The Problem of Political Authority   —   Part II: Society without Authority

12. War and Societal Defense

  1. The problem of societal defense
  2. Nongovernmental defense
    1. Guerrilla warfare
    2. The difficulty of conquering
      an ungoverned territory
    3. Nonviolent resistance
    4. Conclusions
  3. Avoiding conflict
    1. Natural human aggression
    2. Land and resources
    3. Conflict spirals and
      intergovernmental disputes
    4. Power relations
    5. The liberal democratic peace
    6. If you desire war, prepare for war
  4. Avoiding Terrorism
    1. The terrorist threat
    2. The roots of terrorism
    3. Violent and nonviolent solutions
  5. The dangers of ‘national security’
    1. The risk of unjust aggression
    2. The risk of global disaster
  6. Conclusion

12.1 The problem of societal defense

Ideally, all human beings would live without nation-states or national armies, so that there would be no need for national defense. But this happy state of affairs could not be expected to come about all at once; we must assume a transitional period in which an anarchic society coexists with state-dominated societies. Could the two kinds of society coexist, or would the one inevitably overtake the other?

A natural assumption is that if a country has a more powerful military than its neighbors or than all of its potential enemies, then the country will be secure, whereas if it has a much weaker military or no military at all, then it will be insecure. From this standpoint, an anarchist society seems to face an obvious problem. Modern military forces are both extremely powerful and extremely expensive. A single aircraft carrier, for example, costs about $4.5 billion up front, plus $240 million per year for maintenance.[1] In 2010, the United States spent nearly $700 billion on the military. For comparison, the most profitable U.S. company in that year, Exxon Mobil, had profits of $19 billion.[2] Admittedly, the United States is an outlier, with 43 percent of the entire world's military expenditures.[3] Nevertheless, most countries spend hundreds of millions or billions of dollars on their military forces every year. It is difficult to imagine any nongovernmental organization competing with a government in this arena - partly because no other sort of organization has the kind of resources at its disposal that a government can command and partly because military defense is a public good whose provision, in the absence of some coercive mechanism, would seemingly require altruistic sacrifice on the part of those who pay for it. As a result, it seems unlikely that an anarchic society could maintain anything like the military forces typical of modern governments. For these reasons, members of an anarchic society could not hope to defeat a governmental army in open combat, nor could they hope, as governments often do, to wage an aggressive war against another country.

But the focus on relative military power may be misdirected, for two reasons. First, the requirements for effective defense may be more modest than the requirements for effective aggression, and the military expenditures of most modern governments may be far greater than defense requires. Second, as in the case of interpersonal relations, the strategy of avoiding armed conflict may prove more important than that of attempting to win armed conflicts.

My aim in what follows will not be to show that an anarchic society could survive in any and all political climates. My aim will be to show that an anarchic society could survive in some realistic conditions, conditions that obtain in some parts of the world or could reasonably be expected to obtain in the future. It is to be expected that there will also be many other realistic conditions under which an anarchist system would not survive.

12.2 Nongovernmental defense

12.2.1 Guerrilla warfare

The above characterization of the problem of defense suggests that successful defense requires military power comparable to or greater than one's opponent. Yet guerrilla fighters have given the lie to this alleged requirement for military victory in several twentieth-century conflicts during which advanced military forces have been defeated by far weaker opponents.

The paradigm case is that of Vietnam, which expelled the French colonialists in 1954. The United States then assumed responsibility for combating the spread of communism by supporting the anticommunist, authoritarian government of South Vietnam in its contest against the communist government of North Vietnam and the communist insurgents in South Vietnam. American involvement began with military advisors but escalated into direct warfare in the mid to late 1960s, when hundreds of thousands of American troops were committed to fighting the Vietcong insurgents in the south.[4] In terms of military and economic resources, the United States was far superior to the Vietcong, and yet for year after year, American forces proved unable to subdue their opponents, until the United States finally in effect acknowledged defeat and withdrew all forces from the country in 1973. The most powerful nation in the world had been defeated by the rebels of a small Third World nation. The defeat was due partly to the inherent difficulty of countering guerrilla warfare tactics and partly to the fact that the Vietnamese were far more deeply committed than the Americans to controlling the fate of Vietnam.[5]

This was no isolated episode; several twentieth-century conflicts provided similar lessons. Great Britain governed the island of Ireland until 1919, when Irish nationalists declared independence and began a guerrilla campaign against the British. For the next two years, the British fought an unsuccessful war against the rebels, culminating in the treaty that established the Irish Free State in 1922.[6]

The French ruled Algeria before 1954, when Algerian nationalists began a guerrilla war for independence, which continued for several years. Despite some military successes, the French ultimately lacked the rebels' degree of commitment, and French President Charles de Gaulle agreed to submit the question of independence to popular votes in 1961 and 1962, resulting in Algerian independence in 1962.[7]

In 1979, the Soviet Union sent military forces to Afghanistan to defend the communist government there against the mujahideen guerrillas. Over the next nine years, the Soviets were unable to prevail against the mujahideen. The Soviets gave up and withdrew in 1988. The Afghan government subsequently fell to the rebels in 1992.[8]

In each of these cases, the rebels were fighting in defense of their homeland against what they saw as foreign aggressors. In the cases of Vietnam and Afghanistan, the guerrillas also had support from foreign governments. But even taking account of that support, the guerrillas were far weaker than their opponents by traditional measures in each of these conflicts. The United States, France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union were four of the most powerful nations in all of world history. Therefore, if they could be defeated by guerrillas fighting in defense of their homeland, then any nation contemplating a war of conquest in modern times must anticipate enormous difficulties in controlling the occupied territory. This is all the more true in territories, such as most of the present-day United States, where a large percentage of average citizens are armed to begin with.[9]

12.2.2 The difficulty of conquering an ungoverned territory

In one respect, conquering an anarchic society would be more difficult than conquering a nation-state. To conquer a territory that is already governed, the aggressor must convince the existing government to surrender, which can generally be done either by attacking fixed government military assets or by killing enough members of the population. Once the government surrenders, the apparatus of that very government may be co-opted to control the society on behalf of its new rulers.

By contrast, the task of taking control of an ungoverned society is more complex. In the absence of any central authority structure, the society must be conquered one neighborhood at a time. To control each neighborhood, the aggressor will need either to station troops in the neighborhood or to hire the equivalent of police from the local population. Either option is likely to be expensive, and in either case, those charged with enforcing the conquerors' will are likely to be frequent targets of guerrilla attacks. In addition, if the conquering state wishes ultimately to govern the conquered people, it will need to set up all the apparatus of government.

Adetermined and wealthy aggressor could nevertheless establish government over an initially ungoverned society. But the task of doing so is likely to be more expensive and time-consuming than that of taking over some society that already has a government but a weak military. Since there are many societies satisfying the latter description, an anarchist society is not likely to be the most attractive target for an expansionist regime.

12.2.3 Nonviolent resistance

Apriori, it might seem that force can only be countered with greater force. Since governments command greater coercive power than any other agents, it might then seem that the only effective defense against a government is another government. Yet several historical episodes over the last century have revealed the surprising effectiveness of nonviolent methods of resistance to tyranny and injustice, demonstrating that even when injustice is coercively imposed, violence is not the only, and perhaps not even the most effective solution.

