Trying to present a total or even a mere account of the global conflicts through the history of humanity would be almost an endless process. What is essential to present is that the way and “for what reasons” those wars were conducted has changed dramatically throughout late history. In order to present a more in-depth overview of the advances that formed the art of war in contemporary history, the following will be examined at brief. The pre-westphalian world, the post Westphalian system, the world wars and the cold war, summarising the most important changes that formed the way military force is been used today, focusing in the west regions, were later the western liberal democracies were formed.
Before the westphalian system, religious authority was ruling in Europe. The Roman Empire had a centralised authority since the fifth century, and then a decentralisation followed in the middle ages. The majority of the western Europe regions, reverted to feudal principalities then, authority was placed on private hands and as a consequence, power were allocated in different overlapping levels. The predominant institution was once again the church with the pope and the central authority in Rome. Wars then were fighting for territorial expansion and religious unification under the name of Christianity. Later after 1000 AD, commercial activity expanded, and the establishment of diplomatic practices amongst the relations of regions was emerged. The power of the church was intellectually challenged and the concept of cosmopolitanism influenced intensively the international society. The discovery of the Americas broadened the horizons of the west. ‘Many settlers, moved into the new world but the old Europe remained unsettled’2. In countries such as England, France, and Spain, the feudalism was replaced by monarchy and the armies were used in order the monarch to consolidate their power internally and conquer more territory.
In 1648 the Treaty of Westphalian, put an end to the thirty years war, that devastated Europe and left behind a great number of civilian casualties ravaged by armies, and at the same time a new system of states emerged. The concept of sovereignty found in the writings of French philosopher Jean Bodin (1530-96) was introduced and nations were formed on its foundation. It was then that the national armies were created, control within the state became centralised and leaders assumed absolute control over their troops.
The 19th century started with two great revolutions against absolute rule. The American Revolution (1776) and the French Revolution (1789)4. ‘The war of the American Revolution, contributed to the break-up of 18th century linear tactics and to the development of new, more flexible ways of fighting’5. Historian Piers Mackesy states that ‘ the struggle that opened at Lexington was the last great war of the ancient regime’. On the other hand, the French Revolution ‘was from the start a highly centralised movement whose task was not to create a new nation but to replace one social system and ideology with another and a relatively inefficient system of centralised government with a stronger one. After a brief transitional period, its military institutions, too, progressed from a lower to a higher level of standardisation and uniformity and fought in support of policies that almost immediately changed from the defence of the revolution to aggressive national expansion on the order of Louis XIV’s assault on the balance of powers’. Those two revolutions brought up the notions of legitimacy and nationalism that provided the foundation for the 19th and 20th century politics. After the establishment of peace by the Congress of Vienna and the Napoleonic defeat (1815), ‘no major wars were fought between the great west powers of the time until the Crimean War in 1854 and in that both Austria and Prussia remained neutral’. The fact remains that there was not a conflict that those powers were engaged into simultaneously.
Theories and ideas started to become more important ‘not only in the intellectual sense that one may be right and another wrong, but in the political sense that they affect men’s expectations’10 as well as perceptions of the international system. The idea of Augustine Compte11, was a powerful factor in the way that Europeans regarded the problem of international society in the 1860’s and 70’s and in particular the rise of German militarism. Nietzsche and his views on the relationship between war, the internal power and the progress of nations, had a profound influence upon German opinion from 1880 onwards, Clausewitz and the notion of war as the continuation of politics as well as later Marx’s and particularly Lenin’s12 views that helped to form the whole of the Soviet’s Union foreign policy for about forty years after the First World War (WWI).
