Five evils that make us wage war

It's interesting to see how the wars (that involved Western powers) of the post-colonial age (1974-today) can be traced to few root categories.

(A) Root: Overestimation and hyping up of threats, poor intelligence, scaremongering
(a1) "Cold War" (in its historical extent) link 1, link 2
(a2) Afghanistan War (latest phase) 2001-?
(a3) Gulf War III 2003

(B) Root: Excessive aggressiveness and lack of respect for others' sovereignty
(b1) Gulf War III 2003
(b2) Panama invasion 1989-1990
(b3) Operation Desert Fox - Bombing of Iraq 1998
(b4) Kosovo Air War 1999

(C) Root: Ignition of ethnic conflicts in ethnically divided states
(c1) Iraq occupation war (much of it) 2003-?
(c2) Yugoslavian Civil Wars 1991-99, Kosovo Air War 1999

(D) Root: Diplomacy gives wrong signals
(d1) Falklands War 1982
(d2) Gulf War II (especially the original invasion of Kuwait) 1990/91

(E) Root: Israel - Arab conflict
(e1) Israeli invasion of Lebanon 1982
(e2) 2nd Intifada 2000+
(e3) Lebanon War 2006
(e4) Gaza War 2008-09

The 1983 invasion of Grenada doesn't fit well into any category (maybe B).

Category A (overestimation of threats) is quite embarrassing. It's a mixture of having too many easily scared pussies among us and being played by scaremongers and warmongers.

Category B (aggressiveness) isn't much less embarrassing, for it shows the hypocrisy in the Western world. The Western culture was the one that invented all those nice rules like human rights, international law and Charter of the United Nations, but some of our policies are outright hypocritical and violate these achievements.

Category C (ethnic conflict) is a huge problem. Many states on earth are powder kegs in this regard. The only civilized, permanent solution is probably an evolution of the concept of the state. Maybe mankind should develop an understanding of states that allows for shared territories.

Category D (wrong signals) shows competence and communication deficits in foreign policy and diplomatic services. The problem wouldn't have as many bad consequences if category B hadn't prepared the ground for misunderstandings.

Category E (Israel conflicts) is notorious and obvious. The only good thing about it is that it's mostly restricted to one region. I could imagine solutions, but they wouldn't work without a lot of pressure to break the involved political powers first.

The good news is that categories A, B and D can be corrected.
Such wars can be avoided by not letting the wrong people into certain jobs (politicians, news editors, intelligence analysts/bureaucrats, think tanks, government advisers).

That's at the same time a mission for the Western World; grow adult, avoid such nonsense.

Sven Ortmann

edit: Minor correction..


  1. Hmmm, interesting breakdown, even if a tad isolationist for my taste. Fair enough I guess, even the most valiant endeavours quite frequently end in faliure.

    But it sure seems like that the only kind of wars you favour are of the purely defensive kind. What about genocide and ethnic cleansing? What about those actions sanctioned by the Security Council?

    In cases such as these I find the notion of the Superiority Of Sovereignity to be very "old school". And I don't mean that in a good way. I support both the I.C.C. and interventions in internal affairs when that's morally and technically feasible.

    As for cathegory "C" your solution is more or less an euphemism for a wholesale redrawing of borders in the form of extensive federalism. And sometimes that can work (= Libanon). But there's usually a couple of nasty wars first. And they do tend to be pretty unstable.

    Problem is that the internal and external state "borders" between ethnic groups are usually rather intermingled and fuzzy. Which is why the splitting up of Jugoslavia (to say nothing about the divvying up of the Ottoman Empire) was such a mess.

    And that's not even getting into those ethnic groups split by arbitrarily drawn lines on a map (like the Afghan Pashtuns or the Kurds...).

  2. Genocide intervention is indeed an exception in my rule set. I'm very difficult to talk into welcoming a war, though. There's also the problem that a genocide intervention exception rule offers opportunities for warmongering by disinformation; see Kosovo.

    About the problem C solution; there's a similar case; the case f minorities jut on the other side of the border. Say Hungarians in Serbia (Yugoslavia). My advise in such cases is to agree on a bilateral treaty that gives very much protection (and some rights) to these minorities.
    That might go as far as having a dual justice system and dual laws.
    See Natives reservations in the U.S. where something like that is unofficially in use.

    An extension might work for multi-ethnic countries; several states coexisting in part on common soil, in part on exclusive soil - and the people live together in a complicated but fair public system.
    That requires a further developed understanding of a "state", of course.

    The alternative is to clean the mess up with ethnic cleansing or genocide; by far worse.

    About U.N.-legalized wars: I don't see why my country should come to help another nation that wouldn't come to our help.
    Those countries who want us to guarantee their safety should seek a formal alliance with us (and we should limit our formal alliances in order to avoid getting entangled in far away conflicts).

    In short: Kuwait should have allied with some power (Saudi-Arabia, for example) before 1990 - including an obligation to come to their aid if necessary.
    I dislike free-riders.

  3. No great fan of the "Pax Americana" heh?

    As for me, I'm not too sure about the alternatives. But I figure we'll find out about THAT soon enough, given the USA's current trajectory.

    Anyway I do fear that the criss-crossing of the world in alliances will lead us down paths we'd rather not travel. My reference is of course the pre-W.W.1 world, a comparison which may or may not be misguided.

