Graffiti artist Banksy updates John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1969 Vietnam War protest to tackle modern armed conflict.

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Nations Without Armies

Is a world without war possible? Arguments fall on both sides, with some viewing armed conflict as an unavoidable part of human nature, and others seeing it as an addressable, solvable problem.

There is no single root cause of international military conflict. Instead, the conditions for war arise from numerous factors. For instance, some biologists explain war as part of our naturally territorial and aggressive nature. How do we fix that, short of evolving into a new species? Others look for the cause of war in human reason, both in its glaring absence and in its excess. Or is warfare a cultural phenomenon, just another behavior that people within a society practice, like raising families?

In a 2011 speech on the potential for world peace, the 14th Dalai Lama (the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism) argued that outer peace depends on inner peace; the international turmoil of war stems from the inner turmoil of the human mind. Along these lines, new age spiritual teacher Ekhart Tolle predicts that the human mind will evolve to be less egocentric, thus ushering in a new era of peace.

For now, however, we can only look to nations that have managed to distance themselves from not only war but also its trappings. As of 2011, 19 independent countries exist without a standing armed force, including Costa Rica, which became the first country to formally abolish its military in 1948, keeping only a public security force for domestic matters.

Still, Costa Rica's Fuerza Pública (Public Force) demanded a 2007 budget of nearly $293 million and employs thousands of Costa Ricans [source: Pike]. It might not be a standing army, but that's roughly three times the military budget of neighboring Nicaragua [source: Rogers]. Plus, Costa Rica isn't above accepting a little military aid to fight the drug trade. In 2010, it approved a measure to allow the U.S. military to bring in 46 warships and 7,000 troops [source: Tenser].

Regardless, Costa Rica's demilitarized status has allowed its government to devote more funding to education and environmental conservation. In 2010, the New Economics Foundation added to Costa Rica's accolades, placing it ahead of every country in the world on its Happy Planet Index.

So what would happen if we ended war? Based on what we know, it seems like life would carry on just fine with at it. Should we grow nostalgic for our warring past, we've no shortage of war books, movies, plays, songs and video games to scratch the itch.

Was 1970s soul singer Edwin Starr right? Is war good for absolutely nothing? Explore the links on the next page and judge for yourself.