Summary and Conclusions
The Nature of War
War is not, as is widely assumed, primarily an instrument of policy
utilized by nations to extend or defend their expressed political
values or their economic interests. On the contrary, it is itself
the principal basis of organization on which all modern societies
are constructed. The common proximate cause of war is the apparent
interference of one nation with the aspirations of another. But at
the root of all ostensible differences of national interest lie the
dynamic requirements of the war system itself for periodic armed
conflict. Readiness for war characterizes contemporary social
systems more broadly than their economic and political structures,
which it subsumes.
Economic analyses of the anticipated problems of transition to peace
have not recognized the broad preeminence of war in the definition
of social systems. The same is true, with rare and only partial
exceptions, of model disarmament "scenarios." For this reason, the
value of this previous work is limited to the mechanical aspects of
Certain features of these models may perhaps be
applicable to a real situation of conversion to peace; this will
depend on their compatibility with a substantive, rather than a
procedural, peace plan. Such a plan can be developed only from the
premise of full understanding of the nature of the war system it
proposes to abolish, which in turn presupposes detailed
comprehension of the functions the war system performs for society.
It will require the construction of a detailed and feasible system
of substitutes for those functions that are necessary to the
stability and survival of human societies.
The Functions of War
The visible, military function of war requires no elucidation; it is
not only obvious but also irrelevant to a transition to the
condition of peace, in which it will by definition be superfluous.
It is also subsidiary in social significance to the implied,
nonmilitary functions of war; those critical to transition can be
summarized in five principal groupings.
1. Economic. War has provided both ancient and modern societies with
a dependable system for stabilizing and controlling national
economies. No alternate method of control has yet been tested in a
complex modern economy that has shown itself remotely comparable in
scope or effectiveness.
2. Political. The permanent possibility of war is the foundation for
stable government; it supplies the basis for general acceptance of
political authority. It has enabled societies to maintain necessary
class distinctions, and it has ensured the subordination of the
citizen to the state, by virtue of the residual war powers inherent
in the concept of nationhood. No modern political ruling group has
successfully controlled its constituency after failing to sustain
the continuing credibility of an external threat of war.
Sociological. War, through the medium of military institutions,
has uniquely served societies, throughout the course of known
history, as an indispensable controller of dangerous social
dissidence and destructive antisocial tendencies. As the most
formidable of threats to life itself, and as the only one
susceptible to mitigation by social organization alone, it has
played another equally fundamental role: the war system has provided
the machinery through which the motivational forces governing human
behavior have been translated into binding social allegiance. It has
thus ensured the degree of social cohesion necessary to the
viability of nations. No other institution, or group of
institutions, in modern societies, has successfully served these
4. Ecological. War has been the principal evolutionary device for
maintaining a satisfactory ecological balance between gross human
population and supplies available for its survival. It is unique to
the human species.
5. Cultural and Scientific. War-orientation has determined the basic
standards of value in the creative arts, and has provided the
fundamental motivational source of scientific and technological
progress. The concepts that the arts express values independent of
their own forms and that the successful pursuit of knowledge has
intrinsic social value have long been accepted in modern societies;
the development of the arts and sciences during this period has been
corollary to the parallel development of weaponry.
Substitutes for the Functions of War: Criteria
The foregoing functions of war are essential to the survival of the
social systems we know today.
With two possible exceptions they are
also essential to any kind of stable social organization that might
survive in a warless world. Discussion of the ways and means of
transition to such a world are meaningless unless a) substitute
institutions can be devised to fill these functions, or b) it can
reasonably be hypothecated that the loss or partial loss of any one
function need not destroy the viability of future societies.
Such substitute institutions and hypotheses must meet varying
criteria. In general, they must be technically feasible, politically
acceptable, and potentially credible to the members of the societies
that adopt them. Specifically, they must be characterized as
1. Economic. An acceptable economic surrogate for the war system
will require the expenditure of resources for completely
nonproductive purposes at a level comparable to that of the military
expenditures otherwise demanded by the size and complexity of each
society. Such a substitute system of apparent "waste" must be of a
nature that will permit it to remain independent of the normal
supply-demand economy; it must be subject to arbitrary political
2. Political. A viable political substitute for war must posit a
generalized external menace to each society of a nature and degree
sufficient to require the organization and acceptance of political
3. Sociological. First, in the permanent absence of war, new
institutions must be developed that will effectively control the
socially destructive segments of societies. Second, for purposes of
adapting the physical and psychological dynamics of human behavior
to the needs of social organization, a credible substitute for war
must generate an omnipresent and readily understood fear of personal
destruction. This fear must be of a nature and degree sufficient to
ensure adherence to societal values to the full extent that they are
acknowledged to transcend the value of an individual human life.
