The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Would you rather have a Big Mac…or an F-16?

June 28, 2005

I’m slated to teach International security this fall for the first time in a couple of years and have been thinking about what to cover. It is a broad topic, of course, and people have all sorts of perspectives. Especially prior to the “war on terror,” there was a vast literature developing on environmental security, human security, food security, etc.

To a large extent, post 9/11 and war in Iraq, the field has returned to its fascination with guns and bombs.

On that note, here’s something interesting from the Washington Post, March 26, 2005 (p. D12), that I missed when it ran originally:

Richard Aboulafia, an aircraft analyst with the Teal Group in Fairfax…said the prospect of both countries [India and Pakistan] buying F-16s is a positive. “Two countries that have F-16s have never fought a war.”

Wow! That sounds more absolute than “the democratic peace.”

Do you suppose the relationship simply reflects deterrence working successfully?

Thomas Friedman’s theory is slightly different and borrows from earlier commercial theories of peace:

no two countries that have McDonald’s have ever fought a war since each got McDonald’s.

These theories may just be subsets of academic John Mueller’s thesis: that war itself is obsolete because it is very costly and ineffective:

major war has been substantially discredited over the last century. Moreover, two important ideas have substantially taken hold: prestige and status principally derive from economic prowess (a quality often disparaged as debased and disgustingly materialistic by warlovers in the past); and war is a singularly ineffective and undesirable method for attaining wealth.

As a result, major war may be becoming truly obsolete–subrationally unthinkable. Countries like the once perennially hostile France and Germany reject war as a method for resolving their difficulties not so much because they determine it to be unwise after mulling over their options. Rather it is because–like dueling for quarreling aristocrats–war no longer occurs to them as a option to be considered.

Mueller argued in 1989 (warning, very large pdf file) that the wealthiest few dozen states in the world had not fought each other in war since 1945. I’m not 100% sure of Iraq’s rank in 1991 or Yugoslavia’s standing entering the 1990s, but Mueller’s general thesis retains some persuasive power.

Organizationally, these various theories are relatively easy to fit into a syllabus: military strategy, economic dimensions, and norms.

Obviously, there are interconnections that warn against separating these ideas. Recall, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto once declared that “Pakistanis will make the bomb even if forced to eat grass.”

If Pakistan really wanted to be secure, maybe its leaders should simply have built some golden arches. Then again, some find fault with that too.

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.