How can we win?
My parents, my brother and sister, and myself were born and grew up in Israel. My four grandparents emigrated to Israel from Russia in the 1920s after WWI. They came from small towns near Odesa, today the third most populous city in Ukraine, well-known for its beauty, rich history, and culture. The countryside of Ukraine is famous for its fertile black soil, facilitating agricultural field works and favorable for retaining water. The future of the entire world may depend on the events that are unfolding in that area these days, and in particular on our common ability to understand them correctly and learn from them.
Stockpiling Military Toys
Here are a couple of numbers worth remembering:
★ 2 trillion (2000 billion) dollars: global military expenditure in 2021. This figure has been growing steadily, and in 2020 when the global gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 4.4%, largely due to the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, military spending as a share of GDP — the military burden — reached a global average of 2.4% in 2020, up from 2.2% in 2019.
★ 13,000: the global nuclear weapons arsenal.
This total number of nuclear weapons actually peaked at over 60,000 in 1986. But the decrease since then is misleading for two reasons. First, modern thermonuclear weapons such as those developed by Russia and the U.S. are orders of magnitude more powerful then the two nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, killing an estimated 150,000 to 220,000 people. If you want to understand the lethal impact of even a single bomb, go ahead and use nukemap to drop one on your (least) favorite city.
Second, the risk of a 3rd world war, which may include the usage of nuclear weapons, is at an all-time high. This statement is hard to grasp intellectually and even more so emotionally. So I will repeat it. The risk of a 3rd world war is at an all-time high.
The conspicuous reason is the rising international tensions and animosity. From the superpowers of China, Russia, and the US to regional and local conflicts, all across the globe, human society seems more and more like a barrel of explosives just waiting for the right match.
War in 2022
Nowhere is this more evident than in Europe. In the decades after WWII a war in Europe seemed unthinkable. Then came the wars in the Balkan from 1991 to 2001, the Russian attacks on Chechnya in 1995 and 1999, Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in Ukraine in 2014, and the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan (supported by Turkey) in 2020. And now in 2022, we are in the midst of the largest and most dangerous war in 80 years. When I started writing this post (which often takes me weeks to finish) Russia was amassing large military forces at multiple borders around Ukraine while denying vehemently it has any intentions of invading. Then on February 24, the Russian army launched a massive assault on Ukraine, which today is on its 18th day. Tens of thousands of people have already been killed, including many civilians, the number of refugees has surpassed 2.5 million, and the worst may still be ahead.
The war in Ukraine shocked the world. In the west, the Russian aggression and use of false propaganda drew comparisons to Nazi tactics. Protestors carried signs portraying Putin as Hitler, and some analysts likened the feeble response of the USA and its NATO allies to previous Russian acts of aggression in Georgia and Ukraine and their pre-war rhetoric to the appeasement policy of the UK and France towards Nazism and Fascism that resulted in the 1938 Munich agreement and the breakout of WWII soon after. The Russians however view their attack as justified, claiming the Ukrainian territory and people were historically part of Russia, and that the Ukrainian drift towards the west and plans to join the NATO treaty break the delicate balance of power in Europe and pose a serious security threat against Russia that cannot be ignored.
Even more than the brutality of the war, most people cannot comprehend the apparent senselessness of this campaign. As promised, the US, Europe and other countries installed unprecedented financial sanctions against Russia, Putin personally, and other individuals and entities in Russia and its ally Belarus. Large international corporations are suspending their activity in Russia and may even move local development centers to other countries. The invasion of Ukraine has placed Russia on the verge of bankruptcy. Interest rates have doubled, the stock market has closed, and the ruble has fallen to its lowest level ever. The long-term impact on the Russian economy and the daily life of Russian citizens may be far more devastating. Even if Russia does manage eventually to conquer Ukraine, how can this be worth it?
