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Thursday, February 23, 2017
- A Third World War is not impossible, but fortunately is rather unlikely. Let us explore why, and what can be done to prevent it.
The worst-case scenario is a world war between the West — NATO, U.S., EU with Japan-Taiwan-South Korea — and the East—the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) with Russia, China, Central Asia as members and India, Pakistan, Iran as observers. With four nuclear powers on each side, and West versus Islam as a major issue. In the centre is the explosive mix of a divided territory (Israel-Palestine) and Jerusalem, a capital divided by a wall.
We have been there before: the Cold War, with West versus Communism as a major issue. In the centre was the explosive mix of a divided Germany, and Berlin, a capital divided by a wall; and a divided Korea, by a demilitarised zone. And yet no direct, hot war, except by proxies; Korea, Vietnam. Why?
No doubt nuclear deterrence was one factor. They went to the brink but turned around–like in the 1962 Cuba-Turkey missile crisis. And no doubt nuclear deterrence also plays a role today, limiting the attacks on Israel, U.S. support for Israeli attacks on Arab-Muslim states Syria-Iran in particular and any attack on Russia-China. But nuclear deterrence is not the material out of which positive peace is made: no depolarisation, and certainly no solution and conciliation.
The Cold War NATO-Warsaw Pact system was polarised, with secret police controlling contacts, speech and thoughts, looking for traitors. But the world was not polarised: there was the huge non-aligned movement. Europe was not polarised: there were the 10 neutral, or non-aligned, countries. And ultimately a strong movement against war emerged.
The NATO+-SCO+ system is less polarised, but the world and Europe more. So far, no non-aligned movement, and no strong peace movement.
The United Nations vote showed a 3/4 world united in YES for Palestine, NO to USA-Israel. Both are turning any moral high ground into moral deficit through continued expansion-occupation-siege and invasion-occupation-extrajudicial killings. The world is not against U.S.-Israel defending true homeland borders or 1967 borders but against the force and excesses they seem incapable of reversing. Reverse those policies and they could regain the moral high ground.
But still no actors carrying concrete peace policies like the Helsinki Accords. The reason lies in the difference between the West-Islam and the West-communism conflicts. Islam, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, covers more of the world territory and population than the West, but has few friends outside; unlike the West, emulated and admired by Russia-China-India, by Latin America and Africa. In all but Israel, Islam has a huge and growing diaspora by immigration-birth-conversion. Not a superpower, not an alliance, only “Islamic cooperation”; but present everywhere.
The result is uncertainty and fear: what do they want? A challenge to other worldviews, guaranteed by the freedoms of speech and religion. Islam offers healing togetherness and sharing to a West suffering from materialist individualism and egoism.
But Islam also threatens Western institutions with unwanted change. Western secular states won the struggle against the church with a secularism also exported to the Muslim colonies as loyalty to the state and the empires behind them. Today parts of the Islamic diaspora hit back, demanding loyalty to Alla’h and the ummah (community) beyond loyalty to Western states.
For immigration to be a peace-building effort, immigrants must respect laws and customs of the host country and be met with curiosity and respect in dialogues, for mutual learning benefiting all. If broken by either or both, stop immigration, and build ummah at home.
How about the other danger spots and zones in the world?
Afghanistan is coming to a close, not only with NATO withdrawal–except to guard what it was all about: a base for a possible war with China and an oil pipeline. There may be wars between India and Pakistan, but no other country feels strongly enough about Kashmir to participate. The world is concerned with Israel not because of anti-Semitism, but because of an alliance that may involve so much of the rest of the world.
North Korea has both nuclear arms and missiles, and will neither attack nor be attacked. The fight for peace treaty and normalisation with the U.S. will probably bear fruits, in the interest of all.
Taiwan and China will slowly converge toward a Hong Kong style solution of one country-two systems, Taiwan as part of China yet highly autonomous. Wisdom would urge the same for a limited Tibet. In neither case do we have conflicts out of which a third world war is made. For that to happen the ties have to be tight, like U.S. to other NATO countries and to Israel. Or, presumably, Russia and China to each other.
We are left with West-Islam. The lack of cohesion on the Islamic side helps. But we are missing a non-aligned Hindu India, lined up with the West in any major confrontation. Indonesia and Egypt are on the Islamic side, neutral Yugoslavia no longer exists, Latin America is Christian-West, and Africa is divided.
We need moderates on both sides. Tunisia-Turkey and the non-aligned powers, Egypt and Indonesia. And the West—maybe Germany, experienced in inter-faith dialogue? Germany should play a major peace role!
* Johan Galtung, rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University, is author of “The Fall of the US Empire–And Then What?” (www.transcend.org/tup)