Chapter Summary

I. Introduction

This chapter introduces prominent approaches to mitigating the effects of the security dilemma as well as how insecurity can be managed short of war.

  • War is the oldest, most prevalent, and most salient issue in international relations.
  • Attention to war and security is warranted: security comes first in international relations; all other competing values such as human rights, the environment, and economic development presuppose security.
  • Although 3.5 billion have died in the 14,500 armed struggles throughout history, the number and intensity of war has dropped by one-half since 1991.
  • International relations theorists disagree over the inevitability of war. 
  • Classical realists and neorealists argue that war is inevitable.  They view states as victims of the prisoners’ dilemma during times of conflict: each state is compelled to harm the other so as to avoid the worst possible outcome. 
  • The inevitability of war also creates a security dilemma: states seeking to increase their defense capabilities end up threatening other states in the system, thereby increasing tensions and the chance of war.
  • Liberals argue that war can be eliminated with sufficient effort and effective institutions that can reduce the chances of conflict.  Liberals also argue that the way in which a state is governed domestically can change its attitude toward war.  The democratic peace concept demonstrates this by arguing that democracies virtually never fight one another. 
  • Radicals argue that war can be eliminated, but only through a revolutionary change in the character of the system.
  • Constructivists argue that war is the result of a process of socialization in which conflict is assumed to exist.  If this construction is changed, then war can potentially be eliminated.
  • Historically, states have sought security by balancing realist and liberal policies.  When states face more serious threats, they tend to look toward realism.

II. Causes of War

The Individual

Both the characteristics of individual leaders and the general attributes of people have been blamed for war.

  • Realist interpretation: Characteristics of the masses lead to the outbreak of war. Aggressive behavior is adopted by virtually all species to ensure survival. War is the product of biologically innate human characteristics or flawed human nature.
  • Liberal interpretation: Misperceptions by leaders, such as seeing aggressiveness where it may not be intended, or attributing the actions of one person to an entire group, can lead to the outbreak of war.

State and Society

War occurs because of the internal structures of states.

  • Liberal explanations: Some types of economic systems are more war-prone than others, such as aristocratic states. Democratic regimes are least likely to wage war because democratic norms and culture inhibit the leadership from taking actions leading to war.
  • Radical explanations: Conflict and war are attributed to the internal dynamics of capitalist economic systems: the competition between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat over economic dominance and political leadership. This struggle leads to war.  One manifestation of this is diversionary war: war designed to hold off a domestic political crisis by temporarily unifying the populace.
    • Conflict over what institutions should govern a state can also lead to civil wars as groups attempt to impose their preferred system.

The International System

  • Realist interpretation: The international system is equivalent to a state of war; it is anarchic and governed only by a weak and overarching rule of law. War breaks out because there is nothing to stop it.  States themselves are the final authorities and the ultimate arbiters of disputes; herein resides sovereignty.
    • A state’s security is ensured only by its accumulating military and economic power.
    • Groups seeking self-determination cannot appeal to higher authority.
  • Realist variant: Power transition theory: Represented by the work of Organski, this theory argues that changes in state capabilities lead to war. War occurs when a dissatisfied challenger state begins to attain the same capabilities as the hegemon. Modelski and Thompson find that there are regular cycles of power as old powers decline and new powers rise.
  • Radical interpretation: Dominant capitalist states within the international system need to expand economically, leading to wars with developing regions over control of natural resources and labor markets.

The Case of Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait

  • At the individual level: Perhaps Saddam Hussein’s individual characteristics, including his basic insecurity and ruthless techniques, help to explain Iraq’s actions. Hussein may have calculated that his actions would not elicit a military response from the international community.
  • At the state level: Iraq was just acting in its own national interest. Iraq felt that the land (oil fields) annexed had been illegally seized during the British occupation around the time of World War I. The 1980–88 war with Iran had also reduced Iraq’s oil revenues.
  • At the international system level: Several factors indicated that Iraq’s actions would not be resisted: the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Arab League’s reluctance to criticize its members, and the historical failure of the UN Security Council to act decisively.