The best-known case is that of the Indian struggle for independence from Britain, led by Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi's tactics included hunger strikes; marches and demonstrations; boycotts of British goods, schools, and courts; civil disobedience, including refusal to pay taxes; labor strikes; and social ostracism of those Indians collaborating with the British. While Indian independence was a long time coming, it was eventually won with a minimum of bloodshed (relative to the cases discussed in Section 12.2.1), thanks in large measure to the efforts of the Mahatma. This is so despite the fact that the British, at least at the start, showed considerably greater willingness to resort to violence than did the followers of Gandhi.[10]

Another well-known case is that of the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. and others, the movement relied upon such nonviolent tactics as sit-ins, boycotts, and protest marches. Civil rights activists often faced violence at the hands of local police, the Ku Klux Klan, and other opponents of racial integration. Thousands of activists were arrested, many were beaten, and several civil rights leaders, including Dr. King, were murdered. In spite of this, the movement remained predominantly nonviolent, and the movement ultimately triumphed over its more violent opponents, seeing the passage of major civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s, along with dramatic changes in American culture and society.[11]

Towards the end of the twentieth century, a number of nations, including the Soviet 'republics' and the satellite countries of eastern Europe, achieved independence from the Soviet Union through predominantly nonviolent means (with the exception of Romania, where the transition was more violent than in the other nations). The process began in Poland in 1980, when workers formed a nationwide labor union known as Solidarity. Solidarity quickly became a tool for advocating political and economic reform. The government tried to squash Solidarity by outlawing the union and arresting thousands of its members, but the movement persisted. Eventually the government gave up trying to eliminate Solidarity. The union persistently wielded the nonviolent tool of the labor strike to attempt to force reform. In 1989, the government finally bowed to the pressure and entered negotiations with representatives of Solidarity, during which the government agreed to allow free elections in which Solidarity candidates could run against some of the communist candidates. Though polls predicted victory for the communists, in the event the communist party suffered a crushing defeat, losing every single seat that was contested in the legislature. Further defeats were to come, freeing Poland from communist rule.[12]

In August 1991, hard-line communists in the Soviet Union, seeking to halt the tide of reform initiated by President Gorbachev, took Gorbachev prisoner and launched a coup d'etat. Boris Yeltsin, then president of Russia, faced down the coup leaders in Moscow with the help of tens of thousands of civilian protesters who gathered around him at the Russian White House. The coup failed, due in part to dedicated civilian support for Yeltsin, in part to divided opinion among the military, and in part to the refusal of Soviet special forces to carry out orders to attack the White House. Shortly after the failed coup, though Gorbachev had nominally been restored to power, the Soviet Union fell apart, as the member states (those which had not already done so) declared independence. All of this took place, surprisingly, with a minimum of bloodshed. In the case of Estonia, independence was achieved with no bloodshed at all.[13]

More recently, longtime Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was expelled from office as a result of a predominantly peaceful protest movement. For 30 years, Mubarak headed a corrupt and dictatorial regime in Egypt, until protesters, angered by recent police brutality and emboldened by the Tunisian revolution of 2010-11, took to the streets in early 2011 to demand their ruler's resignation. The protests were so widespread that Mubarak soon stepped down, many other members of his government either resigned or were dismissed, and most other demands of protesters were met. Parliamentary elections were held beginning in November, with the presidential election scheduled for 2012. As of this writing, Egypt's future remains uncertain; nevertheless, the sudden collapse of an administration that had lasted 30 years is a testament to the power of nonviolent resistance.

Prima facie, historical episodes such as these may seem puzzling. How can a national government, with massive stockpiles of armaments and tens or hundreds of thousands of troops, be defeated by unarmed, peaceful civilians?

The explanation lies in the nature of government power. Chairman Mao Tse-tung is often quoted as saying that 'political power grows from the barrel of a gun.'[14] But this is only part of the truth. Political power comes fundamentally from the people over whom it is exercised. Though governments wield enormous coercive power, they do not possess sufficient resources to directly apply physical force to all or most members of a society. They must be selective, applying their violence to a relatively small number of lawbreakers and relying upon the great majority of the population to fall in line, whether out of fear or out of belief in the government's authority. Most people must obey most of the government's commands; at a minimum, they must work to provide material goods to the government's leaders, soldiers, and employees if a government is to persist.

When an injustice is sufficiently large and obvious, there often arise large numbers of protesters who are willing to defy the state, despite the threat of repression. In response, tyrannical governments usually resort to violence. Yet this violence often backfires by legitimizing the protesters and delegitimizing the state in the eyes of previously uninvolved agents. This can have the effect of expanding rather than suppressing the resistance. Eventually, the state may lose the source of its power, the cooperation of the majority of citizens.[15] In the case of a government attempting to control a foreign territory, it would become necessary to send enormous domestic resources to the foreign territory in the attempt to maintain control, thereby defeating one of the main purposes of seeking foreign territory to begin with, that of profiting through the extraction of foreign resources.

This is not to encourage a Pollyannaish optimism about nonviolent action. Nonviolent resistance has achieved some dramatic successes, but it has also often failed, as in the case of the small pockets of nonviolent resistance to the Nazis in Germany or the 1989 protests in China. The same is true of all forms of resistance: violent resistance also often fails, and even violent resistance by a government (that is, war) often fails to achieve its aims. What the historical episodes I have mentioned show is that the idea of combating a coercive government through nonviolent means is not merely a naive ideal. Indeed, this form of resistance is often more effective and almost always far less costly than violent resistance.

12.2.4 Conclusions

None of the historical cases mentioned in this section features an anarchic society resisting a hostile foreign state. This is mainly because there have been very few anarchic societies and none following the anarcho-capitalist model. Nevertheless, as we have seen, there have been many cases of successful resistance on the part of citizens to governments, including governments imposed by foreign states. The decolonization movement of the twentieth century shows that it is particularly difficult for a foreign state to keep control of a territory in modern times. There is no obvious reason why members of an anarchic society could not resist foreign aggressors equally effectively as members of actual societies have in fact resisted foreign powers and domestic tyrants in the recent past.

There is no guarantee of success; an anarchy might be taken over by a foreign government. But this is also true of governed societies - indeed, societies of every known type of government have been taken over by foreign governments. No one argues that this shows government to be unworkable. The fact that the same fate could befall an anarchy therefore does not show anarchy to be unworkable. Anarchy would be unworkable if there were no plausible means of defense, but the evidence is that this is not so; a society would not be left without plausible means of resistance merely by virtue of lacking a governmental military.

12.3 Avoiding conflict

In the last section, I discussed ways of resisting a foreign power, given that one's society has been taken over or is under attack. But this is not the best way for a society to maintain its freedom. The best way for a society to maintain its freedom is to avoid violent conflict to begin with.

To assess the prospects for avoiding intersocietal violent conflict, we must first identify the most likely causes for conflicts of this kind. The best way to identify the likely causes of war in the future is to examine what has generally caused war in the past. It is conceivable that anarchist societies might become involved in war for different reasons from those that have led government-controlled societies to war; however, the best evidence we have concerning why a society, whether anarchist or statist, might become involved in warfare nevertheless lies in the historical record of actual warfare. We shall therefore begin with that record.

Most theorists who have considered the causes of war have tried to identify some single most important factor. The truth, however, is probably more complex: a variety of factors contribute to the risk of war, with no single factor predominating across all cases.[16] Here I review some of the most important of these factors.

12.3.1 Natural human aggression

Some believe that human beings are naturally aggressive and that this natural aggression explains the human propensity for warfare. The natural aggressiveness of mankind is sometimes supported by arguments from ethology or evolutionary psychology.[17]

An extreme form of this thesis (perhaps not actually held by any prominent thinker)[18] would be that frequent warfare is inevitable because of the aggression inherent in human nature. This thesis is clearly false. Anthropologist Douglas Fry lists over 70 societies that do not make war, mainly primitive tribes.[19] Among modern nation-states, Switzerland has not fought another country since the famous principle of Swiss neutrality was formally established in 1815. Their last war was a civil war in 1847; it lasted 25 days and claimed fewer than 100 lives.[20] Generations of Swiss have never known war, despite being surrounded by warring parties during both world wars. Liechtenstein disbanded its army in 1868 and has likewise remained at peace ever since. Vatican City has never been at war. Costa Rica abolished its military in 1948 and has been at peace since then. And despite all the violence of the twentieth century, the world as a whole has experienced a marked long-term downward trend in violent interstate conflicts, suggesting that further declines in the rate of war making are possible.[21] Amore moderate thesis is that human nature contains a propensity for aggression which sometimes erupts in warfare, perhaps when certain environmental triggers occur.[22] This thesis seems sufficiently weak and vague that few could object to it (indeed, the general thesis may simply follow from the observation that there are wars, along with other trivial background facts), although there is room for differing opinions as to how difficult it is for human beings to resist killing each other.

