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My alien civilization is at a stage of technological development about 60 years ahead of us. A great war has broken out between the three world powers, with many smaller countries picking a side or staying neutral.

Two of the big powers are independent countries (based on cold war America and Russia), and the third is a union of smaller countries banded together under a common government. They all dislike the others' governments, and resource shortages weren't helping either. A cold war had been going on for 30 years before things heated up.

All three parties have access to nuclear weapons, but they all know that if a single bomb is set off, it will result in Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Most of the fighting is done between one of the large countries (Country A) and the union of smaller countries, as they are geographically closer. The other large country (Country B) is more isolated but makes up for it with a very strong Navy and Air Force. Most attacks on county B are naval landing parties on small outlying islands, or bombing runs on coastal cities.

My question is this: How could I end this war so violently that all parties involved make a peace pact and set up a common government to ensure that these world powers never go to war in the future?

I am guessing that a large enough loss of civilian life would be sufficient but;

  • The loss must not be so much that the world can't recover quickly.

  • Nukes can't be used, because if you use one nuke, you use them all.

  • I would prefer if major cities were mostly intact, as most research centers are in large cities, and destroying them would hinder technological development.

  • Large scale destruction in countries outside of the big three would go almost unnoticed, the damage must be to all three world powers.

  • If possible, make Country B the least affected, and the leader in unionization.

Basically, this war needs to be so horrible that it scares war-hardened world leaders, but also easy enough to recover from that the world union can be on its merry way to colonizing space within a few years. Something like a botched assassination attempt sparking something bigger would be great for storytelling.

Edit: Don't worry about how strong the resulting union will be. I am well aware of the violent nature of people. The union is only a means of getting the species in space, where they will continue to kill each other.

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    $\begingroup$ The war to end all wars... We tried. Millions of people died. Vast destruction was visited upon the belligerants. We failed. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 15 '18 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ "Nukes can't be used." I mean, its possible you can engineer a situation where a tactical weapon was used on the frontline, and because everyone is scared of MAD that they only use their weapons on the frontline, and thus with the precedent, turn the war into a horrifying meatgrinder like the first World War. This would only plausibly work on countries that border each other, because an invasion followed by a nuking of the frontline is likely to be seen much more... negatively. $\endgroup$ – Raznarok Jul 15 '18 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ This might be a challenge to answer. I'm fond of a quote from the Team Fortress II "Meet the Sniper" video: "at the end of the day, as long as there's two people left on the planet, someone's gonna want someone dead." If your people were of a nature and a culture to permit this war in the first place, they'll do it again. Which means (without nukes) we need to affect the psyche of the world-wide population. Challenging. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jul 16 '18 at 2:05
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    $\begingroup$ bullet four is not possible, the collapse of international trade will lead to other wars just by itself. $\endgroup$ – John Jul 16 '18 at 3:38
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP The second time around, it did work. Not perfectly, nor without side-effects, nor on a global scale, but it did end one of the bitterest, most violently and horrifyingly fought rivalry of modern history for good. $\endgroup$ – Eth Jul 16 '18 at 14:58

13 Answers 13

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Runaway bioweapon.

I am skeptical that leaders could be scared so bad that they would never make any sort of war again. More likely they would never make war that involved the stuff that scared them, as with chemical weapons, or your countries with nuclear arms. Whatever happens has to be unprecedentedly scary. Or it has to change things so much that afterwards there are not wars.

A bioweapon can be the latter. An engineered bioweapon can be a thing never before seen on the face of the earth. You could have a mass die off of food crops. You could accidentally cripple the ocean. You could have people turn into zombies or something else horrible. Maybe nearly everyone just dies, like Stephen King's The Stand.

On recovering, it is not a post apocalyptic wasteland or a reversion to medieval technology. The population of the world is 0.1% of what it was but all the tech and infrastructure is intact. The war ends all wars because afterwards, there are not many people and so not much reason to fight. There is no scarcity and no reason for war. It is easy to cooperate and colonize space.