The Case of South Ossetia

  • At the individual level: Saakashvili’s efforts to restore “Georgian pride” and resist the Russian “bully” raised tensions.  The pressures of ethnic identity both raised tensions and provided a reason for Russian interest in South Ossetia. Saakashvili and Medvedev both wanted to look active and strong.
  • At the state level: Georgia was acting to promote its sovereignty over a breakaway region. Russia was acting to increase its influence in part of the former Soviet territory.
  • At the international system level: There was no impartial arbiter to deal with any of the questions at issue in the conflict.  In a state of anarchy, both sides had to rely on their own strengths during the conflict. 

III. Categorizing Wars

  • Interstate wars: wars between two or more states.  In the past these were the focus of most research.  They are the easiest to study and have caused the most damage.
  • Intrastate wars: wars between groups within a state, with or without international participation.  While the number of ongoing intrastate wars has declined, the decline has been less precipitous than the decline in interstate wars.
  • Total war: Wars involving multiple great powers.  Total wars include significant destruction and loss of life. Since the end of World War II, total wars have become less frequent; the number of countries participating in total wars has fallen, and they tend to last for shorter lengths of time This has led some to argue that this type of war is obsolete.
  • Limited war: the objective is not surrender and occupation of enemy territory, but rather to attain limited goals. The Korean War, the Gulf War, and conflicts in Sudan and Sierra Leone are examples of limited war.

While interstate wars which can be called total wars have declined significantly, limited wars and particularly civil wars that are limited in nature have increased precipitously. Two-thirds of all conflicts since World War II have been civil wars.

Characteristics of limited wars:
  1. They last a long time, with periods of fighting punctuated by periods of relative calm.
  2. Human costs are high: both combatants and civilians are killed and maimed.
  3. Food supplies are interrupted.
  4. Diseases spread as health systems suffer.
  5. Money is diverted from constructive economic development to purchasing armaments.
  6. Entire generations may grow up knowing only a state of war.

Limited war has become the most common option for states contemplating violence against other states.

IV. How Wars are Fought

Conventional war: war between designated soldiers representing specific sides of a conflict.  Conventional war is conducted primarily with conventional weapons.

Conventional weapons: weapons technologies whose destructive effects can be limited in space and time to those who are legitimate targets of war.

Weapons of mass destruction (WMD): chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons  whose destructive effects cannot be limited in space or time to legitimate targets of war.

Debate over nuclear proliferation: some scholars argue that slow proliferation by states with nuclear capabilities will deter potential enemies from nuclear action, whereas others argue that proliferation is more apt to breed proliferation and/or initiate accidental war.

Unconventional warfare: warfare in which one or more sides refuse to follow the accepted conventions of war. This can be expressed either in the conduct of the war itself or in the refusal to accept traditional outcomes of battle.

Asymmetric conflict: warfare conducted between parties of unequal strength. The weaker party seeks to neutralize its opponent’s strengths by exploiting that opponent’s weaknesses.

Guerilla warfare: the weaker party may often use a civilian population to provide supplies like food and shelter and to gather intelligence. Fighters rely on hit-and-run tactics until the enemy is worn down. Examples include the Algerians against the French in the 1950s, and the Taliban against coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Terrorism: a particular form of asymmetric conflict in which one side attempts to instill fear in the other in order to force concessions.

This involves four major elements:

  1. premeditation
  2. motivation or cause, whether religious, economic, or political
  3. noncombatant targets
  4. secretiveness, where perpetrators belong to clandestine groups or are secretly sponsored by states

Terrorism has a long history, occurring during Greek and Roman times, the Middle Ages, and the French Revolution; in Nazi Germany; by Basque separatists (ETA); and most recently by Al Qaeda around the world. Since the 1990s, terrorist acts have become more lethal. The infrastructure to support terrorism has become more sophisticated, and groups practicing terrorism are more wide-ranging. Responding to terrorism has become increasingly difficult; perpetrators have networks of supporters in the resident populations. The international community has taken action against terrorism by creating a framework of rules and blocking the flow of financial resources to global networks.

Piracy: reflects the dual nature of participants’ motives: economic gain from violent action. Piracy has surged in recent years, most notably as a result of state failure in Somalia.

