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What is War?

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Alexandre et Darius face à face Musée archéologique national de Naples.

We are going to develop substantive reflections and work on the question of how a science, in this case, political science, has managed to grasp the war well or badly. We are in a very important phase of unfortunate transformation of wars on the planet and at the same time, we are going to treat the subject from the point of view of political science.

War is first and foremost a phenomenon of struggle between state powers, i.e. between governments and to think of conflict as an object of conflict between nation-states. From the 19th century onwards, partisan warfare began. It is a change of nature, because they are individuals who go to war against a state. On the other hand, another conceptual reversal is worrying, because we are entering into wars that no longer have any reason to stop.

Why did political science take an interest in war?[edit | edit source]

Political science is concerned with war because it is a component of the human condition. All societies have encountered on the way the war progressed. The luck that Europe has had in not knowing war since 1945, with the exception of the former Yugoslavia, is something very rare in the history of humanity.

There is also a historical concomitance between war and the birth of political science. Political science will be born as a disciple at a time when we are questioning the ability to live together, that is to say around the First World War. On the other hand, the 21st century will be the century of wars with wars between the United States and Spain, Great Britain, Japan is the shock of two world wars.

Revolutionary wars will be born from decolonization. It is the fact that the frozen world implies by the weight of identity claims and autonomy in the face of colonizations. The problem of nuclear war will soon arise leading twice to the potential third world war with the Korean War and the Cuban missile crisis. In contemporary times, UN wars emerged with the Gulf Wars and the Afghanistan War.

We are in a world at war that is going to go very far and then it goes as far as terrorism. The implications of 9/11 for the wars in Afghanistan have been proven.

The consequences are particularly important, especially human ones. At the time of the Solferino war, there were 40,000 military deaths and 1 civilian death. The First World War resulted in losses of 50% of military personnel and 50% of civilians, as the strategy changed. Strategy is a war economy, an oversized war effort that takes people hostage.

What is war?[edit | edit source]

The economy of war has changed its nature, it is wars of duration that are taking hold. This war economy, which will have to put production tools at the service of armaments, will have repercussions in terms of strategy.

The economy of war, which will have to put production tools at the service of the armaments industry, will have consequences for the end of strategy, therefore the objective is to destroy the production tools. We go into wars where we have 10% of military deaths and 90% of civilian deaths.

The first inversion is that it is interesting to wonder about war because it is an inversion of normality which is peace, we remain in civilizational. What we see is that war is a suspended time which is paradoxically the continuity of the debate in another form, because war is always a form of discussion. War is of great interest to political science and many fields because it is the continuation of politics by other means, hence the importance of totally destroying one's opponent.

George Bataille defines war as "a supreme game, a strategic game, a game in which you put on the green carpet absolutely everything you have, your life". Therefore, the outcome must produce a winner and a loser.

It is the inversion of a system and dialogue by force.

War: an object of struggle between state powers[edit | edit source]

An ancient phenomenon vs. modern interstate warfare[edit | edit source]

An ancient phenomenon[edit | edit source]

What is interesting to question is the mythical dimension of war, i. e. how states construct a discourse of war that engages the concept of sacrifice.

When we study war, there is ideological mobilization to facilitate the cohesion of the mass. The one who disagrees with the war is a renegade, he betrayed the cause. After 9/11, very few intellectuals were able to say that George Bush was wrong in calling terrorism a war, and this position was an absolute heroism because they were being stigmatized by the American media.

War can only be lived in a sublimated way, in other words, rationality can lose weight in evaluations.

Modern Warfare[edit | edit source]

Banquet of the Amsterdam Civic Guard on the occasion of the Münster Peace by Bartholomeus van der Helst, painted in 1648

The Thirty Years' War which lasted from 1618 to 1648 is a religious war which will involve great powers, namely France against Austria and Sweden. This war led to the Treaty of Westphalia, which laid the foundations for modern warfare.

The treaty of Westphalia enshrines the sovereignty of states, war can only be inter-state wars, therefore at the very heart of the issue of inter-state warfare there is the state is the idea of the nation-state that led to conduct the war. The international public law of war is a nation-state law that lays down rules for the conduct of war:

  1. will invent modern diplomacy;
  2. States are sovereign, and it is States that are the foundation of the international order, so to make a war, a process must be followed;
    1. proclaim a declaration of war;
    2. we must know how to end the war with peace treaties.

