Bruce Schneier discusses Steven Pinker's optimism that trends that have brought about a less violent world will continue. Schneier doesn't share this optimism, thinking that 'the damage attackers can cause becomes greater as technology becomes more powerful', and that this trend will overtake Pinker's. it's an interesting discussion.
What do I think? I can't see any reason to doubt Schneier's belief, which is predicated on what 'the most extreme person with the most extreme technology' will be able to do, if trends continue. But I think that, understanding this, we can do something to influence the speed and direction in which 'technology' takes us. It's not only the compactness and falling cost of massive destructive power that threaten us; it's their proliferation. These need not be taken as a given: all can be influenced by the incentives on offer.
Unfortunately, the incentives currently on offer reward people for finding ever cheaper, more concentrated destructive power, and for selling it. The results, which we see now, fully justify Schneier's pessimism. So I think the time has come to offer countervailing incentives: in other words, to reward the sustained non-use of weapons of mass destruction.
Issuing a sufficiently large number of very high-value Nuclear Peace Bonds would, in my opinion, go a long way toward avoiding nuclear catastrophe. Assume that we issue bonds that become redeemable for, say, $10m each only when a period of thirty years of non-use of a nuclear weapon has been achieved. While that long-term goal seems remote, the bond issue would have an immediate effect on current investment programmes. Incentives would cascade down from the expected redemption value of a large bond holding, to finance an array of approaches aimed at reaching our goal. People or organizations would benefit by doing what they can to reduce the possibility of a fatal nuclear detonation: it would be up to them to decide the most effective ways of doing that. Such ways could entail bribing politicians or 'religious' leaders to tone down their rhetoric, the investigation into technical ways of detecting nuclear materials, giving nuclear scientists now working for belligerent regimes one-way, first class air tickets to the tropical resort of their choice, or any of a vast array of other possible initiatives. The important point is that we don't have to know in advance which will be the most efficient ways of achieving our nuclear peace goal. That will be up to bondholders to decide, continuously, as our political, scientific and psychological environments evolve.
I fully accept that even the most dangerous demagogues in human affairs are unlikely themselves to be amenable to financial incentives. But their capacity to unleash destruction can be realized only by dealing with others - who will be. Social Policy Bonds can re-jig the incentives, giving a more credible voice to the vast majority of humanity who don't want to see nuclear catastrophe.
For a short piece on Nuclear Peace Bonds see here. For a longer article about Conflict Reduction see here. For a 5800-word essay about how we can use the Social Policy Bond principle to bring about World Peace see here.