This moderate thesis, however, is of little use for present purposes. Our aim is to determine whether and how a society may avoid war. If human nature contains a propensity for aggression, but this propensity erupts in warfare only under certain conditions, then we must examine the other theories of the causes of war to determine what these conditions are, since this would seem to be the key to avoiding war (short of embarking on a program of genetic engineering to eliminate our aggressive tendencies).

12.3.2 Land and resources

One reason states go to war is for the purpose of seizing one another's resources and territory.[23] World War II was initiated by Adolf Hitler's invasion of Poland, motivated by a desire to control more territory (Lebensraum, as Hitler put it). India and Pakistan have fought over control of the territory of Kashmir ever since India and Pakistan gained their independence in 1947.[24] The Iran-Iraq war was fought partly over control of the Shatt al-Arab river, which forms Iraq's main access to the Persian Gulf and is therefore of great economic value to Iraq. Iraq also attempted to take over Khuzestan, the oil-rich Iranian province bordering the Shatt al-Arab.[25] Iraq's later invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was even more clearly economically motivated, prompted in part by Iraq's complaints over Kuwaiti violation of OPEC oil quotas and in part by the sheer value of the oil-rich land of Kuwait.[26]

If a predatory desire for others' land and resources is the main cause of war, then the avoidance of war might appear nearly impossible, regardless of whether one has a nation-state or an anarchic society. While an anarchic society cannot initiate a predatory war, its land and resources may cause it to become a victim of such wars.

This pessimistic conclusion, however, is premature. Not all regions of the globe are equally prone to land-and resource- centered conflicts. Conflicts over resources occur in areas with unusually high concentrations of especially valuable resources, such as the oil-rich areas of the Middle East. Modern conflicts over territory usually occur in one of a limited number of specific regions of long-standing territorial dispute, particularly areas with a history of what might be seen as unjust occupation, areas in which borders were drawn by foreign powers, and areas containing large and mutually hostile religious or ethnic subpopulations. Thus, for example, Khuzestan province contains both Arab and Persian subpopulations, and the Shatt al-Arab was long disputed between Iraq and Iran.[27] India and Pakistan's long-standing tensions, which have periodically erupted in war, trace back to 1947, when the British agreed to leave the region. In the process, the British created the states of India and Pakistan but failed to settle the alignment of Kashmir, which was left to choose which (if either) of the two countries it would join. Kashmir has a majority Muslim population in addition to a substantial minority Hindu population. Also in 1947, the United Nations adopted a plan to partition Palestine, then a British-occupied territory with large Jewish and Arab subpopulations, into a new Jewish state and an Arab state. This decision led to the creation of Israel and initiated the notorious Arab-Israeli conflict, which has periodically erupted in violence ever since 1948.

These observations enable us to make some predictions regarding the stability of any future anarchist society. If such a society were created by nations foreign to the region in which it was located, if it contained large and mutually hostile ethnic or religious groups, and if it were created in an area with a long history of conflict, then the anarchist society would probably prove unstable. Nearby states would likely turn the anarchist homeland into a battlefield. The same holds true for any sort of society, whether anarchist or statist.

In light of such considerations, anarchy is practically viable only under certain conditions, conditions that obtain in some but not all of the world. The first successful anarchist societies will need to be (i) founded by indigenous movements rather than imposed by foreign nations, (ii) located in regions with relatively peaceful histories, and (iii) occupied by people with minimal racial and religious tensions. Under such conditions, the anarchists would have a strong chance of avoiding both civil war and war with neighboring states.

12.3.3 Conflict spirals and intergovernmental disputes

Rarely if ever has war broken out because of a dispute between the peoples of two nations, nor between the government of one nation and the people of another. The usual case is that war breaks out as a result of a dispute between the governments of two or more nations. Studies in international relations have found that the largest determinant of hostile behavior by one state towards another is the hostile behavior of the second state towards the first.[28] A frequent pattern is the conflict spiral: one state performs an action that another state perceives as hostile. The second state responds with a hostile action of its own. The first state retaliates with another hostile act. This series of actions and reactions creates a spiral of escalating tensions. At each stage, there is a strong risk that the level of hostility will increase, either because of increasing anger on the part of leaders or because of differing perceptions, particularly where one party perceives its own action as less hostile than the other party perceives it to be. The interaction thus has a risk of escalating until it reaches the highest level of hostility, that of outright war.

Not all wars have arisen out of interstate disputes; sometimes a country wages a purely aggressive war in which the prior behavior of the other country's government is irrelevant. However, this is very rare. Nearly any war, especially in modern times, can be used to illustrate the idea of intergovernmental dispute as a cause of war. World War I began as a result of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Though the assassination was not officially supported by the Serbian government, the Austrian government believed (correctly) that some Serbian government officials were involved in the conspiracy. The Austro-Serbian conflict became the seed for the wider war. Germany, Russia, France, and Britain were each drawn into the conflict through their alliances with other participants in the conflict. The process involved some fast-moving conflict spirals in which, among other things, one nation's military mobilization was taken as a sign of hostile intentions, leading other nations to mobilize their militaries.[29]

The Iran-Iraq war, though partly a war over territory, was also prompted by earlier hostile interactions between the two nations' governments. Up until 1969, Iraq had ownership of the Shatt al-Arab river, until Iran unilaterally decided to move the border between the two nations from the river's eastern bank to the middle of the river. Iraq accepted the change to avoid war with what was then a much more powerful neighbor. When Khomeini took power in Iran in 1979, he began calling upon Shiite Muslims in Iraq to overthrow their government, just as Khomeini himself had done in Iran. This touched off a conflict spiral involving efforts by both governments to foment rebellion in one another's countries, ultimately leading to the Iraqi invasion of 1980.[30]

Even World War II, the paradigm of a war of conquest initiated by a predatory state, was also partly caused by the previous behavior of other states. It is widely recognized that the seeds of the war were planted 20 years earlier, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919.[31] The punitive and humiliating conditions of the treaty, including the enormous war reparations that it required Germany to pay to the victors of the First World War, occasioned widespread and powerful resentment in Germany, helping to pave the way for the rise of a demagogue who promised a restoration of German pride. Even British observers at the time of the signing found the treaty outrageously unfair to Germany. John Maynard Keynes summed up his opinion of the Versailles Treaty thus:

The policy of reducing Germany to servitude for a generation, of degrading the lives of millions of human beings, and of depriving a whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable, - abhorrent and detestable, even if it were possible, even if it enriched ourselves, even if it did not sow the decay of the whole civilized life of Europe.[32]

I am not suggesting here that in starting World War II, Hitler was simply seeking revenge for Versailles; Hitler himself was motivated more by a megalomaniacal drive to control more territory, as well as a hatred of other races. I am suggesting, however, that German resentment over Versailles enabled Hitler to rise to power.

How can we avoid the kinds of disputes between governments that lead to war? Here is one possibility: we could eliminate our government. An anarchist society would be incapable of having the sort of disputes or hostile interactions that have most often led to war because it would lack the agents who carry on those interactions. Even if some private individuals in the anarchic society were to take hostile stances toward a foreign government, this would be very unlikely to lead to war, as foreign governments rightly feel far less threatened by hostile individuals than they do by hostile governments. If I as a private individual call upon dissidents in Iraq to overthrow the government, Iraq will not invade my country. If I declare that my goal is to see the Russian government crushed, that I refuse to trade with Russians, and that I refuse to speak to the Russian government, this is far less likely to lead to war (or any reaction at all from the Russian government) than the same actions undertaken by the U.S. government.

