The Bankruptcy of Violence

Jonathan Schell reviews the history of human warfare and concludes that raw power is no longer sufficient to change and rule the world, if indeed it ever was.

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Then when nuclear weapons came along, it led to the nuclear balance of terror. Which was this mutually assured destruction thing. In which if anyone started anything, everyone would be blown up and they called that a balance. But now, even that nuclearized form of balance is being fatally undermined by nuclear proliferation. In other words, a balance of terror — which I always thought was a bad idea anyway — only works with two powers. It only has a chance of working with two powers, let me put it that way. With eight, 10, 12, 20 nuclear powers? No balance is possible. You cannot find an equilibrium.

All you have to do is imagine that three or four countries change sides — and history is full of that — and immediately the balance is upset. So when I say that we can't save ourselves from force with force, I'm very specifically saying that the idea of a balance of power, which has been the specific means by which people have tried to save themselves from force by force, is no longer workable in the age that looms ahead.

It's a very specific point I'm making, it's not just a rhetorical flourish of some kind. So in that broad sense, I think we have to find some other bulwark of safety, which is a cooperative system of politics, not a coercive one.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Confidence that there is a better and more peaceful alternative, which is both hopeful and more practical than this path of escalating warfare that we seem to be on. In other words, a belief that if we turned away from this militarized path, there really is solid ground to set our foot on — if we would only decide to do so.

Tai Moses is a senior editor of AlterNet. For more information about The Unconquerable World, visit

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