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The Long Peace Elements of Stability in the Postwar International System I should like to begin this essay with a fable. Once upon a time, there was a great war that involved the slaughter of millions upon millions of people. When, after years of fighting, one side finally prevailed over the other and the war ended, everyone said that it must go down in history as the last great war ever fought. To that end, the victorious nations sent all of their wisest men to a great peace conference, where they were given the task of drawing up a settlement that would be so carefully designed, so unquestionably fair to all concerned, that it would eliminate war as a phenomenon of human existence. Unfortunately , that settlement lasted only twenty years. There followed yet another great war involving the slaughter of millions upon millions of people. When, after years of fighting, one side finally prevailed over the other and the war ended, everyone said that it must go down in history as the last great war ever fought. To everyone’s horror, though, the victors in that conflict immediately fell to quarreling among themselves, with the result that no peace conference ever took place. Within a few years each of the major victors had come to regard each other, and not their former enemies, as the principal threat to their survival; each sought to ensure that survival by developing weapons capable, at least in theory, of ending the survival of everyone on earth. Paradoxically, that arrangement lasted twice as long as the first one, and as the fable ended showed no signs of coming apart anytime soon. It is, of course, just a fable, and as a general rule one ought not to take fables too seriously. There are times, though, when fables can illuminate reality more sharply than conventional forms of explanation are able to do, and this may well be one of them. For it is the case that the post-World War I1 system of international relations, which nobody designed or even thought could last for very long, which was based not upon the dictates of morality This paper was presented, in a slightly different form, at the Nobel Institute Symposi.um on “The Study of War and Peace,” Noresund, Norway, June 1985, and is to appear in Oyvind Osterud, ed., Studies of War and Peace, to be published by the Norwegian University Press in 1986. I am grateful as well to Stanley Hoffmann, Robert Jervis, and Uwe Nerlich for providing opportunities to discuss this paper before seminars conducted by them, and to Ole Holsti, Harold Molineu, and Joseph S. Nye, Jr., for helpful suggestions. john Lewis Gaddis is Distinguished Professor of History at Ohio University. International Security, Spring 1986 (Vol. 10, No. 4) 0 1986by John Lewis Gaddis. 99 International Security I 100 and justice but rather upon an arbitrary and strikingly artificial division of the world into spheres of influence, and which incorporated within it some of the most bitter and persistent antagonisms short of war in modern history, has now survived twice as long as the far more carefully designed World War I settlement, has approximately equaled in longevity the great 19th century international systems of Metternich and Bismarck, and unlike those earlier systems after four decades of existence shows no perceptible signs of disintegration. It is, or ought to be, enough to make one think. To be sure, the term "peace" is not the first one that comes to mind when one recalls the history of the past forty years. That period, after all, has seen the greatest accumulation of armaments the world has ever known, a whole series of protracted and devastating limited wars, an abundance of revolutionary , ethnic, religious, and civil violence, as well as some of the deepest and most intractable ideological rivalries in human experience. Nor have those more ancient scourges-famine, disease, poverty, injustice-by any means disappeared from the face of the earth. Is it not stretching things a bit, one might well ask, to take the moral and spiritual desert in which the nations of the world conduct their affairs, and call it "peace"? It is, of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4804
Print ISSN
0162-2889
Pages
pp. 99-142
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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