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Military science · Philosophy of war
A war an armed conflict between nations or conflicting political communities. Wars are necessarily intentional. The actors are states, competing alliances or one or more communities within a state that are seeking either independence and statehood or the outright overthrow of the extant government. Wars may be waged against not only nations but against alliances or blocks of nations or other organized militant communities. By definition, wars are widespread and protracted with few exceptions, and are typified by extreme aggression, social disruption, and usually high mortality.
In accord with Just War theory, wars between nations should be declared by the legitimate government authority, although this has not always been observed either historically or currently. A declaration of war is not normally made in internal, or civil, wars.
The factors leading to war are often complicated and due to a range of issues. Wars are provoked by territorial disputes, by mounting pressure for a pre-emptive strike against a hostile force, or in response to calls for retaliation against foes that have been identified as aggressors. Wars may also result from religious, ethnic, or ideological differences.
War is a complex phenomenon and approaches to explain the causes of war are varied, including historical, psychological, sociological, economic, political, philosophical, and so forth. War has existed throughout human history, and despite advances in human society continues to be part of the human experience. The violent nature of war raises moral issues, and leads to the question of whether war is an inevitable, even essential, part of human existence or whether a world of peace is possible.
Military activity has been a constant process over thousands of years. War was likely to have consisted of small-scale raiding only until the historically recent rejection of hunter-gatherer lifestyle for settled agricultural and city-based life. This change in lifestyle would have meant that when a group came under threat it was less likely to simply move on, since it would have had crops and a settlement to defend. Further, it is widely accepted that the adoption of agriculture led to a food surplus, such that some individuals would have been excess to requirements for agricultural production and were able to specialist in other areas of employment, such as metalworking. The advent of gunpowder and the acceleration of scientific discoveries has led to modern warfare being highly technological.
The Human Security Report 2005 has documented a significant decline in the number and severity of armed conflicts since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s. This report was authored by the Human Security Center at Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia and cost approximately U.S. $2.5 million to produce. The paper reports a 40 percent decrease in the number of armed conflicts since the early 1990s, and an 80 percent decrease of genocides between 1998 and 2001. Some critics argue that while the number of conflicts may have decreased, the number of casualties per conflict has increased. Others say that the report focuses only on direct battlefield deaths, rather than people dying from subsequent issues, such as disease or famine.
It is of course well known that the only source of war is politics … war is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means (Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege (On War)).
Most fundamentally this motivation consists of a basic willingness to wage war, but motivations may be analyzed more specifically.
Motivations for war may be different for those ordering the war than those undertaking the war. For a state to prosecute a war it must have the support of its leadership, its military forces, and the population. For example, in the third Punic War, Rome's leaders may have wished to make war with Carthage for the purpose of annihilating a resurgent rival. The army may have wished to make war with Carthage to exploit the great opportunity for plunder while leveling the city of Carthage. But the Roman people may have tolerated the war with Carthage on account of the demonization of the Carthaginians in popular culture, since there had been rumors of child sacrifice. Since many people are involved, a war may acquire a life of its own—from the confluences of many different motivations. Various theories have been presented to explain the causes of war.
Historians tend to be reluctant to look for sweeping explanations for all wars. A.J.P. Taylor famously described wars as being like traffic accidents. There are some conditions and situations that make them more likely, but there can be no system for predicting where and when each one will occur. Social scientists criticize this approach, arguing that at the beginning of every war, some leader makes a conscious decision, and that they cannot be seen as purely accidental. Still, one argument to this might be that there are few, if any, "pure" accidents. One may be able to find patterns which hold at least some degree of reliability, but because war is a collective of human intentions, some potentially quite fickle, it is very difficult to create a concise prediction system.
Psychologists such as E.F.M. Durban and John Bowlby have argued that human beings, especially men, are inherently violent. While this violence is repressed in normal society, it needs the occasional outlet provided by war. This combines with other notions, such as displacement, where a person transfers their grievances into bias and hatred against other ethnic groups, nations, or ideologies. While these theories may have some explanatory value about why wars occur, they do not explain when or how they occur. In addition, they raise the question why there are sometimes long periods of peace and other eras of unending war. If the innate psychology of the human mind is unchanging, these variations are inconsistent. A solution adapted to this problem by militarists such as Franz Alexander is that peace does not really exist. Periods that are seen as peaceful are actually periods of preparation for a later war or when war is suppressed by a state of great power, such as the Pax Britannica.
