If you haven’t heard the news already, a memo was leaked last week to The Daily Mail in which Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had made it known to U.S. officials in 2002 that he would support a military intervention within a Iraq. This however occurred a full year before it had been discussed or voted upon within the United Kingdom by other Members of Parliament.
While not surprising that Blair would support his neo-imperialist comrades in the U.S., it’s still shocking as to how eager states and their leaders can be to engage within warfare.
A simple retort to this might be that human nature is the cause of war, as if all of us are at the edge of our seats ready to take another’s life. However, if you think about it closely, citizens of modern democracies have very little say as to whether or not their nation goes to war.
To think that the citizens of a state have a say in what decisions are made internationally is to misunderstand the power structures of federal action. Has any war that your country has ever gone to been put to a vote, or even been discussed in a meaningful, public setting?
Even if national interests are truly at stake, with citizens willing to consider supporting involvement, there is no way for them to get accurate information to make objective decisions. For it is those who wield the material or military power of a nation that control the ideas of the nation, and who set the agenda for which the public bases their opinions off of.
This sort of agenda setting rises from the perverse incentives given to political leaders who decide to enter into international or territorial conflicts. Going back to our thoughts on human nature, because humans are rationally self-interested, it is usually in our best interest to avoid any sort of physical conflict. However, when trying to understand the actions of states, this same sort of rationality cannot be applied to it or its actors.
When addressing international strife, those in charge never personally bear the risks of entering into violent conflict with other nations, but can call upon the citizens of the nation to fight for them. Philosopher Michael Huemer synthesizes this point with a short analogy:
“In deciding to invade Iraq in 2003, for example, President Bush did not need to weigh the risk that he would be killed in the conflict. Thus, the main prudential argument that leads us to expect individuals to choose peaceful coexistence with other individuals does not apply to states.”
This sort of moral hazard leads us to believe that when a new issue is being presented as of national interest, there might be a backstory that is unknown to the public, hidden by those who might have a greater purpose in that interest being defended or accomplished.
As the Syrian Civil War continues to rage on, with the total count of refugees hitting four million as of last month, we must take a look at what war, especially war with foreign intervention, has done in actually bringing long term peace to regional conflicts.
I wholeheartedly believe that war can be avoided, but not under the current organization of our societies, where the acquisition of resources and extension of hegemony trumps the value of any single life that might stand in the way.