March of the liberals

Ways of War and Peace

March 20, 1998

The cold war is over and globalisation is the buzz word of the age. Yet fighting wars continue to flare up; and British forces have even now been poised to bomb Iraq if the government deemed it necessary. Universal peace seems as far away as ever. Is it a hopeless dream?

The words "War and Peace" dominate the cover of this massive tome. The bookshop browser might be excused confusion with Tolstoy's great work. However, Michael Doyle takes the serious academic approach to explaining the possible theories of why mankind keeps on with fighting wars. This is not a book for the dilettante: it is a fairly comprehensive survey of the classic theorists from Thucydides to Marx. He approaches the task by describing the strands of thought within the schools of realism, liberalism and socialism. His aim is to show the usefulness of these different approaches to international political theories. He warns the reader that theory cannot provide a recipe for the conduct of either just or effective foreign policy. Yet we must hope to come to a better understanding of why mankind seems prepared to engage in the wholesale destruction of war with such willingness.

Having stated that most international relations scholars are realists, Doyle declares that the philosophical foundations of realism are unduly obscure. He is happy to take on the task of shedding light through heavily footnoted reviews of the works of Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes and Rousseau. He argues that realists share a sceptical view of all schemes for moving towards a peaceful international order. The critical stages in the Peloponnesian wars are catalogued, and the possible factors which led to the defeat of Athens provide a rich vein for debate. Machiavelli's theories are illustrated by a modern prince: Saddam Hussein. The necessary qualities are a reputation for ruthlessness, rapid execution of oppressive acts, dominance of rival factions, and a policy of prestige and imperialism directed towards neighbours. Consideration of the mutual insecurity of Hobbesian sovereigns leads Doyle into describing modern examples through game theory. His conclusion, that Hobbes would advocate preventive wars, has echoes in the recent UN debates over action against Iraq.

It is with some relief that we turn from this pessimistic outlook for the world to the school of liberalism. In this section we are deluged with the ideas of Locke, Bentham, Adam Smith, Schumpeter and Kant. Doyle points out that the centrality of individual rights, private property and representative government makes liberalism a domestic, rather than on international theory.

Liberal societies can compete or cooperate to become rich without expecting to have to resolve their competition through war. Schumpeter declared in 1919 that, where free trade prevails, no class has an interest in forcible expansion as such. Smith did a cost-benefit analysis of war, and warned that manufacturing societies are natural prey for more militaristic rural states. Kant, writing in 1795, described confidence-building principles which can lead to international peace and sound entirely appropriate today.

Doyle points to the growth in modern times of alliances of liberal states. Here is the possibility of global peace as the number of such states increase. Yet, the record of the past two centuries shows a remarkable willingness among the democratic states to initiate war against totalitarian regimes. With the end of the cold war, we seem to have moved into the age of liberal states. They will not go to war with one another, but are ever ready to go to war with non-liberal states. Democracy may be the engine of peace, but global peace will have to wait until all states are democracies.

Doyle moves on to consider, more briefly, the third of his major schools of thought, socialism. Marx, Engels and Lenin march across the text, but their ideas are greeted without any great enthusiasm. He is eager to look at how states should behave today. Ethical foreign policy is very much in vogue. Beneficence and equality are the guiding principles: as much good and as little evil as we can afford. Yet international law is not without its difficulties. Traditionally, it prohibits intervention in the internal affairs of other states. This custom is important for encouraging order in a world which lacks a global government. Doyle explores at length the arguments for and against the US intervention in Grenada in 1983. Realists, liberals and socialists are all less than consistent on the principle of non-intervention when it suits them. Ethical foreign policy must also consider how to deal with global economic disparity.

Drawing the threads together in such a work is bound to be difficult. Doyle attempts to do it by projecting forward the futures that each of his three schools of thought might generate. The realists see the new world order as a reforming of the classical balance of power. The United States will not be left as the single superpower. Europe, Japan, China and Russia will provide the new balancing powers. Liberalism will see the triumph of democracy and market forces. All states will be liberal republican by 2100, and perhaps much earlier. Global peace is possible. The socialists have lost their vision for the future. Wealth disparities may generate conflict, but Marxism offers little in the way of alternative outcomes. In the closing pages, we address the impact of religions for the first time. It is strange that such an ancient, and enduring, cause of conflict is given so little space.

This will certainly be a required book on the reading list for international relations students. It provides the source material for erudite essays collected conveniently in one place. I am less sure that it is a satisfying read for a wider audience. Thucydides is quoted: "My work is not a piece of writing designed to meet the taste of an immediate public, but was done to last forever." Perhaps that is Doyle's hope as well.

Sir Timothy Garden is director, Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Ways of War and Peace: Realism, Liberalism and Socialism

Author - Michael W. Doyle
ISBN - 0 393 03826 2 and 96947 9
Publisher - Norton
Price - £25.00 and £14.95
Pages - 557

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