What are some of the downsides of war

Modern warfare

Jost Dülffer

To person

is professor emeritus for modern history with a focus on international relations - historical peace and conflict research at the University of Cologne and currently works as a member of the independent historians' commission for research into the history of the Federal Intelligence Service from 1945 to 1968. [email protected]

By war we mean fighting between two or more parties through the lethal use of weapons. [1] If only one side uses lethal force, it is not war, but for example occupation or genocide. War is part of social interaction and is concerned with the media effects in which this communication takes place. So war is not a pure act of violence, but embedded in a wider context.

The classic wars of the early modern period in Europe generally shape our image of war: one state declared war on another state, and other states joined on one side or the other. It was about power, booty, territory, often about the formation of a - modern - state. The armies fought against each other for a while, until one side surrendered. Thereupon all those involved sat down and made peace, in which more or less hard obligations were imposed on the defeated side. After that there was peace; one was not resentful and met again at eye level.

Today the once clearly separated social conditions of war and peace seem to merge. Domestic conflicts, terrorism, cyberattacks and tactics such as propaganda and disinformation, as well as the diversity of actors involved, call into question the conventional image of war; there is talk of "unconventional", "asymmetric", "new" and "hybrid" wars.

The bipolar wars of states of the early modern era, which were waged by princes, turned out to be far more complicated than just outlined: Even then, the disputes had asymmetrical features; besides, it was expensive to wage war, mercenaries cost resources and could not be replaced at will; Furthermore, although these often dynastic wars were publicly legitimized within the world of states, social legitimation was still relatively weak; if a war was no longer worthwhile and caused increasing displeasure among the population, it could be given up.

"The war is (...) a real chameleon", [2] is a saying of the Prussian general and military historian Carl von Clausewitz. Indeed, longer wars in particular rarely end as they began: the constellation of actors is neither constant - new states participate in the war, others are eliminated - nor do the officially and covertly pursued war goals remain the same until the end of the war. Political and cultural negotiation processes also take place during the fighting, which influence the character of the war: domestic political consensus must be re-established again and again through "worthwhile" peace goals or to avert an impending "emergency". This also applies to the expansion of war constellations through new allies, to the influence on the attitude of neutral actors and, last but not least, to the willingness of war opponents to make peace. Perhaps through individual victorious or lost battles ("battles") the entire war can be ended before a military decision is made. [3]

There have always been efforts to limit war as a reciprocal collective use of force. Its modern basis developed in the course of the Enlightenment with the idea of ​​general human rights. In the middle of the 17th century, with the Peace of Westphalia and a few other treaties, a European order based on the sovereignty of the states and, for the first time, secular emerged. [4] This state system was deepened in the 19th century by the increasing tendency to translate state traffic into written international law. Then as now, the consequences of previous wars and conflicts were drawn with the aid of international law, and this was legitimized for a future as far as possible, and political decisions were subsequently legitimized. [5]

Increase in positive international law

In the second half of the 19th century, efforts were made, not least in the course of peace movements, to codify the previously informal observance of the principle of mutual respect for the frontiers of warfare in Europe. It was hoped that the gradual transformation of natural law into positive law would restrict international power politics. [6]

One strand of these efforts was directed towards the peaceful regulation of conflicts and the legal avoidance of war, i.e. the right to war (ius ad bellum), another on the containment of violence in war, i.e. on the rights in war (ius in bello), international humanitarian law. A first step was the conclusion of the first Geneva Convention in 1864 "on the alleviation of the plight of military personnel wounded in the field", in which provisions were made for the care of wounded soldiers and for the protection of those who helped, for example through the introduction of the red cross on white Reason.

At the turn of the century there was a sensational initiative by the Russian Tsar Nicholas II at the interstate level for a peace conference to take political steps to avoid wars through disarmament or arms limitation - a completely illusory goal at the time. In the subsequent Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907, the states established the principle of arbitration in order to avoid wars and, in the event of a conflict, relied on a pre-judicial and extra-political settlement through the rulings of knowledgeable mediators; the Hague Court of Arbitration was established.

The basic idea was that the international community would slowly move from solving minor disputes with the help of this instrument to resolving larger conflicts in this way. However, the process of settling specific disputes - for example between Mexico and the United States over the handling of Californian church goods - fell well short of these expectations. When, in the July crisis of 1914, pacifists demanded that the threatened conflict be submitted to the Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the German side naturally refused. States continued to regard war as their natural right. Nevertheless, arbitration tribunals have since become important instruments for resolving conflicts, especially in the context of trade agreements that have only come under criticism in the past few decades.

The main achievement of the Hague Conferences was the codification of the ius in bello for war on land and at sea through a series of agreements. In essence, the aim was to contain warfare in such a way that the fighting was essentially limited to the fighting military, and to protect uninvolved people such as civilians or prisoners of war. They also agreed to ban certain weapons, such as the dropping of projectiles from balloons - without any resounding success, as it turned out. The tendency towards a total expansion of war was not negotiated here, and international humanitarian law was only partially successful in the 20th century.

The Hague Agreement was still based on the principle of state sovereignty and thus the European-style war between states, so the case of an internal violent conflict was largely ignored. They also remained focused on the states that were then considered "civilized"; they did not apply to "savages" in particular. "Before anyone has time to explain to him that he is violating the decisions of the Hague Conference, he cuts your head off," argued a British delegate. This tension between positive international law agreements and "war necessities" was accepted in a more general form from the start, but this resulted in a central, also political, dispute.