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    $\begingroup$ I like the idea of something killing off the crops. Their planet was already short on resources, a food shortage and mass starvation would be a slap to the face they couldn't ignore. I'll have to consider this. $\endgroup$ – Starpilot Jul 15 '18 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ People will find something to be scarce. $\endgroup$ – chrylis -on strike- Jul 16 '18 at 3:58
  • $\begingroup$ I agree. There's a book that uses biological warfare as an end-all tactic extremely effectively - The Last Hour Of Gann, by R L Smith. You might want to take a look at it. $\endgroup$ – Bumble Bee Jul 18 '18 at 12:16
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Give them an external threat. History is full of examples of factions setting aside their differences to fight a common foe.

It doesn't have to be an external military threat, either. It could be a natural phenomenon. Maybe something is wrong with their star, and they need to pool all their resources to either fix it or flee, like in the movies "Sunshine" and "Interstellar". Maybe they've found a nearby star that's about to go supernova and they need to build a massive shield of some kind.

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  • $\begingroup$ History is also full of examples of factions using powerful external parties against rivals. Enemy of my enemy. $\endgroup$ – BevynQ Jul 16 '18 at 5:38
  • $\begingroup$ Unity born from an external threat lasts only as long as that threat lasts. And even if it is a long-standing threat, the peace would last only so long before the previously warring factions end up backstabbing each other. $\endgroup$ – Bumble Bee Jul 18 '18 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ Attack on Titan has a more cynical take on this view. There's a scene in episode 11 where Eren notes to Pixis that even though the powerful threat of the Titans has pushed humanity to the brink of extinction, they're still far from united. $\endgroup$ – ahiijny Jul 21 '18 at 7:37
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Shadow warfare

You want a conflict that scares the pants off of world leaders, while leaving the people relatively intact. This is a problem, because history suggests that given half a chance, the average world leader will gladly throw virtually-limitless quantities of people and infrastructure at a problem even if no real progress is being made. So what if that's not an option? What if, indeed, the world leaders are themselves the targets?

Instead of a war fought the conventional way, with millions of troops, bombs, tanks, sharply-dressed old men moving blocks around on maps with croupier's sticks, etc., create a war fought dirty. Espionage. Kidnappings. Assassinations. The common people might not even know they're at war. Even the government might not know for a time. All they know is that there are a lot of odd thefts recently. Break-ins at government-affiliated labs and office buildings. Officials turning up dead in unusual ways.

There doesn't have to be a single civilian casualty or scrap of lost technology unless you wish it so. (Sabotage and even terror bombings or other mass casualty events are certainly possible in such a conflict, but you as the author have full control over what gets wrecked, when, and where.)

But in the halls of power, you have people working feverishly under the worst conditions - not knowing who they can trust, who might be plotting against them at any moment - to either take control of the situation or bring an end to the war, because they know if they can't do either, sooner or later they'll wind up with knives at their throats.

The reason this works with a minimal amount of actual bloodshed has to do with the psychology of risk. Big, global, impersonal risks are often undervalued, but direct and personal risks are overvalued. The average person is much more willing to support a risky war than to support something that might end up with them personally in the firing line.

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  • $\begingroup$ There was a short story about this in (I think) There Will Be War, edited by Jerry Pournelle. Countries would be in a State of Assassination with each other rather than a state of war. $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 Jul 16 '18 at 0:14
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timí, fóvos, aftoapaschólisi

So the ancient Athenian general Thucydides defined the basic drivers of human actions. The issue isn't the weapons of war, the tactics or strategies, or if the motivations are cloaked in religion or ideology or survival; what is fundamental is the basic motivations which drive human beings, and these motivations bring people into conflict with each other.

The ancient Greeks could unite, after all to defeat the Persians, yet not even a generation later, the Delian League and Sparta and her Allies were squaring off in one of the biggest conflicts in the ancient world. The crushing of Athens did not end the conflict, the Spartans became the hated oppressors of the other Greek City States, until the Thebans rose up and smashed the base of Spartan power by freeing the Helots. Wars continued until Phillip II of Macedon invaded and conquered Greece, his son Alexander III went on to subjugate the Persian Empire, modern Afghanistan and invade northern India. When he died, the various generals squared off.....

