Cited in Robert Jervis, "Cooperation under the Security Dilemma,"

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Security! The term signifies more indeed than the maintenance of a people's homeland, or even of their territories beyond the seas. It also means the maintenance of the world's respect for them, the maintenance of their economic interests, everything in a word, which goes to make up the grandeur, the life itself, of the nation.
--cited in Robert Jervis, "Cooperation under the Security Dilemma," p. 185

Is interstate war obsolete?

New technologies have consistently made war more deadly and destructive
Is interstate war a thing of the past?

There have been attempts to:

Ban certain weapons, e.g. crossbow

Limit war, e.g., just war theory

Manage war, e.g., laws of war

This is not a new suggestion

Prior to WWI, Noman Angell argued that war would be too costly

Today’s arguments rest on (i) the great destructiveness of armaments and (ii) the force of custom, practice, and law

This point is captured in the “(in)security dilemma”

May only serve to make others uncertain, fearful, and less secure

Weapons, capabilities, and deployments meant to make one secure…

Yet how can one tell what is “offensive” and what is “defensive?”

But weapons that are clearly defensive do not do this

Systems that hold each other “hostage”

Situations in which parties can build trust

Defenses that are immobile, such as tank traps

Weapons of mass destruction may offer this

WMD in sufficient numbers can destroy a society

There are no political objectives that are worth such a cost

But WMD possessed by only one party creates an unstable situation.

And WMD possessed by two opposing parties may create an incentive to strike first in a crisis

Reliable and survivable retaliatory systems eliminate this possibility of winning through a first strike
Yet “mutually assured destruction” (MAD) also leads to stalemate

Normative force of law and practice also matter

Sovereignty and non-intervention are primary values among states

International borders are fixed except in the case of referendum

Crossing borders in the absence of a justified provocation is frowned upon and may be opposed by force

Hence, the material benefits of offensive war may not be worth the political costs

We can find support for this (invasion of Kuwait) as well as contrary evidence (Israel’s occupation of Gaza and West Bank).

But intrastate war appears to be on the rise…

Civil wars

Secessionist wars

“Resource” wars

Ethnic conflicts

Power struggles

Class warfare


There may be as many as 40 such wars currently underway, depending on how you count

Have the numbers really increased since the end of the Cold War, or are these wars more visible than in the past?

1. Loss of CW “containment”

2. Ancient hatreds

3. Ethnic incompatibilities

4. Struggles for resources

5. Wars of liberalization

6. Loss of power and status
And how do we explain this upsurge?

Elite manipulation seems to play a central role

Economic and political elites can take special advantage of access to power and resources to increase their status

Changes in political and economic conditions, via capitalism and democratization result in shifts in wealth, influence and control

Formerly subordinate groups may benefit from these changes and acquire increased income and recognition

Elites can cultivate popular resentment of such shifts through rhetoric, violence, war and even genocide

Serbian wars in Yugoslavia—1990s

U.S. “culture war” —1992-present

Genocide by Hutu in Rwanda--1994
Can we conclude that:
1. Major interstate war is obsolete?
2. Intrastate wars are growing in number?
3. “Pacification” is the central war problem today?
More next week…

Politics 160A (W06): 2/2/06

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