This is not to say that war involving an anarchist society is unthinkable. It is simply to say that an anarchic society is less likely to become involved in conflict than a state-dominated society. While the state proudly declares itself our one great protector against a hostile world, it is that very protector above all that makes the world hostile to begin with.

12.3.4 Power relations

Nations often vie for the position of the dominant power in their region or in the world. Changes in relative power relations among the most powerful nations in a region are particularly dangerous. When the dominant country's power is on the decline, and another nation's power is on the rise, the rising power may attempt to seize the dominant position by initiating war with the dominant nation.[33] Alternately, the dominant nation may decide that it must attack the rising power before the latter becomes too powerful, to prevent the latter nation from seizing the dominant position.[34]

World War I has been interpreted by different observers as an example of each of these patterns. On the first interpretation, Britain was the dominant power in Europe, Germany the rising power, and Germany started the war to challenge British dominance.[35] On the second interpretation, Germany was the dominant power in continental Europe, Russia was the rising power, and Germany started a war with Russia before the Russians could become too powerful.[36] Admittedly, it was Austria's invasion of Serbia that most directly initiated World War I; Austria, however, acted with the encouragement and promised military support of Germany, without which it would have feared to proceed, and German officials at the time expected a war with Russia to result.[37]

Similar interpretations have been offered of World War II; once again, Germany started the war, either to challenge British dominance[38] or to preempt the rise of Russia.[39]

The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s again illustrates the danger of shifting power relations. Initially, Iran was far more powerful than Iraq. This is why, when Iran unilaterally readjusted the border between the two nations in 1969, Iraq acceded to the arrangement rather than going to war. But by 1980 Iraq's power had grown, while Iran's had declined, bringing the two nations to rough parity. It was then that Saddam Hussein felt he could afford a war with Iran. One of the factors motivating the war was probably Saddam Hussein's desire to position Iraq as the leader of the Arab world and the dominant power in the region.[40]

Again, one response to the problem is to eliminate government. The sort of dominance that nation-states contend for is largely a matter of military power; that is why nations have thought to either establish or retain dominance through military victory. By abolishing its government, a society would remove itself from contention for the dominant position in this sense, for two reasons: first, because the society would possess no standing military forces; second, because the society would possess no central authority and hence would not behave as a unitary agent. There would be only a large number of distinct individuals, businesses, private clubs, and so on; none of these is likely to be perceived as a contender for dominance alongside nation-states. Because wars for dominance are normally fought between the dominant nation-state and a challenger, there would be no reason for an anarchic society to be involved in a war for dominance.

12.3.5 The liberal democratic peace

Among the most important modern developments in the theory of international relations is the rise of the democratic peace thesis. Scholars have observed that although dictatorships often fight other dictatorships and democracies often fight dictatorships, democracies almost never fight other democracies.[41] Kant predicted this phenomenon on theoretical grounds in a 1795 essay, arguing that wars tend to be costly to the people of the nations engaged in warfare, and thus voters will tend to favor the sort of leader who avoids aggressive war. Dictatorships are much more liable to fight aggressive wars because dictators do not personally bear most of the costs of war.[42]

The theoretical argument is open to challenge. Since most voters realize that their individual votes have no actual impact on their nation's policies, they may vote ignorantly or irrationally, and they may support hawkish leaders for emotional reasons.[43] Some have also challenged the empirical evidence for democratic peace, citing a number of alleged exceptions to the rule: the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain; World War I, during which democratic Germany fought France and Britain; World War II, during which democratic Finland joined the Axis powers; the Indo-Pakistani wars of 1947 and 1999; and so on.

In spite of these criticisms, there is clearly an important phenomenon in the neighborhood of a 'democratic peace'. While war between democracies is not unheard of, it remains the case that, for whatever reason, there are far fewer wars between democracies than one would expect purely from the general rate of war fighting in the world.[44] Moreover, there is a large and growing group of nations for which war between any two of their number is, intuitively, almost unthinkable. No one seriously contemplates war between the United States and Canada or between Australia and New Zealand or between England and France. Despite the many wars that plagued the region in past centuries, no one today is worried about war in western Europe.

There is room for debate about why these nations are peacefully inclined towards each other. Some say it is because they are democratic. Others attribute the peace to a broader political liberalism.[45] Others cite the pacifying effects of free trade, which creates interdependencies between businesses in different nations and makes war between nations more expensive to both sides.[46] Others appeal to the effects of economic development; as societies reach a certain level of economic development, it becomes easier and more efficient to acquire resources through trade rather than combat.[47] Members of affluent societies have less to gain and more to lose by fighting.[48] Finally, some point to a large-scale shift in the moral values accepted in many societies, a shift in which war has come to be seen as hideous and immoral rather than glorious and honorable.[49]

These explanations need not be seen as competing; these factors may work in tandem to promote peace, and some may explain or reinforce others. Whatever the relative importance of the various factors, there is a certain type of society that appears highly unlikely to fight wars with other societies of the same type. This type of society is generally liberal, democratic, and economically developed and has low barriers to trade and modern, pacific values. Because of the variety of factors to which the peace may be ascribed, 'democratic peace' may be a misnomer; nevertheless, I shall, for the sake of brevity, continue to employ that name. By the same token, I shall continue to refer to these peacefully inclined (towards each other) societies as 'liberal democracies', although this may be a mischaracterization of the relevant category.

The preceding observations suggest a plausible set of conditions under which an anarchist society would avoid war. First, the society should be located in a region surrounded by strong liberal democracies. This would render it highly improbable that the society would be attacked by nonliberal nations. Wars between distant nations are rare in general,[50] and in this case an invader would have to cross through one of the liberal democratic states. Second, the society should share the characteristics of liberal democracies apart from those that inherently require government. It should be affluent; it should share broadly liberal, peace-loving values; and it should possess numerous and strong commercial relations with its neighbors. Third, the society must be established with the consent - or at least without the opposition - of the surrounding liberal states. Under these conditions, the society is very unlikely to suffer attack by foreign states.

Are these conditions realistic? The first condition is certainly realistic: large regions of the globe are controlled by liberal democracies, these regimes generally appear highly stable, and ever more of the globe has come under the control of liberal democracies over the past two centuries. So there are many suitable regions, and many more will exist in the future.

The second condition is also realistic, though not inevitable, provided that anarcho-capitalism is workable in other respects. Of course, if anarchy degenerates into universal fighting and pillaging, then the anarchist society would not be affluent and would not maintain strong commercial ties with its neighbors. The arguments of previous chapters regarding the internal peacefulness and stability of the anarcho-capitalist order are thus important also to establishing the potential for peaceful relations between an anarchist society and its neighbors. If those arguments are correct and if an anarchist society were started by initially affluent, liberal, peace-loving people, then the society would continue to share those traits.

It is the third condition that would be the most difficult to realize. Since every habitable portion of the earth's surface is presently controlled by states, the anarchist society would seemingly have to be founded within the territory of some state. This seems unlikely at present, mainly because almost no one believes in anarchism. Indeed, very few have even heard of the form of anarchism discussed in this book. This suggests that anarchism will not be adopted any time soon. Nevertheless, I maintain that, in the event that it were adopted, it would be a successful social system. If the only obstacle to its success is that people refuse to try it, then I think this is no obstacle to holding that it is the correct social system.

12.3.6 If you desire war, prepare for war

I have argued that an anarchist society could be relatively free of the factors that typically cause states to become involved in war. But what if there were some feature unique to anarchist societies that would cause them to become involved in war? This feature would not have appeared in any of the historical studies of the causes of war.

There is one obvious difference between anarchies and states that seems relevant: almost all states maintain standing armies, whereas an anarchist society would presumably have no standing army. Would this make the anarchist society more prone to war?

Some thinkers in the field of international relations (often tendentiously dubbed 'realists') take power relations among states, especially the presence or absence of deterrence, to be the main determinants of war and peace. It is often said that if one desires peace, one must prepare for war.[51] These thinkers might argue that an anarchist society would be unable to deter aggressors and would therefore soon be attacked.

