About the lightness of peace



Hypotheses, facts, and refutations

“The long philosophical and ethical debate of the classics, about war and peace, remains to this day a prisoner of circular reasoning. For them, peace is a positive and universal value, but at the same time, war can be “virtuous” whenever it has peace as its objective. That is, for the classics it would be perfectly ethical to interrupt peace and declare war to obtain peace, which becomes a logical and ethical paradox” (José Luís Fiori. “Dialectic of war and peace”, in about the war).

In the early 70s, two American social scientists – Charles Kindleberger and Robert Gilpin – formulated a thesis about the “world order” almost at the same time, which became known as the “theory of hegemonic stability”. The world was experiencing the end of the Bretton Woods and watched the defeat of the United States in Vietnam. These two authors were concerned about the possibility of a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930s, for lack of world leadership, and it was with this concern that Kindleberger formulated his argument that “a liberal world economy would need a stabilizer and a single stabilizing country[1] in order to function “normally” – a country that would assume responsibility and guarantee the world system certain “public goods” indispensable for its functioning, such as the international currency, free trade and the coordination of national economic policies.

Kindleberger's thesis was almost identical to Robert Gilpin's: "Historical experience suggests that, in the absence of a dominant liberal power, international economic cooperation has proved extremely difficult to achieve or maintain." First, Kindleberger spoke of the need for “leadership” or “primacy” in the world system, but later an increasing number of authors began to use the word “world hegemony”. Sometimes referring to a power above all other powers; at other times, to the global power of a State that was accepted and legitimized by the other States. At the time of World War II, and concerned above all with the issue of peace within an anarchic international system, the English social scientist Edward Carr reached a realistic conclusion analogous to that of Kindleberger and Gilpin.

According to Carr, for peace to exist, it would be necessary for there to be international legislation, and for “international legislation to exist, it would also be necessary for a superstate to exist”.[2] And a few years later, the French social scientist, Raymond Aron, also recognized the impossibility of world peace "as long as humanity had not united in a Universal State".[3] Aron, however, distinguished two types of international systems that would coexist side by side: a more “homogeneous” one, where there would be more consensus and fewer wars, and another, more “heterogeneous”, where cultural divergences and wars would be more frequent. , and where the presence of a “Universal State” or “superstate” would be most necessary, which would fulfill the function of “appeasing” the system.

Opposing the realists, some “liberal” or “pluralist” authors, such as Joseph Nye and Robert Keohane, defended the possibility that the world could be pacified and ordered through a system of “supranational regimes”, but even they recognized the existence of situations “in which there would be no agreements on norms and procedures, or in which exceptions to the rules were more important than adhesions”, and considered that in these circumstances the existence or intervention of a hegemonic power was necessary. Edward Carr and Raymond Aron, as well as Joseph Nye and Robert Kehoane, were concerned with the problem and challenge of stabilizing peace between nations; Charles Kindleberger and Robert Gilpin, in turn, thought the proper functioning of the world economy as an indispensable condition for the preservation of peace among peoples.

But all came to the same conclusion: the need for a "superstate" or "hegemon” as an indispensable condition for ordering and stabilizing world peace. However, despite this great theoretical consensus, beyond different schools of thought, what happened in the world after 1991 refuted in practice, and in an indisputable way, all these realistic and liberal hypotheses. The politico-military supremacy conquered by the North Americans after the end of the Cold War, and in particular after its overwhelming victory in the Gulf War, transformed the United States into a unipolar hegemonic power, or even into a kind of “superstate”, as advocated Edward Carr.

Despite this, in the 30 years that followed, the number of wars that followed one another increased almost continuously, and in almost all of them the United States was directly or indirectly involved. On the other hand – as advocated by Kindleberger and Gilpin – the United States concentrated in its hands – during almost this entire period – all the instruments of power indispensable to the exercise of world economic leadership or hegemony, arbitrated the international monetary system in isolation, promoted openness and the deregulation of other national economies, advocated free trade and actively promoted the convergence of macroeconomic policies of almost all relevant capitalist countries.