timí, fóvos, aftoapaschólisi translated into English are "Honour, Fear and Self Interest." So long as human beings are driven by those impulses, then wars and conflict will always be inevitable. WWII took place only 20 years after "The War to End all Wars", and the Cold War started almost immediately after the Second World War ended. Innumerable smaller wars have happened in virtually every continent since WWII, under the shadow of nuclear arms, and many nations are working on ways to prosecute large scale conflicts under these conditions: The United States is advancing a "Third Offset" using networked and robotic weaponry, Russia has advanced on the process of "Hybrid Warfare", combining psychological and physical effects to paralyze and unnerve potential enemies, while the Chinese are developing a doctrine of "Unrestricted Warfare", engaging virtually every aspect of society in conflict. An adversary might not even realize it is under attack at first, dealing with political or economic or other turmoil inside the national boundaries without being aware they are being fomented from without.

So the only true way to have a "War to end all wars" is to essentially change what it means to be human. Some sort of "post human" creatures bred for service during the wars but lacking the defining human traits of timí, fóvos and aftoapaschólisi could survive (especially if the majority of the human race was exterminated via something like an out of control bioweapon) and take over the planet. They themselves may have to fight one final war in order to exterminate the surviving humans as an existential danger to themselves (as indeed they would be), but this may not be necessary depending on how the human race has been pared back, it is thought that the Neanderthals became extinct because they lived and worked in much smaller groups than the Ancestors, a single casualty in a hard winter might condemn them all to death, as the only person who knew herbal lore, tool making or other vital skill died with no replacement. The Ancestors them moved in and claimed the empty valley for themselves, and with their larger numbers, prevented anyone else from moving in and claiming the resources.

Short answer: to end wars, you must end what causes wars, and to do that, you must replace or eliminate what makes us human.

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  • $\begingroup$ Of course, they're Aliens, not humans. Otherwise, this is the only valid answer. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jul 16 '18 at 4:15
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My answer turns out to be fairly similar to Cadence's one and can be used in conjunction with his/hers.

Excessive Espionage Extravaganza

Have your civilisation be the type that views Macbeth as a whodunnit or a primer rather than a tragedy. Treachery is baked into the culture and climbing the ranks by arranging for your immediate superior to suffer an 'unfortunate accident' is a tacitly accepted norm, even if the government declares they will set up a public inquiry on such mysterious circumstances. Likewise, similar means are used by the higher ups to keep the lower ranks in their place.

Top leaders would view waging war in the conventional sense against a foreign power to be an afterthought mainly occurring against countries too weak to fight back. The real war would be waged on uppity underlings trying to get a leg up. Meanwhile the public can get their bread and circuses from politicians choking on their tea and/or found floating face down in canals every fortnight or so, and the resulting totally-thorough-not-investigation.

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What if they developed something scarier than a nuke?

A audio signal or maybe a engineered virus that when released kills all those who share "X" gene.

Like they'd have a few seconds of pain and then that's it, dead. No survivors with that gene at all with 100% efficiency.

Have each of the super powers have some genetic commonality and then either a fourth party can create this superweapon and force them to be friendly or they'll push all three buttons and let them die.

Or have one superpower make it to "end the war" and have the technology stolen/ adapted before completion so it's a cold war, you push your button, i push mine sort of situation?

With nuclear war whilst it would end our world, it wouldn't end our race it's not that efficient a weapon. The fear of complete extinction would be enough in my eyes to get three super powers to lay down their weapons

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You should look into Dune by Frank Herbert. Something similar occurs there. There are 3 major powers: the Emperor, the Landsraad (a coalition of noble houses), and the Spacing Guild (a company with a monopoly over space travel). The main character, Paul Atreides, brings all of them to their knees by targeting a key resource of theirs.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hello, strunkiob, and welcome to Worldbuilding! Perhaps you could expand on how "targeting a key resource" could "end all wars." As your answer stands now, it is somewhat difficult to understand the connection. Please take our tour and visit the help center to learn more about the way the site works. Have a nice day! $\endgroup$ – Gryphon - Reinstate Monica Jul 16 '18 at 0:16
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You could still use a nuke without triggering retaliation by using it defensively. Modern society is extremely dependent on electronics, have a losing side airburst a nuke in the ionosphere over their own territory to trigger an EMP as a last ditch effort. Half the globe falls silent in an instant when all civilian and many military electronics stop working. No (direct) loss of life, but every side's capability to wage war is suddenly greatly diminished due to the resulting chaos and social upheaval.

