Reviewed by Angel J. Storm
[Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide by Joshua S. Goldstein; Dutton, 2011]
In his book Winning the War on War, Dr. Goldstein analyzes decades of war and how peace keeping, peace building, and peacemakers have influenced wars positively and negatively. Dr. Goldstein also assesses the organizations that support and provide these forces, ranging from small NGOs to the UN, to various states' armed forces. He points out that the concept of war should be thought about as a continuum ranging from bad to worse, from small to large. While he does not try to downplay the "smaller" wars (such as small civil wars or isolated terrorist attacks (p. 3)), he does seek to provide readers with a bigger picture (which I believe is a must in a world with 24 hour news networks which definitely tend to concentrate on negative isolated incidents and fail to report the bad things that were avoided or corrected).
Just as war has gradations, so does peace (p. 3), which can range from a fragile cease-fire to formal peace agreements, to disarmament and democracy. Dr. Goldstein lists several shocking statistics that are rarely reported and, for me, were initially hard to comprehend. For instance, wars are fewer and smaller than 30 years ago (p. 5). One thing that I greatly appreciate about the style this book is written in is that it is not a book about a utopia; it is a book based on facts of what has been, what is now, and what potentially could become. Dr. Goldstein does not cite the decrease in the number of wars because of mankind's peaceful nature (p. 6), nor does he state that reductions in wars are inevitable. He does, however, stress the importance of a cohesive international body that is able to easily deploy peacekeepers to conflict areas in order to provide the stability that is necessary for implementing peace accords and ending violence.
Dr. Goldstein cites eight "peace factors" that are the underlying cause of the decline in wars and violent conflicts since 1990: the end of the Cold War, the dominance of US power, the economic benefits of globalization, spreading norms about peace and human rights, spreading democracy, increased participation of women in politics, the proliferation of NGOs, and the growing field of conflict resolution (p. 15). Given these factors, Dr. Goldstein points out that the USIP's publication of Intractable Conflicts was not an accurate way to classify these conflicts, as even these conflicts are becoming tractable (p. 15). I personally found Intractable Conflicts as an insightful way to understand the many diverse causes of conflicts that have been fought for years and what has and has not worked in ending these conflicts. Dr. Goldstein does not offer another term to use for conflicts that have been ongoing for years and decades. I believe they need their own category, as they will need a unique approach to forming and implementing peace agreements.
Refuting the claim that the 20th century was the bloodiest century in all of human history, Dr. Goldstein points out the fact the from 1800-1899, the Napoleonic Wars took place the first 15 years of the century, followed by the Taiping Rebellion, in which millions - perhaps tens of millions- of people died. Also in China, in the province of Yunnan, 5 million out of 8 million people died as a result of a Muslim uprising. The US Civil War, as well as wars ravaging Latin America, occurred in the last half of the century. Starting in 1899, the Boer War began which demonstrated the sharp divide between world powers and colonial areas (p. 24, 25). Dr. Goldstein continues back through recorded history from the 16-18 centuries, through the Middle Ages, Mongol conquests, and ancient warfare, each time demonstrating that humans have been getting better at preventing and ending war. Chief among the reasons for this trend, he believes, is due to the creation of the UN, which has the specific goal to reduce the amount of war in the world (p. 44).
It is on this note that Dr. Goldstein begins chapter 3. He takes the reader through the creation and evolution of the UN's role in peacekeeping operations. The first peacekeeping operation performed by the UN was in Palestine in 1948 and was called the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization. The first rule for the peacekeepers was to remain neutral. Second, they were not to be armed. The belief was that this would make them targets and put them in greater danger (nonetheless, 6 peacekeepers were killed and 7 were wounded and their convoys were under constant attack) (p. 50). In the late 1950s, a proposal was made to the UN to set up an armed UN force that would be authorized to use force in self-defense, which was believed to become a true international peace and police force (p. 53). This new force was called the United Nations Emergency Force and it was comprised of military from UN members who were not on the Security Council (p. 54). Along with this force, the UN established a "holy trinity" of principles that would govern the use of this force: the host state's consent, impartiality, and minimum use of force (p. 56). As with most brand new organizations, coupled with the fact that now many nations' military members were coming together as one, UNEF suffered growing pains, but overall it was considered a success.