2011/09/11

War as last resort?

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A while ago it was fashionable to demand that war should only be considered as last resort in foreign politics. I never really got into this idea, and it was opposed by the hawks at least behind the scenes.

It was an arbitrary maxim that did not stand plausibility and theoretical tests - nor did it stand the utter lack of principles and self-discipline amongst Western foreign politicians who increasingly bought into the idea that they could 'intervene' militarily in distant places at little political cost.


Why is violence only as last resort wrong?

Well, this idea that violence is justified only if nothing else helps is misplaced. Violence is justified if it's the least terrible choice.
It makes no sense to stay peaceful and endure a predictably worse outcome than by fighting back. On the other hand, it makes no sense to fight (back) and endure a worse outcome than achievable by diplomacy.
Most importantly - and this is what hawks don't seem to get - there's extremely rarely (if ever nowadays) an opportunity to actually gain something by being violent.

Violence / warfare is inherently destructive, not productive. You could only gain a material advantage by stealing. You can gain immaterial advantages (such as national independence or freedom in civil war) by becoming violent, of course.

In the end, the choice between war and peace depends a lot on preferences. How highly do you rate the losses of war, how highly do you rate the advantages of achieving political objectives in war, how highly do you estimate the probability of achieving them through warfare in relation to diplomacy?


It's understandable that people disagree on the question of waging war or not.

It's also perfectly understandable that Western hawks a.k.a. warmongers want to invade country x, then y, bomb z and tell us that this is serious, good foreign policy: They are idiots. Idiots have idiotic ideas.


S O
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7 comments:

  1. There's a old saying from the American West; "Some folks just need killing." While there is some subjective truth to that on an individual basis, it is, to say the least, a rather poor foundation for a foreign policy. But Western Hawks are not called 'cowboys' for nothing.

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  2. Beltway chickenhawks don't do what they do for fun, they of course do it for profit. Hundreds of billions of USD. They are not idiots - just sinister.

    Baseline is everyone uses violence all the time if he thinks he can get away with it. And especially the U.S. foreign policy sees violence as its primary tool, plays the lunch break bully - be it militarily or economically. Sadly without spiritual or philosophical underpinning of previous truely great empires.

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  3. I don't see the fundamental difference that you seem to precive between your own position and that of these fashinable persons. You argue that foreign policy should be dictated by a drive towards the "least terrible path", and if war so happens to be that "least terrible path" (henceforth LTP), then war it should be. Additionally, you imply that some work should be expended trying to identify just precisely how the LTP goes. The "fashionistas" on the other hand, have adopted a very similar position, with the exception that they've already decided that war is the second most terrible thing ever ever ever, and so at least knows how the last bit of the LTP goes just from the start.

    Being a fan of thinking things trough critically, I belive your position is the more correct one by virtue of the extra thinking it advocates, but this depends crucially on the details of the work used to determine the different ammounts of "terribleness" the possible paths under consideration have. For in fact, if you do not specify the details of this work, you have merely described that you foreign policy seeks to minimize the output variable "terribleness".

    This is such a general statment that you are no better off in a discussion with a hawk, for they can easily reframe their position so that it fits into your scheme. Indeed if you consider that you can express both the a economic policy of a country, and the best model for the behaviour of a low temperature superconductor in terms of a minimization problem (inflation and chi-square being the parameters respectively). So you see that the ideas you have expressed above (granted, as I've understood them) are too vague to make any big deal over the distinction between your position and that of anyone else as you've left out the parts that would introduce any real distinction!

    tl; dr: You've not really said why you don't agree with the others, just that you don't (and that some of them are idiots, presumably for not agreeing with you :P )

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  4. Look at this in context of my other posts. I have repeatedly stated that few wars ever proved to be good ideas.

    I did a critical omission here, though: I did not write explicitly that no war is ever the least terrible choice if

    # your country has its sovereignty,
    # your country has not been attacked (or have been offered ex ante peace conditions) and
    # your country is not being strangled (say, by a weak naval blockade with your country being an island).

    The critical difference between me and warmongers/hawks is that they try to impose the opposite of these conditions on other nations and do not limit military actions to actual national defence.

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  5. I have looked at many of other posts, and from those I've gotten the impression that you are a great proponent of the logical and stringent discussion.

    So while I don't believe you are a hawk (as you've both said that explicitly, and implicitly by way of your other writings), I do believe the reasoning you present here is at times too vague to live up to the standard (I think) you celebrate, and thus when I see a flaw I try to help by pointing it out.

    Your wording regarding the criteria for when a war is not preferable got me a bit confused, so for the sake of clarity; did you mean that

    "Under the following conditions, war will never be preferable:
    * your country has its sovereignty,
    * your country has not been attacked (or have been offered ex ante peace conditions) and
    * your country is not being strangled (say, by a weak naval blockade with your country being an island)."

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  6. A sovereign country that is not under attack and not being strangled critically will never find war to be the least terrible choice, thus war should not be even the last resort for it in its situation.

    By the way; there's more to criteria than just them - preferences (influences by knowledge, experiences, culture etc) influence people's reasoning a lot (including mine).
    I was once trained as an economist, consumed great quantities of info on history and read some pacifist theory books when I felt that by weakness for military stuff needed a counterweight.

    As a result, my preferences are much-influenced by the perception of warfare as a highly destructive and wasteful affair in which very little can be gained in war (except by a tiny minority in each country).

    Sometimes such preferences are more relevant than checklists and formulas, for the preferences fill these with meaning.

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  7. At least WW1 and WW2 have brought back an advantage war offers that you haven't mentioned. Immaterial posessions such as know-how and specialists. In a peer conflict these are the real gains nowadays while fighting for specific material resources rarely is worth the effort if you can generally secure SLoCs.
    It would be interesting to run a gains analyses of WW2 considering captured know-how and specialists with the long term implications compared to a projected development without the war.

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