By Rob Blackhurst. Source: Middle Eastern Review
Rob Blackhurst reviews Dan Plesch's latest book.
The Beauty Queen's Guide to World Peace isn't the kind of primer that will fly off the shelves before Spring Break on an average US campus. There are no potted descriptions of the UN or handy definitions of the caliphate that will help those perfect 10s look particularly smart. Instead, there are over 300 pages that more resemble a freewheeling dinner party conversation than a reference guide. Plesch will clunkily change gear from defending the UN mandate for the Second World War to outlining the risks of Japanese/North-Korean conflict via a lengthy disquisition on the ills of shareholder privilege. He'll cut to Oliver Cromwell and the shortcoming of royalist histories before unveiling a grandiose plan for world government. This is security issues at their most elastic. Perhaps Plesch should write more – for there are at least three good pamphlets – on terrorism, corporate law and democratic reform – awkwardly yoked together here.
These days author Dan Plesch he is more likely to be seen consorting with retired Generals on BBC 24 than unfurling his CND banner, but he still retains the high-octane mixture of terrifying fact and dark prediction that he learned as an anti-nuclear campaigner in the early eighties. Refreshingly, he rehearses the power of nuclear weapons and the horrors of a nuclear winter – familiar enough for those of us brought up with When the Wind Blows and Greenham Common protests but probably unknown to a whole new political generation who can't remember Thatcher. But elsewhere he rides fast and loose with descriptions of the apocalypse: a future war in the Gulf "could result in the near collapse of the industrialised economies", while nanotechnology "might turn the world into grey sludge", quite aside from those nukes. There is no room here for whiggish claims that that billions are being swept out of poverty by economic growth, or that the world is far less dangerous than when rival superpowers faced each other in Berlin.
Though a political radical in the tradition of George Mombiot and Naomi Klein, his worries about military interventions to protect human rights ("virtue runs amok") and defence of traditional state sovereignty is a conservative vision that could have come from the curled lips of Alan Clark. Plesch seems here unwilling to engage with the difficulties of whether states forfeit the rights to sovereignty when they mistreat their populations. And he assumes that our biggest dangers will come from nuclear wars between strong states: he has little to say on the arguably greater danger that weak states (particularly in sub-Saharan Africa) will collapse. But if the shape is amorphous, then, like the best teachers, Plesch has a rich fund of memorable quotes and insights. Any book that tells the story of how a startled Yeltsin was awakened with a false report that the US had launched missiles at Russia in 1995 is worth the cover-price, regardless of your waist measurements.
Rob Blackhurst is Editorial Director of the Foreign Policy Centre