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It's a nice spring day on May 23, 2016. You sit outside with a radio and tune in to the news. In the middle of hearing the station talk about [insert politician here], you hear a large burst of static. Simultaneously, every television set and radio on Earth has the same burst of static. After a few seconds, the static fades away and 7 billion people hear an unfamiliar voice.

"We are representatives of the species qponvuiphzpoi, from what you call the Rigel star system. We have a material, Unobtanium, which has an infinite energy density, allowing for faster-than-light travel and unlimited, clean energy. However, the human race needs to prove that it is ready for this technology. Your species is engaged in perpetual warfare, and you kill your neighbors senselessly. To prove that you are ready, you must cease all warfare within one Earth year, or else we will leave and see if you are ready 10,000 years from now. We will be watching."

TL;DR- you can get Unobtanium if you stop all wars.

Would we be able to stop fighting in time? This is especially complicated in the Middle-East, where conflicts have been going on for centuries. This is magnified by the fact that much of their economy is based on oil, which the Unobtanium would make obsolete.

The aliens will use this definition of war:

A state of armed conflict between different nations or states.

I'll expand that to include the definition of a civil war:

A war between citizens of the same country.

In unclear cases, assume that the aliens have their own judgment. If most people think it's a war or civil war, the aliens also do (no using this as a loophole). The definition of war isn't the point of the question.

Syria = War

ISIS = War

Gang violence ≠ War

Assume that the aliens have some sort of cutoff switch for the Unobtanium, at least initially, to make sure that humans keep their promises for a while.

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Question 1: how do the qponvuiphzpoi define warfare? Can we do police actions? Can we continue to try to eradicate virulent diseases (arguably xenocide)? How about domestic fights? – Cort Ammon Jan 29 at 4:26
Guys, how about we stop all wars for a year, get the unobtainium, and then attack those smug, annoying aliens? – GrandmasterB Jan 29 at 4:34
"Attack those smug, annoying aliens." ...And this is why we can't get nice things. – Daniel M. Jan 29 at 15:32
If you include a group of crazy religious terrorists that span a large area who believe in murdering others, then war will definitely never stop. – XandarTheZenon Jan 30 at 1:03
"We have only one year left to win this war! Attack!!" – Beta Jan 30 at 5:53

12 Answers 12

up vote 44 down vote accepted

No, the fighting will not stop.

There are a couple of big problems here:

Who gets the Unobtanium? Does every single person on earth get it? Will the aliens give this (potentially dangerous) technology to groups like ISIS, simply because they stopped fighting for a short time? It seems doubtful. But even if the aliens promise to give it to everyone, some, due to their world-views, are likely to distrust this promise and believe that this gift will put them in an even more disadvantaged position.

The gift of Unobtanium creates losers. As you point out, oil-rich countries will decline in status. But also, technologically advanced nations will be better able to exploit the technology than others. This will increase the relative power of the west compared to less developed nations, so these less developed nations may not want it to happen.

Unobtanium does not advance everyone's ends. Some people are fighting for apocalyptic religious reasons, for example. Do they care about space travel and cheap energy? Even in less extreme examples, people tend to be fighting because they care about some issue very deeply. Quite a lot of those fighting are likely to care about their cause more than the benefit of Unobtanium. Some might hope for a strategic pause in fighting to get the benefit. But others will try to take advantage of any such pause.

Not everyone will believe the promise. The existence of aliens, particularly aliens that are much more advanced than us, conflicts with a lot of people's belief systems. People have a demonstrable ability to disbelieve things even when there is overwhelming evidence (see the moon landing, for example). Therefore, a significant number of people will end up thinking this is an elaborate hoax. In this context, the call to stop fighting will be greeted with great suspicion.

There are just too many reasons for the fighting to continue. Also, there is the obvious point that war already is causing grievous harm to humanity, yet people think it is worth it and do it anyway. The failure to receive Unobtanium slightly increases the harm caused by war, but doesn't change the basic calculus.

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A lot of people would choose to disbelieve (or pretend to) because war makes them money. – MackTuesday Jan 29 at 17:51
@MackTuesday You can count on the tinfoils of the world to suddenly deny the existence of those very aliens that were fundamental to their theories just the day before, including but not limited to chemtrails and 9/11. – Tobia Tesan Jan 29 at 18:21
@TobiaTesan - Yes, that would also happen. – MackTuesday Jan 29 at 18:26
@Philipp Surely the rest of the world won't allow one warlord to ruin it for everybody else. So how long before somebody sends troops to take out this one warlord before he ruins it for all of us? – kasperd Jan 30 at 14:52
@Philipp Stopping war for one year is not degenerating earth's strength. A year of peace would mean that the armies can stock up their arsenals and one year from now, they are more ready than they are now. Furthermore, having no other military obligations, all countries would be ready to fight an outer enemy with full force. Aliens who want to take over earth, would be better off if they fuel the distrust between earth powers until these fight each other, and then present themselves as the only power that can bring peace on earth. – Alexander Jan 31 at 14:16

Would we be able to stop fighting in time?

