Thinking that war is inevitable makes it so; it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thinking that ending war is possible opens the door to constructive work on an actual peace system.
There is already more Peace in the World than War
The twentieth century was a time of monstrous wars, yet most nations did not fight other nations most of the time. The U.S. fought Germany for six years, but was at peace with the country for ninety-four years. The war with Japan lasted four years; the two countries were at peace for ninety-six. The U.S. has not fought Canada since 1815 and has never fought Sweden or India. Guatemala has never fought France. The truth is that most of the world lives without war most of the time. In fact, since 1993, the incidence of interstate warfare has been declining. At the same time, we acknowledge the changing nature of warfare as discussed previously. This is most notable in the vulnerability of civilians. In fact, the purported protection of civilians has been increasingly used as a justification for military interventions (e.g., the 2011 overthrow of the government of Libya).
We Have Changed Major Systems in the Past
Largely unanticipated change has happened in world history many times before. The ancient institution of slavery was largely abolished within less than a hundred years. Though significant new types of slavery can be found hiding in various corners of the earth, it is illegal and universally considered reprehensible. In the West, the status of women has improved dramatically in the last hundred years. In the 1950s and 1960s over a hundred nations freed themselves from colonial rule that had lasted centuries. In 1964 legal segregation was overturned in the U.S. In 1993, European nations created the European Union after fighting each other for over a thousand years. Difficulties like Greece’s ongoing debt crisis or the 2016 Brexit vote – Britain leaving the European Union – are dealt with through social and political means, not through warfare. Some changes have been wholly unanticipated and have come so suddenly as to be a surprise even to the experts, including the 1989 collapse of the Eastern European communist dictatorships, followed in 1991 by the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1994 we saw the end of apartheid in South Africa. 2011 saw the “Arab Spring” uprising for democracy catch most experts by surprise.
We Live in a Rapidly Changing World
The degree and pace of change in the last hundred and thirty years is hard to comprehend. Someone born in 1884, potentially the grandparent of people now alive, was born before the automobile, electric lights, radio, the airplane, television, nuclear weapons, the internet, cell phones, and drones, etc. Only a billion people lived on the planet then. They were born before the invention of total war. And we are facing even greater changes in the near future. We are approaching a population of nine billion by 2050, the necessity of ceasing to burn fossil fuels, and a rapidly accelerating climate shift that will raise sea levels and flood coastal cities and low-lying areas where millions live, setting in motion migrations the size of which has not been seen since the fall of the Roman Empire. Agricultural patterns will change, species will be stressed, forest fires will be more common and widespread, and storms will be more intense. Disease patterns will change. Water shortages will cause conflicts. We cannot continue to add warfare to this pattern of disorder. Furthermore, in order to mitigate and adapt to the negative impacts of these changes we will need to find huge resources, and these can only come from the military budgets of the world, which today amount to two trillion dollars a year.
As a result, conventional assumptions about the future will no longer hold. Very large changes in our social and economic structure are beginning to occur, whether by choice, by circumstances we have created, or by forces that are out of our control. This time of great uncertainty has huge implications for the mission, structure and operation of military systems. However, what is clear is that military solutions are not likely to work well in the future. War as we have known it is fundamentally obsolete.
The Perils of Patriarchy are Challenged
Patriarchy, an age-old system of social organization that privileges masculine ways of conducting business, structuring laws, and guiding our lives, is proving to be perilous. The first signs of patriarchy were identified in the Neolithic Era, which lasted from about 10,200 BCE to between 4,500 and 2,000 BCE, when our early relatives relied on a system of divided labor whereby males hunted and females gathered to ensure the continuation of our species. Men are physically stronger and biologically predisposed to use aggression and domination to exert their will, we are taught, while women are more apt to use a “tend and befriend” strategy to get along socially.
Characteristics of patriarchy include dependence on hierarchy (power from the top down with one, or a privileged few, in control), exclusion (clear boundaries between “insiders” and “outsiders”), reliance on authoritarianism (“my way or the highway” as a common mantra), and competition (trying to get or win something by being better than others who want it also). This system privileges wars, encourages weapons gathering, creates enemies, and spawns alliances to protect the status quo.
Women and children are considered, too often, as underlings subservient to the will(s) of the older, wealthier, stronger male(s). Patriarchy is a way of being in the world that sanctions might over rights, resulting in resource plundering and redistribution by the top bidders. Value is too often measured by what goods, properties, and servants have been amassed rather than by the quality of human connections one cultivates. Patriarchal protocols and male ownership and control of our natural resources, our political processes, our economic institutions, our religious institutions, and our familial connections are the norm and have been throughout recorded history. We’re led to believe that human nature is inherently competitive, and competition is what fuels capitalism, so capitalism must be the best economic system. Throughout recorded history women have largely been excluded from leadership roles, despite the fact that they compromise half of the population who must abide by the laws the leaders impose.