If war is innate to human nature, as is presupposed by many psychological theories, then there is little hope of ever escaping it. One alternative is to argue that war is only, or almost only, a male activity, and if human leadership were in female hands, wars would not occur. This theory has played an important role in modern feminism. Critics, of course, point to various examples of female political leaders who had no qualms about using military force, such as Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, or Golda Meir.
Other psychologists have argued that while human temperament allows wars to occur, they only do so when mentally unbalanced people are in control of a nation. This extreme school of thought argues leaders that seek war such as Napoleon, Hitler, and Stalin were mentally abnormal. Though this does nothing to explain away the thousands of free and presumably sane men that wage wars on their behalf.
A distinct branch of the psychological theories of war are the arguments based on evolutionary psychology. This school tends to see war as an extension of animal behavior, such as territoriality and competition. However, while war has a natural cause, the development of technology has accelerated human destructiveness to a level that is irrational and damaging to the species. We have similar instincts to that of a chimpanzee but overwhelmingly more power. The earliest advocate of this theory was Konrad Lorenz. These theories have been criticized by scholars such as John G. Kennedy, who argue that the organized, sustained war of humans differs more than just technologically from the territorial fights between animals. Others have attempted to explain the psychological reasoning behind the human tendency for warring as a joined effort of a class of higher intelligence beings at participating in, experiencing and attempting to control the ultimate fate of each human, death.
One argument against the inevitability of masculine aggression is that in a healthy society, aggression can be channeled into productive outlets such as sport, hunting, racing, and other such activities.
Several anthropologists take a very different view of war. They see it as fundamentally cultural, learned by nurture rather than nature. Thus, if human societies could be reformed, war would disappear. To this school the acceptance of war is inculcated into each of us by the religious, ideological, and nationalistic surroundings in which we live.
Many anthropologists also see no links between various forms of violence. They see the fighting of animals, the skirmishes of hunter-gatherer tribes, and the organized warfare of modern societies as distinct phenomena each with their own causes. Theorists such as Ashley Montagu emphasized the top-down nature of war, that almost all wars are begun not by popular pressure but by the whims of leaders, and that these leaders also work to maintain a system of ideological justifications for war.
Sociology has long been very concerned with the origins of war, and many theories have been advanced, many of them contradictory. Sociology has, thus, divided into a number of schools. One, the Primat der Innenpolitik (Primacy of Domestic Politics) school based on the works of Eckart Kehr and Hans-Ulrich Wehler, sees war as the product of domestic conditions, with only the target of aggression being determined by international realities. Thus, World War I was not a product of international disputes, secret treaties, or the balance of power but a product of the economic, social, and political situation within each of the states involved.
This differs from the traditional Primat der Aussenpolitik (Primacy of Foreign Politics) approach of Carl von Clausewitz and Leopold von Ranke that argues it is the decisions of statesmen and the geopolitical situation that leads to war.
Demographic theories can be grouped into two classes, Malthusian theories and youth bulge theories.
Malthusian theories see a misproportion of expanding population and scarce food as a source of violent conflict. Youth Bulge theory differs in that it identifies a disproportion between the number of well educated, well-fed angry "fighting age" young males (second, third, and fifth sons) and the number of positions available to them in society as a primary source of different forms of social unrest (including war). According to this view, "people beg for food, for positions they shoot."
In Malthusian theory, wars are caused by expanding populations and limited resources. Thomas Malthus (1766–1834) wrote that populations always increase until they are limited by war, disease, or famine. This theory is thought by Malthusians to account for the relative decrease in wars during the past fifty years, especially in the developed world, where advances in agriculture have made it possible to support a much larger population than was formerly the case, and where birth control has dramatically slowed the increase in population.
Contributors to the development of youth bulge theory include French sociologist Gaston Bouthoul, U.S. Sociologist Jack A. Goldstone, U.S. Political Scientist Gary Fuller, and German sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn. Samuel P. Huntington modified his Clash of Civilizations theory by using youth bulge theory as its foundation:
I don’t think Islam is any more violent than any other religions, and I suspect if you added it all up, more people have been slaughtered by Christians over the centuries than by Muslims. But the key factor is the demographic factor. Generally speaking, the people who go out and kill other people are males between the ages of 16 and 30.