There is one possibility I can think of: Total annihilation of all but one nation (or just all of them). One year is more than enough time for any nuclear super power to instigate a global Holocaust that reduces humanity to only a few hundred million people barely scraping by. Although there will be gang wars and various factions fighting for the few remaining resources, these are not states by the given definition. Hence, survivors get to have unobtanium!

And so, almost poetically, the best way to end all wars is to create a war to end all wars.

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This technically satisfies the TL;DR version but surely doesn't demonstrate that the human race "is ready for this technology" and won't result in the aliens giving it to us. – dan1111 Jan 29 at 12:00
Gaming the system. I like it. These bloody aliens are always just toying with us anyway. "Oh, sorry Mr New Earth President, we saw your toddlers fighting over a toy train, no unobtainium, HA HA HA HA HA HA! OBSERVE OUR GREEN TRIPLE-HOLED-BUTTS!" – Whelkaholism Jan 29 at 13:44
"A war to end all wars". Now that's a foolproof plan. It worked great last time. :) – Tobia Tesan Jan 29 at 18:22
@TobiaTesan and the time before that... and the time before that... and... – WernerCD Jan 29 at 19:51
@TobiaTesan Wilson should have figured out he was wrong from the fact that it was called "World War I". – dan1111 Jan 30 at 5:19

Short Answer


Longer Answer

Never in a million years!

No matter what, you will always have fighting on Earth. If you don't mind me quoting a little scripture, “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion." D&C 121:39. During nearly all of human history there has been war. It's just human nature. And it doesn't help that you will always have those people who just like to start fights, or those crazy murderous people.

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There isn't always fighting. To quote New York Times, "Of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them." – Daniel M. Jan 29 at 4:14
All right, I'll concede that, as long as the aliens will. – XandarTheZenon Jan 29 at 4:29
@DanielM. I'd like to know which 268 years that article is talking about. Saying that all of humanity has been entirely at peace for over two and a half centuries is a big statement. – Pedro Jan 29 at 4:37
Note @DanielM I was curious about this claim so I asked about it on Skeptics StackExchange:… – dan1111 Jan 29 at 11:48
@numaroth Doctrine and Covenants 121:39. It's LDS scripture. – XandarTheZenon Jan 29 at 20:20

The problem with most wars is that they are caused by reasons much more important to the belligerents than energy shortage and not being able to travel faster than light.

Like, who gets Israel / Palestine? The threat of death / serious injury and displacement from their homes and destruction to their property hasn't been enough to deter them from war, why would this unobtainium?

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No. Also, that unobtanium is even more dangerous to us than nuclear weapons. Please go away!

The fundamental problem is human nature. Consider this. Two more or less equal nations or other large groups are competing over a resource. Do they share it equally? Or do they fight, destroy half of it, and eventually the winner claims two thirds of what is left?

Unfortunately in the second scenario the leaders of the winning group will have increased their status with respect to the losing group, and that is how status is judged. In relative not absolute terms. Intellectually we try to deal with that, but our underlying animal nature does not work so rationally.

Alternative to those aliens, please set up a peace authority in orbit and vaporise any heavy weaponry and any armies or similar groups engaged in aggressive hostilities. A few thousand years of ruthlessly enforced peace might improve us. Don't expect us to love you for doing this!

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According to the question unobtanium has "infinite energy density" so is there a practical limit to the supply, or can everyone have as much as they want? – dan1111 Jan 29 at 11:57
Infinite energy density would have infinite mass and collapse into a black hole, so I assumed hyperbole. In practical terms giving everyone access to a mere kilotonne-bomb's worth of energy would be a very bad idea. – nigel222 Jan 29 at 12:04
well obviously it is not actually possible, but I think the premise is unlimited free energy. – dan1111 Jan 29 at 12:07
I'd say that's nature of pretty much every animal on Earth, not just human. – Oleg V. Volkov Jan 29 at 14:31

No. Suppose you ended all current wars, what would happen?

There are scumbags out there who would demand concessions for not going to war. If you don't cave in there will be war, if you do there will be more demanding more concessions and you'll end up in a situation where they can't all be met.

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Yes, but not in a year

The only solution within a year is the war to end all wars scenario that's already been covered, so let's look at the long term solution.

It's going to be nasty, it's going to be bloody, but I think it could be done in a minimum of two, maybe three generations. If every country, every government, decides this is the way forward (yeah right, like that could happen).