The effect would not be limited to just physically stopping equipment from working, because it would also destroy data: banking records, property records, population records, plans, schematics, designs, maps. In many cases there would be backups, but it is certain that a lot would be lost. But even where backups exist, restoring them would take time and effort.

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  1. Biological/Toxic attacks on;
    • Food production resources,
    • Water reserves.

Predicted results: World powers fighting over remaining reserves.

or you know,

  1. Let the alien civilisation do the dirty work for you by either;

    • Plundering enough resources from all countries,
    • Enslaving majority of populations,
    • Motherships orbiting far out enough to block out the Sunlight reaching Earth.

Predicted results: World unifying under single goal.

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I can only think of one successful example of countries uniting after a conflict with the explicit goal of never letting anything like that happen again, and without it being explicitly about defending against a greater external threat: the European Union.

The idea of the European Economic Community (what would evolve into the European Union) was that those rival powers should develop mutual dependence, especially economic interdependence. This means they would be less prone to fight because of it, would be more used to work together, and would all be more prosperous out of it, decreasing scarcity as a cause of war.

This would later lead to political integration (to an extent), with a common Parliament and a Supreme Court-like instance of justice and a common police organism to help cooperation between national ones. Military integration is also a recurring idea. The main point is, there is a common European polity, as flawed and politically weak as it is, and risk of conflict between members is now gone.

So this would work as a template for the world union, with varied parameters to be tweaked as desired - a trade union, a monetary union, a top-heavy federation or a loose confederation, a strong or weak supreme judiciary instance that has authority to solve conflicts between nations, a paragon of democracy or a terror police state...

It is, however, difficult to accomplish, and several factors played, and will help set this world on its way:

  • A common identity: Even though national and often regional cultures had strong identities, there was still a sort of European identity, an idea that despite big differences, there was a common base of fundamental values and shared history. A French general described the impending WWI as a madness of an European civil war. It is easier to have some common identity when there are others outside of it to help define it, but it's probably not impossible for the entire world to have it to an extent.

  • A long-standing idea: While the ECC itself was pretty new, the idea of an unified Europe was an old idea. On the mythical side, the Romans and Charlemagne had apparently done it. Napoleon had done it with the Continental System. Following his fall, the Concert of Europe was a rather similar idea - though based on political negotiations and balance of power instead of economic integration, it proved itself fragile and its failure mode apocalyptic. Even Hitler's dream was a twisted perversion of the same ideal, a united Europe. So the UE is the last of a series of attempts, and the first one to actually work.

  • Something so big and soul-crushingly horrifying that "never again" was acted upon: Ultimately, it wasn't the war itself that shocked nations into unifying. It wasn't the millions of deaths, nor the bombed cities, nor the starving populations, nor the people burned alive, nor even the weapons of mass destruction. All this had happened twenty years before, and only made things worse. What really made the difference, ultimately, was the Final Solution.

The pre-WWII Europeans thought they had, as a civilization, risen above the barbarism of the previous centuries (or some neighbors - racism was a thing). And then, the nation with the greatest scientists, artists and philosophers in the world had just industrialized genocide. This was literally unimaginable, and even accepting that it had really happened was difficult. I'm not sure any other civilization slapped itself in the face so hard, short of actual destruction. To this day, this very specific "never again" is used to justify the existence of the European Union, even though it is almost gone from living memory.

The problem is, how do we shock those three factions to their very core like that without the "millions of deaths and destroyed cities" part of WWII?

Keeping the same "Boy we are now civilized people, not like those blood-thirsty clods from the Dark Ages, eh?" mindset, we can use a similar, ah, solution.

For example:

The three factions are engaged in a bitter cold war. They all have nukes, so it doesn't go full WWII, but the local equivalents of Stalinism and McCarthyism appear alongside costly, ineffective proxy wars witnessing more and more war atrocities. At some point, "unsafe" people are isolated in camps. For their own good, of course. To be reeducated. Then to work (to death) for the State they (would inevitably have) betrayed. Then, because there are now so many "unsafe" people, to be "processed".