Youth Bulge theories represent a relatively recent development but seem to become highly influential in guiding U.S. foreign policy and military strategy as both Goldstone and Fuller have acted as consultants to the U.S. Government. CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson referred to youth bulge theory in his 2002 report, "The National Security Implications of Global Demographic Change."
According to Heinsohn, who has proposed the theory in its most generalized form, a youth bulge occurs when 30 to 40 percent of the males of a nation belong to the "fighting age" cohorts from 15 to 29 years of age. It will follow periods with average birth rates as high as four to eight children per woman with a 15-29 year delay. Consequently, one father has to leave not one, but two to four social positions (jobs) to give all his sons a perspective for life, which is usually hard to achieve. Since respectable positions cannot be increased at the same speed as food, textbooks, and vaccines, many "angry young men" find themselves in a situation that tends to escalate their adolescent anger into violence: including being demographically superfluous, out of work, or have no access to a legal sex life.
Rationalist theories of war assume that both sides to a potential war are rational, which is to say that each side wants to get the best possible outcome for itself for the least possible loss of life and property to its own side. Given this assumption, if both countries knew in advance how the war would turn out, it would be better for both of them to just accept the post-war outcome without having to actually pay the costs of fighting the war. This is based on the notion, generally agreed to by almost all scholars of war since Carl von Clausewitz, that wars are reciprocal, that all wars require both a decision to attack and also a decision to resist attack. Rationalist theory offers three reasons why some countries cannot find a bargain and instead resort to war: Issue indivisibility, information asymmetry with incentive to deceive, and the inability to make credible commitments.
Issue indivisibility occurs when the two parties cannot avoid war by bargaining because the thing over which they are fighting cannot be shared between them, only owned entirely by one side or the other. Religious issues, such as control over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, are more likely to be indivisible than economic issues.
A bigger branch of the theory, advanced by scholars of international relations such as Geoffrey Blainey, is the problem of information asymmetry with incentives to misrepresent. The two countries may not agree on who would win a war between them, or whether victory would be overwhelming or merely eked out, because each side has military secrets about its own capabilities. They will not avoid the bargaining failure by sharing their secrets, since they cannot trust each other not to lie and exaggerate their strength to extract more concessions. For example, Sweden made efforts to deceive Nazi Germany that it would resist an attack fiercely, partly by playing on the myth of Aryan superiority and by making sure that Hermann Göring only saw elite troops in action, often dressed up as regular soldiers, when he came to visit.
Intelligence gathering may sometimes, but not always, mitigate this problem. For example, the Argentinean dictatorship knew that the United Kingdom had the ability to defeat them, but their intelligence failed them on the question of whether the British would use their power to resist the annexation of the Falkland Islands. The American decision to enter the Vietnam War was made with the full knowledge that the communist forces would resist them, but did not believe that the guerrillas had the capability to long oppose American forces.
Thirdly, bargaining may fail due to the states' inability to make credible commitments. In this scenario, the two countries might be able to come to a bargain that would avert war if they could stick to it, but the benefits of the bargain will make one side more powerful and lead it to demand even more in the future, so that the weaker side has an incentive to make a stand now.
Rationalist explanations of war can be critiqued on a number of grounds. The assumptions of cost-benefit calculations become dubious in the most extreme genocidal cases of World War II, where the only bargain offered in some cases was infinitely bad. Rationalist theories typically assume that the state acts as a unitary individual, doing what is best for the state as a whole; this is problematic when, for example, the country's leader is beholden to a very small number of people, as in a personalistic dictatorship. Rationalist theory also assumes that the actors are rational, able to accurately assess their likelihood of success or failure, but the proponents of the psychological theories above would disagree.
Rationalist theories are usually explicated with game theory, for example, the Peace War Game, not a wargame as such, rather a simulation of economic decisions underlying war.
