Protocols are muscular peace-making technologies

I’ve been thinking about war and peace a lot lately, and it strikes me that protocols are a peace-making technology, even when they concern war directly. For examples nuclear non-proliferation, chemical weapons bans, UN charter for human rights.

Specifically, the are a muscular peace-making technology. They are the “weapons” of peace. They aren’t limited to toothless feel-good gestures of goodwill and amity. They are not cultural performances or ritual rhetoric. They put strong, even coercive mechanisms in place, and deploy incentives, including punitive ones, for transgressions. They are based on sticks as well as carrots.

But there are carrots at work too. Sometimes, via explicit pairing, like the Marshall Plan, which specifically tried to use financial flows and special arrangements to deliver “dividends of peace” and avoid the mistakes of Versailles.

But ore broadly, any good protocol is in fact a “weapon” of peace. Everything from handshakes and handwashing to drug trials, traffic, and networking. This is because they create “assets of cooperation” and radically increase the costs of war. While they may involve physical assets that can be attacked, they mainly codify a regime of cooperation in a way where disrupting it is costly to the disruptor too.

The point of this little riff is that if there is a lot of strife and conflict in the world, building protocols is probably the most powerful thing you can do towards long-term sustainable peace later. Yes, you do have to fight wars and manufacture weapons and so on for the short and medium term, but in the long term, imaginative and powerful protocols for the post-war phase are how you “win the peace” which militaries universally suck at. But you need more than just direct protocols for post-war efforts. You need more than Marshall plan type mechanisms to rebuild and UN human rights to prevent abuses from recurring. You need more protocols in general, for peace dividends to accumulate in. Roads, bridges, computer networks, hospitals – all are protocol construction efforts.

So if you want to end conflicts and strengthen peace, you should be working on protocols. It’s much higher leverage than protests and speeches.

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While I agree that protocols can establish frameworks for cooperation and peace, I think it’s important to recognize their potential double-edged nature. For instance, and mindful of Godwin’s law, the Third Reich’s bureaucratic efficiency serves as a stark reminder of how protocols can be weaponized to enforce heinous policies and systemic atrocities. Rigid adherence to strong protocols can stifle critical thinking leading to mindless compliance and a false sense of security.

Moreover, technological evolution is accelerating. Strong international protocols can quickly become outdated and potentially hinder effective responses to emerging challenges. In the face of climate change or emerging threats like autonomous weapons, I suspect we may need more agile cooperation frameworks, even AI-mediated weak protocols, alongside traditional protocols.

This reminds me of when Steve Healy said to me “All protocols are safety protocols”.

Every protocol has a non-event it’s aiming to scale and/or maintain?

did you purposefully make the phase transition shorter at the right (time ->) side of Monolithification and Peace-making? looking like a percolation of peace

Nope. This is a shitpost diagram. There is not a lot of intentionality in most of the choices :smiley:

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