In addition, they maintained and increased their industrial, technological, military, financial and cultural power. And despite all this, the world experienced a succession of financial crises during this period, the biggest of which, in 2008, ended up hitting the world economy and destroying the utopia of globalization. From then on, most of the international economy entered a period of low growth, prolonged with the notable exception of the United States, China and India, and some small Asian countries. Added to all these facts and evidence, it can be said that the wars and economic crises of the last 30 years peremptorily refute the central thesis of the theory of “hegemonic stability” and place under suspicion all the pacifist hopes deposited in the existence of one or more States” homogeneous” and “superior” that would be able to order and pacify the rest of the interstate system.

But at the same time, the historical experience of the last few decades left in the air, and without explanation, two great observations or very intriguing findings: the first is that most of the wars that took place in this period involved one or more members of the group of “great homogeneous powers”. ” of which Raymond Aron speaks; the second is that the United States, which would become a “superstate” after 1991, initiated or participated directly or indirectly in all the major conflicts fought after the end of the Cold War. These two observations were at the origin of our questions and our research on the theme of war and peace, which began with the study of the great classical empires that dominated the world from the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries BC, to later focus in particular on on the study of war and peace within the European interstate system from the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries.

The partial results of our research appear in the two books we have published in the last three years: the first in 2018, Sobre a Guerra,[4] and the second now in 2021, On Peace.[5] The first and major conclusion we draw from our study of history is that the recent experience of the United States is not an exceptional case. On the contrary, what the history of the interstate system teaches is that its great “homogeneous powers”, and its “hegemonic power”, in particular, were largely responsible for most of the great wars of the last five centuries. Whether it was in the case of Spain and France between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, or in the case of England and the United States, between the XNUMXth and XNUMXst centuries.

It is proven, in all cases, that “the” or “the” “great hegemonic powers” ​​start their wars and destabilize all peace situations simply because they need to continue expanding their power in order to maintain the power they already possess, that is , more concretely, need to be always ahead of their immediate competitors, to prevent any rival from emerging at any point in the system with enough power to threaten their global or regional domination or leadership, in any and all corners of the world. All this because, ultimately, in the field of international relations, there is nothing that can develop outside the space-time of hierarchical, asymmetrical and conflicting power relations, whether between ancient empires or between modern national states.

Just look more carefully, for example, at the contemporary movement of nations favorable to the reduction of greenhouse gases, and the replacement of fossil energy sources by new sources of "clean energy", which is supported by 196 countries and has the Pope's generous blessing, to understand a little better how this system of international power in which we live works. Because the “ecological” or “energetic” transition itself can never be peaceful or multilateral, because it involves undeclared disputes and competitions that will have winners and losers, and that will give rise to hierarchies and inequalities of power between those who have and those who don’t. have, for example, access to some of the new sources or components of “clean energy”, such as “cobalt”, “lithium” or “rare earths”, for example, which are more concentrated than traditional oil reserves , coal and natural gas. And in these asymmetrical disputes there will never be the possibility of a “fair”, “consensual” or definitive arbitration, depending on the position that the arbitrator occupies in the hierarchy and the asymmetry of power itself.

And for that very reason, there will never be a peace won through war that can be equitable, because every peace will always be unfair from the point of view of the defeated. Therefore, we conclude our two books with a thesis that is neither realistic nor idealistic, it is simply dialectical: “peace is almost always a period of 'truce' that lasts as long as imposed by the 'expansive compulsion' of the winners, and the need to of 'rematch' of the defeated. That is why it can be said that every peace is always 'pregnant' with a new war. Despite this, 'peace' remains a desire of all men, and appears on the level of their individual and social conscience as a moral obligation, a political imperative, and an almost universal ethical utopia. For this reason, war and peace must be seen and analyzed as inseparable dimensions of the same process, contradictory and permanent in the search of men, for a moral transcendence that is very difficult to achieve”.

* Jose Luis Fiori Professor at the Graduate Program in International Political Economy at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Global power and the new geopolitics of nations (Boitempo).

Paper presented at the book launch table about peace, at the IV National Meeting of International Political Economy.



[1] Kindleberger, C. The World in Depression, 1929-1939. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1973, p. 304.

[2] Carr, E. The Twenty Year's Crisis 1919-1939. London: Perennial, 2001, p. 211.

[3] Aaron, R. Peace and War between Nations. Brasília: Editora UnB, 2002, p. 47.

[4] Fiori, JL (org). about the war. Petropolis, Voices, 2018.

[5] Fiori, JL (org). about peace. Petropolis, Voices, 2021.

[6] Fiori, JL (org.). about peace. Petropolis, Voices, 2021.


See this link for all articles