The first thing is a change in cultural attitudes. Going to war is considered a dramatic and romantic thing to do. War is glorified in the media. This must end. War must be depicted as nasty, bloody, a nightmare to all concerned, and unacceptable under any circumstances. Historical film, books, poetry and documents including religious texts that glorify war must be expunged, as must any leaders, speakers or others who don't get with the program.

Nationalism and the concept of national borders must be broken down and a universal language introduced. Free movement of peoples is critical to this plan.

Global free education, free healthcare and basic income is required. All must be equal, free movement of people should become irrelevant as all places are equal (I'm moving somewhere with better weather), but if any regional power tries any repressive behaviour, the locals can just up and move away.

People will fight this, I don't understand why, but people fight tooth and nail against the world being made a better place. There are going to be messy revolutions springing up all over the place for at least a generation.

Freedom of speech will need to be suppressed (don't like that one do you). Any incitement to war must be crushed, any mention of the things people like to go to war about (nationalism for example) must be suppressed.

What all this is leading on to is creating a global monoculture where everyone is educated, nobody lives in crushing poverty, everyone's basic needs are covered and everyone has more to lose than gain by going to war. Slowly the concept of war as a viable option will fade.

I know what I've said here is controversial, I'm not pretending to be nice, if you want to change the world slowly you can be nice, but we're trying to change the world fast. In a situation where you have to change an attitude that's held steady for thousands of years then you're going to upset a lot of people. To start with you're going to upset the kind of people who don't believe that it's government's job to change attitudes from the top down. The people as a whole aren't going to suddenly all decide that they're never going to go to war again. There are too many people romanticising it. Too many people believing in rewards in the next world if they die because of it. To clear that quickly needs top down change with heavy handed enforcement. You need to stop the current generation telling the next generation that it's a good thing. That might require a lot of people to disappear if they really won't shut up.

A few governments will have to be overthrown, a lot of people are going to die. Some of those governments will have been elected by the will of the people, but it's the will of the people that we're fundamentally trying to change.

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"If every country, every government, decides this is the way forward." But how do you get that to happen? Countries disagreeing is why war exists. Reminds me of Steve Martin's bit on how to be a millionaire and never pay taxes: "First, get a million dollars..." – dan1111 Jan 29 at 12:50
So this is for the 10,000 years in the future part? – Daniel M. Jan 29 at 13:30
@DanielM. It could be done in about 100 years, but not in a year. Mind you, given 10,000 years it's completely irrelevant. We'll either get the technology ourselves or wipe ourselves out. – Separatrix Jan 29 at 13:35
So, you proposse to remove wars by making some group of people called "government" waging constant war on "citizens"? – Oleg V. Volkov Jan 29 at 14:34
ISIS is a result of the glorification of war. In this case from a religious source, but to remove war in the long term you have to re-write history to make it bad, not glorious. Hence all the suppression of freedom of speech until it fades. – Separatrix Jan 29 at 15:31

There's a Twilight Zone Episode devoted to this very question called "A Small Talent for War."

An ambassador (John Glover) from an alien race arrives, claiming that his race had genetically engineered the people of Earth. He tells the quarrelsome members of the United Nations Security Council that his race is displeased over Earth's "small talent for war", having failed to produce the potential that the aliens had nurtured. When the alien ambassador announces that his fleet will destroy Earth, the Security Council earns a 24-hour reprieve to prove Earth's worth. With survival at stake, the Security Council negotiates, and the General Assembly acclaims, an accord for lasting global peace and presents it to the alien ambassador.


The global peace agreement brings great humour to the emissary. The aliens were, in fact, seeking a greater talent for war, as they had genetically seeded thousands of planets to breed warriors to fight for them across the galaxy. Humanity's "small talent" for war (crude weapons, petty bickering over borders) is not significant enough to be of any use to them, and he laughingly states that — worst of all — the people of Earth long for peace. As the ambassador calls down his fleet to destroy the Earth, he thanks the Security Council for an amusing day and their "delightful sense of the absurd", and his parting comment is " one of your fine Earth actors, Edmund Gwenn, once said, 'Dying is easy, comedy is hard.'".

I do think humans could find enough common ground to create peace. I'm not sure that we could maintain it though. Eventually someone's passions, religions, or principals would cause them to try to impose their will on others. When that happens people can choose to permit the imposition or fight back. Usually we choose to fight.

