Chapter 1 – The Problem of War

Most people in most societies know about war.  Even if we have not experienced it ourselves we have usually met someone who has. War is in our histories, in our monuments and on television. We are all too familiar with the images of mangled bodies, shattered houses and endless lines of refugees. War seems to be an inevitable part of the human condition.

We vary in our understanding of war. For some people war seems romantic – an arena of excitement and heroism. Very often such individuals have never been to war. However most people who have experienced war directly know that it is nearly always sordid and quite often horrific.

A vast amount has been written about war. Sadly it has been central to the myths and legends of the human race. War has been a continuing lethal thread of history. There are fewer writings on peace than on war – but the literature is still very substantial.  In spite of all this knowledge we still have not been able to prevent war.

Early on in the twentieth century, ‘the war to end all wars’ was waged. It was at the time also called ‘The Great War’ but there was little great about it except for the number of casualties and it did not end further wars. Only twenty years after it finished, as another major war descended on the planet, the name of the ‘The Great War’ had to be changed to ‘The First World War’, the war my grandfather went to. World War Two truly was a world war, fought by nations around the planet. It killed more than twice as many people as World War One.

The total body count for the twentieth century from war, genocide and other human decisions (such as the purges of Hitler, Mao and Stalin) has been estimated at up to 226 million – the bloodiest century to date. The slaughter in the first half of the century with its First and Second World Wars was immense. We therefore tend to think of the second half of the century as being relatively peaceful. But even in this latter period, from 1945 – 2000, it has been estimated that there were at least one hundred and seventy wars with over fifty million people killed.[i] This century witnessed the greatest wars in human history. Even worse it saw the birth of the nuclear technology that threatens the very survival of our species.

It was of course a time of huge changes for humanity. New inventions included the aircraft, television, the computer, the atomic bomb, the space shuttle, the mobile phone and the genetically engineered crop. Ironically the technology which allowed the slaughter of millions upon millions also gave us the capacity to greatly improve the human condition. Advances in medicine and agriculture now promise longer healthier lives and fuller bellies. New medical techniques and new drugs have greatly reduced the physical pain and disability of the kind suffered by previous generations. Mass communications and cheaper travel have given us an opportunity to become much better educated about the world around us.

In spite of its problems, the electronic age has made us more aware of war and has improved human rights. It is quite hard to hide famine and bloodshed from the television screens of the world. Democratic government is almost certainly more widespread around the globe than it has ever been before. In spite of continuing abuses (and we should not minimise the appalling injustice and oppression that is still occurring in almost all societies) human rights are probably more widely accepted – in principle at least – than they have ever been. Overt torture and public execution if not extinct are very rare. Almost nowhere do we still burn people at the stake. We may not in the foreseeable future rid the world of unnecessary pain and of injustice, but we are making some progress.

For many of the problems we confront we know the solutions, even if we do not always apply them. Population control is achievable – and through a combination of rising living standards and family planning is beginning to be achieved. Famine is slowly being overcome through improved farming practices.

Environmental degradation is a very serious issue and is still widespread across the planet. However the problem is almost universally recognised and is at last being addressed. Pollution control, recycling, reafforestation, energy conservation and a range of other measures are all being applied and we are beginning to see some positive changes. There are some people who believe that we are already too late and that world environmental disaster from global warming and other factors is inevitable. While taking their views extremely seriously and working as hard as we can to reverse the problems, we must hope that they are mistaken in their forecasts.

There should be little debate, though, about an area in which we do not seem to have moved very far ahead.  That challenge is the control of war.

We could argue that since 1946 we have had no world wars. (Of course if we had none of us might now be around to discuss the matter!). We have also made some progress in nuclear disarmament among the great powers, although the weapons that remain could still wipe out the world as we know it.  We might also agree that – with all its faults – there is the United Nations. It is far from perfect but without the UN we would have seen many more conflicts or even the outbreak of a Third World War.

Thankfully there have been no massive conflicts on the scale of the World Wars and there is some evidence that armed conflict declined substantially during the 1990s.[ii]  But there have still been many other wars – inKorea,Vietnam,Afghanistan, the Middle East and all overAfrica. Even inEurope, we have all too recently seen war in the Balkans. War is still with us and few people have any expectation of alternative approaches to global conflict. Most people still accept the inevitability of war. Most nations of the world maintain forces that are trained and armed to kill people.

Two centuries ago the metal bullet and the explosive bomb – with some assistance from the blade – were the main implements of war. Today apart from huge sophistication – and a much lesser role for the blade – little has changed. An AK 47 fires more quickly than a musket.  A laser guided missile is more accurate and far more devastating than a grenade. But when nations come into conflict they still try to kill each other’s citizens by bullet or explosive. In spite of all our technological progress in other fields, when it comes to conflict between nations we continue to be locked into the same barbaric tussles.

Could there be other ways? We have created space modules that can navigate through the rings of Saturn or land on Mars. We can build heart pacemakers and palm-top computers. Could we not create new technologies for resolving conflict – technologies that better suit our species than bullets and explosives? We have shown ourselves to be immensely competent at coordinating our international airline schedules and our communications systems. We can market and distribute a particular brand of soft drink to the remotest corner of the globe. Could we not employ these same amazing skills in achieving a culture of peace across the planet?

