War in International Society
The media is seemingly dominated with images of war and suffering: from Yemen to Syria, from the Central African Republic to Colombia; war seems to be a constant in the world. War has always been a way for organisations, such as states, to exert power and influence. To this day it remains, alongside diplomacy and economics, one of the main ways that influence and prestige can be gained and maintained, and political change can be achieved. The nineteenth-century Prussian writer, Carl von Clausewitz, claimed, in his seminal work On War, that war is a continuation of politics by other means. This is a much-quoted and still highly relevant claim today. Indeed, be they inter- (state versus state), intra- (civil war, war within a state) or sub-state-conflicts (such as terrorism where non-state actors use terror and violence), in the final analysis, all wars are about the use of force to gain political change.
What has changed?
If we go back to the very start of human history, we have always seen violence employed to achieve what we today might term political change. From fighting between tribes in pre-history to gain access to better hunting or farming land; to clashes of ideology such as the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens (arguably the oldest recorded European wars, thanks to Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War which is regarded as the first example of a work of Military History in the western tradition); through the Napoleonic Wars to the two World Wars of the twentieth century. Indeed it is difficult, if not impossible, to name any country whose borders have not been defined and set by war (wars of unification, conquest or liberation). Today we may think that war is less common. This is partly because we tend to use the term “war” only when it occurs between two states and thereby reduce imagery and impact of all other forms of fighting to “conflict”, but it is also because of efforts, dating back to the end of the First World War, to regulate the use of war as a tool of international politics.
We have increasingly sought to regulate all aspects of war, from the weapons we are allowed to use, to the treatment of the wounded and of prisoners, to the very use of war as a tool of international politics through the United Nations. Yet war continues to dominate our lives at many levels, from computer games such as “Call of Duty”, to the cinema with films such as “Fury”, to extensive media coverage of the suffering that accompanies war with extensive coverage of events in Aleppo, as an example. War does not seem to be going away as a tool of international politics or economics either: arms manufacture and sales remains big business and represents both a powerful tool of politics (to whom will you sell arms, and at what price?) and a leader in technological development (such as the use of Outer Space). War it seems will continue to be with us, despite all the efforts to avoid what the UN Charter describes as its scourge, and this module will explore these ideas in more detail.