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A critical moment in our history

Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty

At the heart of the Ukraine crisis lies a “fundamental question” about the nature of humanity, says Yuval Noah Harari in The Economist. Mankind’s “greatest political and moral achievement” over recent generations has been the decline of war. Human violence has killed fewer people than car accidents or obesity this century, and not a single country has been wiped off the map by a foreign conqueror since 1945. Yet cynics maintain we’re still ruled by the age-old “law of the jungle” and that the “only thing preventing one country from wolfing down another is military force”.

I take a more optimistic view. War is not inevitable – it is something we choose. And in the past seven decades, most nations have given up on war, for “technological, economic and cultural” reasons. Nuclear weapons have “turned war between superpowers into a mad act of collective suicide”, forcing nations to resolve disputes peacefully. Meanwhile, the global economy has shifted from obsessing over material assets (like gold mines or oil wells) to valuing knowledge – making it far less profitable to seize territory. Most importantly, “for the first time in history”, we are ruled by elites “who see war as both evil and avoidable”. That’s why what happens in Ukraine is such a big deal. If it becomes normal again for powerful countries to invade their weaker neighbours, we can wave goodbye to an unprecedented era of peace and global co-operation.