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Work for peace but brace for war

Since time immemorial, humankind has been torn by strife and war. In the beginning, the strife was among families and tribes. But as humans became masters of the earth and its resources, wars crossed nations, casualties multiplied and the devastation worsened.

Spoils of war. The victors enslaved the vanquished, raped their women, plundered their land and looted their treasury. Weak nations paid tribute to and depended for their survival on the strong. For centuries, Pax Romana reigned but only for as long as Rome remained absolutely supreme.

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Such was the recurring cycle of human violence until the end of World War I when the victors decided to form the League of Nations as the multiparty guarantor of world peace.

However, in just two decades Germany rose from the ashes of defeat and rode on the Nazi rhetoric of Adolf Hitler condemning the harsh surrender terms of World War I that impoverished the Germans. The League utterly failed to preserve peace because it had no power to sanction the violators of its covenants.

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After defeating Germany and Japan in World War II, the allied powers learned their lesson. Instead of totally impoverishing the vanquished with heavy reparations, the victors, led by the United States, assisted them to recover through the Marshall Plan, MacArthur Plan (to rebuild Japan), etc. And true enough, Germany and Japan eventually recovered. They now lead Europe and Asia (except China) in economic development. They became America’s great allies.

The victors equipped the United Nations with more teeth, except that the sanctions worked only if the five victors (America, Russia, United Kingdom, France and China) who constituted the permanent members of the Security Council were unanimous in their vote. A veto by any of them would defeat any UN sanction.

Pax Americana. Consequently, the United States, sometimes by its lonesome or with token aid from its allies, became the sole guarantor of peace. Indeed, Pax Americana reigned because American arms and men intervened in regional aggressions, as in the Korean Peninsula and in Vietnam.

But it was not absolutely successful. While the US-led UN forces were able to protect South Korea’s territorial integrity, they were not able to sanction the North Korean invaders (assisted by China) who retained their half of the 38th parallel.

America was defeated by a defiant North Vietnam which eventually took over the entire country. Not too bad, though, because the united Vietnam turned out to be resilient (even if it retained its communist government) and has become a US ally in the South China Sea dispute.

In the war against terror, the United States has a spotty record in Iraq and Afghanistan. Worse, the campaigns appear to have made America weary of war because of rising casualties and costs. It may yet abandon its self-imposed duty to be the world’s policeman. Losses have gnawed the American people to a point of exhaustion and confusion, to the utter dismay of its old allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel.

In the face of current threats to world peace in three hotspots (discussed in my column last Sunday) in the (1) South and East China Seas, (2) Ukraine and (3) Middle East (and in a fourth, in India-Pakistan, as suggested by readers), the US resolve to maintain Pax Americana is being put to a severe test.

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The crucial question of America’s determination to maintain world peace faces its people who will soon elect a new president. Will they continue bearing the high human and economic costs of being the world’s policeman? Will they be able to prevent World War III? Will they escape its devastation if it happens?

Best guarantees of peace. The best way of preventing a nuclear war is to destroy all nuclear weapons. The United States and Russia tried to do that. But other nations did not follow suit and in fact acquired their own atomic arsenals. So, regretfully, the strategy has gone back to aiming for peace but bracing for war.

Now, the United States is asking China to stop its reclamation activities in the South China Sea. But China has steadfastly refused, claiming sovereign rights over the islets and reefs it is occupying. Will President Barack Obama (or his successor) risk war to preserve Pax Americana?

Traditionally, there are many ways to avoid war, like diplomacy, negotiations, good offices, conciliation, arbitration, boycott, embargo, blockade, etc. Ironically, however, the real deterrent to a misbehaving nuclear power is the threat of mutual annihilation, as shown by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, when he made clear that the United States was prepared for Armageddon if Nikita Khrushchev did not recall the nuclear-arms-carrying Soviet ships steaming toward Cuba.

Indeed, World War III would mean the veritable destruction of all combatants. While America has escaped direct devastation during World Wars I and II, it cannot avoid the nuclear fallout of its own intercontinental ballistic missiles, not to count the devastation of the nuclear warheads flung by its enemies.

Ideally, I believe that the real guarantee of world peace is the rule of law. Humans have conquered the earth, not because they have the brutal muscles of lions and bears, or the teeth of sharks, but because of their intelligence and reason. Only by the same rationality through the faithful observance of the rule of law can they assure their survival and prosperity.

Until that ideal state is reached, I also believe that, meanwhile, the next best alternative is to work for peace but brace for war.

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TAGS: China, Pax Americana, Pax Romana, peace, South China Sea, United States, War, world war I, World War II
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