After 1914, nationalism lead to the WWI; a war that ‘was seen by contemporaries as a way to achieve goals, but that anxiety as much as opportunity conditioned these goals’. WWI was an indicative example of total conflict, bringing a great number of casualties on the international community, not only human lives but also financial catastrophe. After 1919 and in the Inter-war years, ‘the mechanisation of the armies led to a focus on the combination of firepower and mobility’. Therefore, war were entrusted to specially trained troops under military command and moved away from the mass armies where politician and civilians played a major role. The Second World War (1939-45) ‘yet again saw not only the concentration of resources, force and technology in the hand of a few powers, but also their ability both to campaign around the world and to subsume other regional struggles and interests to their views’. Finally the Cold war years emphasised the struggle between communism and capitalism. With the Bolshevik Revolution a hostile climate against the USSR was established by the international community, the notion of Anti-Communism emerged. Whether the cold war can be seen as a war as the previous wars in history or cannot be seen as a war at all is well argued. Heavily investments on weaponry from both the US and the united anti-communist western world and the USSR, lead to such technological advances that progressively helped to improve the way of life.18 However, the development of nuclear technology with nuclear proliferation by US and USSR, as well as arms races between them, introduced new threats in the international community.
Today’s International System has been constructed upon normative principles that were codified from the westphalian order. With the nation-state as the primary container of democratic politics, the definition of democratic citizenship, the ideas of self-goverance, consent, representation, popular sovereignty and all the other associations with any institution of the sovereign territorial nation-state, are the principles and practices of the foundation of liberal democracy21. By definition, liberal democracy ‘is a modern western political system that has free elections, multiplicity of political parties, political decision is made through independent legislature and an independent judiciary with a state monopoly of law enforcement’. However, the concept of Globalisation, has introduced transformations of the liberal democracy and its principles. ‘Since Globalisation involved a profound shift in the scale of human, economic and social organisation, the exercise of power can readily transcend or bypass existing forms of democratic accountability which remain organised on an exclusively national and territorial basis. By destabilising the political foundations of Westphalian order, globalisation problemasices the historical and analytical correspondence between modern liberal democracies and the sovereign state’ David Held argues that Globalisation is reconstituting the nature of sovereign statehood. Elaborating on this argument, McGrew contributes that ‘under those conditions of Globalisation, inside this increasingly interconnected world system, sites of power can be a continent away from the communities or constituencies which are subjects of its exercise’.
After the fall of the USSR the international scene has changed dramatically. The power is unequally divided between the United States, and Europe including Russia; China can be identified as a great power but not in the same degree as the other two and Japan is only a potential great power. After the Cold war, absolute power and technological advantage is concentrated on the hands of the United States which in a sense represent the western democracies when referring on the use of power; therefore the references on the US government are more than the reference on other western democracies, on the use of their power. Hedley Bull identified three characteristics of a great power. First, that there are two or more powers, that are comparable in status. Secondly, great powers are all in the front rank in terms of military strength; and thirdly great powers are recognised by others to have and conceived by their own leaders and peoples to have, certain special right and duties. Today great powers in the sense of Bull’s thinking are not two or more, but only one; in front rank in terms of military powers is only the US. Another question that arises is if the Great powers today have certain duties such as preserving international order, and the balance of power or maintaining the peace, or they act solely on their own interest, trying to expand their spheres of influence and control over the International society; and whether they exploit and use those certain special rights that Bull argues that they have to legitimise the pursuit of power and control. A brief answer to the above question may be already given long before the question emerge by Thomas Hobbes when he said that ‘ where there is no common power, there is no law’
In order to be able to understand the concept of power and especially its representation as military capability, the concept of military power will be briefly analysed. Military power as McGrew29 suggests, ‘exists in democratic countries to defend democratic institutions and ways of life’. Linking militarism and democracy, and especially liberal democracy, it can be argued that after the World wars, democracy, communism and fascism were contented. Therefore in order to survive liberal democracy were redefined and extended. As McGrew suggest in the beginning of the 20th century, ‘in America, Britain and the British dominions, democracy became essential to the definition of nationalism: fighting of one’s nation and fighting for democracy became the same thing’. Western liberal states engaged themselves into the concepts of universal military participation, socio-economic as well as political rights, leading to form a military democracy. Another transformation of democracy and military power was yet to follow in the later decades of the 20th century. A new ideological struggle against ‘totalitarian’ communism occurred between 1940 and 198932; McGrew states that ‘Liberal democracy appeared to left-wing critics to be thoroughly militarised, its democratic character compromised by the secretive and unaccountable built up of nuclear weapons and its association with authoritarian anti-communist regimes in the so-called third world’. Nation states had already began to dissolve and their power was undermined.