The theorization of war[edit | edit source]

The great debate is that from a political science point of view we have long lived on a pseudo-obvious pseudo of war because war historically was brought back to the side of art to have "the art of war". For Plato and Aristotle, what defines politics is that politics is an "art".

The art of warfare is a constructed technique, as is the art of politics, which has attracted war on the strategy side. Napoleon's military genius is that he contravenes the laws of war, he always organises himself into a system so that his adversaries believe that there is no surprise when the art of warfare is defined according to procedures. In this paradox, war is both the norm and the surpassing of the norm that cries out for surprise. There is a space in the strategy that made it possible to avoid analysing war as a more complicated object of the social sciences.

War is an object of philosophy that raises a problem of culture and conscience: the fundamental question is therefore whether one can in the same way that suicide is a social fact, war is a social phenomenon that one can study as such, so war can be thought of, it is something that one can analyse on the side of philosophy and especially political philosophy.

Hugo Grotius[edit | edit source]

Hugo Grotius
Portrait par Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt (1631).

Grotius has written a book entitled De jure belli ac pacis on the law of war and the law of peace, he will examine the possibility of a law of war. These are still topical issues with the notions of just war and unjust war. Grotius wonders whether it is possible to build a law of war and to what extent it can play the war itself or stop it. The law of war is possible in two specific cases:

  • Defensive war: only defensive war is fair: protecting populations from an external aggressor.
  • Coercive war: intended to punish those who hijack and oppose the law.

On the other hand, it will make war illegitimate in other cases, such as the war of conquest, because a nation-state is not meant to conquer other states, so this war is unfair.

The law of war in Grotius's theory is also a law of peace because it will be qualified as the conditions of peace. If the aggressor is in a position of injustice, he or she must be punished by other States.

Thomas Hobbes[edit | edit source]

Leviathan, or Treatise on Matter, Form and Power of an Ecclesiastical and Civil Republic, 1651.

In Leviathan, Hobbes will reflect on the causes of the civil war by asking himself about the motivations of the war. It will be the foundation of modern state building to tell us that it will be the state of nature.

The state of nature can be either chaos or absolute equality. Hobbes is on the side of chaotic interpretation because the state of nature would raise the impulses of individuals who are destructive impulses leading to war.

To avoid war, it is necessary to build a strong state by establishing reason by abandoning the theory of natural law in order to pass to a social contract. What underpins the modern state is the ability to live through the contract that guarantees peace. In the missions that Hobbes thinks about the modern state there is the construction of an army because it guarantees peace.

Emmanuel Kant[edit | edit source]

Kant will look at what he called peace-building and the means to achieve perpetual peace and how to construct a legal theory of peace.

Peace cannot be based on emotion and affect, it is based on rationality. Therefore, only reason can lead men to accept peace, it is a moral reason. The only solution is to think of a mutualisation of different ones.

Portrait of Emmanuel Kant

We must invent an international law of peace, which is the management of power relations between nations on the basis that regulation is necessary because there will always be wars.

Kant's important contribution will be to say that the public international law that must be built will not be the right of the strongest. It must be something else that is a right of peace that is not a right of war. A universal peace must be built, but above all, it is necessary to think of three levels of peace:

  • domestic political rights: if all countries adopt a republican constitution, conflicts within countries could be managed.
  • inter-federal/inter-state international law: if a law of peace has been created within states by a system of republican constitution, there may be a system of partnership relations between states.
  • International hospitality law: this is the capacity of States to dialogue in perpetual peace. It is a cosmopolitan international law.

He is an interesting thinker because he is the author and creator of the emergence of a public international law of peace on the basis that everything must be freely agreed and that it is necessary to fight against any autocratic system, that is to say, the personalization of power, that can lead to war.

Hegel[edit | edit source]

Portrait of Hegel par Schlesinger (1831)

Hegel will question the war by interpreting it as a subjective behaviour of being. Basically, war cannot stop because it allows the individual's subjectivity to be situated in a political field. From then on, war cannot disappear because in a certain way it allows subjectivities to exist and will allow the different peoples to overcome their oppositions in order to solidify themselves.