4. Ecological. A substitute for war in its function as the uniquely
human system of population control must ensure the survival, if not
necessarily the improvement, of the species, in terms of its
relation to environmental supply.
5. Cultural and Scientific. A surrogate for the function of war as
the determinant of cultural values must establish a basis of sociomoral conflict of equally compelling force and scope. A
substitute motivational basis for the quest for scientific knowledge
must be similarly informed by a comparable sense of internal
Substitutes for the Functions of War: Models
The following substitute institutions, among others, have been
proposed for consideration as replacements for the nonmilitary
functions of war. That they may not have been originally set forth
for that purpose does not preclude or invalidate their possible
a) A comprehensive social-welfare program, directed
toward maximum improvement of general conditions of human life.
giant open-end space research program, aimed at unreachable targets.
c) A permanent, ritualized, ultra-elaborate disarmament inspection
system, and variants of such a system.
a) An omnipresent, virtually omnipotent international
b) An established and recognized extraterrestrial
c) Massive global environmental pollution.
- Control function.
a) Programs generally derived
from the Peace Corps model.
b) A modern, sophisticated form of
- Motivational function.
a) Intensified environmental
b) New religious or other mythologies.
oriented blood games.
d) Combination forms.
4. Ecological. A comprehensive program of applied eugenics.
5. Cultural. No replacement institution offered. Scientific. The
secondary requirements of the space research, social welfare, and/or
Substitutes for the Functions of War: Evaluation
The models listed above reflect only the beginning of the quest for
substitute institutions for the functions of war, rather than a
recapitulation of alternatives. It would be both premature and
inappropriate, therefore, to offer final judgments on their
applicability to a transition to peace and after. Furthermore, since
the necessary but complex project of correlating the compatibility
of proposed surrogates for different functions could be treated only
in exemplary fashion at this time, we have elected to withhold such
hypothetical correlation as were tested as statistically inadequate.
Nevertheless, some tentative and cursory comments on these proposed
functional "solutions" will indicate the scope of the difficulties
involved in this area of peace planning.
The social-welfare model cannot be expected to remain
outside the normal economy after the conclusion of its predominantly
capital-investment phase; its value in this function can therefore
be only temporary. The space-research substitute appears to meet
both major criteria, and should be examined in greater detail,
especially in respect to its probable effects on other war
functions. "Elaborate inspection" schemes, although superficially
attractive, are inconsistent with the basic premise of transition to
peace. The "unarmed forces" variant, logistically similar, is
subject to the same functional criticism as the general
Like the inspection-scheme surrogates, proposals for
plenipotentiary international police are inherently incompatible
with the ending of the war system. The "unarmed forces" variant,
amended to include unlimited powers of economic sanction, might
conceivably be expanded to constitute a credible external menace.
Development of an acceptable threat from "outer space," presumably
in conjunction with a space-research surrogate for economic control,
appears unpromising in terms of credibility. The
environmental-pollution model does not seem sufficiently responsive
to immediate social control, except through arbitrary acceleration
of current pollution trends; this in turn raises questions of
political acceptability. New, less regressive, approaches to the
creation of fictitious global "enemies" invite further
Control function. Although the various substitutes
proposed for this function that are modeled roughly on the Peace
Corps appear grossly inadequate in potential scope, they should not
be ruled out without further study. Slavery, in a technologically
modern and conceptually euphemized form, may prove a more efficient
and flexible institution in this area. Motivational function.
Although none of the proposed substitutes for war as the guarantor
of social allegiance can be dismissed out of hand, each presents
serious and special difficulties. Intensified environmental threats
may raise ecological dangers; mythmaking dissociated from war may no
longer be politically feasible; purposeful blood games and rituals
can far more readily be devised than implemented. An institution
combining this function with the preceding one, based on, but not
necessarily imitative of, the precedent of organized ethnic
repression, warrants careful consideration.
