The Risk of Nation-State Conflict
By(The American Interest)
While it is difficult to see into the future at all and impossible to make detailed predictions, everything we know about history and human development suggests that the 21st century is unlikely to be a quiet time in international relations.
(This testimony was delivered to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday, November 13th, 2014)
I want to thank the honorable Chair and distinguished Members of this important Committee for inviting me to speak and for affording me an opportunity to offer what help I can contribute to your important work. In my testimony this morning I will offer first a quick overview of the world situation as we look forward into the new century and then present an analysis of current and likely future developments in three regions of particular interest to the United States as they reflect on the question of the nature of the future conflicts for which the United States ought to prepare.
While my testimony will deal largely with the possibilities for conflict, it is important to note here that the permanent and overriding goal of American policy is and should remain the promotion of peace. This country does not prepare for war because we are warlike and welcome war; Americans have learned over the centuries that in order to preserve peace it is necessary to inform ourselves about the dangers we face and, in consultation with likeminded states, to make the necessary preparations for defense.
Introduction and Overview
While it is difficult to see into the future at all and impossible to make detailed predictions, everything we know about history and human development suggests that the 21st century is unlikely to be a quiet time in international relations. As the preeminent world power, one with global interests and concerns, the United States is going to have to navigate the next stage in world history deftly. While our goal is and will remain to avoid major wars by working with our allies and partners to build economic, political, legal and institutional frameworks for lasting peace among the world’s peoples, it would be dangerous to underestimate the challenges this strategy will encounter. For the foreseeable future, the United States must work for peace without neglecting the necessary preparations to be ready if our efforts for peace do not succeed.
A careful examination of the past and the factors that will likely contribute to future change suggests that while national and international conflicts involving significant states and/or engaging the vital interests of the United States are not inevitable, the danger of future conflicts is troublingly high. The rapid pace of economic, technological, and social change around the world puts increasing pressure on existing states and political structures. That is likely to lead to enhanced tension and conflict within many states as well as between and among states.
The relationship between accelerating social and economic change on the one hand and growing risks of war is not new. At the outset of the industrial revolution, European powers began to struggle to keep up with the rapid technological development going on in their societies, and with the attending social forces. They were not, on the whole, all that successful at avoiding bloodshed and political upheaval in their responses. At the same time as the industrial revolution was providing Europe with untold wealth and the tools to project power around the globe, it also began to tear at the political and societal seams of European society.
As the industrial revolution swept east and south from its original base in northwestern Europe, ethnic and religious conflicts developed and ultimately broke up the large multi-ethnic and multi-religious empires of central and eastern Europe and the Middle East (Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, German, Russian) in a mix of catastrophic war, genocide and ethnic cleansing that lasted from roughly 1880 to 1950. Those conflicts (including both the Kurdish struggle and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) continue today, but a new wave of sectarian and ethnic tensions stretching east to west from Pakistan to Algeria, and north to south from Crimea to Kenya is taking shape today. While it is not inevitable that the tragic history of 19th and 20th century Europe and the Middle East will be repeated in this zone, the parallels are more than troubling, and wars in Syria and elsewhere underscore the seriousness of the situation in this explosive region.
Well beyond this zone of conflict, rapid demographic change like that taking place in countries such as China and India can lead and in the past has led to greater internal tension and conflict even when economies are growing and living standards are rising. Mass urbanization is a revolutionary process that involves great cultural and social change. In China alone, urbanization has been a driving force behind the lifting of hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty, but urbanization has lifted them at the same time into a new political consciousness and is creating new sources of tension within China and, consequentially, in the region around it.
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday, November 13th, 2014)