War has an extraordinary advantage because it succeeds in sublimating the differences of individuals in the space of the nation-state, it gathers and erases the contradictions referring directly to René Girard's theories.

Machiavel[edit | edit source]

Article détaillé : La Renaissance italienne.
Portrait posthume de Machiavel par Santi di Tito, au Palazzo Vecchio de Florence

Machiavelli is a humanist in a principality of Florence who organizes citizens' militias and writes The Prince where he will describe the modes of government. Machiavelli works on the qualities of the governor and for this, he must appropriate the art of warfare that is necessary for his power which holds a moral virtue. Therefore, the end justifies the means, because the most important thing is to achieve objectives no matter how you obtain them. A moral objective through war is not serious if it is not in itself moral, because the objective holds the whole device.

When an individual is described as Machiavellian, it is suggested that there is a contradiction between the affirmation of goals and the management of means to achieve them.

At Machiavelli, there is a very worrying trend because the issue of war is valued.

Antoine-Henri de Jomini[edit | edit source]

Antoine-Henri de Jomini was captain of the Swiss army and wrote a treatise on the art of war with a method of strategic analysis, asking the question: what is strategy?

It is a set of elements on which we see an effort to manage the land:

  • the positioning of troops;
  • in situ analysis of the forces involved;
  • how to tackle weaknesses;
  • the tactical conditions for pursuing the enemy;
  • conditions of movement control;
  • integration of the concept of mobility and surprise;
  • trickery such as false attacks, the appearance of setbacks and counter-attacks.

Carl von Clausewitz[edit | edit source]

For Clausewitz, war is a relationship between politics and war aims. When we say that today's wars are endless wars, it is because we have lost their political objectives.

The never-ending war is developing because one of the fundamental principles of the Westphalian war is forgotten, which is that if we are waging war in a Westphalian system, it is to go towards peace and not to stay at war. When we say that wartime is a time of inversion, it simply means that war is a time of inversion to return to peace.

Carl von Clausewitz

War is a parenthesis whose construction of the balance of power is solely for the purpose of exiting the war. When Clausewitz speaks of war as a political construct, he recalls a fundamental point: war is the continuation of politics by other means.

In the spirit of the Westphalian war, war is subordinate to politics. If today's war is so dangerous, it is because it becomes an endless war because the political objective is forgotten. From then on, we return to a permanent state of war because we no longer have the state or institutional structures that remind us that war must end at some point in time.

When we look at war-torn territories like Darfur over the years, national, international and state structures dissolve, showing that they are almost privatized wars because the structures are no longer there.

Clausewitz is important because war is basically the continuation of politics by other means, which means that at some point we will have to return to politics. Without politics, i. e. the ability to structure conflict, it is impossible to emerge from war, which explains why some countries today are in a permanent state of war.

For Clausewitz, the danger is that war will escape politics. It is imperative that war be controlled by politics because it is the very capacity and register of war. If war escapes politics, it is war that will replace politics, in this case, we are going crazy in something that escapes us.

War can be a formidable machine for negotiating peace. War is waged because discussion is no longer possible, but also because war allows peace to be renegotiated.

Maurice Davie[edit | edit source]

According to Davie in the article The Evolution of War publié en 1930[1], war in primitive societies refers to:

  • vital competition for the survival of the group:
  • religious differences;
  • blood revenge;
  • glory.

Marvin Harris[edit | edit source]

Marvin Harris

For Harris, as described in his book Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches: The Riddles of Culture publié en 1973[2] In a traditional society, there are four theories about the origin of war in primitive societies:

  • War as solidarity: it welds a population together, it is a mode of prefabrication of legitimacy;
  • war as a game: playful dimension of war, sport can be perceived as the continuity of war;
  • The war of human nature;
  • War as a continuation of politics: it makes it possible to make politics.

War and peace: a legal and international governance object[edit | edit source]

The Law of War or The Hague Law[edit | edit source]

We talked about the Treaty of Westphalia, which initiated a first reflection on the central state of war and the law of war, also known as Hague law. It is the right to be able to wage war; war is subject to international public law, there are rules. The Pearl Harbour attack is a breach of the very condition of war.

