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Point and Counterpoint on Defining War

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

A quick note. There’s a provocative article at SWJ by a USAF Lt Col., Jill Long that attempted to pose an alternative definition of war and Jason Fritz at Inkspots has written a tough rebuttal; both are worth reading:

Jill Long - What is War? A New Point of View

….The Spectrum of War in the Global Era

Michael Howard summarizes the changing environment as shifting from one centered on the control of territory, to one focused not only on territorial control but the effective exploitation of the resources of that territory.[8]  This concept leads to a new approach to view and define war…within the context of globalization.  As the global finance crisis illuminated, economies can no longer be managed/controlled internally but in fact are impacted by events and decisions made across the world.[9]  One only needs to reference the so called “CNN effect,” the Arab Spring or current anti-American protests to understand the impact digital communications and the 24-hour news cycle have had on regional and world affairs.[10]  The bottom line: “interconnected systems of trade, finance, information, and security” demand a larger perspective when considering the engagement of imposing national will on others.[11]

One method to approach this broader perspective is to view war as a spectrum of discord, a continuum where unrestrained armed conflict and world peace are at opposing ends.  By establishing this graphic scale, it is relatively easy to conceptualize that as a nation approaches peace (or harmony) with other entities’ values, objectives, and ideals, there is an abeyance of hostilities.  War is not over, a nation’s desire to impose its will remains; it simply does not require the use of armed conflict to achieve its goals.  What might appear on the surface to be the age old argument between Thomas Hobbes’ theory of man’s natural state as one of war and John Locke’s more peaceful perspective, is actually providing the answer to that debate…both may be right.  If a nation’s will is in harmony with other entities’ then the natural tendency will lean towards world peace.  As discord develops between a nation’s will and other nation-states or non-state actors the natural tendency will increasingly lean towards more aggressive national engagement and armed conflict.  This theory purposefully focuses on nation-states and/or non-state actors versus the individual.  While one may argue it can be applied to individual interaction, this is not the author’s intent. 

This spectrum facilitates understanding that the art of war encompasses much more than the concept of armed conflict and acknowledges a nation’s capability to change their “natural state” based on the will of the people, political landscape, as well as a nation’s strength, ability, and desire to project power. [...]

And now, from the other side……

Jason Fritz-  Our definition of war is pretty good as it is

…..Long fails to adequately describe how the world has changed or how the “Global Era” plays into this. She states that the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 have changed how we should perceive the world. It seems that the she believes that that day should have awakened Americans to the threat of non-state actors. Long also states that “‘interconnected systems of trade, finance, information, and security’ demand a larger perspective when considering the engagement of imposing national will on others.” Both of these points are stated in defiance of history. Globalists enjoy selling the greatness and threats of our “interconnected systems” in the modern day, but that presumes that the world is newly interconnected. We know this is not true. Interconnection in today’s world may be faster and easier, but it is not new. States and other political groups have interacted over the elements listed for millennia – look only to the period of global colonization to see how long we as humans have been at this. Long does not describe how today’s globalization is unique and why that changes how we define war.The issue of state versus non-state actors, as pertains to the definition of war, is a silly discussion. The idea that this new “globalization” has resulted in the rise of non-state actors is also historically inaccurate and is prima facie absurd.  Civil wars have raged as long as long as humans have fought wars (indeed, civil war comprise a significant proportion of the wars humans have fought). Who are these wars supposed to have been fought by if not by non-state actors? Insurgencies and terrorism are also not new to the 21st Century (or even the Common Era) and it would take a peculiar interpretation of history to argue otherwise.

It is important to note that in his definition, Clausewitz does not describe war as act of force between states. War is engaged between enemies as the means to achieve political objectives. Of course, political objectives are not the sole purview of states as many non-state groups have exhibited and Mao so logically codified. This is not to say that Clausewitz did not intend his definition and the rest of the book to discuss war between states in the best traditions of the post-Westphalian world. He clearly speaks of states throughout the book, as indicated in the parenthetical comment in his definition of war (I did say I would return to that point). But this does not limit On War solely to war between states as mean scholars have, most prominently historian John Keegan and strategist Martin van Creveld to name a couple. It does not take that large of a leap of thought to read On War and understand that states can be any organized political group, that princes can be any leaders of those political groups, and armies can be the armed elements of those political groups. A literalist reading of Clausewitz would be as unwise as a literalist reading of Plato or Aristotle and saying their writings do not apply to the modern world because we are no longer city-states. A non-literalist exegesis of On War easily provides for the incorporation of non-state war into Clausewitz’s thesis. As a last point on non-state actors, Long indicates that these offspring of globalization are driving this need for a new definition of war and yet her new definition specifies that means required are to bring about “sufficient adherence to a nation’s will.” This suggests that only nations have wills or that the means of war could only be used to achieve national wills. Ergo, only nations can be at war. I suspect that non-state actors would like to know how to label their activities if “war” is closed to them. [....]

I am pressed for time, as usual, this morning, but i will try to offer my own comments later tonight.

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