Global Politics

by Andrew Heywood

Chapter 10 Notes: War and Peace

  • What is war? What types of war are there?
  • Why do wars occur?
  • How, and to what extent, has the face of war changed in the post-Cold War era?
  • Why has it become more difficult to determine the outcome of war?
  • When, if ever, is it justifiable to resort to war?
  • Can war be replaced by 'perpetual peace'?

Military power has been the traditional currency of international politics. States and other actors have exercised influence over each other largely through the threat or use of force, making war a ubiquitous feature of human history, found in all ages, all cultures and all societies. However, even though war appears to be as old as humankind, there are questions about its nature. What distinguishes war from other forms of violence? What are the main causes of war and peace? And does the declining incidence of war in some parts of the world mean that war has become obsolete and military power is a redundant feature of global politics? Nevertheless, the nature of warfare has changed enormously over time, particularly through advances in the technology of fighting and military strategy. The longbow was replaced by the musket, which in turn was replaced by rifles and machine-guns, and so on. Major shifts were brought about in the twentieth century by the advent of 'total' war, as industrial technology was put to the service of fighting. The end of the Cold War is also believed to have ushered in quite different forms of warfare. So-called 'new' wars tend to be civil wars (typically involving small-scale, low intensity combat), which blur the distinction between civilians and the military and are often asymmetrical. In the case of so-called 'postmodern' warfare, a heavy reliance is placed on 'high-tech' weaponry. How new are these new forms of warfare, and what are their implications? Finally, there are long-standing debates about whether, and in what circumstances, war can be justified. While some believe that matters of war and peace should be determined by hard-headed judgements about the national self-interest, others insist that war must conform to principles of justice, and others still reject war out of hand and in all circumstances. How can war be justified? Can and should moral principles be applied to war and its conduct?

  • War is a condition of armed conflict between two or more parties, traditionally states. However, the nature of war and warfare has changed enormously over time, as they have been refashioned by developments in military technology and strategy. There is nevertheless considerable debate about why wars occur, with explanations focusing on human nature, the internal characteristics of states, or structural or systemic pressures.
  • The classic account of war, developed by Clausewitz, views it as a continuation of politics by other means. However, the Clausewitzian conception of war has been criticized for ignoring the moral implications of war, and on the grounds that it is outdated, either because war has become a less effective policy instrument or because modern wars are less easy to interpret in instrumental terms.
  • Many argue that the nature of war has changed in the post-Cold War period. So-called 'new' wars tend to be civil wars rather than inter-state wars, often fought over issues of identity. They are also commonly asymmetrical wars, fought between unequal parties, tend to blur the civilian/military distinction, and, arguably, involve higher levels of indiscriminate violence.
  • War and warfare have also been affected by the development of 'hi-tech' technology and 'smart' weapons, giving rise to so-called 'postmodern' warfare. Although such warfare was effective in the Gulf War and in Kosovo, its strategic effectiveness has been called into question, especially in the context of small-scale, low-intensity wars, when the enemy is highly mobile and difficult to distinguish from the civilian population.
  • Three broad positions have been adopted on the issue of the relationship between war and morality. Realpolitik suggests that war, as a political act, needs no moral justification. Just war theory seeks to justify war but only if it conforms to moral principles about both the just recourse to war and the just conduct of war. Pacifism suggests that war, as an unnecessary evil, can never be justified.