Belmont Club

Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men

French Foreign Minister Alan Juppe has magisterially declared  the Libyan operation at an end, marking yet another triumph for the West.  But other parts of the world remain in crisis. With winter coming to the Korean Peninsula, Pyongyang has cut its food rations — never ample in the best of conditions — by two thirds, leading the UN to appeal for international donations to feed them.

“There are real needs there, you can’t let the people of North Korea suffer,” a spokesman told journalists in Beijing, saying said daily food rations had been cut from 600 grams to just 200 grams, mostly corn, cabbage and rice, with little or no protein provided.

That was a hint to the biggest supplier of North Korean food aid, the United States. But America was presently distracted by Afghanistan, where Hillary Clinton was telling Pakistanis the US would go after the militants whether Islamabad was willing to help or not.  She was especially determined to come down hard on the Haqqani network which was responsible for wounding 77 US servicemen in a recent attack. The Haqqani network is believed supported by America’s stalwart ally, Pakistan.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton led an unusually large U.S. delegation for two days of talks with civilian and military leaders who have resisted previous U.S. demands to take a harder tack against militants who attack American soldiers and interests in Afghanistan.

The large U.S. contingent was meant to display unity among the various U.S. agencies, including the CIA, Pentagon and State Department, with an interest in Pakistan. CIA chief David Petraeus and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey joined Clinton, who said the team would “push Pakistan very hard.”

These developments took place as Hamid Karzai told reporters that the action had now shifted to Pakistan. He called on the US to stop raiding Afghan homes and begin negotiating with the Haqqani network across the border, implying that this was where the problem now was. As if to emphasize its new distance from Islamabad, a State Department official said that more “nonlethal supplies” would begin to flow through the alternative route of Uzbekistan, reducing the logistical reliance on Pakistan.

“As a general rule, we’re trying to get more [goods] through Central Asia and through Uzbekistan,” the senior State Department official, who was accompanying Clinton, told reporters on condition of anonymity.

A drudge’s work is never done. But it may have some rewards. Three studies quoted by the AP says that despite the garish headlines the world has never been as peaceful as it is today. It says, “statistics reveal dramatic reductions in war deaths, family violence, racism, rape, murder and all sorts of mayhem.  The mortality from warfare has come down 200-fold in the last 7 decades and people are wondering why.

In 19th century France, it was 70 [battlefield deaths per 100,000]. In the 20th century with two world wars and a few genocides, it was 60. Now battlefield deaths are down to three-tenths of a person per 100,000. … There were fewer than 20 democracies in 1946. Now there are close to 100. Meanwhile, the number of authoritarian countries has dropped from a high of almost 90 in 1976 to about 25 now. …

The average annual battle death toll has dropped from nearly 10,000 per conflict in the 1950s to less than 1,000 in the 21st century. And the number of deadliest wars — those that kill at least 1,000 people a year — has fallen by 78 percent since 1988.

The reasons for outbreak of peace are debated. John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago credits the Pax Americana. “It’s been 21 years since the Cold War ended and the United States has been at war for 14 out of those 21 years,” Mearsheimer said. It was acting as a “pacifier”.  But others believed that the institutions of peace and peace-minded thinking were mostly behind the reduction of violence. Andrew Mack, former head of strategic planning for U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan believed UN Peacekeeping, the World Bank and the efforts of thousands of NGOs with preventing war.

One of the institutions which Mack believes has been responsible for World Peace was recently been having trouble of the financial and verbal kind. At a recent summit, the leaders of the EU discovered they were even more broke than they thought and fingers were pointing in all directions to affix the blame and apportion payment.

Just when the eurozone governments thought it could not get worse for Europe’s single currency, it did. …

But then a new bombshell hit as a joint report by the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that, without a default, the Greek debt crisis alone could swallow the eurozone’s entire €440 billion bailout fund – leaving nothing to spare to help the affected banks of Italy, Spain or France. …

Compounding the trauma, Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister turned IMF chief – and one of the few key players who appeared to be enjoying herself in her new headmistress-like role – issued a grim warning to her former European peers.

The IMF would no longer be willing to pick up a third of the total bill for rescuing Greece, a contribution worth €73 billion, unless European banks were prepared to write off 50 per cent of Greek debt. … According to insiders, Wolfgang Schaeuble, Germany’s finance minister, could not resist taking an “I told you so” approach … But Mrs Lagarde… “shut him up … and in perfect English too, a language he cannot speak,” said a diplomat. … It is an odd fact that eurozone meetings are generally conducted in English.

Beset by money problems, the European leaders considered the challenges facing the continent with less than statesman-like gravity.

Chancellor Merkel is said to have been deeply wounded by one anecdote that Mr Sarkozy is said to have told another head of government about her.

“She says she is on a diet and then helps herself to a second helping of cheese,” the French president allegedly said after a dinner meeting with Mrs Merkel.

Such cattiness will not have been forgotten by Mrs Merkel when she sat down to dine with Mr Sarkozy last night in an encounter billed as a “make or break” moment to save the euro by patching up Franco-German relations.

A row between the pair in Frankfurt on Wednesday overshadowed leaving-do celebrations to mark the end of Jean-Claude Trichet’s nine years as the head of the ECB.

“Their shouting could be heard down the corridor in the concert hall where an orchestra was about to play the EU’s anthem, Ode to Joy,” said an incredulous EU official.

But this petty backbiting, wounding as it may be to egos, is part of the luxury of peace. The world considers whether to feed North Korea, and  who to chastise next, even as it condescendingly advises the United States about what to do next because of the implicit knowledge that it might actually be done.  It has been done for so long that it seems part of the state of nature. Few if any have asked themselves why if America is so stupid, then why the last World War was so long ago?  Like the GPS and the Internet, World Peace has now subjectively become a public good, owed to its beneficiaries.

But at present, peace is still not free, and the day when Andrew Mack’s world where war is banished by “the UN” has not yet come. Will it ever dawn? Or are we condemned to a peace based ultimately on fear?

Barber’s Adagio for strings performed in commemoration of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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