    Such a world, dominated by great powers and their webs of security is, the way I see it, an indirect condonation of coercion and aggression towards those insignificant enough not to be included under such protection.

    To say nothing of the price for "protection" the Little 'Uns may have to pay.

    By this standard, it would seem that Georgia, Ukraine and perhaps even neutral countries like Sweden (unless the EU is an alliance that is) would be fair game for any action the Russians may want to take. For Russia could claim to be within its rights to fill the power vaccum that Nato left in its back-yard.

    Now, concerning the other part:

    "...and the people live together in a complicated but fair public system. That requires a further developed understanding of a "state", of course."

    This is a compelling vision, but I can't shake my conviction that such a peaceful, pancultural insight only comes about through having an enlightened view of cultural differences... And learning that lesson frequently happens through the toil inflicted by a succession of wars.

    European history, the process that constructed its nations, is of course a guide to this.

    My other objection is that it only partly adresses the fact that etnicities tend to mingle, living side by side yet separate. E.g, one big reason violence in Iraq has gone down is that the neighbourhoods are much more "clean" these days.

    So I'm afraid "complicated but fair public systems" are reserved for peoples who already own associated mental qualities, aquired through historical experience or chance.

    In my experience, complication usually seem to work best in consensual societies where people have the cultural tools and the sheer patience to make it all work. You just can't force people to like/trust each other...

    In a way, I suspect we sort of missed the train we should have left on that odd 100-years ago, when men with rulers ruled the earth. The iron-cast dedication to those more-often-than-not bizarre colonial borders is nowadays so ingrained that no-one dares to question them. No-one, that is, until the bullets starts flying.

    But then again, "no-one" ever accused me of being an optimist in these matters.

  4. I see no Pax Americana as long as the Americans tend to attack other nations, support invasions done by proxies and meddle in many violent conflicts. It's more like an outlaw policy that requests that only others need to comply with rules.

    The difference between the pre-WW1 world and today is that all nations agreed on the Charter of the United Nations and thus outlawed aggression. It's up to us to complete this by complying with what we agreed to. There are multilateral mechanisms to deal with the few remaining violators.

    The inter-ethnic conflict in Iraq was and is based on a struggle for power (dominance of/participation in Iraq's government).
    My complicated idea would have offered all three factions an own state, albeit with a fuzzy territorial definition. That would have turned power struggles into faction-internal affairs.

  5. Sven,

    A nice post. I like the idea of breaking down these conflicts into their root causes. I do have a couple of ideas, however.

    I think another category might be appropriate (or maybe just a refinement of root#2): Ideologically based war. In this category you could place Grenade (within the context of the Cold War and the belief that we needed to keep Soviet influence out of the Western Hemisphere) and the (latest) invasion of Iraq.

    Do I take this list to mean that your position is that there's been no use of military force by the West since 1974 that has been justified?

  6. I would rather put those ideology conflicts into (a); hyped-up threats and fearmongering.
    I provided two links next to "Cold War" for that reason.

    I believe that all wars with Western participation post-'45 were wrong or at least avoidable.
    The (de)colonial(ization) wars were all wrong.

    War is destructive in sum, so it's obvious that something went wrong if warfare commences - no surprise here.
    The baddies are usually the more powerful participants, and guess what? Western powers were more often than not the more powerful participant since the 17th century.

  7. Kosovo 1999:
    The Kosovo-campaign was probable necessary to avoid a second Bosnian-desaster (e.g. Srebrenica) or at least a hugemass of refugees.
    Even before the air-campaign there were nearly 70 000 refugees outside Kosovo and far more refugees inside Kosovo.


  8. It was nevertheless badly hyped-up and it's questionable whether we would have agreed with a bombing campaign without U.N. resolution on the basis of what really happened:
    A Kosovarian insurgency that provoked the Yugoslavian state with the goal of drawing NATO into the conflict (and with the typical side-effects of a civil war).

    A UCK leader had asked a stupid Western diplomat what it would take for NATO getting involved - and the dumbass told him "5,000 dead civilians" - so the UCK did its best to hype up what was happening.

    Lying politicians (like Scharping) and Kosovars made it look much worse than it actually was.

    Was it avoidable? Yes, at least our involvement and the nation-wide bombing campaign.

  9. The Kosovo-crisis did not start because the insurgents (UCK) did provoke Serbia.
    Kosovo was supressed since many years (illegal loss of self-government, discharge of kosovarian magistrate and so on), the UCK was consequence of that.
    Every resistance movement is searching for backing, the bosnian citizens did that, too.
    This time, Europe did not make the same mistakes like in Bosnia.
    The hesitation in Bosnia led to about 100 000 casualties. Many former refugees are still living in Germany.
    No one knows defenitaly what kind of massacers would have happend in Kosovo, but flight and displacement did happen (70 000 refugees are a big number in a small region like Kosovo).

  10. Many fleeing civilians did return to their settlements after a few days when it was calm again.

    I don't argue that there was no ethnic conflict or no 'humanitarian crisis' - I do rather argue that the effects were hyped up. That was in my opinion a necessary condition for our eventual involvement.

    This blog post wasn't about reasons for war in general, but about reasons for why we were drawn into wars.

  11. I understand your intention.
    (By the way, what is not hyped up in the media?)

  12. I thought the Falklands War ended in June of 1982, are you referring to the postwar period of tension?