Other thinkers maintain an almost opposite position, that military preparations make war more likely rather than less. One reason is that leaders who believe their nation well prepared for war or who see themselves as commanders of great military forces may behave more aggressively in interstate interactions, thus provoking more aggressive responses from others. A second problem is that the maintenance of a standing army creates a permanent class in society with an economic interest in war - the military, arms manufacturers, and others who do business with the military - and this 'war lobby' may promote suspicion of foreign nations and support hawkish leaders who are more likely to initiate or escalate conflicts. Athird problem is that, despite the popularity of the adage 'if you desire peace, prepare for war', those in foreign countries are less likely to take your war preparations as evidence of peaceful desires than as evidence of hostile intentions. The suspicion and hostility engendered in foreign nations will increase the likelihood of conflict spirals leading to war.[52]

Conservatives and liberals will differ with one another over which theoretical argument is more plausible. Fortunately, we need not rely only on gut feelings; we can turn to empirical evidence. The deterrence argument would lead us to expect two things: first, that more militarized states (roughly, states that expend more resources on the military per capita) are less likely to be involved in war. The safest condition should be that in which both members of a pair of states are highly militarized, since in that case both sides could anticipate enormous harms from war. In contrast, if neither state is highly militarized, the consequences of war are relatively low, and neither side will face a strong deterrent.

Second, states that are nearly equal in power should be less likely to go to war with one another than states that are very unequal in power. When two states are nearly equal in power, both stand to suffer serious losses from war, and thus both will face a strong deterrent, whereas when one state is much more powerful than the other, the more powerful state will face little deterrent.

We cannot be absolutely confident of either of these predictions. Perhaps states that are already more likely to go to war are also, for that reason, more likely to make preparations for war. And perhaps powerful states refrain from attacking their weaker neighbors because their weaker neighbors simply accede to all the demands of the powerful states. These possibilities would interfere with the predictions I have suggested. Nevertheless, it seems that, on balance, the finding of an inverse correlation between militarism and war would be taken by most observers as at least some evidence in favor of the theory that military preparation deters war, as would the finding of an inverse relationship between equality of power and war. Conversely, then, positive correlations in each of these cases would undermine the theory that military preparation deters war.

Political scientist Stuart Bremer analyzed data on all wars between 1816 and 1965. Among other things, he found that militarization either had no effect on or slightly increased the probability of war. He also found that states were most likely to go to war when they were roughly equal in power and least likely to go to war when there was a large power difference. Both of these factors - relative power and militarization - were less important than the factors of democracy and economic development, suggesting that the emphasis of the 'realists' is misplaced.[53]

Another way of testing the theory that military deterrence is necessary for a society to be secure against foreign invasion is to examine cases of societies that have little or no military forces. The deterrence theory would predict that any such society would quickly be taken over by another country, just as an anarchist society allegedly would be.

At present, there are at least fifteen countries without military forces, including Andorra, Costa Rica, the Federated States of Micronesia, Grenada, Kiribati, Liechtenstein, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and Vatican City.[54] Most of these nations have nonetheless remained at peace for decades. The largest of these nations is Costa Rica, whose last war was a civil war in 1948. The following year, the country adopted a constitution banning the military. Costa Rica has been at peace ever since.[55]

Advocates of the need for deterrence might seek to explain away these cases in either of two ways. First, each of these nations maintains a national police force, and perhaps it is this police force that deters invaders. Given that none of these police forces could be expected to defeat a traditional army, their military deterrence value is open to question. But if they provide sufficient deterrence against invasion, then the private security agencies and ordinary armed citizens in an anarchist society should provide a comparable deterrent as well.

Second, if any of these nations were invaded, some other state might come to its defense. In many but not all cases, these demilitarized countries have understandings with more powerful nations whereby the more powerful nations are responsible for their defense. Even without any agreement, there is a good chance that some other nation would intervene to stop a hostile invasion. The United States, for example, has a history of intervention in many parts of the world, including an invasion of Grenada in 1983 in which U.S. forces overthrew a Marxist military coup and restored democratic government.[56] If, therefore, Grenada were invaded by a foreign nation, it seems likely that the U.S. would intervene again. The same holds true for other small nations in the region, such as Costa Rica, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Similarly, in the (highly improbable) event that some other nation attacked Vatican City, the Italian military would undoubtedly intervene; Andorra could probably count on French or Spanish protection; Nauru would probably be defended by Australia.

This raises some theoretical questions. Why would the larger nation defend the small, demilitarized nation in these cases? Why, for example, would the United States defend Grenada? Grenada has no means of compelling the U.S. to come to its aid, nor can Grenada afford to pay the U.S. for the service (nor would the U.S. ask it to do so). One reason seems to be that the United States sees itself as the police officer of the Caribbean (and, to a lesser extent, of the world). American leaders can afford to act in a manner consistent with this image because American voters are generally comfortable with this image of their nation's role, provided that U.S. military interventions are not too long or costly. Another factor is that the U.S. government would not wish to see another, aggressive government gain influence in the region. When the United States invaded Grenada in 1983, it was partly to stop the island from being controlled by communists friendly to Cuba's Fidel Castro.

Asecond theoretical question is even sharper for 'realists': what protects Grenada from the United States? Why has the U.S. not taken over the island and run it as a colony? Those who seek to explain international relations in terms of power relations and who emphasize deterrence as a necessary condition for security must have difficulty accounting for the continued enjoyment of peace and independence by Grenada and other defenseless nations.

Here is one plausible (nonrealist) explanation. If American leaders were to launch a hostile takeover of Grenada, the action would immediately receive extremely negative publicity. Grenada would be widely perceived (correctly) as a harmless and defenseless nation, and the invasion would therefore be extremely unpopular among American voters. U.S. politicians, though perhaps happy to ignore the desires of the populace when no one is watching (which is almost always), typically fear to defy voter opinion in high-profile cases, particularly when there is as little to gain as there would be in this case. Any military invasion is bound to be high profile, so leaders will be reluctant to attack nations that are seen as harmless.

It is not only among the handful of literally defenseless nations in the world that one finds cases of security without military deterrence. There are in addition many nations with military forces much weaker than those of neighboring countries. For example, the U.S. military maintains approximately 1.4 million active-duty personnel, while the Canadian forces number 68,000.[57] No realistic military considerations prevent the United States from taking Canada over. Considering the number of nation pairs in the world for which one nation is much more powerful than the other and contrasting this with the very small number that are actually at war, one must begin to doubt the importance of deterrence in explaining how peace is maintained.

Returning to the question of anarchy, statists will be quick to argue that the security of the demilitarized nations under discussion depends upon the power and benevolent intentions of other states, which must protect the weak nations. Therefore, the security of a society really depends upon government, albeit not necessarily that society's own government.

Be that as it may, the question of interest was whether an anarchic society can hope to be secure against foreign aggression. If a society may be safe because of the character of other nations' governments, then it appears that the society need not have a government of its own, and an anarchic society can therefore be secure. An anarchic society could depend upon the strength and benevolent intentions of nearby liberal democracies, in the same way that many existing states presently do.

Even if a few secure anarchic societies could be established, one might still wonder whether the system could possibly serve as an ideal for the world as a whole. This question will be taken up in Chapter 13.

12.4 Avoiding Terrorism

Since 2001, Americans have been preoccupied with the threat of terrorism, and this concern has led to a significant expansion in the powers of the central government. It might be thought that government is needed to protect people from this threat.

12.4.1 The terrorist threat

Between 1968 and 2009 (the years for which data were available), terrorist attacks claimed a total of about 3200 lives within the United States (almost all on 11 September 2001) and 64,000 lives worldwide.[58] During the same time period, nonterrorist murderers within the United States took 802,000 lives.[59] The total number of American deaths from all causes during that time period was close to 91 million.[60] Thus, in the United States, terrorism accounted for approximately 0.4 percent of murders and 0.004 percent of all deaths. These figures initially make it difficult to see terrorism as among the most serious threats facing either the United States or the world.