The military unification of the west facilitated changes, which further reduced the role of nation-state. ‘At the end of WW II, western leaders envisaged a new world order which would overcome the weaknesses of the economic system between the wars…military unity opened up a combined western economic including most of what became known as the Third World’. This demand for armies, new technologies and developments on liberal democracies, combined with the manifest of democratic implications of nuclear arms racing lead to a centralisation of power, which according to C. Wright Mills35 brought a consolidation of a ‘power elite’ making the American superpower to monopolise the ‘highest levels’ of international military decision making even before the end of the cold war. The adaptation of the neorealist approach of international security and international relations will aid the understanding of the military-political structure today, that war lies on the global system, it is a product of the decentralised character of the international system, that requires the sovereign states to rely on self-help for their security .
A number of non-govermental organisations (NGOs) were established from the mid-20th century. NGOs participate vitally in the international system. They contribute valuable information and ideas, advocate effectively for positive change, provide essential operational capacity in emergencies and development efforts, and generally increase the accountability and legitimacy of the global governance process. The most important organisations in the light of international security are the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which main objective is to maintain peace and security, contribute to the international disarmament and limit war and armed conflict. Carl Von Clausewitz stated that war is the continuation of politics with other means. By this definition a critic of western democratic states would argue that this continuation of politics is been done also by those NGOs. In other words, Government legitimise their military operations using the UN and the NATO forces. As Bull argues, ‘international society is impelled to restrict the right of states to go to war’ therefore war should begin only for just cause and only through legal instruments such as some NGOs that are designated to fulfil international law.
However, the late example of the US intervention in Iraq in 2003 shows that the powerful states are in a position to undermine the instruments of international law in order to preserve their own interests and once again Leviathan gives a clear view of why this is happening as stated above. The impact of such action on the international community is negative. As the anti-communism movement was manifested in the interwar years since the fall of the USSR, a relatively similar manifest is emerging against the powerful states and especially the United States of America. Using the long cycle theory of the international system and as Luigi da Poto expressed, world affairs go around; and the views of Henry Kissinger and Alpo Rusi, foreign policy advisor to the President of Finland an major development will occur that will transform the unipolar system of today into a new form of multipolarity, maybe formed by an alliance of non state actors.
It is essential to say that in the late decade, new threats came across the international community. A new form of terrorism, with equivalent economical power with that of major states and fairly great spheres of influence led to the late war on terror, emerged after the September 11th attacks. This new form of terrorism is not only fighting against states but also against other non-state actors such as businesses and NGOs. The war on terror is a form of undeclared war. This kind of war are argued to be the new breath of conflict, but Cordesman argues that ‘Since shortly after pearl harbour war hasn’t been formally declared, however military force for political ends and in conflicts has been used more than 300 times since 1945.
Such wars are mainly launched against non-state actors and terrorists, states that may use convert means without stating they are attacking anyone and also dealed with an entirely new form of economic struggle, that uses non-lethal means (cyber warfare)42 and elaborating on this with a phrase of Plato (1626 AD) ‘is merely a name; yet in truth an undeclared war exists by nature between every Greek city state43, the concept of undeclared wars is not a contemporary one but a way of legitimisation of random military interventions, condemned by international law and international society. In these kinds of conflicts, the difference between civilian, combatant, criminal and soldier can be difficulty defined. ‘They are conflicts that western democracies act on suspicion or on the certainty that a nation us attacking but without formal declaration of conflict.
Modern war calls for the regimentation and co-ordination of peoples and resources; the state is compelled to demand a surrender of private rights in order than unity for purpose may enable it to prosecute the war to a victorious conclusion. As Machiavelli stated ‘It is better to overcome the enemy with hunger than with steel, for in victory with the later fortune is more powerful than ability’. Therefore modern wars are waged not only against a nation’s armed forces but also against a nations economic means of existence and its civilian population in order to destroy the means and will to continue the struggle. Mary Kaldor argues that the goals of war are different and western democracies must re-evaluate the way that they intervene.
