"The tendencies are hostile to achieving perpetual peace. But these tendencies do not have to be accepted the way they are. Once we understand what they are, we may be able to overcome them."
THOMAS POGGE: Many people have put forward ambitious theories of history, saying that they can somehow predict or history is running in a relatively narrow groove and so on. I don't believe any of that. I think that history is wide open, and very surprising things can happen if we want them to happen.
ANNA KIEFER: Today we feature German philosopher and Yale University professor Thomas Pogge. Widely known for his work on the philosophies of Kant and Rawls, Pogge has a unique way of describing world peace.
THOMAS POGGE: I think there's a very fundamental paradox about the achievement of world peace, and this goes as follows: You have in the world as it is the various nation-states. These various nation-states, with their political leaders, have a tendency to want to maximize their own power, and the power of a nation-state depends on more or less three factors. One is the military power it can bring to bear; second, the economic power that it has; and thirdly, if you like, the moral power, the reputation that it has, the convincingness of its arguments and its reputation for fair dealings and justice.
ANNA KIEFER: Pogge says that a country's military, economic, and moral powers are valuable depending on whether the country is at war.
THOMAS POGGE: Now, these three sources of political power are differentially important in different times. For example, in the middle of a world war, your moral reputation isn't worth very much. As Stalin famously asked, "How many divisions does the pope have?"
So in a period of war, it's basically military power that counts, and economic power counts indirectly, because, of course, it's a major source of military power again.
In other periods it can be that moral power counts a great deal and military power is almost useless. That's in periods of peace.
ANNA KIEFER: He says that countries with stronger military powers involve themselves in conflicts in order to exercise that power.
THOMAS POGGE: Obviously, those states that have, relatively speaking, more military power than they have economic and moral power are interested, not exactly in war, but in periods of hostility and tension, where their enormous military capacities matter. So they will find occasion to create such periods, to create hostility and tension, that remind people of how important military power actually is.
ANNA KIEFER: Pogge adds that the balance of power within governments also shifts in times of war.
THOMAS POGGE: This phenomenon—that there will always be some states and their leaders who have an interest, for purposes of maximizing the power of their own state, to create tension and hostility—this problem is aggravated by the fact that even for the internal distribution of power, war can shift the power balance. So war is good for the executive generally, because it gets more deference from the legislature and the judiciary in periods of hostility and tension.
ANNA KIEFER:This war and peace struggle that he mentions therefore arises out of the U.S.'s political structure.
THOMAS POGGE: Again, it's a very regrettable thing that in this country, for example, the very same person who decides about war and peace is also the person who benefits most from war breaking out or tensions increasing— namely, the president.
So the tendencies are hostile to achieving perpetual peace. But again, these tendencies do not have to be accepted the way they are. But once we understand what they are, we may be able to overcome them nonetheless.
ANNA KIEFER: That was director of Yale University's Global Justice Program, Professor Thomas Pogge.