Why do we wage war? There are only losers in war

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi Internationa

Fighting and killing have always constituted a large part of the ways in which we interact and solve conflicts. History contains countless examples. These are manifest in the stories and occurrences that have been handed down to us from the past as well. Some wars lasted for years, decades even, such as the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648) and the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). More recent examples include the war in Afghanistan (1979-present) and the Syrian civil war (2011-present).

When fighting and killing take place by and among organised groups, we call it a war. It is factually correct that the total number of armed conflicts has decreased since the Second World War, yet if armed conflict takes place, it now usually does so in larger groups or coalitions and with an increased technical capacity for destruction and killing.

We live in an era characterised by extremely destructive arms technology. According to SIPRI, global spending on armaments in 2018 has amounted to 1800 billion dollars.[1] This is an increase of 2.6 percent in comparison to the previous year. Globalisation entails that we are confronted online on a daily basis with all atrocities taking place around the world. The visibility of human suffering is unavoidable.

Civil war is a phenomenon of every age. It involves rival groups that compete over power or territory within a country or region. Since the Second World War, we have known civil wars (often with an international dimension to them) in Korea, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Ukraine, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria, Mali, Cameroon, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Yemen.

Civil wars occur more often in poorer countries in which tensions rise between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. An underprivileged population has little to lose and is therefore more vulnerable to becoming a participant in an armed conflict.

Getting rid of the causes of conflict

Many of the causes of conflict or tension are nothing new. Globalisation, with its exchange of products, people and knowledge, can be traced back to the Chinese silk routes in the second century B.C. In more recent times, it is mostly the technological revolutions in the field of telecommunication and transport that lead to change. Mass migration and the reactions it elicits are just as old: fear among autochthons and contempt for those newly arriving, with each migration always having to start at the bottom again. Mass migration is a source of poverty and conflict.

New violence develops in those places where there are a lot of feelings of hate and vengeance continues to exist among the population and its political leaders. The Balkans, for instance, have been home to one conflict after another since 1804.[2] The necessary initiatives of ‘healing’ were never, or not sufficiently, taken. An armistice or the end of a war should never result in an orgy of vengeance and retribution by the victors. There are no victors in war!

The demand for revenge and retribution is primal, just as the fear for societal tensions. The need for vengeance can be huge and can take on radical forms, such as brazen murders and beheadings. Already in the fifth century did Saint Augustine say: “Evil may not be countered with evil.”

The other is to blame

Certain politicians play into the fears of civilians. Populists exploit feelings of insecurity and fear. They use scapegoats and instigators of misery and point either to individuals, groups of people, or certain nations as the ones to blame for that misery. In times of uncertainty or crisis, there are irrevocably prophets of doom that join the public debate. Media copy those stories and over-emphasise the ‘evil’ around us and the other that is to blame. Besides wars, we are also confronted with rumours and their amplification on social media. We are consumed with thinking about terrorism and real or imagined threats.

Lately, ‘division’ is stronger than ‘connection’. Admittedly, as humans we grapple with situations of incomplete security, fear and suffering. Fear by itself is not bad. We must take fear seriously. Vengefulness and hate are bad. We must hold our plural society together! It is necessary to remain watchful over our information to counter manipulation and to keep thinking critically. We need space for reflection.

Keep cooperating even if it is difficult

In theory, wars become impossible through international alliances. When you can bring countries together, the chances of war between them decrease. When you can develop a web of agreements, treaties, mechanisms and institutions like the European Union, it becomes impossible to wage war on one another. Ideally, member states relinquish much of their sovereignty to a larger whole. But what is made by people can also be broken down again by people — a scenario that might take place for the European Union.

The current trend goes in the opposite direction: nation-states turn into themselves and demand full sovereignty. In that case, misunderstood power and influence get the final say again.

The international community’s responsibility

The international community has sometimes intervened in countries that had, or ran the risk of, armed conflict. Often this happened to prevent armed conflict or to enforce an armistice or peace, such as in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995.[3] An intervention is often preceded by the UN Security Council’s authorisation, but in reality also takes place sometimes without a mandate, such as in Serbia in 1999 because of the intense violence in Kosovo.[4] The US and UK’s war in Iraq in 2003 was characterised by a lack of international unity and authorisation as well.[5] It generally does not improve the living conditions of civilians during or after a conflict; rather chaos and division have often increased.

People do not want war

Why do we wage war? There are only losers in war. Most people will say that they do not want war. But why is there still war in that case? And why are there still too few alternatives that can efficiently solve conflict?

Many think of war as a natural occurrence, that it is natural for politicians to think of a possible war. It is like a machine that has been set in motion and that cannot be stopped, which impedes reflection and does not take alternatives into consideration.