After centuries of rarely questioning beliefs that male forms of thought, body and social connection are superior to the female ones, a new era is in the offing. It is our collective task to advance the needed changes quickly enough to preserve our species and to provide a sustainable planet for future generations.
A good place to start shifting away from patriarchy is through early childhood education and the adoption of improved parenting practices, employing democratic rather than authoritarian guidelines in the growing of our families. Early education on nonviolent communication practices and consensus decision-making would help prepare our youth for their roles as future policy makers. Success along these lines is already evidenced in numerous countries which have followed the compassionate principles of noted psychologist Marshall Rosenberg in the conducting of their national as well as international policies.
Education across all levels should encourage critical thinking and open minds instead of simply indoctrinating students to accept a status quo that fails to enrich personal well-being and to enhance overall societal health. Many countries offer free education because their citizens are viewed as human resources rather than as disposable cogs in corporate machinery. Investing in lifelong learning will lift all boats.
We need to critically examine the gendered stereotypes we’ve learned and to replace outdated biases with more nuanced thinking. Gender-bending fashion trends are blurring the binary gender categories of our past. If an era of enlightenment is at hand, we must be willing to alter our attitudes. More fluid gender identities are emerging, and that is a positive step.
We must discard the old-fashioned notion that genitalia have any impact on a person’s value to society. Big strides have been made in breaking down gender barriers in occupations, earning potentials, recreational choices, and educational opportunities, but more must be done before we can assert that men and women are on equal footing.
We have already noticed changing trends in domestic life: there are now more singles than marrieds in the USA, and on average, women are marrying later in life. Women are less willing to identify as an adjunct to a dominant male in their lives, claiming their own identities instead.
Microloans are empowering women in countries with histories of misogyny. Educating girls is correlated with lowering birth rates and raising standards of living. Female genital mutilation is being discussed and challenged in areas of the globe where male control has always been the standard operating procedure. It has also been suggested, in following the example so recently set by Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in his choosing to govern with a gender~balanced cabinet, that we should consider suggesting mandating, internationally, in all governments, the same parity not only for all elected offices but all civil servant positions as well.
The progress on women’s rights is substantial; achieving full equality with males will yield healthier, happier, and more robust societies.
Compassion and Cooperation are Part of the Human Condition
The War System is based on the false belief that competition and violence are the result of evolutionary adaptations, a misunderstanding of a popularization of Darwin in the nineteenth century which pictured nature as “red in tooth and claw” and human society as a competitive, zero-sum game where “success” went to the most aggressive and violent. But advances in behavioral research and evolutionary science show that we are not doomed to violence by our genes, that sharing and empathy also have a solid evolutionary basis. In 1986 the Seville Statement on Violence (which refuted the notion of innate and inescapable aggression as the core of human nature) was released. Since that time there has been a revolution in behavioral science research which overwhelmingly confirms the Seville Statement. Humans have a powerful capacity for empathy and cooperation which military indoctrination attempts to blunt with less than perfect success, as the many cases of post-traumatic stress syndrome and suicides among returning soldiers testify.
While it is true that humans have a capacity for aggression as well as cooperation, modern war does not arise out of individual aggression. It is a highly organized and structured form of learned behavior that requires governments to plan for it ahead of time and to mobilize the whole society in order to carry it out. The bottom line is that cooperation and compassion are as much a part of the human condition as violence. We have the capacity for both and the ability to choose either, but while making this choice on an individual, psychological basis is important, it must also lead to a change in social structures.
War does not go forever backwards in time. It had a beginning. We are not wired for war. We learn it.
Brian Ferguson (Professor of Anthropology)
The Importance of Structures of War and Peace
It is not enough for the world’s people to want peace. Most people do, but they nonetheless support a war when their nation state or ethnic group calls for it. Even passing laws against war, such as the creation of the League of Nations in 1920 or the famous Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 which outlawed war and was signed by the major nations of the world and never formally repudiated, did not do the job. Both of these laudable moves were created within a robust War System and by themselves could not prevent further wars. Creating the League and outlawing war were necessary but not sufficient. What is sufficient is to create a robust structure of social, legal and political systems that will achieve and maintain an end to war. The War System is made up of such interlocked structures which make war normative. Therefore an Alternative Global Security System to replace it must be designed in the same interlocked way. Fortunately, such a system has been developing for over a century.
Almost nobody wants war. Almost everybody supports it. Why?
