Conflict and Leadership
Dividends of World Peace in 2050: A New Environment for Humanity

After the end of the Cold War 30 years ago, substantial economic and social resources were freed up throughout the world, which previously had aimed at preparing for a major war. However, the dividends of a long peace have been unclaimed. Global politics could have followed the path of demilitarisation and prosperity, but the world has rolled back towards ideological intolerance and confrontation, which does not solve the fundamental problems of humanity.

Today, the threat of a major war between states is growing. The common economic spaces that have led to global growth and prosperity over the past decades are collapsing. The ecological crisis is deepening, and the catastrophic consequences of climate change are manifesting themselves. Global inequalities in access to basic social and economic benefits are growing. A global demographic crisis is looming, when the number of older people will exceed the number of young people. Finally, the risks of over-reliance on artificial intelligence are emerging for the first time.
The aggregate defence spending of the leading countries in the 21st century is several times higher what’s budgeted for necessary development programmes with respect to economics, the environment, education, medicine and space exploration, which could be additionally financed from the funds saved on defence.

According to SIPRI, global defence spending in 2015 amounted to $1,676 billion. These funds are sufficient to yield the full implementation of the programme to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Let's say programmes to eradicate poverty and hunger would account for 15% of this defence spending. The modernisation of power grids would take 11%, and education 12%. Health care and transport would cost 5% each. Even less would be needed to meet UN goals related to water and sanitation (3%), the ecosystem and biodiversity (2%), and agriculture and food security (4%).

These figures show how achievable the sustainable development goals would be if humanity, in its activities, was guided by the thesis that a major war in the 21st century is unthinkable. This is what the practice of world politics speaks to - in recent decades, the world has repeatedly passed stress tests of major conflicts between the leading powers. The United States and Iran, India and Pakistan, Russia and Turkey, the United States and China, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the United States and the DPRK - these conflict dyads reveal the stability of rivalry, that does not cross dangerous red lines and does not result in a military crisis that would call into question humanity’s survival.

Elites, and indeed society, are accustomed to the current prolonged period of peace. After the Second World War, with the advent of nuclear weapons and modern means of delivering them, mankind came to understand that large-scale military conflicts posed an existential threat to life on Earth. Mutual nuclear deterrence is forcing military and political elites around the world to be more mature in deciding whether to use force.

It can be argued that humanity has become accustomed to peace and no longer believes in the possibility of a major war. The confrontation has shifted towards the economy and the information sphere. How, then, can the current rise in defence spending be explained, given that it fell so sharply following the end of the Cold War?

We observed the greatest reduction in military spending precisely during the period when there was a decline in the perceived military threat, in the first 10 years following 1990. By 2001, however, the United States had practically returned its defence budget to what it had been during the peak of the Cold War. Despite defence spending rising, the international peace movement never returned to its 1970s zenith. Probably, the reason for this is that during the Cold War, the danger of an unprovoked clash that threatened humanity with destruction was extremely high, whereas now it is relatively low. At least the experience of the last 30 years – is that massive protests against the wars in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, shows that the anti-war movements have not become global.
It is time for us to reconcile our perception of the possibility of a major war and preparation for it with the practical probability of this scenario, which remains extremely low. We have the opportunity to turn the page, and by 2050, 30 years from now, create a new social and technological environment for humanity.


To capitalise on this peace dividend, we need to reduce international tensions by adopting a variety of development models and respectfully discussing differences. We need to bring military spending back to 1992 levels, similar to how we strive to reduce CO2 emissions. We can redirect budgetary investment from defence and security to human development-related sectors. We must initiate a broad international dialogue on achieving raw material security for the renewal of industry, based on "green" technologies. We need to overcome the crisis in international trade regimes and remove non-market restrictions while maintaining a balance between suppliers and consumers.

In making the transition to green energy, we must rely on renewable energy sources, including nuclear energy. We have a rare chance to implement a global environmental policy based on free access to necessary technologies and the reduction of the global carbon footprint, first and foremost, where it makes the most impact. We must set as a key task the creation of a global environment as a combination of natural, social and technological factors that contribute to the prosperity of mankind.

Today, we can link the challenges of climate, inequality, international tensions and free access to technology, doing so is critical if we are to achieve a human-friendly environment. In order not to repeat the mistakes of the past, we must use the dividends of peace - a situation that relies on mutual nuclear deterrence and allows humanity, for the first time in its history, to downshift preparations for war from its position as a key development priority.

Sergei Karaganov: No Need to Wait for an Attack, the Threat of War Is in the Air
Sergei Karaganov
“Russia and China need to think about creating a joint strategy to strengthen peace. There is no need to wait for someone’s attack – the threat of war in the air,” Valdai Club expert Sergei Karaganov, who takes part in the Russian-Chinese conference in Shanghai, told valdaiclub.com in an exclusive interview.
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