Peace, They Rarely Say

The advent of high-tech weaponry makes diplomacy all the more important


History Politics

Esteemed statesman Henry Kissinger makes an important point in his essay “How to avoid another world war” (The Spectator, Dec. 17). He describes how Europe’s leaders “sleepwalked” into the first world war. With hindsight we see the effect of the “new” technology of the early 20th century, but men of the time did not. Kissinger summarizes, “The nations of Europe, insufficiently familiar with how technology had enhanced their respective military forces, proceeded to inflict unprecedented devastation on one another.” He applies the lesson to the current conflict in Ukraine, which drags on amid a tech revolution with ramifications that may be well ahead of our political/military leaders’ ability to grasp:

“As the world’s leaders strive to end the war in which two nuclear powers contest a conventionally armed country, they should also reflect on the impact on this conflict and on long-term strategy of incipient high-technology and artificial intelligence. Autonomous weapons already exist, capable of defining, assessing and targeting their own perceived threats and thus in a position to start their own war.

“Once the line into this realm is crossed and hi-tech becomes standard weaponry — and computers become the principal executors of strategy — the world will find itself in a condition for which as yet it has no established concept. How can leaders exercise control when computers prescribe strategic instructions on a scale and in a manner that inherently limits and threatens human input? How can civilization be preserved amid such a maelstrom of conflicting information, perceptions and destructive capabilities?

“No theory for this encroaching world yet exists, and consultative efforts on this subject have yet to evolve — perhaps because meaningful negotiations might disclose new discoveries, and that disclosure itself constitutes a risk for the future. Overcoming the disjunction between advanced technology and the concept of strategies for controlling it, or even understanding its full implications, is as important an issue today as climate change, and it requires leaders with a command of both technology and history.”

Kissinger recommends a Ukraine ceasefire and offers considerations for negotiation. He writes: “I have repeatedly expressed my support for the allied military effort to thwart Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. But the time is approaching to build on the strategic changes which have already been accomplished and to integrate them into a new structure towards achieving peace through negotiation.”

He sets his call for peace against the prevailing opinion of Washington, D.C. and Europe: “The preferred outcome for some is a Russia rendered impotent by the war. I disagree. For all its propensity to violence, Russia has made decisive contributions to the global equilibrium and to the balance of power for over half a millennium. Its historical role should not be degraded.”

Kissinger calls diplomacy “the road less travelled.” He ends with this: “The quest for peace and order has two components that are sometimes treated as contradictory: the pursuit of elements of security and the requirement for acts of reconciliation. If we cannot achieve both, we will not be able to reach either.”

A link to the archived Spectator article:


Barbara E. Rose is Web Editor of the NOR.

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