Still Riding The Trojan Horse


Still Riding The Trojan Horse Essay, Research Paper

Still riding the Trojan horse The Shield of Achilles: War, Law and the Course of History by Philip Bobbitt 960pp, Allen Lane This is a book of extraordinary ambition. It could well have been called A General Theory of War, Peace and History . For that is what it proffers, at least for political history over the last half-millennium as perceived through European and American eyes. And it has a message: that, as Sir Michael Howard puts it in his magisterial foreword, “mankind could be facing a tragedy without precedent in its history”. Even Achilles behind his “great and massive” shield was neither secure nor victorious at Troy. Nor are we, the parliamentary democratic nation-states, today. These are big themes, and the architecture and style of the book are suitably grand, drawing on a wealth of classical and modern scholarship as well as on the author’s extensive experience in the highest reaches of American government as an expert and policy-maker on security and international law. In order to subdue and organise the immense field of modern history within the compass of a single overarching theory – or set of theories – Bobbitt generates a degree of abstraction that might discomfit traditional historians of the British empirical school, at one point even needing explanatory diagrams. Even so, London and Oxford, with Washington, DC and Texas, are his spiritual and actual homes; and the almost Germanic structure of his argument is relieved by his engagingly fresh English prose. The book starts, giving no quarter to the fears of nervous publishers, with over four straight pages of Homer (albeit in translation). It is the celebrated passage in The Iliad in which the armourer of the gods forges for Achilles a magnificent shield on which are emblazoned exquisite peacetime scenes – weddings, markets, dancing, athletics, the arts, agriculture, wine-making and law – as well as battles. “This,” says Bobbitt, “is the main point that I wish my readers to bear in mind: war is a product as well as a shaper of culture. Animals do not make war, even though they fight. No less than the markets and the law courts, with which it is inextricably entwined, war is a creative act of civilized man with important consequences for the rest of human culture, which include the festivals of peace.” The key concepts in Bobbitt’s theory of history are epochal wars, types of state and species of international order, embodied in historic settlements that conclude the epochal wars and regulate the relations between successive species of state. Thus five epochal wars (Habsburg-Valois, 1515-1555; thirty years’, 1618-1648; Louis XIV’s, 1667-1713; French revolutionary, 1792-1815; the “long war”, 1914-1990) delivered the dominance of five successive types of state. Each also yielded a form of international order among the society of states, with an associated unique legitimising notion. So, the Treaty of Augsburg (1555) enshrined the princely state whereby the state legitimises the dynasty. The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) enshrined the kingly state where the dynasty legitimises the state. The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) enshrined the territorial state on the principle that the state will manage the country efficiently. The Congress of Vienna (1815) enshrined the state-nation, in which the state forges the identity of the nation. The Treaty of Versailles (1919) enshrined the nation-state, whose legitimacy rests on the idea that the state will better the welfare of the nation. And finally, at the end of the “long war”, the Peace of Paris (1990) set the scene for the rise of the market-state, whose mission is to maximise the opportunity of its citizens. Each of these evolutions is, moreover, sustained by the most successful exploitation of the characteristic military technology and tactics of its time. Armed with this framework, Bobbitt addresses the future, and the onset of the “age of indeterminacy”. This is not, incidentally, an inconvenient concept to the futurologist anxious to hedge his bets, rather in the way that “faith” squares the circle for those who would advance religious – or indeed other – beliefs in the teeth of the evidence. We are, he says, at the threshold of “the sixth great revolution in strategic and constitutional affairs”. The triumph of the parliamentary nation-state at the conclusion of the “long war”, and the associated peace that has followed it, will not last. History is not over. We can expect a new epochal war in which the new form of the state, the market-state, “asserts its primacy as the most effective constitutional means to deal with the consequences of the strategic innovations that won the ‘Long War’”. In a rare lapse from abstraction, Bobbitt explains that the age when only states could wage wars, aggressively or defensively, is passing because “very small numbers of persons operating with the enormous power of modern computers, biogenetics, air transport, and even small nuclear weapons, can deal lethal blows to any society. And, because it may be impossible to tell whence the attack comes, defence based on deterrence and retaliation will fail, thereby threatening the ability of the parliamentary nation-state to fulfil its legitimising role as the protector of its citizens’ rights, liberties and interests.” At best, “there will be no final victory in such a war”. We shall never reach the utopia of a world of law without war. Worse still, “so long as states rely on a nation-state model for their international order, fruitlessly attempting to cope with new problems by trying to increase the authority of treaties, multi-state conventions, or formal international institutions like the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, the society of states will fail to develop practices and precedents for regional, consensual, and market-driven arrangements that do not rely on law for enforcement”. “Constitutional orders that protect human rights and liberties can coexist,” he continues, “with the consequences of the ‘Long War’ only if they revolutionize their military strategies; states will only be able to pursue military strategies that enable collaboration and international consensus if they revolutionize their constitutional orders, away from the national, law-centered methods of the nation-state and toward the international, market operations of the market-state”. This, indeed, is heavy stuff. Some readers will feel at the end of it all that, piling Pelion upon Ossa of such abstractions, its practical meaning eludes them. At the very least they may think that the argument hinges heavily on the concept of the epochal war and, in particular, on a reading of the history of the 20th century as a single such war from 1914 to 1990 – by the end of which the parliamentary nation-state, for all of its triumphs, had met the military and technological conditions for its own demise. A sceptical reader might say that the cold war was not, as Bobbitt argues, an extension for half a century of the first and second world wars, which are perceived as an historic struggle between, on the one hand, the parliamentary democracies and, on the other, the fascist/ communist dictatorship model of the state. On the contrary, that reader might say the cold war was not a war at all, but an armed peacetime competition between Washington and Moscow for spheres of influence, always short of upsetting the equilibrium, however unstable, that preserved the nuclear stalemate and so the peace. More aggressively, such a reader might say it is unconvincing to pretend that the Kaiser was fighting the same war for the same reasons as Hitler and Stalin – and even less convincing to pretend that Stalin was on one side of this epochal struggle from 1941 to 1945 and then on the other from 1948 onwards. A less ambitious historian than Bobbitt might be content to say that the first world war was essentially a clash of rival nationalisms, and that the second world war was a hideously unfortunate consequence of the devil’s brew of failed peace-making, economic mismanagement and inflamed resentments that produced Adolf Hitler. And, finally, that the cold war started as an ideological competition and ended as a technological race from which the Soviet Union simply dropped out. Accordingly, the real historical dividing line was not in 1990, but in 1945, when – after mankind’s worst half-century in 1,000 years – the world said to itself “never again”, drew a line in the sand and embraced the overriding principle of non-aggression as the sovereign rule of a new world. In this world, might would no longer be the sole right and the law of the pontifical and military jungle would be left in the past. The cold war paralysed its enforcement. Nonetheless, there was no third world war; and the challenge to the society of nations is still to uphold and augment the rule of non-aggression, extended to deal with rogue states, failed states, humanitarian disasters, weapons of mass destruction and aggression by non-states. The changing technology and tactics of armed conflict, while contradicting nonsensical complacency about the “end” of history, do not by themselves announce a new epochal war so much as feed the age-old running battle between war and peace and between “us” and “them”. · Peter Jay was formerly British ambassador in Washington, DC.

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