A Review of the Book “World Peace” by Alex J. Bellamy

Book: World Peace: (And How We Can Achieve it), Author: Alex J. Bellamy, Reviewed by: Ms. Gulshan Rafiq

Perhaps war and peace are the most discussed topics in human history. From philosophers to many other intellectuals, most regard peace as a myth and war inevitable. But if wars are imminent, why are humans constantly trying to lessen the damage? War – as one of the anthropologists like Douglas Fry – has likely only been around for the most recent fraction of the existence of our species. We did not evolve with it. But we did evolve with habits of cooperation and altruism. Similarly, Alex J. Bellamy, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies and Director of the Asia Pacific Centre at the University of Queensland, Australia, in his recent work seeks to search for ubiquitous ways for ending conflicts and establishing peace.

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According to Bellamy, violence is as old as humanity but peace could be achieved through agreements and cooperation between societies and states. The book is an invaluable effort to highlight the significance of peaceful and cooperative relations in International Politics. Though the book has 8 illuminating chapters, but the Chapter 4 titled Why We Fail and Chapter 6 titled The Costs of War are more interesting where Mr. Bellamy eloquently and descriptively comprehends Thomas Jefferson’s words that “the most successful war seldom pay for its losses”.

The chapter on ‘The Cost of War also reminds me of Lamine Pearlheart’s quote in his To Life from the Shadows, “War is the biggest tax hike ever; if this is properly understood many would stop warring.” The wars have not only torpedoed civil liberties and human rights, they also cost billions of dollars to states. For example, the United States has spent and obligated trillions of dollars to fight post 9/11 wars. These ravages and costs of war persist for generations. History tells that for certain interests the great powers had more appetite for full-scale wars, but the author believes that in future wars may begin like they always have, but they will no longer end as they once did. The world is getting safer and more peaceful as humans have learned that war is too costly. In support of his argument, he notes that ‘the escalatory trends [in violence] that emerged after 2010 have begun to taper off.

Peace according to Bellamy is “the absence and prevention of war and the conflict management via peaceful means, implying some form of legitimate civic order.

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He develops the concept of ‘minor utopias’ which are the collective efforts or actions towards peace. These minor utopias could be laws to conduct wars, conflict resolution mechanisms, protection of human rights, gender equality, equal economic opportunities and poverty alleviation programmes. While analyzing the history of peacemaking, he argues that peace through minor utopias is pretty attainable.  He wishes that “No one may violate the rules of international law relating to the use of force and conduct of armed conflict”, and “Each state shall be a capable, responsible, and legitimate ‘sovereign’” (p. 175).

As per Realists, war is inevitable while Idealists believe in the attainment of peace in human sphere. Usually those who witness violence firsthand, strive for peace more passionately. Author seconds this viewpoint: “No government should inhibit the capacity of individuals to opt out of war. The free reporting of war and all its effects, open debate and dissent, and the right to refuse military service should be protected”. (p. 176). He further opines that as wars are created by multiple crossroad factors, in future nations will come to blows over ideology, religion, ethnic differences, territory, natural resources and increasingly the impact of climate change. Though, the international institutions like United Nations has established norms and sub-institutions for the peaceful settlement of disputes, peacekeeping, and the protection of civilians; and the use of force for territorial conquest has also lost its legitimacy as a tool of statecraft.

In the last chapter titled “Towards World Peace”, the author rightly points towards the silver lining, urging to resolve conflicting issues among states through peaceful means. Though human history has witnessed less peace and more wars, the author suggests that the process of dialogue should continue with agreement on non-controversial issues as the starting point. Bellamy quotes the examples of peaceful coexistence from the ancient Minoans in Crete (ca. 3000–1500 BCE) and the Harrapans of the Indus Valley (3300–1700 BCE), the Phoenicians (1500–300 BCE), and the Mauryan empire of the third century BCE. He asserts that generally most societies have enjoyed peace most of the time.

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            Supporting his aforementioned argument, Bellamy takes aim at the old claim that war expresses an inborn tendency. Other Political scientists, like Francis Fukuyama also asserts that the roots of recent wars and genocide go back for tens or hundreds of thousands of years among our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Bellamy, however, argues that compassion is as much a part of human nature as cruelty. All animals have the capacity to enrich the lives of others and wishing for world peace is not a utopian idea but a pragmatic endeavor that builds on a long history of small victories.  In other words, a war can never be abolished, but it cannot be humanized either. Every human being has the ability to learn, adapt, and take a moral high ground. The author mentions the ongoing efforts by International Humanitarian law (IHL), which governs the manner in which wars are fought. It produces practical guidance on how international human rights law applies to armed forces when conducting military operations and developing codes by building institutions for conflict mediation, the post war cooperating on peacemaking, promoting norms of human dignity and human rights, extending humanitarian aid. It also establishes the principle of proportionality in any military attack where we it prohibits collateral damage by protecting unarmed, women and children in war zones. Similarly, these standards can be upgraded to the level, where the cost of war becomes impossible to bear for every member of international community.

            The most significant preposition by the Author is that humans create wars or peace so they are manageable. It must not be an axiom that each generation must struggle and strive to achieve and sustain peace at home and abroad. Delivering a more peaceful world is important because ‘the forces that make war possible are likely to remain with us.’ In this context, the book is vitalizing and a must read for policy makers and those who are endeavoring for  a peaceful world. It is a significant contribution in existing literature on War, Peace and Conflict Resolution. It also shows that the crucial question of how world peace can be established needs more time and seriousness. Nevertheless, author’s idea of an absolute peaceful world is a utopia.  Living in a peace filled world with no war and no greed is a nice idea but it would never happen. One of the good things the book discusses is the fact that though war started with the human history, the movements for justice and peace are also equally ancient and enduring. Being an educationist and advisor to the United Nations (UN) on peace and conflict issues, the Author encourages world leaders to follow “responsibility to protect” (R2P) against the worst forms of violence and atrocity. It is perhaps this pragmatic background that the content of the book looks at all aspects of how war had become almost ingrained into human behavior and how the human race can overcome war.  

Gulshan Rafique_Author

Ms. Gulshan Rafiq is a Researcher at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). She holds an M.Sc and M. Phil degree in Defence and Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad. Her research areas cover contemporary international affairs, traditional security threats and nuclear nonproliferation issues. She regularly contributes in national/international dailies and renowned academic journals and can be reached at gul.quaidian@gmail.com

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