Past events



09:00:00 - 17:30:00


Facing the Dangers of 21st Century Great Power War:

A Conference on the Centenary of World War I

A century ago, an assassination in Sarajevo triggered World War I, a war that killed or wounded tens of millions. World War I was only the beginning of three decades of great power competition and warfare that culminated in the development and use of the atomic bomb. As in 1914, we confront an era of militarized competition between rising and declining powers, intense disputes over territory and resources, arms racing, complex military alliances, rising nationalism, and religious tensions. The beginning of this century, like the last, also is defined by deepening economic interdependence and competition, revolutionary advances in communications, and the belief that great power war would end civilization as we know it, and is thus unthinkable. Yet from the Persian Gulf to the East China Sea there are more than enough wild cards to spark incidents that could spiral towards war.

All of this is occurring within an economic framework dominated by immense capitalist firms that have gained sufficient power in much of the world to write their own rules. And we are now facing another feature of the time that brought us world wars: intractable global economic crisis, with the actions essential to break the impasse thwarted by the extreme accumulation of wealth and power by elites determined to keep things as they are.
This conference will be held alongside the 2014 preparatory committee meeting for the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review conference. The clearest opportunity of the nuclear age to eliminate The Bomb - the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the superpower confrontation that had immense nuclear arsenals as a central feature - is behind us. Nuclear disarmament efforts have stalled. Complex new arms races are ramping up, combining powerful, accurate conventional weapons capable of global reach with missile defenses and a wide spectrum of electronic warfare. Nuclear weapons remain a catastrophic threat if warfare spirals beyond limits in a manner inconceivable at the outset - as it did in the great power wars of the last century. As former British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan put it, “We thought of air warfare in 1938 rather as people think of nuclear war today.”
This new round of arms racing comes at a time when familiar factors may combine with novel ones to heighten the potential for conflict. Ascendant powers are challenging those that long have been dominant in regions that have been key arenas of economic and geopolitical contention. The magnitude and pace of development of these new powers is unprecedented, and is occurring in the context of equally unprecedented effects flowing from limits to key resources and to the carrying capacity of planetary ecosystems.

At this conference, bearing in mind the catastrophic warfare of the first half of the last century, we will ask participants to consider the following questions: How significant is the risk of great power war in the coming decades? What are the prospects for disarmament in a time of rising tension among great powers? What factors must be addressed in evaluating the risk of great power war, and what other issues and movements are elements in building movements that might forge a path to a world that is genuinely more peaceful? And, what then must we do?
The conference will bring together activists and academics with knowledge and experience about emerging dangers in key regions, from wars, resource conflicts and profound ongoing political realignments in the Middle East, to growing tensions in the Western Pacific over territory and resources as well as the U.S. strategic “pivot” to Asia. As we learned at the height of the Cold War - also the peak of a wave of liberation and environmental movements - people and popular movements determine if we have war or peace, justice or oppression. Join us on May 3 to face our past, confront the present, and think about how to build our future.


9:30-11:00 LOOKING FORWARD, LOOKING BACKWARD: WWI, TODAY’S RISK OF GREAT POWER WAR, PEACE MOVEMENTS, AND DISARMAMENT Chair: David Webb, Leeds Metropolitan University, Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. Introduction, overview (by the conveners) World War I: Anticipations and realities. Dr. Erhard Crome, Rosa Luxembourg Foundation. The history of World War I, and the remembrance of its centenary, generally is focused on Europe and its settler colonies, despite its impact on the entire world. The role and view of the rest of the world of the meaning of WWI then and now. Zia Mian, author and activist. The risk of great power war today and arms control and disarmament movements: what have we learned from the past, or even the present? Andrew Lichterman, Western States Legal Foundation.
11:00-11:30 BREAK
11:30-12:45 THE RISK OF GREAT POWER WAR: REGIONAL PERSPECTIVES (1) Chair: Lisa Clark Beati i costruttori di pace, Italy The U.S. and the “Pacific Pivot”: ascending powers confront the global hegemon, old regional conflicts renewed? Joseph Gerson, American Friends Service Committee, M.V. Ramana, Princeton University. The Middle East and SW Asia: Resource wars, imperial overstretch and regional realignments. Irene Gendzier, Boston University.
12:45-1:45 LUNCH BREAK
1:45-3:00 THE RISK OF GREAT POWER WAR: REGIONAL PERSPECTIVES (2): BRICS, SUB-IMPERIALISMS, AND POST-COLD WAR CONFLICTS Chair: Ariel Denis, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Michael Klare, Hampshire College, Emira Woods, Institute for Policy Studies, Paul Lansu, Pax Christi Europe (invited).
3:00-3:30 BREAK
3:00-4:15 THE LIMITS OF THE MORAL IMAGINATION: INDUSTRIALIZED WARFARE, MORAL THRESHOLDS, AND THE FORGOTTEN HISTORY OF ARMS CONTROL: WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE PAST ABOUT AVOIDING DISASTROUS WARS IN THE FUTURE? Chair: Alicia Godsberg, Peace Action New York. John Burroughs, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy; Paul Walker, Global Green; Goetz Neuneck, Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg.
4:15-5:30 DISARMAMENT MOVEMENTS, PEACE MOVEMENTS, AND WHAT IS TO BE DONE AMIDST A NEW ROUND OF GREAT POWER COMPETITION AND CONFLICT? Chairs: Joseph Gerson, American Friends Service Committee, and Jacqueline Cabasso, Western States Legal Foundation. Reiner Braun, International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, Akira Kawasaki, Peace Boat, Judith LeBlanc, Peace Action.



Joseph Gerson
American Friends Service Committee
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140
Phone: 617-661-6130
There is no charge for the conference. An inexpensive lunch will be available on site at
cost. We would appreciate pre-registrations indicating whether people wish to purchase
lunch. Please indicate whether you would like a vegetarian meal. Register by writing to
Jennifer Sherys-Rivet at For more information, call 617-661-6130.
Assembly Hall, Judson Memorial Church
229 Thompson St., Manhattan
South of Washington Square Park



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