The only apparent problem in the application of an
adequate eugenic substitute for war is that of timing; it cannot be
effectuated until the transition to peace has been completed, which
involves a serious temporary risk of ecological failure.
No plausible substitute for this function of war has yet
been proposed. It may be, however, that a basic cultural
value-determinant is not necessary to the survival of a stable
society. Scientific. The same might be said for the function of war
as the prime mover of the search for knowledge. However, adoption of
either a giant space-research program, a comprehensive
social-welfare program, or a master program of eugenic control would
provide motivation for limited technologies.
It is apparent, from the foregoing, that no program or combination
of programs yet proposed for a transition to peace has remotely
approached meeting the comprehensive functional requirements of a
world without war. Although one projected system for filling the
economic function of war seems promising, similar optimism cannot be
expressed in the equally essential political and sociological areas.
The other major nonmilitary functions of war - ecological,
scientific - raise very different problems, but it is at least
possible that detailed programming of substitutes in these areas is
not prerequisite to transition. More important, it is not enough to
develop adequate but separate surrogates for the major war
functions; they must be fully compatible and in no degree
Until such a unified program is developed, at least hypothetically,
it is impossible for this or any other group to furnish meaningful
answers to the questions originally presented to us.
best to prepare for the advent of peace, we must first reply, as
strongly as we can, that the war system cannot responsibly be
allowed to disappear until,
1) we know exactly what it is we plan to
put in its place, and
2) we are certain, beyond reasonable doubt,
that these substitute institutions will serve their purposes in
terms of the survival and stability of society.
It will then be time
enough to develop methods for effectuating the transition;
procedural programming must follow, not precede, substantive
Such solutions, if indeed they exist, will not be arrived at without
a revolutionary revision of the modes of thought heretofore
considered appropriate to peace research. That we have examined the
fundamental questions involved from a dispassionate, value-free
point of view should not imply that we do not appreciate the
intellectual and emotional difficulties that must be overcome on all
decision-making levels before these questions are generally
acknowledged by others for what they are. They reflect, on an
intellectual level, traditional emotional resistance to new (more
lethal and thus more "shocking") forms of weaponry.
comment of then-Senator Hubert Humphrey on the publication of
Thermonuclear War is still very much to the point:
particularly those which appear to contradict current assumptions,
are always painful for the mind to contemplate."
Nor, simply because we have not discussed them, do we minimize the
massive reconciliation of conflicting interest which domestic as
well as international agreement on proceeding toward genuine peace
This factor was excluded from the purview of our
assignment, but we would be remiss if we failed to take it into
account. Although no insuperable obstacle lies in the path of
reaching such general agreements, formidable short-term
private-group and general-class interest in maintaining the war
system is well established and widely recognized.
The resistance to
peace stemming from such interest is only tangential, in the long
run, to the basic functions of war, but it will not be easily
overcome, in this country or elsewhere. Some observers, in fact,
believe that it cannot be overcome at all in our time, that the
price of peace is, simply, too high. This bears on our overall
conclusions to the extent that timing in the transference to
substitute institutions may often be the critical factor in their
It is uncertain, at this time, whether peace will ever be possible.
It is far more questionable, by the objective standard of continued
social survival rather than that of emotional pacifism, that it
would be desirable even if it were demonstrably attainable. The war
system, for all its subjective repugnance to important sections of
"public opinion," has demonstrated its effectiveness since the
beginning of recorded history; it has provided the basis for the
development of many impressively durable civilizations, including
that which is dominant today. It has consistently provided
unambiguous social priorities. It is, on the whole, a known
A viable system of peace, assuming that the great and
complex questions of substitute institutions raised in this Report
are both soluble and solved, would still constitute a venture into
the unknown, with the inevitable risks attendant on the unforeseen,
however small and however well hedged.
Government decision-makers tend to choose peace over war whenever a
real option exists, because it usually appear to be the "safer"
choice. Under most immediate circumstances they are likely to be
right. But in terms of long-range social stability, the opposite is
true. At our present state of knowledge and reasonable inference, it
is the war system that must be identified with stability, the peace
system with social speculation, however justifiable the speculation
may appear, in terms of subjective moral or emotional values.
nuclear physicist once remarked, in respect to a possible
"If we could change the world into a world in
which no weapons could be made, that would be stabilizing. But
agreements we can expect with the Soviets would be destabilizing."