The only way in which one could see terrorism as a serious threat, therefore, is if one suspects that future terrorism will be many times worse than past terrorism. This might be true if terrorists gained control of nuclear or biological weapons. There is no reliable way of estimating the odds of such an occurrence; however, some experts on the subject have given alarming assessments. In 2005, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar surveyed 85 nonproliferation and national security experts from around the world on their assessments of the risk of terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD). On average, respondents considered a terrorist nuclear attack somewhere in the world within the following ten years to be 29 percent likely and a major biological attack 33 percent likely.[61] In 2008, the U.S. government's Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism deemed it more likely than not that a WMD terrorist attack would occur somewhere in the world by the year 2013, with a biological attack being more likely than a nuclear attack.[62]

These assessments should be taken with a grain of salt, as national security experts may have a bias toward overstating threats to national security. Those who are most predisposed toward concern about national security threats are most likely to become national security experts. Many of these experts work for governments, which tend to profit from public perception of serious national security threats. Most importantly, the assessments mentioned in the previous paragraph are subjective guesses, assessments of the sort that is least reliable and most easily influenced by bias.[63] This unreliability is perhaps reflected in the fact that expert assessments of the probability of WMD terrorism cover the whole range from 0 to 100 percent.[64]

Experts who provide detailed consideration of the various ways in which a terrorist plot might fail tend to see the risks as much smaller than indicated in the previous paragraph.[65]

While there is no agreement on even the approximate likelihood of a terrorist WMD attack, there is general agreement that such an attack would have extremely serious consequences, beginning with possibly hundreds of thousands of deaths.[66] In the worst scenarios entertained by experts, the fatalities would be equivalent to a few decades' worth of ordinary murders in the United States. While this is not an existential threat to American society or any other, it remains a serious concern.

12.4.2 The roots of terrorism

Why do terrorist attacks occur? There are two broad views about the motivations of most terrorists. The first is the 'clash of civilizations' picture, expressed eloquently by U.S. President George W. Bush in 2001:

They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. [ ... ] They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other. [ ... ] These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. [ ... ] This is civilization's fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.[67]

On this view, terrorists are moved by fundamentally evil goals, and America is targeted because of its most notable virtues. No change in government policy, short of conversion to Islamic theocracy, could be expected to have any significant impact on terrorist motivations.

Another view attributes anti-American sentiment to specific U.S. foreign policies, particularly in the Middle East. Among these policies are the U.S.-sponsored sanctions against Iraq following the first Persian Gulf war; U.S. support for Israel in what some describe as the oppression of the Palestinians; the continuing presence of U.S. troops in Muslim countries, particularly on the Arabian Peninsula since the first Gulf war; the recent invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, with the consequent deaths of hundreds of thousands of citizens of those countries; and the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Each of these actions, it is argued, contributes to a tide of resentment towards America, particularly in Muslim countries, thereby enabling terrorist groups to recruit additional members.[68]

Which of these basic conceptions is more accurate? The evidence weighs heavily in favor of the 'foreign policy retaliation' theory. To begin with, the actual statements of bin Laden and other terrorist leaders in calling for jihad against America cite particular American foreign policies as justification, chiefly the presence of U.S. troops in 'the land of the two Holy Places' (the Arabian peninsula), U.S. support for Israel, and the U.S. war and economic sanctions against Iraq.[69] They do not cite America's liberal democratic values, nor do they target liberal democracies with no Middle East involvement. Presumably, these terrorist leaders would be in a better position to know their own motivations than American government officials or other distant observers, and it would be in their interests to reveal those motivations if they hope to coerce nations to accede to their desires. In contrast, the assessments of government officials may suffer from a bias in the direction of discounting the responsibility of the government itself for terrorist sentiments, particularly if officials have no intention of changing the policies that may have led to those sentiments.

Experts who study terrorist motivations come to similar conclusions. Anthropologist Scott Atran has spent years studying terrorists in a number of countries around the world, entering their communities and interviewing terrorists. Atran found recent terrorists to be driven by moral outrage at the violence performed by Americans against Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. He found that jihadis are not moved by hatred for freedom and democracy, as Bush stated, nor are they 'nihilists', as Barack Obama has stated.[70] They see themselves as courageous heroes standing up against an enormous oppressor. As one Hamas politburo member put it, 'George Washington was fighting the strongest military in the world, beyond all reason. That's what we're doing. Exactly.'[71]

Robert Pape and James Feldman studied all 2200 suicide-terrorist attacks that occurred around the world between 1980 and 2009. They found that these attacks were not chiefly motivated by religious differences. Instead, almost all the attacks were motivated by a desire to end foreign military occupation of a territory that the terrorists prized. This was the one constant across both secular and religious terrorist groups and across all countries, from the West Bank to Sri Lanka to Lebanon to Chechnya.[72] This includes the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks that prompted horrified Americans to ask, 'Why do they hate us?' Here are the words of three of the 9/11 hijackers:

Abu al-Jaraah al-Ghamidi: What is happening in Muslim countries today? Blatant occupation about which there is no doubt. ... There is no duty more obligatory after faith than to repel him.

Abu Mus'ab Walid al-Shehri: [R]epelling the Americans occupying the land of the Two Sanctuaries ... is the most obligatory of obligations.

Hamza al-Ghamdi: And I say to America: if it wants its armies and people to be safe, then it must withdraw all of its forces from the Muslim lands and depart from all our countries.[73]

It should go without saying that the effort to understand the motivations of terrorists does not entail sympathy for terrorists, nor does it involve any attempt to shift the moral blame for terrorist actions away from the terrorists themselves. An accurate understanding of terrorist motivations, free of self-serving biases, is simply the first step in understanding how to avoid terrorist attacks in the future.

12.4.3 Violent and nonviolent solutions

How should the problem of terrorism be addressed? Most governments focus on the enforcement strategy: tracking down and capturing or killing as many terrorists as possible. It is hoped that this will incapacitate most of the people who would otherwise commit terrorist acts, in addition to deterring others who might consider becoming terrorists. Many terrorists have been captured or killed, and this has presumably directly prevented many terrorist attacks that would otherwise have occurred.

At the same time, there are reasons for apprehension about the general strategy. It is impossible to capture all terrorists, and even capturing a large percentage of them may prove difficult and demand large sacrifices, both in material terms and in terms of civil liberties. Enforcement will likely become ever more difficult in the future, for as society advances economically and technologically, ever more people will have access to tools capable of wreaking great destruction. Governments may resort to increasingly draconian methods of enforcement. Yet these methods may themselves create further resentment, pushing more people to become terrorists; this is most likely if those methods include torture or other prisoner abuse. If the government also continues the policies that led to terrorist sentiment to begin with, new terrorist recruits may continue to appear on a regular basis, perpetuating a constant state of conflict. According to a Gallup survey, 7 percent of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims considered the 9/11 attacks completely justified, while 37 percent considered the attacks either completely, largely, or somewhat justified.[74] With such a large number of people harboring some sympathy for terrorism, it seems that an effective strategy must focus more on reducing that tide of outrage rather than on deploying ever more violence to destroy the enemy. When faced with opponents who are drawn from a community containing tens or hundreds of millions of outraged people, a purely combative strategy is most likely to produce an endless cycle of bloodshed that will prove tragic for both sides.

The ideal approach to terrorism would be to somehow act so that no one, or at most very few people, the sort of anger that would motivate them to commit terrorist attacks to begin with. If terrorist attacks are motivated by sheer evil or by hatred of freedom, then this will not be feasible. But if, as I have argued, terrorism is retaliation for specific government policies, then the problem could be solved through the elimination of those policies.

An anarchist society would be much safer from terrorism than a government-dominated society, for the anarchist society would have no mechanism for undertaking the sorts of actions that typically motivate terrorist attacks. The anarchists would not, for example, station troops on foreign soil, impose economic embargoes on other countries, or invade other countries.