She argues that while old wars where based on geopolitical and ideological goals, new wars are based on identity; were the war was conducted by battle of states for territorial control using military forces now it is conducted by gorilla warfare and mass killing of populations. Furthermore Kaldor stresses the need for cosmopolitanism and a form of cosmopolitan law enforcement that will protect Human rights and above all humanity, without any discrimination and as she argues military force has to be imposed by a new breath of soldier that would risk life not for their country but for humanity. I believe that this is merely impossible not because of the unfeasibility of the idea as such but due to the human nature. A solution to the problem my would be the concept of ‘franchising’ of military operations but this again may present problems because of the same concept of human nature and collision on interest that individuals have.
It is a fact that democracies never fight each other this is by definition against their ideals, and their foundations. The democratic way of conflict resolution is diplomacy and thus peace is maintained amongst them for long periods. This does not means that they will never fight each other though nor that if all the states of the world were to be democratic, war would disappear. As Nietzsche said ‘ the will to power can only manifest itself against resistances, therefore it seeks those who will resist it’. Also Michael Foucault connected this will to power with governments arguing that ‘ …humanity installs each of its violence in a system of rules and then proceeds from domination to domination’. Therefore war is a characteristic of life itself and it will emerge as long as life exists in maybe in different ways but always with negative implications towards humanity.
‘If you look deep into the abyss, the abyss will look into you’
Black, I., War and the world: Military power and the faith of Continents 1450-2000, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000)
Black, J. Warfare in the western world: 1882-1975, (Chesham: Acumen, 2002)
Buchan A., War in Modern Society, (London: Watts, 1966)
Bull H., The Anarchical Society, (London: Macmillan Press, 2nd ed., 1995)
Cordesman A.H. the moral and ethical challenges of modern war (Washington: Centre for strategic and international studies review, 2002)
Encarta encyclopaedia (www.encarta.msn.com)
Hanson Victor, The western way of war: Infantry battle in Classical Greece (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2nd ed., 2000)
Held David, 1995 in McGrew, A. The Transformation of Democracy, (London: Polity/Open University Press, 1997)
Hindess B., Discourses of power: Hobbes to Foucault (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1996)
Kaldor M. New and Old Wars: Organised violence in a Global Era (Cambridge: Polity, 2001)
Kegley C. et al. World Politics (New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 1999)
Lampert, Laurence. Nietzsche’s Teaching: An Interpretation of ‘Thus Spoke Zarathrusta’,(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989)
Machiavelli N. the chief works and other: Translated by Allan Gilbert’ (London: Duke University Press, Vol II, 1989)
McGrew, A. The Transformation of Democracy, (London: Polity/Open University Press, 1997)
Mingst K, Essentials of International Relations, (London: Norton, 2nd ed, 2001)
Paret P., Understanding War, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993)
Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs (www.pugwash.org)
Stoessinger J.G., Why nations go to war (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 8th ed., 2001)
1 Mingst K, Essentials of International Relations, (London: Norton, 2nd ed, 2001)
2 Ibid. p.25
4 Mingst K, Essentials of International Relations, (London: Norton, 2nd ed, 2001)
5 Paret P., Understanding War, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993), p.26
6 Mackesy P., The war for America, 1775-1783, (Cambridge: Mass., 1964), p.4 stated in Paret P., Understanding War, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993), p.27
7 Paret P., Understanding War, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993), p.31
8 Mingst K, Essentials of International Relations, (London: Norton, 2nd ed, 2001), p.29
10 Buchan A., War in Modern Society, (London: Watts, 1966)
11 ‘War was a characteristic of feudal or agrarian society whose incidence would naturally be minimised as European States become more industrial’ (Augustine Compte, 1840’s) stated in Buchan A., War in Modern Society, (London: Watts, 1966)
12 ‘the conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is inevitable’ stated in Buchan A., War in Modern Society, (London: Watts, 1966)
14 Black, J. Warfare in the western world:1882-1975, (Chesham: Acumen, 2002), p.41
15 Ibid. p.75
17 Black, I., War and the world: Military power and the faith of Continents 1450-2000, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000) p.257
