Does war have a future? Renowned futurist looks at the problems of war and peace in the 21st Century.


With the 20th century one of the bloodiest ever, and with nearly a hundred low-grade wars currently maiming and killing thousands upon thousands, asking if war has a future may appear ludicrous.

But we must raise that question. We must challenge the notion that war is here to stay, that it is an evolutionary natural. Not only do we need to devise new methods to resolve international conflicts, we need to challenge the entire notion of armed conflict.

Doing so requires a multi-level approach. The traditional view of ending war begins with two poles—the individual and the state. This is often described as: Peace must begin in the hearts and minds of men and women, or that states need a super-ordinate authority (a world government or at least global treaties) to ensure that war is not the preferred method of conflict resolution.
But clearly more is needed beyond the individual inner and the collective outer pole. First, we need to look deeper to the roots of war.

Transforming the system of war

Ending war means transforming the nature of the arms export industry. Making the export of killing products illegal, as with dangerous drugs, is one option. This would have great benefits for the world as a whole even if reducing the profits of the leading arms manufacturing nations. However, given the economic dependence to arms exports, as with tobacco exports, nations should be given a decade to overcome their addiction to easy arms money. Of course, there would still be illegal arms smuggling but at least the large states would not be condoning it.

This would not work unless there was some way to guarantee security to states afraid that they would be attacked. States import arms because they are afraid of enemies within the nation and without (and use this fear to hold on to and extend their power). As well, the military becomes accustomed to living in a shopping plaza of endless goodies. Global disincentives would be needed as well. A world government that could provide security—through a type of insurance scheme or through a global police system—may help to reduce the demand aspect of global weapons. The supply option would require big states to end their addiction to easy money. As well, billions could be spent on training peace activist forces in mediation and peace-keeping skills.

Besides the military-industrial complex, other dimensions of the system need transformation, including education. The education system helps create not war but certainly the conditions for war. Moments of national trauma become part of identity creation. Whether the defeats of Serbs in Kosovo; the Star Spangled Banner and the victory of the Americans over the British; Anzacs and Gallipoli; partition in South Asia, or even the murder of Hussein at Karbala for Shias—it is war that defines who we are. Peace education that celebrates ahimsa (non-injury), that celebrates moments of transcendence, that teaches us how to mediate conflict, and that celebrates the challenges humanity has faced (and not any particular tribe) is required. This means the rewriting of textbooks in nearly every nation, moving away from the Great Man or Dynastic theory of history.

Other aspects of the system also need to be transformed.

Transforming the worldviews of war

Underneath the system is a worldview that supports a war-centered world. This worldview has a variety of pillars. First, it is patriarchy or dominator oriented politics. Truth, nature and reality are defined in dominator terms and not in partnership terms. Second, evolution is seen as survival of the fittest and thus war is seen as an evolutionary right—since the fittest have survived—instead of an evolutionary failure. Third, identity is defined in terms of geo-sentiment, race or linguistic politics and not in more universal terms. Religion is seen as for the chosen few, or for those with special access.
Thus, challenging war as natural, means challenging these three prongs. First, let’s assert that cooperation can lead to mutual learning. Second, that evolution is not merely about survival of the fittest, but about three additional aspects. These are (A) an attraction to the sublime, even spiritual, (B) that evolution is not random but can be guided through human reason and action as well as mind, and (C) evolution can become ethical. Third, that we can develop a planetary Gaian consciousness. This does not mean that we are forgetful of injustices: movements to counter linguistic, religious, cultural suppression and oppression are necessary—but these are strategic essentialisms—to create a better society. But who we are is not the enemy.

Transforming the field

This is a change in the broader field of what it means to be human. ‘Field change’ means moving outside the hawk and the dove metaphors we use for war. Can there be a third space, which describes a world without war but with justice? Certainly coming up with a new metaphor will not solve the issue but our failure to do so does point to conceptual problems. It could be that looking for stories in our evolutionary past—up and down the food chain—is not the way to go. Rather creating a post-war world means looking to the future for ways out.