Another school of thought argues that war can be seen as an outgrowth of economic competition in a chaotic and competitive international system. In this view, wars begin as a pursuit of new markets, of natural resources, and of wealth. Unquestionably a cause of some wars, from the empire building of Britain to the 1941 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in pursuit of oil, this theory has been applied to many other conflicts. It is most often advocated by those to the left of the political spectrum, who argue such wars serve the interests of the wealthy but are fought by the poor. Some to the right of the political spectrum may counter that poverty is relative and one poor in one country can be relatively wealthy in another. Such counter arguments become less valid as the increasing mobility of capital and information level the distributions of wealth worldwide, or when considering that it is relative, not absolute, wealth differences that may fuel wars. There are those on the extreme right of the political spectrum who provide support, fascists in particular, by asserting a natural right of the strong to whatever the weak cannot hold by force. Some very important centrist, capitalist, world leaders, including Presidents of the United States and U.S. Generals, expressed support for an economic view of war.
Is there any man, is there any woman, let me say any child here that does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry (Woodrow Wilson, September 11, 1919, St. Louis).
I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism—simultaneously highest ranking and most decorated Marine (including two Medals of Honor) Major General Smedley Butler (also a GOP primary candidate for Senate) 1933.
The Marxist theory of war argues that all war grows out of the class war. It sees wars as imperial ventures to enhance the power of the ruling class and divide the proletariat of the world by pitting them against each other for contrived ideals such as nationalism or religion. Wars are a natural outgrowth of the free market and class system, and will not disappear until a world revolution occurs.
The statistical analysis of war was pioneered by Lewis Fry Richardson following World War I. More recent databases of wars and armed conflict have been assembled by the Correlates of War Project, Peter Brecke and the Uppsala Department of Peace and Conflict Research.
There are several different international relations theory schools. Supporters of realism in international relations argue that the motivation of states is the quest for (mostly) military and economic power or security. War is one tool in achieving this goal.
One position, sometimes argued to contradict the realist view, is that there is much empirical evidence to support the claim that states that are democracies do not go to war with each other, an idea known as the democratic peace theory. This theory was developed by the political scientist Rummel who found that between 1816 and 2005, there were 205 wars between non-democracies, 166 wars between non-democracies and democracies, and 0 wars between democracies. Other factors included are difference in moral and religious beliefs, economical and trade disagreements, declaring independence, and others.
Another major theory relating to power in international relations and machtpolitik is the Power Transition theory, which distributes the world into a hierarchy and explains major wars as part of a cycle of hegemons being destabilized by a great power which does not support the hegemons' control.
Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War, an immensely influential ancient Chinese book on military strategy, said "The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected." The exact conduct of war depends to a great extent upon its objectives, which may include factors such as the seizure of territory, the annihilation of a rival state, the destruction of the enemy's ability to prosecute military action, the subjugation of another people or recognition of one's own people as a separate state.
Typically, any military action by one state is opposed, that is, it is countered by the military forces of one or more states. Therefore, the ultimate objective of each state becomes secondary to the immediate objective of removing or nullification of the resistance offered by the opposing military forces. This may be accomplished variously by out-maneuvering them, by destroying them in open battle, by causing them to desert or surrender, or to be destroyed by indirect action such pestilence and starvation. Because of this maneuvering, war is highly political. Adopting pacifism can severely limit a state's political power as other states then no longer have to fear forceful reactions.
Throughout history, societies have attempted to limit the cost of war by formalizing it in some way. Limitations on the targeting of civilians, what type of weapons can be used, and when combat is allowed have all fallen under these rules in different conflicts. Total war is the modern term for the targeting of civilians and the mobilization of an entire society, when every member of the society has to contribute to the war effort.
While culture, law, and religion have all been factors in causing wars, they have also acted as restraints at times. In some cultures, for example, conflicts have been highly ritualized to limit actual loss of life. In modern times, increasing international attention has been paid to peacefully resolving conflicts which lead to war. The United Nations is the latest and most comprehensive attempt to, as stated in the preamble of the U.N. Charter, "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war." However, critics of the United Nations have pointed out that since the UN Charter, there have been more wars than there were from the dawn of the twentieth century to the start of the UN Charter, rather than fewer.
A number of treaties regulate warfare, collectively referred to as the laws of war. The most pervasive of these are the Geneva Conventions, the earliest of which began to take effect in the mid-1800s. It must be noted that in war, such treaties may be ignored if they interfere with the vital interests of either side; some have criticized such conventions as simply providing a fig leaf for the inhuman practice of war. By only illegalizing "war against the rules," it is alleged, such treaties and conventions, in effect, sanction certain types of war.
