Friday May 19, 2017

The Myth of Victory: How do we know when we've won?

U.S. marines are seen near the statue of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein at al-Fardous square in Baghdad, Iraq. April 9, 2003.

U.S. marines are seen near the statue of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein at al-Fardous square in Baghdad, Iraq. April 9, 2003. (Wathiq Khuzaie /Getty Images)

Listen to Full Episode 53:58

Some people argue that World War One was just the opening act for the Second World War, and perhaps World War Three is just around the corner. And what about wars of ideology? The Soviet Union doesn't seem to be dead yet, and nor is Communism. Even if we defeat ISIS, does that mean the idea of an Islamic state is finished? Stephen Toope, Janice Stein and Hugh Segal in conversation from the Stratford Festival

"It's actually not going to be possible to prevent terrible events from taking place within our own societies; with the best investments we can make in security operations and in spying etc., we are going to have terrible events taking place."-- Stephen Toope

Perhaps nothing even really comes to an end, and ideas, good and bad, once they're out there, just stay alive forever. But that doesn't mean there's no such thing as human progress, no matter how slim the odds. If the war is never completely over, it doesn't mean nothing has been achieved.

In the world of international relations, we're constantly looking for small victories -- ending that famine, removing that dictator, settling that civil war, and it can sometimes feel like whack-a-mole: you think you've dealt with Al Quaeda, then along comes ISIS.

It may be hard to believe, but there's actually less war today than at any time in human history; all of which sounds promising, but the wars we have now seem deeply rooted in ideology, and it's hard to see an end, a resolution. Samuel Huntington famously proposed that we were engaged in what he called a "clash of civilizations", specifically the secular values of Western Liberal Democracy versus the theocracy of Islam, a clash where there's no possibility of a middle ground, just two diametrically opposed ways of seeing how human society should be organized.

Guests in this episode:

  • Stephen Toope -- director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.
  • Janice Stein -- Belzberg Professor of Conflict Management in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto.
  • ​Hugh Segal -- Master of Massey College, former senator and chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs.

** This episode was produced by Philip Coulter. It was recorded at the the Stratford Festival, thanks to Melissa Renaud and David Campbell.  Special thanks to Ann Swerdfager and Antoni Cimolino.