The qualification and the bias are equally irrelevant; any
condition of genuine total peace, however achieved, would be
destabilizing until proved otherwise.
If it were necessary at this moment to opt irrevocably for the
retention or for the dissolution of the war system, common prudence
would dictate the former course. But it is not yet necessary, late
as the hour appears. And more factors must eventually enter the
war-peace equation than even the most determined search for
alternative institutions for the functions of war can be expected to
One group of such factors has been given only passing
mention in this Report; it centers around the possible obsolescence
of the war system itself.
We have noted, for instance, the
limitations of the war system in filling its ecological function and
the declining importance of this aspect of war. It by no means
stretches the imagination to visualize comparable developments which
may compromise the efficacy of war as, for example, an economic
controller or as an organizer of social allegiance. This kind of
possibility, however remote, serves as a reminder that all
calculations of contingency not only involve the weighing of one
group of risks against another, but require a respectful allowance
for error on both sides of the scale.
A more expedient reason for pursuing the investigation of alternate
ways and means to serve the current functions of war is narrowly
political. It is possible that one or more major sovereign nations
may arrive, through ambiguous leadership, at a position in which a
ruling administrative class may lose control of basic public opinion
or of its ability to rationalize a desired war.
It is not hard to
imagine, in such circumstance, a situation in which such governments
may feel forced to initiate serious full-scale disarmament
proceedings (perhaps provoked by "accidental" nuclear explosions),
and that such negotiations may lead to the actual disestablishment
of military institutions.
As our Report has made clear, this could
be catastrophic. It seems evident that, in the event an important
part of the world is suddenly plunged without sufficient warning
into an inadvertent peace, even partial and inadequate preparation
for the possibility may be better than none. The difference could
even be critical. The models considered in the preceding chapter,
both those that seem promising and those that do not, have one
positive feature in common - an inherent flexibility of phasing.
despite our strictures against knowingly proceeding into
peace-transition procedures without thorough substantive
preparation, our government must nevertheless be ready to move in
this direction with whatever limited resources of planning are on
hand at the time - if circumstances so require. An arbitrary
all-or-nothing approach is no more realistic in the development of
contingency peace programming than it is anywhere else.
But the principal cause for concern over the continuing
effectiveness of the war system, and the more important reason for
hedging with peace planning, lies in the backwardness of current
war-system programming. Its controls have not kept pace with the
technological advances it has made possible. Despite its inarguable
success to date, even in this era of unprecedented potential in mass
destruction, it continues to operate largely on a laissez-faire
To the best of our knowledge, no serious quantified studies
have ever been conducted to determine, for example:
optimum levels of armament production, for purposes of economic
control, at any given series of chronological points and under any
given relationship between civilian production and consumption
correlation factors between draft recruitment policies and
mensurable social dissidence
minimum levels of population destruction necessary to maintain
war-threat credibility under varying political conditions
optimum cyclical frequency of "shooting" wars under varying
circumstances of historical relationship
These and other war-function factors are fully susceptible to
analysis by today’s computer-based systems,  but they have not
been so treated; modern analytical techniques have up to now been
relegated to such aspects of the ostensible functions of war as
procurement, personnel deployment, weapons analysis, and the like.
We do not disparage these types of application, but only deplore
their lack of utilization to greater capacity in attacking problems
of broader scope.
Our concern for efficiency in this context is not
aesthetic, economic, or humanistic. It stems from the axiom that
system can long survive at either input or output levels that
consistently or substantially deviate from an optimum range. As
their data grow increasingly sophisticated, the war system and its
functions are increasingly endangered by such deviations.
Our final conclusion, therefore, is that it will be necessary for
our government to plan in depth for two general contingencies.
first, and lesser, is the possibility of a viable general peace
second is the successful continuation of the war system
view, careful preparation for the possibility of peace should be
extended, not because we take the position that the end of war would
necessarily be desirable, if it is in fact possible, but because it
may be thrust upon us in some form whether we are ready for it or
Planning for rationalizing and quantifying the war system, on
the other hand, to ensure the effectiveness of its major stabilizing
functions, is not only more promising in respect to anticipated
results, but is essential; we can no longer take for granted that it
will continue to serve our purposes well merely because it always
The objective of government policy in regard to war and peace,
in this period of uncertainty, must be to preserve maximum options.
The recommendations which follow are directed to this end.
Back to Contents