Kent Shifferd (Author, Historian)
How Systems Work
Systems are webs of relationships in which each part influences the other parts through feedback. Point A not only influences point B, but B feeds back to A, and so on until points on the web are wholly interdependent. For example, in the War System, the military institution will influence education to set up Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs in the high schools, and the high school history courses will present war as patriotic, inescapable and normative, while churches pray for the troops and parishioners work in the arms industry which Congress has funded in order to create jobs which will get Congress persons re-elected. Retired military officers will head the arms manufacturing companies and get contracts from their former institution, the Pentagon. The latter scenario is what is infamously called the “military revolving door”. A system is made up of interlocked beliefs, values, technologies, and above all, institutions that reinforce each other. While systems tend to be stable for long periods of time, if enough negative pressure develops, the system can reach a tipping point and can change rapidly.
We live in a war-peace continuum, shifting back and forth between Stable War, Unstable War, Unstable Peace, and Stable Peace. Stable War is what we saw in Europe for centuries and now have seen in the Middle East since 1947. Stable Peace is what we have seen in Scandinavia for hundreds of years (apart from Scandinavian participation in U.S./NATO wars). The U.S. hostility with Canada which saw five wars in the 17th and 18th centuries ended suddenly in 1815. Stable War changed rapidly to Stable Peace. These phase changes are real world changes but limited to specific regions. What World Beyond War seeks is to apply phase change to the entire world, to move it from Stable War to Stable Peace, within and between nations.
A global peace system is a condition of humankind’s social system that reliably maintains peace. A variety of combinations of institutions, policies, habits, values, capabilities, and circumstances could produce this result. … Such a system must evolve out of existing conditions.
Robert A. Irwin (Professor of Sociology)
An Alternative System is Already Developing
Evidence from archeology and anthropology now indicate that warfare was a social invention about 10,000 years ago with the rise of the centralized state, slavery and patriarchy. We learned to do war. But for over a hundred thousand years prior, humans lived without large-scale violence. The War System has dominated some human societies since about 4,000 B.C. But beginning in 1816 with the creation of the first citizen-based organizations working to end war, a string of revolutionary developments has occurred. We are not starting from scratch. While the twentieth century was the bloodiest on record, it will surprise most people that it was also a time of great progress in the development of the structures, values, and techniques that will, with further development pushed by nonviolent people power, become an Alternative Global Security System. These are revolutionary developments unprecedented in the thousands of years in which the War System has been the only means of conflict management. Today a competing system exists—embryonic, perhaps, but developing. Peace is real.
Whatever exists is possible.
Kenneth Boulding (Peace Educator)
By the mid-nineteenth century the desire for international peace was developing rapidly. As a result, in 1899, for the first time in history, an institution was created to deal with global-level conflict. Popularly known as the World Court, the International Court of Justice exists to adjudicate interstate conflict. Other institutions followed rapidly including the first effort at a world parliament to deal with interstate conflict, the League of Nations. In 1945 the UN was founded, and in 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed. In the 1960s two nuclear weapons treaties were signed – the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963 and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which was opened for signature in 1968 and went into force in 1970. More recently, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996, the landmines treaty (Antipersonnel Landmines Convention) in 1997, and in 2014 the Arms Trade Treaty were adopted. The landmine treaty was negotiated through unprecedented successful citizen-diplomacy in the so-called “Ottawa Process” where NGOs together with governments negotiated and drafted the treaty for others to sign and ratify. The Nobel Committee recognized the efforts by International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) as a “convincing example of an effective policy for peace” and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to ICBL and its coordinator Jody Williams.
The International Criminal Court was established in 1998. Laws against the use of child soldiers have been agreed on in recent decades.
Nonviolence: The Foundation of Peace
As these were developing, Mahatma Gandhi and then Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others developed a powerful means of resisting violence, the method of nonviolence, which has now been tested and found successful in many conflicts in different cultures around the world. Nonviolent struggle changes the power relationship between oppressed and oppressor. It reverses seemingly unequal relationships, as for example in the case of the “mere” shipyard workers and the Red Army in Poland in the 1980s (the Solidarity Movement led by Lech Walesa ended the repressive regime; Walesa ended up as president of a free and democratic Poland), and in many other cases. Even in the face of the what is considered one of the most dictatorial and evil regimes in history – the German Nazi regime – nonviolence showed successes on different levels. For example, in 1943 Christian German wives launched a nonviolent protest until almost 1,800 imprisoned Jewish husbands were released. This campaign now is commonly known as the Rossenstrasse Protest. On a larger scale, the Danes launched a five-year campaign of nonviolent resistance to refuse to assist the Nazi war machine using nonviolent means and subsequently saving Danish Jews from being sent to concentration camps.
Nonviolence reveals the true power relationship, which is that all governments rest on the consent of the governed and that consent can always be withdrawn. As we shall see, continuing injustice and exploitation change the social psychology of the conflict situation and thus erode the will of the oppressor. It renders oppressive governments helpless and makes the people ungovernable. There are many modern instances of the successful use of nonviolence. Gene Sharp writes:
A vast history exists of people who, refusing to be convinced that the apparent ‘powers that be’ were omnipotent, defied and resisted powerful rulers, foreign conquerors, domestic tyrants, oppressive systems, internal usurpers and economic masters. Contrary to usual perceptions, these means of struggle by protest, noncooperation and disruptive intervention have played major historical roles in all parts of the world. . . .
Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan have demonstrated statistically that from 1900 to 2006, nonviolent resistance was twice as successful as armed resistance and resulted in more stable democracies with less chance of reverting to civil and international violence. In short, nonviolence works better than war. Chenoweth was named one of the 100 Top Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy in 2013 “for proving Gandhi right.” Mark Engler and Paul Engler’s 2016 book This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century surveys direct action strategies, bringing out many of the strengths and weaknesses of activist efforts to effect major change in the United States and around the world since well before the twenty-first century. This book makes the case that disruptive mass movements are responsible for more positive social change than is the ordinary legislative “endgame” that follows.
Nonviolence is a practical alternative. Nonviolent resistance, coupled with strengthened institutions of peace, now allows us to escape from the iron cage of warfare into which we trapped ourselves six thousand years ago.
Other cultural developments also contributed to the growing movement toward a peace system including the powerful movement for women’s rights (including educating girls), and the appearance of tens of thousands of citizen groups dedicated to working for international peace, disarmament, strengthening international peacemaking and peacekeeping institutions. These NGOs are driving this evolution toward peace. Here we can mention only a few such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the American Friends Service Committee, the United Nations Association, Veterans for Peace, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the Hague Appeal for Peace, the Peace and Justice Studies Association and many, many others easily found by an internet search. World Beyond War lists on its website hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals from all over the world who have signed our pledge to work to end all war.
Both governmental and non-governmental organizations began peacekeeping intervention, including the UN’s Blue Helmets and several citizen-based, nonviolent versions such as the Nonviolent Peaceforce and Peace Brigades International. Churches began to develop peace and justice commissions. At the same time there was a rapid spread of research into what makes for peace and a rapid spread of peace education at all levels. Other developments include the spread of peace-oriented religions, the development of the World Wide Web, the impossibility of global empires (too costly), the end of de facto sovereignty, the growing acceptance of conscientious objection to war, new techniques of conflict resolution, peace journalism, the development of the global conference movement (gatherings focusing on peace, justice, the environment, and development), the environmental movement (including the efforts to end reliance on oil and oil-related wars), and the development of a sense of planetary loyalty. These are only a few of the significant trends that indicate a self-organizing, Alternative Global Security System is well on the way to development.
1. The U.S. has 174 bases in Germany and 113 in Japan (2015). These bases are widely considered “remnants” of World War II, but are what David Wine examines in his book Base Nation, showing the global base network of the U.S. as a questionable military strategy.
2. A comprehensive work on the decline of warfare: Goldstein, Joshua S. 2011. Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide.
3. The Seville Statement on Violence was designed by a group of leading behavioral scientists to refute “the notion that organized human violence is biologically determined”. The entire statement can be read here:
4. In When the World Outlawed War (2011), David Swanson shows how people around the world worked to abolish war, outlawing war with a treaty that is still on the books.
6. There is ample research available in academic and reputable investigative journalism resources pointing to the revolving door. An excellent academic work is: Pilisuk, Marc, and Jennifer Achord Rountree. 2015. The Hidden Structure of Violence: Who Benefits from Global Violence and War
7. See more on the ICBL and citizen diplomacy in Banning Landmines: Disarmament, Citizen Diplomacy, and Human Security (2008) by Jody Williams, Stephen Goose, and Mary Wareham.
8. This case is well documented in the Global Nonviolent Action Database (http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/danish-citizens-resist-nazis-1940-1945) and the documentary series A Force More Powerful ( ).
9. See Gene Sharp’s (1980) Making the abolition of war a realistic goal
10. Chenoweth, Erica, and Maria Stephan. 2011. Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.
11. In the past twenty-five years there have been seminal gatherings at the global level aimed at creating a peaceful and just world. This emergence of the global conference movement, initiated by the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in 1992, laid the foundations for the modern global conference movement. Focused on environment and development, it produced a dramatic shift toward the elimination of toxins in production, the development of alternative energy and public transportation, reforestation, and a new realization of the scarcity of water. Examples are: Earth Summit Rio 1992 on the environment and sustainable development; Rio+20 brought together thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups, to shape how humans can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet; Triennial World Water Forum as the largest international event in the field of water to raise awareness on water issues and solutions (initiated 1997); The Hague Appeal for Peace Conference of 1999 as the largest international peace conference by civil society groups.
12. These trends are presented in-depth in the study guide “The Evolution of a Global Peace System” and the short documentary provided by the War Prevention Initiative at
13. A 2016 survey found that almost half of the respondents across 14 tracking countries considered themselves more global citizens than citizens of their country. See Global Citizenship A Growing Sentiment Among Citizens Of Emerging Economies: Global Poll at