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Anyone who has watched that episode is unlikely to contribute to global peace... – dan1111 Jan 29 at 8:04
The premise of this episode is vastly different from that of the question. Being threatened with destruction is a much greater disincentive for war than withholding gifts. – March Ho Jan 29 at 15:07
Yeah, if the aliens threaten to blow up the planet if people keep fighting, everyone stands to lose something there. In this situation, we're technically not worse off than we started (besides the fact that future generations would look back at the selfish people of this era, etc.) – Daniel M. Jan 29 at 15:14
@Jim2B, +1 Thanks for bringing back a wonderful memory. That was a great episode. – Henry Taylor Jan 29 at 16:57

It is not possible. There will always be people who will be against the attaining of unobtainium; and all they need do to do squelch the deal is to organize, however poorly, and declare war on any government, terrorist-style. All it takes is one lone wolf, one bomb, one shooting. No peace, no unobtanium.

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Do they care about Unobtanium?

Nope. A lot of conflicts have nothing to do with acquiring energy or FTL travel. Water, religion, occupation, even plain & simple pride, etc. are primary causes of war. Do they even have TV and Radio? Not in the jungles of Colombia. Not in the back of beyond in Burma. For the wars to be ended, it would require a state intervention, which leads us to the next problem.

Vastness of War

War is not one thing, much like cancer is not 'one' type. There are wars over all sorts of tensions. There are even Buddhist monks slaughtering Muslims in Mayanmar as we speak due to being outnumbered socially. There are wars in Central African Republic, Pakistan, Israel/Palestine, etc. Even Russia has bullied its way around in recent years. The conflicts are too wide-spread for a state-driven eradication or peace treaty in one year.

No Single Solution

In almost every case, there will be two sides who have extreme belief that the correct "end" to the war would be annihilation or reversal of beliefs or altered borders in their favor. How does intervention decide which side should be taken? Rarely are there middle solutions that both sides would accept.

Many Don't Want Unobtainium - Economy

Do you think Doha would be happy if everyone in the world had unlimited clean energy? How then will they buy food for the people of Qatar in the first few years. All of the energy-sector jobs would be cut. In renewables alone, almost 7 million people work in that sector. Way more than that in the total energy sector (sorry I can't find a number).

Many Don't want Unobtanium - Environment

It would devastate our planet. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Libya, etc. would use free energy to pump vast amounts of desal water to green their deserts and have agriculture. Countries such as Madagascar and Indonesia would us unlimited energy to more rapidly clear cut trees for sale. The spread of mankind's destruction, particularly in rapidly growing under-developed countries, will likely increase.

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I would guess that the leaders of The United States, Russia, and possibly China and North Korea would decide to launch nuclear missiles at all of the territory controlled by Boko Haram and ISIS. Iran would suffer great economic loss, and might decide to start a war with the country that inflicted the most damage. Israel could be drawn into a conflict with Iran, which would require the US to come to their aid. This could mark the beginning of a nuclear war with Israel and the US fighting Iran and Russia. China would wisely stay out of the fight, as the other countries fight. Russia, Israel, Iran, and the US are destroyed. This briefly destroys China's economy, and they face the threat of a revolution. Fortunately for them, the year comes to an end, and China fixes its economy through the new technology. It becomes the largest economic power in the world. Talks of a one world government arise, now that ISIS has been destroyed.

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That sounds like it is actually going to increase the number of wars in the world. – Hohmannfan Feb 1 at 16:55
I would say that due to the increased tensions in the Middle East, and South China Sea, a Third World War is imminent. Ordinarily, China would help the US in a war. In this situation, they chose not to, because the knew that they could heal their economy with the technology. With only one large military power in the world, and no terrorism, there would be no war. – Tom Higgins Feb 1 at 16:59
I don't see how this answers the question as asked. Please keep in mind that any answer posted must answer, or at least attempt to answer, the question as asked. In this case, that question is basically "can we end all wars within one year?". If you feel this does answer that, then please edit your answer to clarify how it does, or this may receive downvotes and/or delete votes for not answering the question. – Michael Kjörling Feb 1 at 18:20

The quickest way to end all wars is to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. I am thinking multiple strategic nukes and mass burials. Leave no trace. Make it as it was before the UK+US stole Palestine and illegally gave it to European Jews.

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As if that wouldn't cause more wars... Also, "stole" is a very opinionated term (that this isn't the place to argue about) but let me just remind you that the whole UN decided this. – Daniel M. Jan 31 at 13:41
Also there are other wars.Do you think Isis would stop if Israel was gone? Do you think that either side will willingly surrender is the Syrian civil war, just because there wouldn't be any more Israel? – Daniel M. Jan 31 at 13:46
This is not a solution to stop all wars, and it is even questionable if your suggestion is going to work even in this case. – Hohmannfan Jan 31 at 16:13
Do you think that the wars in, say Central African Republic, or the Buddhist attacks on Muslims in Myanmar will suddenly stop because there's no Israel? This isn't helpful at all. – Mikey Feb 1 at 22:34

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