us of what people expected for the post-war world. We did much better than that, showing what we are capable of doing in the future.

When after many battles past,
Both tir’d with blows, make peace at last,
What is it, after all, the people get?
Why! taxes, widows, wooden legs, and debt.

— Francis Moore in the Almanac’s Monthly Observations for 1829. We did much better.

From Clement Attlee's 1945 general election campaign against Churchill.

Clement Attlee’s 1945 campaign against Churchill.

 

The Things that did Not Happen

By Martin van Creveld
From his website.
7 May 2014
Posted here with his generous permission.

 

Seventy years ago, World War II in Europe came to an end. No sooner had it done so — in fact, for a couple of years before it had done so — people everywhere had been wondering what the post war world would look like. Here it pleases me to outline a few of their expectations that did not become reality.

Communism sweeps through Europe

In 1945, much of Europe — and not just Europe — was devastated. Tens of millions had been killed or crippled. Millions more had been uprooted from hearth and home. Scurrying about the continent, they were desperately seeking to rebuild their lives either in their original countries or elsewhere. Entire cities had been turned into moonscapes. This was true not only in Germany (and Japan), where British and American bombers had left hardly a stone standing on top of another, but in Britain (Bristol, Coventry), France (Caen, Brest), Belgium (the Port of Antwerp), the Netherlands (Rotterdam and Eindhoven), Hungary (Budapest), and Yugoslavia (Belgrade). Transportation and industry were in chaos.

With unemployment, cold — the nineteen forties witnessed some of the harshest winters of the century — and even hunger rife, many expected large parts of the continent to go Communist.

In fact, it was only Eastern Europe that became Communist. And then not because its inhabitants, war-ravaged as they were, liked Communism, but because Stalin and the Red Army forced it on them. Many west-European countries, especially France and Italy, also witnessed the rise of powerful left-wing parties. So did Greece, which went through a civil war as vicious as any. None, however, succumbed to the red pest. By 1950 production was back to pre-1939 levels. By the late 1950s, though eastern countries continued to lag behind western ones as they had begun to do as early as 1600, most of the continent was more prosperous than it had ever been.

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