V. The Just War Tradition

Jus ad bellum: the justice of entering into a war.

Jus in bello: the justice of how a war is fought.

Just war tradition

Just war theory asserts that there are several criteria that can make the decision to go to war a just one:

  1. The cause must be just (self defense or massive violation of human rights), with a declaration of intent.
  2. Leader needs to have the correct intentions.
  3. Leader should desire to end abuses and establish a just peace.
  4. Nation should have exhausted all other possibilities for ending the abuse.
  5. Forces must be removed rapidly after the abuses have ended.

Just war tradition also addresses conduct in war:

  1. Combatants and noncombatants must be differentiated.
  2. The violence used needs to be proportionate to the ends to be achieved.

Just war is an evolving practice, changing as broader ideas about war change.

The Debate over Humanitarian Intervention

Just war tradition directly contradicts the hallmark of the Westphalian system, the respect for state sovereignty. Since the end of World War II, the notion has emerged that all human beings are in need of protection and that states have an obligation to intervene when human rights are violated. This belief is known as the responsibility to protect.

Responsibility to protect: if a state does not provide protection to its own people, then it is the obligation of others to intervene in order to protect human rights.

VI. Approaches to Managing Insecurity

Liberal Approaches: Collective Security and Arms Control/Disarmament

  • The collective-security ideal: although wars can occur, they should be prevented. Wars will not occur if all parties exercise restraint.
  • Collective security does not always work, because the aggressor cannot always be easily identified, and a state may be unwilling to take action against an ally or foe.
  • Arms control and disarmament: fewer weapons means greater security. By regulating arms proliferation and reducing the amount and type of weaponry employed, the costs of the security dilemma are reduced.
  • Complete disarmament schemes are unlikely because cheaters would be rewarded, but incremental disarmament remains a possibility.

Realist Approaches: Balance of Power and Deterrence

  • Balance of power: an equilibrium between any two sides in a potential conflict. States must evaluate the costs and benefits of particular policies that determine their roles in a balance of power.  States seek to ensure that no side can be certain of a victory if there is a war (example: NATO and the Warsaw Pact).
  • A major limitation of the balance-of-power approach is its inability to manage security during periods of fundamental change (because it supports the status quo).
  • Balance of power is also very difficult to manage in times of power transition.
  • Deterrence: war can be prevented by the threat of force. States must build up their arsenals in order to present a credible threat.

Key assumptions:

  1. Decision-makers are rational.
  2. Nuclear weapons pose an unacceptable threat and decision-makers will not resort to armed aggression against a nuclear state.
  3. Alternatives to war are available irrespective of the situation.
  • These assumptions are troublesome because not all decision- makers are rational.
  • It is unclear how non-state actors can be deterred using traditional methods.
  • The United States is also approaching nuclear primacy, and thus deterrence may not serve to restrain U.S. actions.
  • Collective security: aggressive or illegal use of force by one state shall be met with united action by all (or at least most) states in the system. Aggressors cannot take on the world and will be deterred from using force.

Key assumptions:

  1. Wars are prevented by restraint on military action.
  2. Aggressors must be stopped.
  3. The aggressor is easy to identify.
  4. The aggressor is always wrong.
  5. Aggressors know the community will act against them.
  • Collective security is problematic: these assumptions do not always hold.  Collective security also requires that the community act decisively in all cases of aggression, even when individual states have no clear interest in acting.
  • Arms control and disarmament: fewer weapons = more security.
    1. The Cold War saw many agreements to limit the weapons on both sides.
    2. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty limits the acquisition of nuclear weapons technology.
  • There are many examples of agreements to limit arms, but enforcement can sometimes be problematic.
  • Complete disarmament is unlikely given the risks involved to the disarming states.

VII. A Changing View of International Security

  • A shift from a focus on territorial integrity and threats from states toward a wider concern about threats from non-state actors
  • A shift toward the privatization of force through private military contractors such as Xe (formerly Blackwater), etc.
  • The extent to which the international community has an obligation to consider the protection of individual humanitarian conditions in decisions about conflict 
    • When can sovereignty be violated to protect individuals?  And what do we protect individuals from?