Want Peace? Study War!

International Security Studies have traditionally focused on military matters and the use of force, as for example strategy, defense, war studies and national security. One of the contemporary debates around this subject is whether the centrality of war is still relevant on the security agenda. In this article, I will try to present both views, pro and contra.

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Source: Jayel [email protected]

I will start by agreeing to the suggestion that the threat of war ought to still be the main theme of Security Studies and security policy making. The first argument has to do with the discipline itself. Since it is difficult to separate it from the larger International Relations, the main objective of this discipline too was to avoid the recurrence of a conflict like World War I. Leaving aside the distinctions between the schools of thinking, the threat of war led the field through the Cold War and beyond. It was World War II that proved the potential recurrence of big power conflict and this stabilized the discipline around war. Following this logic, by taking out the military as primary factor, the discipline itself would either disappear or evolve dramatically into something else. With the incorporation of Human Rights and International Development into Security Studies via Human Security, the term ‘security’ itself can lose strength. If all threats to security are put high on the agenda, prioritizing is absent and there will never be enough political will to tackle everything.

Second, even if we accept that war is no longer conceivable among Western democracies, it must be due to having the challenge of avoiding conflict high on the agenda. Whether we think about the US protection of Western Europe against the Soviet expansion through a stabilizing agent like NATO, or about eliminating divergences among Europeans states through common institutions and free trade, the aim was peace and security defined as absence of war or its threat. In my opinion, if scholars and policy-makers shift away radically from trying to solve the puzzle of security in military terms, there is a great risk that the horrors of the past will be forgotten and thus can repeat themselves.

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Source: Les [email protected]

Finally, the products of the academia must be relevant to the policy-making. States still consider the threat of war as up to date and still invest a lot in the military sector. The study of any national security strategy reveals how the use of force is indispensable. Whether it is considered as a unilateral tool, or a tool that needs international support or at least consensus in the case of Europe’s CFSP, the fact remains that national security strategies put a lot of focus on violent conflict. Thus, a discipline of Security Studies that revolves around human rights, social injustice, and other human security issues would in the best case produce policy proposals that do not consider the demand of political leaders and so it will not be taken into account. In the worst case, it will be picked up and used as sugar-coating for militarist purposes and ‘defiant unilateralism’.

Now the real question would be why do states still contemplate military engagement and war? The answer must be related to the threats. Even proponents of soft or smart power agree that the use of force is not obsolete. It is just changing due to nuclear proliferation and the emergence of non-state combatant actors. Terrorism, WMD and global criminal networks are still the main challenges of a country like the US, alongside with climate change, pandemic disease and cyber-security. Moreover, radical proposers of liberal imperialism even prescribe the use of double-standard and of the ‘laws of the jungle’ when dealing with the pre-modern world. Security can also be seen as the ability of a political elite to project power and control over a territory. This is the sovereignty interpretation of security, which requires border protection in order for the state itself to survive. The threat of war is perpetual in the minds of leaders and in the minds of the population who delegate military power to them.

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Source: Peter [email protected]

With regard to the opposing camp, the claim is that war and the threat of war have seen a decline in international affairs and consequentially the focus of Security Studies ought to shift away from the military area. The first argument to support this claim has to do with the fast reduction in the number of interstate conflict after the end of the Cold War and its replacement by intrastate ones. In this case, the civilian population is part of the equation and non-state actors cannot be easily identified. Therefore, another approach is required when suggesting security policies. One that differs from classical ones, in the sense that it avoids putting military calculations on top of the list. Negotiations or even non-intervention are considered by the international community as instruments to end such conflicts since doing the contrary would sometimes create complications. Moreover, the EU’s global engagement through economic aid and commercial incentives is seen as a more effective way of altering the behaviour of actors and contributing to stability in the world.

Having touched on the economic side of the global order, we must present the second argument which is the vital place of economy in ensuring international stability. International economic security is seen here as the maintenance of the current liberal order, rather then the creation of an alternative one which would incorporate human security values. Tariffs and trade wars, energy leverage, the vulnerability of the monetary system can all have an immense destructive scale to the ‘economic well-being of billions of individuals’. Such scenarios turn the page from military power to the economic power of states. The most interesting instrument of economic power appears to be sanctions. Trade sanctions, travel bans but also positive sanctions like tariff reductions and aid can be applied against state and non-state actors in order to affect political behaviour. Relations based on economic self-interest, interaction and interdependence seem to be a solution to stability for Security Studies’ scholars ,without resorting to military action.

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Source: Pamela [email protected]

Finally, there is the most recent argument centered around the concept of Human Security. This concept goes beyond statism and national security interpretations. It drops the focus on the threat of military aggression towards governments, in favour of analysis around the protection of individuals against any type of situations and threats that could endanger their ‘survival, livelihood and dignity’. The aim of Human Security Studies is the emancipation, equality and freedom of all human beings, which would eventually lead to universal values like peace, fairness and justice. The empirical proof of the ascendancy of Human Security on the agenda is the UN’s project of the Millennium Development Goals. The ambitious list includes eradication of poverty and hunger, universal education, gender equality, improvement of global health and environmental sustainability. However, the deadline for achieving all these is one year from now and the limited success gives us a bleak glimpse into the governments’ true interest in humanitarian causes.

Staff of United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia

Source: United Nations [email protected]

In conclusion, to my mind, the balance is leaning towards a continued importance of war and its threat in the security community. Military conflict is impregnated in the collective memory and the atrocities of war cannot be so easily put aside. Generations change but skepticism continues to persist in the face of contemporary invasions, land occupations and failing states. However, one must recognize the change in the international order and the increasing strength of other issues and necessities that affect the everyday lives of humans, regardless of nationality. Rights and freedoms, social justice, economic opportunity and the right to have a long, healthy life are being required more and more in international fora. Their satisfaction are indispensable to stability and prosperity which in turn could keep weapons down. But the weapons will always remain at hand.

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References and further reading:

  • Cooper R., The new liberal imperialism, Observer Worldview Extra, 7 April 2002;

  • National Security Strategy, May 2010, The White House

  • Nossel S., Smart Power. Reclaiming Liberal Internationalism, Foreign Affairs, Volume 83 No. 2, 2004;

  • Nye J., The Future of Power, 2011, Public Affairs New York;

  • Rees W., The US-EU Security Relationship, 2011, Palgrave Macmillan;

  • Smith M., International Security. Politics, Policy, Prospects, 2010, Palgrave Macmillan;

  • UN Millennium Project, website: http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/goals/;

  • United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security, Human Security in Theory and Practice. Application of the Human Security Concept, 2009, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UN.

  • US Constitution, website: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html

 

Claudiu Sonda
Passionate student of IR and European politics with an interest in developing a high-level expertise in International Security and geopolitics.