The law of war sets out rights is a duty for the belligerents in the conduct of hostilities. From the moment we return to war, there are duties and rights.

They concern the limitation of means such as, for example, the prohibition of ammunition that may affect civilian populations. Moreover, the law of war defines rules and provides for sanctions for those who violate them. That is why there are often texts in the United Nations Security Council that are taken against certain countries that have overstepped the rules of war.

International humanitarian law or Geneva law[edit | edit source]

It is a humanitarian law whose purpose is to protect those who do not take part in the fighting, particularly the civilian population. This right is important because it was created in Geneva in 1949 and is one of the legal foundations for the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

There are important laws that make fundamental distinctions between civil and military in times of war. What is at stake is the status of the combatant and the prisoner of war.

These protocols have been more or less adopted by different states and justify the jurisprudence of war crimes. The principle of war crimes is the one that violates the rules of war. The paradox is that we have an international right to make war, an international humanitarian law of war, but there is no international right to leave war.

There are two global concepts that dictate the global search for security governance:

  • universality: all human beings belong to the universal;
  • of humanity: everyone belongs to a human community that cannot accept any inhuman act. If one belongs to a human collectivity, then it is possible to qualify acts as inhuman, i. e. public international law is interested in the principle of inhumanity because it challenges the principle of human rights. It is because he has the principle of humanity that torturers and dictators can be prosecuted.

These two concepts were at the foundation of global governance, first at the heart of the League of Nations, but which could not avoid the First World War and then through the United Nations Organization in 1945 with the creation of the Security Council, peace-keeping and peace-making.

Partisan Warfare[edit | edit source]

They introduce substantial changes that occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is a paradigm shift because the party concept means whoever is going to defend a position. The partisan war brings us back to the management of individuals rather than the management of the state.

A novelty: partisan warfare[edit | edit source]

The partisan is the one who takes sides in defending a position. He is someone who does not belong to the regular corps of the army, he takes up arms to defend a cause.

Aymon de Gingins-La-Sarraz[edit | edit source]

Gingins-La Sarraz was a Swiss officer serving the Principality of Naples and publishes a book titled La guerre défensive en Suisse. His theory is that Switzerland is neutral and it is necessary to strengthen its defensive capacities, in order to maintain Swiss neutrality it is necessary to build supporters who can mobilize in the event of aggression.

In order to defend Switzerland, it is necessary to strengthen the capabilities of the war by strengthening the inadequacies of the troops with partisan troops. Partisans are used to make up for the lack of regular troops.

Partisan warfare refers to irregular groups that can mobilize in systems of attack and response. Here, partisan warfare is seen as a means of resisting foreign invasion in order to protect Switzerland or the people of Austria.

Carl Schmitt: The theorizing of partisan warfare[edit | edit source]

Schmitt advises the von Papen government (left) and Schleicher (right) on the constitutional issue.

Carl Schmitt is a sulphurous character by his position for the Nazis in 1933. In Partisan Theory, published in 1962, it appears that modern warfare is going to be a partisan war. These are groups of individuals who are going to engage in battle and this will be done from an important moment, the Napoleonic War in Spain.

Napoleon's war in Spain shows for the first time the birth of the partisan as a subject and as a personality who will mobilize to drive out Napoleonic troops.

The partisan theory is very important, because Schmitt is the first to think that we are entering a new era of conflict and that this new era of conflict is no longer essentially inter-state conflicts, but partisan conflicts, i. e. splits of wars on the planet in which groups of individuals as a partisan subject to radical discourse and ideology will mobilize against one or more states. Since then, the partisan is an irregular army.

The concept of revolutionary warfare[edit | edit source]

Irregular wars are emerging in the great phases of liberation that will mobilize populations against the dominant power. During the Second World War, it will be the resistance against the Nazis, but then it will be the FLN against the French and in Egypt the Egyptian supporters against the British power, etc. It will be the FLN.

The characteristics of partisan warfare are that it is wars that have no uniform and have a strong commitment and ideology. Moreover, partisan warfare is an asymmetric war, the partisan does not have the armaments of the nation-state. To win these wars, you have to play different tools such as the surprise ruse. It's extreme mobility that contrasts with classic warfare.

