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REVIEW: Crisis and Opportunity

Metta Spencer (reviewer) — May 1984

Arnold Simoni. New York: Schocken Books, 1983. 235 page hardhack.

Arnold Simoni’s important book maintains that “disarmament cannot be the cause of peace, but only the product of peace.”

The way to avoid a nuclear war is not to address the weapons of war but the circumstances that inexorable trend to war — the conflict of interests that has placed half the world in a state of perpetual confrontation with the other half. If this can be resolved, disarmament will take care of itself.

Accordingly, the author relates the nuclear arms race to the world’s economic troubles. Things will get worse, he predicts convincingly, but that may be necessary: people won’t willingly change until their situation becomes desperate. Only a crisis will bring an opportunity to restructure the world’s major institutions. We can accomplish nothing significant yet, but we must think seriously now about what to propose when the opportunity does arise.

If we are very lucky, Simoni implies, the world economy will collapse before we are all blown up, and we will be smart enough to replace it with a workable system. The most stimulating aspect of his analysis deals with the contradictions in the economy that will bring about its downfall. His is a version of what development theorists call the “dependency model” in that he holds that the affluent industrial countries, driven by the imperative; for growth, have impoverished the Third World, even while claiming to aid it. Capital must be exported, markets expanded, cheap labour exploited, and goods sold to keep the rich nations solvent. And this growth imperative applies both to the Soviet Union and to the capitalist nations.

Simoni explains militarism largely in terms of the mounting problems of an economy that requires incessant growth. Yet, while resources remain abundant, we have been able to live comfortably in this economy by borrowing against tomorrow. There are certain costs, to be sure — inflation and growing unemployment — but only the less developed nations have had to suffer much, so far.

We will not remain lucky, however, when the necessity for constant growth collides against the finiteness of resources. The inflation resulting from the first oil shortages presages a much more disastrous, out-of-control inflation as we confront other scarcities, one after another. And that prospect is worsened by other factors that even now release the economy from political control: the multinational corporations that are too big for any nation to manage; the growth of “floating money” in the form of Eurodollars, that cannot be controlled by nationallydetermined interest rates. Money is lent to Third World countries under terms that no national banking authority would tolerate; the outcome will be defaults and the collapse of the international monetary system.

Simoni makes a great contribution by pointing continuously at the impact that this inexorable economic catastrophe will have on the prospect of war.

“As the competition for resources (and markets) grows warmer, small countries will be bullied and looted by large ones, long-standing alliances will unravel in enmity, and long-standing enmities will rise to new orders of malice. The superpowers, whose wealth of indigenous resources has long allowed them to keep a certain distance from one another, will find more and more occasions for intervening directly, at the risk of treading on each other’s toes, in parts of the world the mastery of which they were formerly content to dispute through agents and surrogates … sooner or later there will be war.”

Yet possibly not. When the crisis deepens, the chance will also exist for progressive changes. Simoni has many to propose, not all of them the ideas that others find most promising.

For example, he does not place much stock in the United Nations.

“Probably it is just as well that the organization has not lived up to its founders’ expectations; nothing could he more chilling than the mutual hostility of the United States and the Soviet Union except the prospect of their mutual accord in the matter of how the world ought to be run. “

Far from hoping for world government, Simoni’s solution runs in the opposite direction — increasing decentralisation. To curb the multinationals, he would secure small zones of trade with protectionist tariffs.

He argues cogently for certain measures that would prepare the ground for abandoning economic growth: reducing worktime by legislation, while also establishing a guaranteed minimum income. People would work only if they wanted to, hence he liberated from their servitude to the multinationals. An international development agency would be created to provide genuine aid for the poor countries, yet be above political pressure.

Only after surmounting the pressure for growth can nations turn to the business of genuine peacemaking. Simoni’s proposals along those lines are not all original; thus he would encourage cultural exchanges and an independent broadcasting system that would allow countries to present their views wherever they like, uncensored by other governments. And he particularly favours the creation of an Integrated International Peacekeeping Force to enforce the agreements reached hy a voluntary association of medium and small powers.

I found Simoni’s book remarkably stimulating. Developing first a comprehensive overview of the world’s economy, he explicates its linkage to the nuclear danger in a masterly way. To quibble a bit, I confess that I sometimes wished he had presented footnotes and evidence of having grappled with the scholarly debates on the many themes that are integral to his argument. On the whole, however, his analysis sheds much light on the nuclear arms issue.

Nevertheless, I cannot agree with his main proposals; I remain unconvinced that international relations will be improved by trade restrictions or political and economic decentralisation. The planet being a unified ecological system, only a unified political system is capable of empowering the people who live here to protect their lives from, say, the acid rain produced by their neighbours, or from a shortage of essential raw materials that their neighbours may possess abundantly.

Still, Simoni’s argument must be pondered; we cannot indefinitely skirt the issues that he raises. And besides, unlike the garden variety anti-bomb book, this one is a literary delight, worth reading simply for its flawless and nuanced stvle.