Of course, a nation with a government can practice a noninterventionist foreign policy and thereby avoid becoming a target of terrorism. Nevertheless, it should be borne in mind that the existence of a government creates an ongoing, nontrivial risk that the government will undertake policies that cause its own citizens to become targets for terrorist attacks. The self-image of government, almost by its very nature, is that of an agency that functions to combat threats to society through force. Thus, while it is not inevitable, it is natural that governments will react to perceived threats in an aggressive manner that perpetuates the cycle of violence. Democratic polities are more likely to support than to restrain the state once such a cycle begins. In a 2011 presidential debate, Republican candidate Rick Santorum received cheers from the audience for declaring that America was attacked in 2001 because of terrorist hatred for freedom, opportunity, and 'American exceptionalism'. Rival candidate Ron Paul responded by citing al Qaeda's actual statements as evidence that U.S. foreign policies were the motive for the attacks.

Paul received catcalls from the audience for his observations.[75] This admittedly anecdotal evidence suggests that democratic polities tend to prefer candidates who blame threats on the sheer evil of the nation's enemies over candidates who truthfully attribute enemy hostility to earlier government policies. This bodes ill for the prospects of resolving conflicts without terrible bloodshed.

12.5 The dangers of ‘national security’

12.5.1 The risk of unjust aggression

Suppose I develop a plan to render my home secure from burglars and other trespassers: I will plant land mines in my front yard. Clearly, it would be barbarous to discuss this proposal purely in terms of how well it promoted the security of my own home. I would be ethically bound to consider as well such questions as what will happen if neighborhood children stray onto my lawn - even if they are not my children.

Similarly, any society is ethically bound to consider how its national security apparatus affects not only its own security but also the security of other peoples around the world. This question is particularly pointed for Americans, whose 'defense' apparatus includes over 700 military bases in 39 foreign countries[76] and has recently been involved in the Middle Eastern conflicts mentioned above. But it is not only Americans who have cause for moral concern about their governments' actions; 27 countries sent troops to join the war in Iraq, including over 10,000 British troops.[77]

One might wonder whether the recent aggressiveness of the American and allied governments is a historical accident or whether there is something in the nature of government that encourages such results. The answer is that while such aggression is far from inevitable, it remains a nontrivial risk for any society that maintains a government in a geopolitical environment anything like the one that currently exists. As long as there remain many undemocratic countries in the world, democratic countries are at risk of going to war with undemocratic countries, particularly those that are perceived as alien by the populaces of the democratic nations. The national security apparatus itself creates a permanent interest in war. Governments, particularly their branches devoted to national security, tend to profit from a state of war, as do the contractors who sell goods and services to the military. At a minimum, therefore, one could expect these interests to have a keen perception of the arguments in favor of war at any given juncture and a relatively duller perception of the arguments for peace.

But it is not only military contractors and members of the government's national security apparatus who are liable to support war. Many ordinary citizens, whether out of a misguided sense of patriotism, out of a desire to project a manly self-image, or out of ignorance and misunderstanding, may support aggressive wars. While such cognitive and character flaws are present in any large population, it is only in a government-controlled society that they are likely to lead to large-scale violence, for only in a government-controlled society is there a standing apparatus that enables such individuals to bring about large-scale violence at minimal cost to themselves, simply through showing up at the polls and voting in hawkish politicians. Even if, for example, a majority of Americans desired a war with Iran, hardly any would consider actually taking up arms and, as private individuals, flying to Iran to attack. It is only through a governmental apparatus that their hostility is likely to lead to mass violence.

As in the case of the land mines on the front lawn, then, we have a strong moral reason for eliminating our government; namely, the threat that it poses to innocent people elsewhere in the world.

12.5.2 The risk of global disaster

The human species is not immortal. In all probability, it will one day become extinct. We may hope that this day will come far in the future, perhaps millions of years hence. But we should fear that it will come much sooner, perhaps within only hundreds of years.

Our species has survived for 200,000 years so far. But this is no cause for complacency; during most of that time, we possessed no technology plausibly capable of extinguishing ourselves. Since the end of World War II, we do. Anuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union might have extinguished the species and in any case would certainly have been a catastrophe the likes of which humanity has never seen.

The United States and the Soviet Union managed to avoid such a war for the crucial four and a half decades from the end of World War II until the collapse of the Soviet Union. One might regard this as a testament to the efficacy of deterrence and the capacity of national leaders to act rationally when the stakes were high enough. But again, we have little cause for complacency. The U.S. and the Soviet Union came closer to war than many realize. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, President Kennedy thought that the odds of a nuclear war were about one in three.[78] At one point during the crisis, American naval ships were dropping depth charges on a Soviet submarine in an effort to force it to surface. Unknown to the Americans, the sub was armed with a nuclear torpedo. The captain wanted to fire the torpedo, but Vasily Arkhipov, second in command, managed to convince the captain to hold off and surface the sub instead.[79]

This incident illustrates the fragility of the barriers to war between rival nation-states, even when the opposing nations are each aware that any war would be catastrophic. Had Vasily Arkhipov agreed with his captain or had a more hawkish individual been on the submarine in place of Arkhipov, the torpedo would have been fired, and in all likelihood a global nuclear war would have ensued, with hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of casualties.

This incident should give us pause. If the world came that close to nuclear war in 1962, it could do so again. The superficial circumstances would be different. The date might be decades or centuries in the future. The nations involved might be different. In place of nuclear weapons, the armies of that day might be armed with some even more fearsome weapons not yet invented. As long as armies inhabit a technologically advanced world, there will be weapons of mass destruction. And as long as weapons of mass destruction exist, there remains a chance that they will be used - if not under the explicit orders of a national leader, then under the authority of a military commander in the field. Any use of such weapons, in turn, risks a rapid escalation into apocalyptic war.

How does this threat relate to the case for or against government? Government is the source of all presently existing weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. government invented nuclear weapons and remains the only organization ever to have used them in anger. A handful of national governments, particularly the U.S. and Soviet governments, are responsible for building all of the presently existing nuclear weapons. If history is any guide, the next weapons of mass destruction to be invented will almost certainly be invented by some national government (most likely the U.S. government, whose military budget, as of this writing, accounts for 40 percent of the entire world's military spending). Whatever this technology will be, it will probably pose an even greater threat to the survival of humanity than nuclear weapons. Thus, the apparatus we have devised for rendering ourselves secure against foreign aggression is itself the primary source of the greatest danger that the human species has ever faced.

12.6 Conclusion

Without the state's national security apparatus - its armies, intelligence agencies, and so on - how could a society hope to be safe from foreign threats, such as hostile foreign governments and terrorist organizations? There are several plausible answers to this.

First, a society could be defended against foreign invaders by guerrilla fighters. Several recent historical episodes suggest that native insurgents can pose an extremely serious problem even for the most advanced and powerful of armies seeking to occupy foreign lands.

Second, nonviolent popular resistance movements have often proven highly effective in convincing oppressive governments to give people their freedom.

Third, an ungoverned society is much less likely to become involved in violent conflicts to begin with than is a government- controlled society. The great majority of wars are caused by intergovernmental disputes, and all or nearly all terrorist acts are performed in retaliation for government policies.

Fourth, an anarchist society might be established under conditions that make war unlikely. Provided that

  1. the society were established in a region otherwise dominated by liberal democracies,
  2. the society itself embraced liberal values,
  3. the society maintained strong social and economic relations with its neighbors,
  4. the society lacked large internal religious or ethnic tensions,
  5. the society were not established in a region of long-standing territorial dispute,
  6. the society were established through an indigenous movement rather than being imposed by foreign powers, and
  7. the society were established with the consent of the state previously controlling the territory,

then an anarchist society would probably be stable and free from violent conflict with other nations. The first six of these conditions (in conjunction) are entirely realistic. Only the seventh seems unattainable in the near future, chiefly because very few people have accepted the theory defended in this book.