Running wars requires not just wise military planning, but also great logistical support. Armies must be housed, fed, and clothed. Modern militaries also require fuel lines, further inhibiting troop, cavalry, and airplane movement. As a result, mechanics, cooks, and other support staff are increasingly important as wars are fought further and further away from the soldiers' countries of origins.
Funding wars has always been expensive and the inclusion of cutting edge technology has made doing so even more expensive. Research and production of modern artillery and airpower is incredibly expensive. This is in addition to the great costs of the aforementioned supply lines. The benefit of this technology is greater efficiency and hopefully decreased loss of life on both sides of a conflict.
How a war affects the political and economic circumstances in the peace that follows usually depends on the "facts on the ground." Where evenly matched adversaries decide that the conflict has resulted in a stalemate, they may cease hostilities to avoid further loss of life and property. They may decide to restore the antebellum territorial boundaries, redraw boundaries at the line of military control, or negotiate to keep or exchange captured territory. Negotiations at the end of a war often result in a treaty, such as the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, which ended the First World War.
A warring party that surrenders may have little negotiating power, with the victorious side either imposing a settlement or dictating most of the terms of any treaty. A common result is that conquered territory is brought under the dominion of the stronger military power. An unconditional surrender is made in the face of overwhelming military force as an attempt to prevent further harm to life and property. For example, the Empire of Japan gave an unconditional surrender to the Allies in World War II after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Many other wars, however, have ended in complete destruction of the opposing territory, such as the Battle of Carthage of the Third Punic War between the Phoenician city of Carthage and Ancient Rome in 149 B.C.E. In 146 B.C.E., the Romans burned the city, enslaved its citizens, and symbolically poured salt over the earth to ensure that nothing would ever grow there again.
Some wars or war-like actions end when the military objective of the victorious side has been achieved. Conquered territories may be brought under the permanent dominion of the victorious side. A raid for the purposes of looting may be completed with the successful capture of goods. In other cases, an aggressor may decide to avoid continued losses and cease hostilities without obtaining the original objective.
Some hostilities, such as insurgency or civil war, may persist for long periods of time with only a low level of military activity. In some cases there is no negotiation of any official treaty, but fighting may trail off and eventually stop after the political demands of the belligerent groups have been reconciled, or combatants are gradually killed or decide the conflict is futile.
Cease-fires are temporary halts to hostilities intended to provide negotiation time for the warring parties' diplomats.
Wars can vary in their cause, the way they are fought, and the environment in which they are fought. The immediate causes of war can include religion, trade, civil conflict, or territorial aggression to name a few. The way in which wars are fought is divided into two main categories: Conventional and unconventional warfare. Conventional warfare includes fighting with infantry, cavalry, navies, and air forces. These battles tend to be large in scale and are between clearly delineated opposing forces. Unconventional warfare includes psychological warfare, guerrilla warfare, espionage, chemical warfare, and terrorism.
The environment in which a war is fought has a significant impact on the type of combat which takes place, and can include within its area different types of terrain. This in turn means that soldiers have to be trained to fight in a specific types of environments and terrains that generally reflects troops' mobility limitations or enablers. These include:
Throughout history war has been the source of serious moral questions. Although many ancient nations and some more modern ones viewed war as noble, over the sweep of history, concerns about the morality of war have gradually increased. Today, war is generally seen as undesirable and, by some, morally problematic. At the same time, many view war, or at least the preparation and readiness and willingness to engage in war, as necessary for the defense of their country. Pacifists believe that war is inherently immoral and that no war should ever be fought.
The negative view of war has not always been held as widely as it is today. Many thinkers, such as Heinrich von Treitschke, saw war as humanity's highest activity where courage, honor, and ability were more necessary than in any other endeavor. At the outbreak of World War I, the writer Thomas Mann wrote, "Is not peace an element of civil corruption and war a purification, a liberation, an enormous hope?" This attitude has been embraced by societies from Sparta and Rome in the ancient world to the fascist states of the 1930s. The defeat and repudiation of the fascist states and their militarism in the Second World War, the shock of the first use of nuclear weapons and increasing belief in the value of individual life (as enshrined in the concept of human rights, for example) have contributed to the current view of war.
Today, some see only just wars as legitimate, and believe that it is the responsibility of world organizations such as the United Nations to oppose wars of unjust aggression. Other people believe that world organizations have no more standing to judge the morality of a war than that of a sovereign country.
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