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How do we curb the lust for power?

By Peter Bowden - posted Friday, 29 April 2022

Was Putin justified in invading Ukraine? The answer must be no. There are two reasons. Despite the history of Russian involvement in Ukraine, and the validity of some of his reasons for the invasion, Vladimir Putin is nevertheless only exhibiting the same drive to extend his power that has been evidenced by dictators for millennia. This lust for power has been the cause behind most of the world's wars over its history.

The second reason is that war, any war, but most of all any war that involved the killing of civilians, is contrary to the deepest moral prohibitions that we have developed over the centuries. Unfortunately, we, the human race, have not developed adequate mechanisms for ensuring that these moral prohibitions are observed.

Approaches to preventing war, including this war, are the prime reasons behind this opinion piece. The drive for power has been the curse of the human race for centuries. Malcolm Turnbull in his book 'A Bigger Picture' termed it an 'aphrodisiac' when describing his toppling from the Prime Ministership by Scott Morrison. But the impact is much more severe than the ouster of one Australian Prime Minister.


If you trace the wars over history, and ascertain the causes behind them, as this opinion writer has done, by far the greatest percentage was caused by one leader of a country, and the people supporting him, wishing to expand their power, usually over people in adjacent countries. Even the wars of religion, which have killed millions, were struggles for the dominance of one religion over another.

Julius Caesar, followed by many emperors of Rome, was not the first dictator who killed millions in his quest for power. There were many before him - Alexander, who despite his attempt to conquer his then world, we call The Great, was another. And many since. Genghis Khan and his sons were responsible for the death of millions throughout China and across to modern-day Iran. Napoleon attempted to conquer Europe. For an unknown reason, the French glorify Napoleon, burying him in Les Invalides, a tomb venerated by Parisians, and a well-visited tourist site. He is much revered, despite being responsible for thousands of deaths. His role in the Haitian Revolution and decision to reinstate slavery in France's overseas colonies also question why he is so admired by the French.

Hitler is an obvious comparison to Putin, but Stalin and Mao, also power-hungry dictators, killed far more than did Hitler.

So why can't we stop these struggles for power? We can. The world created a United Nations precisely for this purpose. The Charter of the UN is clear "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war". Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations provides that the UN seek solutions to conflict.

But the United Nations has been noticeably unsuccessful at this task. There are many examples where the United Nations has failed to implement its peace keeping charter. Nagorno-Karabakh is one example. Syria is another. Azerbaijan is a third.

The UN has also been notably unsuccessful at preventing dictatorships. And preventing military coups. Or even at ensuring fair elections. There are many dictators. Freedom House tells us that there are 50 dictatorships in the world (19 in Sub-Saharan Africa, 12 in the Middle East and North Africa, 8 in Asia-Pacific, 7 in Eurasia, 3 in the Americas and 1 in Europe).


It may be because the governments of this world are unwilling to give the United Nations too much power. They are wary of creating a world government. The five superpowers at the Security Council (China, Russia, France, United States, United Kingdom) would lose their veto of " substantive " issues.

One step that the world could take, then, is a stronger and more active United Nations. First step is removal of that veto power. If Australia started that movement, it would be a major step forward in the struggle for world peace. It would not be a world government, but it is conceivable that the UN may be able to create a world policeman. A United Nations policing force, assigned the sole task of preventing world conflicts. And ensuring fair elections. Countries would regularly assign policing troops to the extent that they were able.

Russia vetoed the UN Security Council resolution that demanded that Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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