In my last post I mentioned the relative lack of military conflicts compared to the recent past, a development that had been heralded by many as one of the crowning achievements of the postwar era. But I think the fundamental reason for the Long Peace is missed by most people.
I think the true nature of the Long Peace is revealed by the following fact: more and more countries are spending more on policing their own citizenry than they are on international conflicts.
And I think the ultimate reason for this is that the elites in every country form sort of a transnational wealth class, so they have little reason to go to war with one other. After all, why should they? They are able to control the world’s resources and channel the resources and labor of the entire planet into their bank accounts. This transnational Gulfsteam Jet elite does business with each other, they go to the same schools, they go to the same conferences and events, they marry one another. An American CEO, a Chinese government plutocrat, a Russian oligarch, a Mexican tycoon - they all have far more in common with each other than they do with their own people. So why go to war?
This was not the case several generations ago. In the past, elites from different countries just within Europe were often in conflict with each other. Napoleon had very little in common with the Czar, and certainly nothing in common with the emperor of Japan or the president of the United States. This was true of most elites before World War 2 – they were often in conflict with one another. Often they were fighting over the same resources.
Not any more. Now, they all meet at Davos. They all own flats in London. They all vacation in Dubai. Their kids all go to Harvard. They all shelter their money in the Caymans. A Chinese government official can buy Apple stock. A Russian oligarch can send his kids to Oxford. American corporations can hire people from India and Indonesia as easily as from California or Ohio. And they all have enough wealth to live comfortable lives beyond the dreams of most people in their own respective countries. War would threaten that wealth and that lavish lifestyle. So there’s no reason to go to war.
But that wealth comes from somewhere. The real threat to these people comes from within their own borders. It is the citizenry who are being squeezed ever harder for profits and who are burdened ever heavier with economic rents. In the past few weeks, we’ve added two more domestic unrest incidents to the mix: Sweden and Turkey. That’s on top of the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, student protests in Montreal and Chile, the Indignados in Spain and Portugal, disaffected immigrant youth in Britain and France, frequent unrest in China, and any number of other urban revolts that have occurred in the past decade. The list goes on and on.
So what is the end result of this phenomenon? The end result is, and this is already true of many countries but I think it will be true of all of them eventually: the end result is that military expenditures are mainly aimed at policing domestic populations. Then there is also the creation of a massive, inescapable and all-pervasive surveillance state and mass incarceration, especially in the United States. And the media, which is owned by those same elites, functions more and more like a propaganda apparatus justifying the status quo and squelching any alternatives. So it’s no surprise that the supposedly “free” countries of the West are looking more and more like the Communist regimes they supposedly triumphed over. Terrorism is the perfect excuse to ratchet up this up ever further. Everywhere, the conflict is within, not without.
The shape of conflict in the future will change to be intranational, not international conflict, and it will get worse as inequality continues to rise to historically unprecedented levels. So the supposed Long Peace isn’t really a long peace at all, it’s just a redefining of who the enemy is. Increasingly, leaders will be at war with their own citizenry
The enemy in future wars is not over there, it’s over here. It’s us. It’s the 99 percent.