Prior to the war on Saddam Hussein and Iraq, Robert Muller commented that he was not depressed at what might happen, since millions were in fact waging peace. Yes, it was unlikely that Bush and Hussein had the capacity for peaceful and just resolution, but the stupidity of their worldviews had motivated millions to express their frustrations, and essentially call for, indeed, meme the possibility of a new world.

Another world is possible! We need a field that begins the process of moving beyond hawks and doves. And a world that recognizes that multiple traditions are required to transform war and peace. Within each history are resources of peace, whether Islamic, Vedic, Christian, Buddhist or other.
Unless we challenge the litany of war, we will assume that “because it is, it always will be”. Next is to challenge the systems that support war: the military-industrial export complex, the national education systems, our historical identities. As well, we need to challenge the worldview that supports war: patriarchy and survival of the fittest.

Finally, we need a new story of what it means to be human.

The alternative futures of war

First, war now and war forever. “We cannot transform war because it is at the root of who we are as humans—violent and greedy for land, territory and ideas.” History is an example of this. Whether it is capitalists ruling, or prime ministers and priests or warriors and kings, or workers revolting, it is war that results and is used by each social class to maintain power. Of course, other forms of power are used first—ideas, wealth, definitional power—but violent power remains ever ready to be used to maintain authority. The nature of war of course changes, depending on which social class is in power (worker, warrior, intellectual or capitalist) and changes depending on the nature of technology. With nano-technology, we will see humanity’s war capacity and behavior become both more destructive and more targeted. The capacity of one leader to hold a people hostage—as with Milosevic, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein—is likely to decrease dramatically. However, at the same time, the capacity of any person to hold a nation hostage will increase.

Second, war disappears. It does so because of changes in the system of war, changes in the worldview that supports war (patriarchy, capitalism, identity politics) and changes in the nature of what it means to be human—an evolutionary movement toward full humanness. This is the idealistic view; however we have had periods in history without war, and humans have begun to imagine a world without war. To create the new means to first conceptualize it. Next is finding the means to make the impossible possible. The last stage is merely one of details. The details in this case are about creating a culture of mediation, of conflict resolution. This means making it central in schooling, and beginning to create the process of global-local governance where war becomes impossible.

Third, war becomes ritualized or contained. In this future, we move to a peace culture, but there are periods of war. However, these are rapidly contained or done with an authority of a global governance system. War remains an option, even if a less desirable one. As well, war is used by those challenging the world governance system, and by areas not totally integrated by the world system. War as well could become ritualized, either conducted through virtual means or via sports. Thus, aggression is contained and channeled.
Fourth, war changes. Genetic engineering and other technological procedures search for the ‘aggression gene’ with the hope of eliminating behavior that leads to war. Deeper efforts to transform systems of war are not attempted, as nations are unwilling to let go of profits from the war-industry. War and weapons of mass destruction remain in the hands of the most powerful nations. War and violence are seen as issues that can be fixed through the right technologies. The removal of war is used as a way to maintain the status quo. In this sense, the danger and horror of war becomes governmentalized, used to maintain power. Some states reserve the right to enhance the ‘aggression’ gene to make even fiercer fighters.

Which future is likely? Our history suggests the first scenario—war now and war forever. The most compelling image of the future and the one informed by new readings of evolutionary theory suggest that “war disappears” is possible; however, given that new ideas are often appropriated by power structures, we should expect the containment of war or the geneticization of war.

What should we do? Act in ways to create the second scenario: peace within, mediation and conflict resolution in our institutions, and struggle against systems and worldviews that create war, while remaining idealistic on creating a future without war.

Sohail Inayatullah is Professor, Graduate Institute for Futures Studies, Tamkang University, Taiwan and Adjunct Professor on the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Sunshine Coast University, Australia. He is associate editor of New Renaissance. His most recent book is Understanding Sarkar, published by Brill. He can be reached at: <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.> and <>.

This article was printed in New Renaissance, Vol. 12, No. 1, issue 40, Summer,