Revolutionary war is a Maoist concept which considers that revolution can only be achieved through politico-military action. It is a transition to urban guerrilla warfare, as the city becomes the jungle of partisan warfare, mainly in the 1960s and 1970s. The great failure of the partisan war is the Che war in Bolivia.

Warsfare Today[edit | edit source]

New incidences[edit | edit source]

Modern warfares damage the Westphalian system[edit | edit source]

The great question in political science and international relations questions the passage from the end of the Westphalian wars to endless wars that would show that the war has basically changed its meaning. This is what some authors call the return to Hobbsian anarchy, i. e. a permanent state of war.

Hobbsian anarchy would be a return to the state of nature in a state of perpetual warfare in a massive use of force in international relations, which is a regressive force and this in a generalized state of anarchy and on the assumption that each wants to build its power to the detriment of the other.

It is the idea that war is returning very quickly to the system of international relations and will have an extremely important impact. These are diffuse wars that will affect civilians much more than the military and these are wars that will be more radical because there are no rules of regulation.

The perpetual state of war[edit | edit source]

These are wars that will have a considerable impact on nature, we have accelerated destruction of natural resources: we come to the hypothesis in these wars that have no structure any more if we want to destroy the other we must destroy his resources. Since then, nature has been used as a source of pollution and mass destruction.

On the other hand, in these wars will destroy each other's culture, because it is the destruction of others as human beings, destroying their identity and memory.

Endless warfares[edit | edit source]

War was an exceptional and peace a normality, which leads us to wonder whether war is becoming a normality and peace does not become something of the extraordinary. Peace can rise almost as an impossible horizon to reach.

The never-ending war is a war that no longer has any purpose by becoming part of everyday life through destruction. It will also create a specific economy. In never-ending wars, it is necessary to build specific economies that generally revolve around drugs, which are made in an impossible peace, because there is no legitimate interlocutor to build peace.

In some cases, this can be explained by the war in Iraq, since the Gulf War began, we have been entering a permanent cycle of warfare. From then on, peace becomes a conceptually unthinkable horizon.

A new political theory, Michael Walzer[edit | edit source]

Michael Walzer.

Walzer published a book titled Guerres justes et injustes[3] which provides a philosophical-political reflection on war and the concept of just war. He goes back to Hobbes's initial interrogation on the qualification of war, he is going to be a theorist of the legalistic paradigm, because he considers that in order for war to become just, it must be a framed war.

A just war is a controlled war, a war of legal combatants. In other words, there is a legality of war. He will point out the paradoxes, namely the link between the concepts of just and moral war, that war is an object of abnormality, in the concept of war there is not something moral.

Waltz's philosophical preoccupation and his political theory is to question the fabrication of morality on an object that is profoundly immoral and where the question of morality can be qualified.

He will question the situations in which morality can be restored in war. War is moral when there is a defensive situation in the face of external aggression. There is a moral situation of war in the nature employed. If we institute a codification of armaments, there is a kind of morality even if we manufacture immoral weapons.

The management of terrorism is amoral because, in an asymmetric conflict management, the question of surprise is raised as a military act, in addition to terrorism needs publicity, it is necessary to frighten and terrorize. In the terrorist dimension, there is an amoral dimension. Only the weakest are attacked in an axis that is not declared by the war.

He will also reflect on the question of morality and the return of politics. For Waltz, the legalistic paradigm cannot refuse the question of the rules of conduct of war. This is why Philippe Delmas asks the question in his eponymous book of the Bel Avenir de la Guerre[4].

Annexes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Book Review:The Evolution of War: A Study of Its Role in Early Societies. Maurice R. Davie." Am J Sociol American Journal of Sociology 35.6 (1930): 1114.
  2. Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches: The Riddles of Culture. London: Hutchinson & Co. 1975. ISBN 0-09-122750-X. Reissued in 1991 by Vintage, New York. (version complète pdf:http://monoskop.org/images/5/5b/Harris_Marvin_Cows_Pigs_Wars_and_Witches_The_Riddles_of_Culture_1974.pdf)
  3. Walzer, Michael. Guerres Justes Et Injustes: Argumentation Morale Avec Exemples Historiques. Paris: Belin, 1999.
  4. Delmas, Philippe. Le Bel Avenir De La Guerre. Paris: Gallimard, 1995.