Finally, it is important to consider the danger that one's own national security apparatus poses to the rest of the world. As long as it exists, the state has a nontrivial risk of committing unjust violence against others, in the form of aggressive war, as well as a nontrivial risk of developing and using weapons of mass destruction, which threaten the survival of the human species. We are morally and prudentially obligated to minimize these risks.


1 U.S. Navy 2009; Birkler et al. 1998, 75.

2 CNN Money 2012.

3 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 2012.

4 Twenty-Fifth Aviation Battalion n.d.

5 For an account of the Vietnam conflict, see Herring 2002.

6 For an account of the Irish war of independence, see Hopkinson 2002.

7 For an account of the Algerian revolt, see Horne 1987.

8 For an account of the Soviet-Afghani conflict, see Maley 2009.

9 An estimated 47 percent of American households own firearms (Saad 2011), and the nation contains over 200 million private guns, nearly one-third of the world's total gun supply (Reuters 2007b).

10 For an account of the Indian independence movement, see Sarkar 1988.

11 For an account of the American civil rights movement, see Williams 1987.

12 For an account of the Polish struggle, see Mason 1996, 26-9, 51-4; Sanford 2002, 50-5; BBC News 1999. 13 See Coleman 1996, chapter 16, for a brief account of the August coup and the collapse of the Soviet Union. On the refusal of Soviet special forces to attack the White House, see Ebon 1994, 7-9. On the case of Estonia, see Tusty and Tusty 2006.

14 Mao 1972, 61.

15 This account is loosely derived from Sharp 1990, chs. 2-3.

16 See Sobek 2009, 2-3; Cashman and Robinson 2007, 3-4.

17 Lorenz 1966, 42-3, chapter 13; Wilson 2000, 254-5.

18 Robert Sapolsky (in Fry 2007, foreword, x) attributes the thesis to Lorenz (1966). However, Lorenz concludes his book with a discussion of ways of avoiding war (1966, chapter 14), going so far as to predict that one day, love and friendship will embrace all of humanity (298-9).

19 Fry 2007, 17, 237-8.

20 Remak 1993, 14, 157. The principle of Swiss neutrality was put in writing in the 1815 Treaty of Paris, following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, who had previously taken over Switzerland.

21 Cashman and Robinson 2007, 1; Gat 2006, 591; Pinker 2011.

22 Gat (2006, 39-41) takes this position.

23 Gat (2006, 61-7, 409-14) takes this as the central underlying cause of war.

24 Cashman and Robinson 2007, 205, 216-23.

25 Cashman and Robinson 2007, 271-3.

26 Karsh 2002, 89-92.

27 A1975 treaty had set the border between the two countries at the middle of the river. However, Saddam Hussein, feeling that Iraq had been coerced into accepting this treaty, desired a return to the terms of an earlier, 1937 treaty, which had set the border at the eastern bank of the river.

28 Cashman 1993, 165-72; Choucri and North 1975, 248-9, 254. 29 Cashman and Robinson 2007, 55-68.

30 Cashman and Robinson 2007, 271-3, 288-92.

31 Parker 1997, 2; Miller 2001, 20; Lindemann 2010, 68-70.

32 Keynes 1920, 225. British opinion at the time was largely in agreement with Keynes (Henig 1995, 50-2).

33 Organski 1968, 371.

34 Copeland 2000, 4-5.

35 Organski 1968, 356-9.

36 Copeland 2000, 56-117.

37 Cashman and Robinson 2007, 30-6, 57. Copeland's (2000, 79-117) evidence shows how German officials manipulated Austria, Russia, and France into war.

38 Organski 1968, 357-8.

39 Copeland 2000, 118-45.

40 Cashman and Robinson 2007, 278-81.

41 See Babst's (1972) seminal statement. See Gleditsch 1992 for a brief literature review.

42 Kant 1957, 12-13.

43 See Section 9.4.3. Gat (2006, 582-3) observes that bellicose masses in many societies have driven their leaders to war.

44 Bremer 1992, 316, 328-30, 334-6; Russett and Oneal 2001, 108-11. 45 Doyle 2010a; 2010b.

46 Domke 1988, chapter 5.

47 Gartzke 2010.

48 Gat 2006, 587-97.

49 Mueller 2004, 1-2, 32-40; Pinker 2011, chapter 4.

50 Bremer 1992, 312-13, 327, 334-6.

51 The saying, 'Si vis pacem, para bellum', derives from the fourth-century Roman writer Vegetius (2001, 63). 52 Bremer (1992, 318) discusses these arguments.

53 Bremer 1992, 326, 334-8. Bremer notes that, after controlling for other factors, the effect of militarization is minimal.

54 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency 2011. Wikipedia lists an additional five nations with 'no standing army but ... limited military forces': Haiti, Iceland, Mauritius, Monaco, and Panama (; accessed 28 September 2011), all of which the CIAlists as having 'no regular military forces'.

55 U.S. Department of State 2011.

56 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency 2011.

57 U.S. Department of Defense 2010; Canadian Department of National Defence 2011.

58 All data on terrorist fatalities is from the RAND Corporation (2011).

59 Disaster Center 2011a. I focus on American deaths here because reliable U.S. statistics are more readily available than worldwide statistics.

60 Disaster Center 2011b. Death totals for years not shown in the table were estimated based upon death totals in nearby years.

61 Lugar 2005, 14, 19.

62 Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism 2008, xv. For similarly dire warnings, see Allison 2004, 15; Bunn 2006.

63 The usual method of assessing the probability of an event involves observing its frequency in a large number of trials. In the present case, no instances of the event have been observed. Another approach is to observe the frequency of near misses - cases in which the event almost occurred. There are no known cases in which terrorists came very close to a successful major WMD attack; however, there have been numerous cases in which terrorist plots to distribute toxic agents have been foiled, and others in which unauthorized individuals or groups have been caught with samples of highly enriched uranium (Cordesman 2005, 22-4). The most reliable way of assessing probabilities may be to establish a betting market (see, e.g., The U.S. government has considered establishing a terrorism betting market but rejected the proposal for emotional reasons (CNN 2003).

64 Lugar 2005, 14, 19.

65 See Levi 2007. Though Levi declines to offer a numerical assessment of the risk of nuclear terrorism, the impression he leaves is far less alarming than that left by the previous authors. Nevertheless, Levi counsels strongly in favor of strengthening defenses against nuclear terrorism.

66 Levi (2007, 38) mentions the possibility of 100,000 deaths due to a terrorist nuclear attack on New York; Allison (2004, 4) mentions the possibility of half a million immediate deaths from the same event, plus hundreds of thousands more in the ensuing hours.

67 Bush 2001.

68 See, for example, Hornberger 2006.

69 bin Laden 1996; bin Laden et al. 1998.

70 See Obama 2004, x: 'Nor do I pretend to understand the stark nihilism that drove the terrorists that day and that drives their brethren still. My powers of empathy, my ability to reach into another's heart, cannot penetrate the blank stares of those who would murder innocents with abstract, serene satisfaction.'

71 Atran 2010, 347. See Atran 2010, 53-4, 55-6, 114-15, 290, on terrorist motivations. Atran (2010, 4-5, 42-3) contests Bush's and Obama's remarks.

72 Pape and Feldman 2010, 9-10.

73 From the 9/11 martyr videos, quoted in Pape and Feldman 2010, 23.

74 On the poll results, see Atran 2010, 57-8; Satloff 2008. On the world Muslim population, see Pew Research Center 2009.

75 CNN 2011; video clip,; accessed 11 February 2012. 76 Perry 2008. reports that U.S. forces are deployed in over 135 countries worldwide (; accessed 18 October 2011). 77 BBC News 2003.

78 Blanton 1997, 93.

79 Dobbs 2008, 302-3, 317.

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The Problem of Political Authority

An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey

Michael Huemer




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