Most strategies for preventing or arresting war have focussed on political and diplomatic approaches. These can be extraordinarily helpful in preventing the onset of conflict. But despite all diplomatic and political efforts war still continues to break out and to cause untold misery when it does.

Can we do anything?  A central thesis of this book is that we can.


In recent years a new and rather different approach to the problem of war has begun to emerge. This confronts the problem from a different angle. It starts with the view that for the immediate future at least some wars are inevitable. Having accepted that war will happen, ways are sought to reduce the damage to those involved. In other contexts, such as drug abuse, this kind of approach is described as ‘harm-minimisation’.

Many of the objectives of a traditional war can be achieved without killing or injuring people. Supplies can be cut-off or destroyed. The enemy’s weapons and ammunition can be eliminated. Cities can be besieged. Troops can be surrounded and captured.

A new addition to these age-old tactics is the use of technology to create so-called ‘non-lethal weapons’.[iii] The concept of ‘non-lethal’ weapons has been developed by various military analysts and is being explored in particular by the US Military. Non-lethal weapons are devices that disable the enemy but do not kill or cause lasting injury. They may include agents that temporarily stun or entangle troops or disable guns, tanks, missiles and other equipment.

Of course even if we can create effective non-lethal weapons the technology is only half the story. Linked to that new technology has to be a completely fresh approach to warfare – a whole new culture of non-lethal conflict resolution.

The concept of non-lethal weaponry will be one important focus of this book. But we shall also examine some of the origins of war and some of the innate drives which seem to push us into the mutually lethal behaviour that we know as warfare. As well, we shall explore some ways in which we might employ our formidable organisational and communication skills to channel these dangerous instincts into more productive outcomes.

Humans have probably talked of ending war since the dawn of history and it will certainly not happen overnight.  We should maintain a healthy scepticism about any quick fixes to global conflict – about any instant world peace.  On the other hand we must never give up our efforts to get rid of war. We must never let go of the vision.

We should not expect to get rid of all conflict amongst humans. Conflict (as opposed to lethal warfare) is an inevitable and essential element of existence. We should not therefore try to eliminate this kind of clash. However, while accommodating non-injurious conflict (in political debate, for example, or in trade, or in sport) we may be able to find ways of greatly reducing the damage from war as we now know it. And of course one day we might even look towards eliminating all death and injury caused by deliberate acts of war.

Two hundred years ago the disease of smallpox was greatly feared. It was disfiguring and often deadly. Who then could have foretold that smallpox would be defeated by vaccination and then effectively be eradicated? Today, the virus only exists in few glass phials in cold storage. Poliomyelitis may soon follow a similar path.[iv] In the same way, although we can’t expect to eradicate war by the end of the week, perhaps we might hope to do so within the next few centuries. Meanwhile we may be able to curtail war’s lethality. In so doing we will need to create a new culture – a culture in which we are less violent to each other and yet in which we still experience the physical and mental challenges that our instincts demand.

Those who say that war can be completely abolished are often accused of being naive. This book takes the view that nature is frequently ruthless and that, of all creatures, humans can be amongst the most cruel. It also ventures that we humans, with all our faults, have proved quite remarkably resourceful and that we could be ingenious enough to solve the problem of war before it is too late.

Let’s not deceive ourselves. The efforts of the majority of the citizens of the world to create a safe and peaceful existence may be overtaken by the stupidity and greed of just a few of our leaders plunging us into complete annihilation. I suggest that we should be aware that this might happen, but at the same time try everything we can to prevent such a senseless and tragic outcome.


In this book we shall first look briefly at some of the origins of war and then investigate the nature of war itself. We shall review the dark side of warfare, looking at all the damage it causes. We will then study its benefits, such as they are.

From there we shall examine strategies for achieving peace. As mentioned above, we shall consider how we might handle inevitable conflicts so that they cause minimum damage. We will investigate the possibility of ‘war without death’.

We will consider the role of an ‘army of the future’ which can remain an effective guardian of last resort and yet also devote most of its energies to productive community development. We shall look at how all these initiatives might be considered in the context of what we shall call peace technology.

Finally we will discuss some strategies that will combine these approaches. New technologies, in partnership with improved democratic structures and supported by strategic communication, may allow us to resolve conflict without bloodshed and build a worldwide culture of peace.




Chapter 1 The Problems of War

1 Milton Leitenberg, Deaths in wars and conflicts between 1945 and 2000, Paper prepared for Conference on Data Collection in Armed Conflict Uppsala, Sweden, June 2001.

[ii] Andrew Mack, War and Peace in the 21st Century, Human Security Centre,Vancouver, 2005.

[iii] A number of individuals have been involved in developing the concept of non-lethal weapons. See Chapters 13 and 14 for references.

Chapter 2  Conflict and Cooperation – Guilt and Genes

[iv] Polio has proved rather more stubborn than smallpox and may not be completely eradicated for a while, but it is now found in only a very few areas.