Ukraine and Russia are not the only ones likely to suffer the dire consequences of the war between them. These two countries together are major producers of basic food products exported to the rest of the world, including 30% of the global grain supply. Gilbert Houngbo, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, said recently: “We are very concerned that an extended conflict in Ukraine could limit the world’s supply of staple crops like wheat, corn, and sunflower oil, resulting in the skyrocketing of food prices and hunger. This could jeopardize global food security and heighten geopolitical tensions.”
“The continuation of this conflict, already a tragedy for those directly involved, will be catastrophic for the entire world, and particularly those that are already struggling to feed their families.”
Emotionally it is hard to resist taking a side in this war, hoping that “our side” will somehow defeat “the enemy”. But the historic developments are calling on us to rise to a higher perspective. And while the war in Ukraine is in the headlines, numerous other wars, ethnic conflicts, acts of terror, riots, and violent incidents are flaring all over the globe. Wikipedia lists dozens of ongoing armed conflicts, some of which have been going on for many years, with the total number of fatalities estimated in millions. And if that isn’t enough reason for concern, in the conflicts involving Russia, the US, China, North Korea, India and Pakistan, and Israel and Iran in the middle east, one or both parties have nuclear weapons.
This is the 21st century, the most prosperous era in mankind’s history, and we are living in a world at war. How can that be?
The Global Peace Dividend
In January 2022 more than 50 Nobel laureates signed an open letter titled “A Simple Proposal to Humankind — The Global Peace Dividend”. The appeal starts as follows: “World military spending has doubled since 2000. It is approaching 2 trillion US dollars per year and is increasing in all regions of the world (*).
Individual governments are under pressure to increase military spending because others do so. The feedback mechanism sustains a spiraling arms race — a colossal waste of resources that could be used far more wisely. Past arms races have often had the same outcome: deadly and destructive conflicts.”
The petition calls for all countries “to negotiate a joint reduction of their military expenditure by 2% every year for five years”, and put half the saved money in a UN fund to combat pandemics, the climate crisis, and extreme poverty (see also chart above). It ends with the words “Humankind faces risks that can only be averted through cooperation. Let us cooperate, instead of fighting among ourselves.”
Global Peace will not Happen! Unless…
The honorable signatories of this petition are highly intelligent people, and I do believe they have good intentions and truly want to save mankind. Their rationale seems convincing. And yet everyone, including those scientists, knows that what they are calling for will not happen. This is because of one simple fact. As the war in Ukraine is showing us, mankind is not really smart, mature or even rational. We are more like little children, well aware we are all sitting in one car, but unable to agree on where we want to go and how to get there. And so our car is stuck, and we get frustrated and kick the tires, or each other. We cannot control our decisions and actions. Just like Major Kong in the unforgettable scene from the1962 movie Dr. Strangelove, we are incapable of stopping ourselves from free-falling into mutual destruction.
The wars and conflicts that we see on the surface are mere reflections of our internal “warmongering”, our ruthlessly competitive nature that is driving us to survive and succeed at each other’s expense. It is the same nature that is causing the disintegration of human society on all levels, not allowing us to collaborate in face of common disasters, and preventing us from having a prosperous and sustainable life on our beautiful planet Earth. If we want to have peace without, we must have peace within. This won’t happen through meditation, smoking a peace pipe, or simply waiting. Children don’t become grown ups, with a better understanding of who they are, the world they are living in, and how to interact with each other and with the world, by doing nothing. They work, and they learn. And so should we.
So to rephrase the good folks from the global peace dividend, here is a simple proposal to humankind. Let’s study and get to know our own nature, the built-in software that is operating us, individually and collectively. Where does it come from? What is its purpose? What force created it and is sustaining it? How do we evolve from our current degree of individual and competitive existence to a higher degree of collective and connected existence? Once we diagnose the root cause of all our problems the healing will start, and once the disease is cured, the symptoms will go away as well. It can only be done this way: through education, gaining awareness, and “reprogramming ourselves”. Our future is one of peace and unity above all differences, as in the words of our sages, ”Let love cover all crimes” (Proverbs 10:12).