This is a question I’ve given plenty of thought to recently, in light of the centenary of World War I, the Syrian conflict and more recently the renewal of Israel-Palestine hostilities. I’ve been reading a lot of opinions on blogs and news sites.
I’m led to the conclusion that weapons cause war.
This might seem like a startlingly naïve and simplistic explanation, but it’s the best I currently have.
In World War I, Germany and Britain were turned into war machines, with much of the populations engaged in the manufacture and deployment of munitions.
Modern day Iraq and Syria are overrun not only with Islamic extremists, but with freely available guns and weapons in terrifying quantities.
The long-running dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians is quite possibly unsolvable, but it’s made 1000 times worse by the fact that one side has tanks and warplanes and the other has a seemingly limitless supply of rockets aimed at civilian populations. Rockets and tanks are never going to solve this problem – you could argue that they have now become the problem.
A world without easy access to weapons would be a world in which conflicts were extremely limited and localized. But how to get there? I’ve written about this before, but I can point to the international treaties that limit nuclear proliferation, that control the size of nuclear weapon stockpiles, that outlaw chemical and biological weapons and that ban exports of arms to particular countries. Imagine if that framework of international agreements could be extended step by step, so that over time the means of states to engage in warfare gradually diminished.
As Arthur C Clarke argued in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the very first act of the first human was probably to fashion a stone weapon, and there’s a risk that the fashioning of the ultimate weapon will be humanity’s final act. The arms race didn’t end with the Cold War – it predated it by millennia and is continuing at an alarming pace.
I’m no pacifist. To refuse to defend yourself or the vulnerable against armed aggression is no solution. It plays into the hands of the most armed, most aggressive and most ruthless. What I’m suggesting is a concerted effort by the United Nations to remove or limit the potential for armed aggression.
This is the US gun debate played out globally. In America, citizens have the right to defend themselves against attack by the use of arms. As a consequence, America has the highest murder rate of any developed country. In most of Europe, citizens don’t have the right to bear arms, and the murder rate is much, much lower. I say, let’s apply the same logic to governments.
It wouldn’t be easy or quick, but one day it might just happen.