18 Space exploration, Computers and Internet, Communications, etc.
19 McGrew, A. The Transformation of Democracy, (London: Polity/Open University Press, 1997)
21 Held,1995,1996 stated in McGrew, A. The Transformation of Democracy, (London: Polity/Open University Press, 1997) p.5
22 Encarta encyclopedia (www.encarta.msn.com/dictionary_1861696490/liberal_democracy.html )
23 McGrew, A. The Transformation of Democracy, (London: Polity/Open University Press, 1997), p.12
24 Held David, 1995 in McGrew, A. The Transformation of Democracy, (London: Polity/Open University Press, 1997)
25 McGrew, A. The Transformation of Democracy, (London: Polity/Open University Press, 1997), p.12
26 Bull H., The Anarchical Society, (London: Macmillan Press, 2nd ed., 1995)
27 Ibid. p.202
28 Hobbes, Leviathan, (London: Blackwell, 1946) ch.13, p.83 stated in Bull H., The Anarchical Society, (London: Macmillan Press, 2nd ed., 1995) p.124
29 McGrew, A. The Transformation of Democracy, (London: Polity/Open University Press, 1997), p.26
30 Ibid. p.32
31 Ibid. p.33
32 Ibid. p.33
33 Ibid. p.33
34 Ibid. p.33
35 Wright C. Mills (1956,1959) stated in McGrew, A. The Transformation of Democracy, (London: Polity/Open University Press, 1997), p.35
36 McGrew, A. The Transformation of Democracy, (London: Polity/Open University Press, 1997)
37 Kegley C. et al. World Politics (New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 1999)
38 Bull H., The Anarchical Society, (London: Macmillan Press, 2nd ed., 1995) p.182
39 ‘Peace brings riches, riches brings pride, pride brings anger, anger brings war, war brings poverty, poverty brings humanity, humanity brings peace, peace brings riches…..’ stated in Kegley C. et al. World Politics (London: Bedford/St. Martins, 1999)
40 ‘In an international system characterised by perhaps five or six great powers…order will have to emerge as much as it did in past centuries: from a reconciliation and balancing of competiting national interest’ Kissinger H.
41 ‘An emerging multipolar system characterised by strengthening rivalry will last until 2010-2020 and then will be challenged by a new division of the world’ Alpo M. Rusi
42 Cordesman A.H. the moral and ethical challenges of modern war (Washington: Centre for strategic and international studies review, 2002)
43 Plato, Laws, 1626AD in Hanson Victor, The western way of war: Infantry battle in Classical Greece (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2nd ed.,2000)
44 Cordesman A.H. the moral and ethical challenges of modern war (Washington: Centre for strategic and international studies review, 2002)
45 Machiavelli N. the chief works and other: Translated by Allan Gilbert’ (London: Duke University Press, Vol. II, 1989), p.718
46 Buchan A. War in Modern society (London: Watts, 1966)
47 Kaldor M. New and Old Wars: Organised violence in a Global Era (Cambridge: Polity, 2001)
49 ‘the ‘franchising’ of military operations will be necessary if the international community is to have the resources it needs for timely and effective intervention; more thought is needed on how to efficiently subcontract military operations, especially to deal with perceptions of double standards when it comes to committing troops. One problem of many with subcontracting; however, is that those who provide peacekeepers often expect to reap the economic benefits of reconstruction (a form of neo-colonialism). In the case of Sierra Leone, for example, there is the problem of British troops providing training to local troops who are led by a former warlord.’ Boutwell J. Intervention, Sovereignty and International Security
(Como, Italy, September 2000) found in www.pugwash.org
50 Lampert, Laurence. Nietzsche’s Teaching: An Interpretation of ‘Thus Spoke Zarathrusta’,(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989)
51 Foucault M. 1977, stated in Hindess B., Discourses of power: Hobbes to Foucault (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1996)
52 Stated in Stoessinger J.G., Why nations go to war (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 8th ed., 2001)