At the same time, all those proxy wars, defensive armies and police state apparatus are a strain on the economy. Clothes, heat and food becomes scarce.

But those three factions don't go full 1984. There are neutral nations that managed to make it off pretty well, some of those with their own, mostly free journals. Factions themselves aren't monolithic, and are ripe with internal bickering. The idea of democracy, or representative monarchy, or whatever political system was before creeping terror police state, is still there. Propaganda even keeps pretending that's the thing they are defending.

At some point, a faction elects a Gorbachev-like figure that decides that the Cold War lasted long enough, and it is time to end it. After all, we have nukes, it's not as if they would invade us anyway. The hardliners try to take power, but fail because they are inexperienced at it and the population prefers the end of the Cold War (and its promised better days to come) to a military dictatorship. The whole thing turns into political chaos, but it gives ideas to the other factions and the whole thing ends up unraveling in an anticlimactic (meaning not mass-destructive) political mess.

That's when the secret "processing facilities" are revealed to the world in all their extent.

And that's when the new generation of rulers that more or less emerged on top of the mess decide that a Cold War can never be allowed to happen again, and the best for that is to create an union.

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If the political powers decided they had too much control over the people they govern they could discover that their greatest threats are the people within the societies they intend to preserve.

Most of all countries are civilians, which is logical because you have to have a country to protect with all your military resources. Every now and then a government takes it a little too far and uses laws to strictly encourage people to participate. Or to put it bluntly, they threaten them under penalty of law. Once referred to as a draft. Think WW2 late stage. Local psychology "encouraged" people to join the armed forces. For Germany, the word encourage morphed into a sort of obligational compliance and then it became locally violent.

Suppose your warring powers just stretched it too far for too long and now they are applying a mandated service enlistment for all citizens capable of performing some duty. Suppose their methods weren't so easily disguised and in an age of technology people were able to expose the truth of this order and realized their families are being volunteered to die in a effort to prolong what is now seen as a massive exercise in futility. What if it's not the powers that be that decide we've had enough, and it was the citizens themselves who said they will no longer stand by and watch their children be hauled off to death for what appears to be a war having no discernible end game.

What if the people realized they are far more numerous than the governments that are ordering them to die, and they take up their arms and launch a civil war against them? A 3 way collective civil war to overthrow the structures that have lost their way.

Take up your pitchforks and torches. Protect the people from all threats, foreign and domestic. This time, it's clear the threat is domestic. For once in their lazy lives, the people get off their couches and do something with all those guns they've been allowed to bear. And nobody saw it coming so fast, collective, and local. It wasn't long before the major players were mobbed down and the soldiers themselves realized they don't have to follow orders anymore.

Typically behind any major force of arms is a small hand full of people playing the roles of leaders. It's the soldier's duty to follow orders and for the most part they do even if they don't agree. Even the Nazis were people who had to follow orders. Just being a part of the Nazi military didn't guarantee they were rotten to the core. Likewise, if the truly corrupt were suddenly removed, any soldier in even the most evil of powers could suddenly have a chance to throw down their arms and be free from the weight of that penalty they were fearing when they enlisted.

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Someone develops a way to cause psychological harm, like depression, at long range. Perhaps it's a psychoactive substance that can be easily delivered and dispersed, perhaps it's some sort of specific radio interference with the brain. Nobody who goes through serious depression wants any chance of going back there again.

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You already have one, or more precisely you don't need one.

If MAD already exist then they already have a reason for peace, they know that if a country loses the war, if they are pushed to the brink of collapse, MAD stops being a deterrent and full scale nuclear war is inevitable. Once MAD exists there are only two outcomes of war, mutual peace or nuclear annihilation. There are no victory situations. That is why escalation is extremely unpopular in modern international politics. If your people somehow magically don't see this all you need is one scare, one country that steps into MAD even a little, not even an actually violent action just something that makes everyone see the problem with escaliation. In the real world it was the cuban missile crisis. For you it could be something as simple as one country loses several battles in row and poele just see the option of said country falling.

The real question is if MAD exists how the hell did you get into a large scale war in the first place.

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