War can be avoided. Diplomacy and mediation are common means to deal with conflicts. International mediation constitutes a means to solve interstate conflicts in a peaceful manner. Nonviolent means are to be preferred with regard to preventing and solving conflicts.

Lawful violence is reserved for the state. In a society such as ours, the monopoly on violence lies with the state. Civilians moreover expect transparency concerning the violence used, as well as being able to check the means applied.

Application of humanitarian law criteria

It remains a difficult decision whether or not to intervene in a conflict. Each conflict is different, has its own context and requires different analyses and considerations. International (humanitarian) law and the UN Security Council are concerned with the international criteria for conflict intervention.[6]

Humane concerns sometimes require us to intervene. Specifically, this is concerned with the prevention or the halting of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. There is the responsibility to protect civilians and the principle of humanitarian intervention. The international community is required to act responsibly and to prevent and counter injustice and conflict.

The area of tension is related to a double assessment: (1) are there any remaining diplomatic options to prevent or solve the conflict; or (2) have all diplomatic means been exhausted and is there an urgent requirement for the international community to intervene, if must be with limited use of force and under strict stipulations. We should reserve both options. However, we prefer the first option.

Superpowers like China and Russia insist that principles of sovereignty and non-interference in domestic affairs have precedence over other (Western) notions about humanitarian intervention. However, Russia applies exceptions to that rule and intervenes in situations where it considers a Russian minority in a neighbouring country to be under threat, such as in the Crimea, or interferes in regions like Eastern-Ukraine.

Russia and China’s attitude risks letting authoritarian regimes think they can get away with mass human rights violations and even with ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity. The international community just stands and watches.

Martial law remains applicable: there are crimes against humanity and genocides with accompanying tribunals. In theory, even dictators may not go unpunished, we should prevent impunity from becoming a standard.

What do we do when certain regimes are not able to protect their own populations against extreme violence within the state or by external states or groups – or when these regimes reject international interference? Do we just let that happen?

Here, we find ourselves in a tough situation: often, nations frantically hold on to their right to self-determination. This impedes the global cooperation necessary to solve the problems of our time.


[2] “The Balkans, Nationalism, War and the Great Powers – 1804 – 2012” by Misha Glenny, Granta, 774 pp.

Emotions dominate people and world events

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor

Besides being a century of migration and globalisation, our 21st century has also become a century of nationalism and of a renewed search for identity. The ideological battle of the 20th century and of the Cold War especially (1945-1989) has become an identity battle. We live in a time in which we carry out our “identity”, both as an individual and as a nation. We demand the right to be unique, to be different. Some are even prepared to “battle” in order to make others acknowledge them in their existence.


Emotions or passions are part of our human feelings. One needs a certain passion in order to come across convincingly. All of us are driven by emotions, but because these differ in most cases – at times are even opposed to each other – these divide us rather than unite us. And by definition our emotions are selective since they are mostly subjective. Some selective emotions, for instance the extreme egoism of my own country first (America First or Mother Russia First), are more dangerous to the world than universal cynicism and the complete absence of emotions. By nature, emotions are variable and diverse and at times even contradictory. But that one emotion that has been driving us the last couple of years is fear, in various forms. Some speak of an actual culture of fear.

We cannot understand the world in which we live without taking the role of feelings in world geopolitics into account. It is important to put our emotions into perspective in order to rise above them and not to get hung up on them, but mostly to just understand the “other”. The message therefore is to put feelings into perspective so as not to be dominated by them. Emotions reflect the level of confidence of a society. And it is that measure of confidence that determines whether a society is able to recover from crises, whether it can take up challenges and whether it can conform to changing circumstances.


Primarily, there are three types of emotions: fear, hope and humiliation. Obviously, there are other emotions too, like anger, indignation, hate, pain, sorrow, love, honour or solidarity. The emotions fear, hope and humiliation are, however, most applicable to the concept of trust between people as well as between peoples/nations. One of the main causes of rivalry, distrust and “own people/nation first”-thoughts is a lack of trust. It is like a downward spiral and this can lead to possible (armed) conflicts. Trust is as important to nations and civilisations as it is to individuals. Trust is a significant indicator of the (healthy) state of our world. This is why, in politics too, we speak of taking “confidence-building measures” in order to mitigate or resolve areas of tension or conflict in, for instance, the Ukraine or with North Korea.

Identity is closely related to trust, and trust (or lack thereof) is expressed in emotions – especially in feelings of fear, hope and humiliation.


Throughout the years, fear has deepened, expanded and diversified. When people(s) feel humiliated, fear lashes out. It is an emotional reaction to potential danger or insecurity. Sometimes people are afraid because they do not know what to expect. By a constant focus in our society on problems related to migration and security, a culture of fear is being created. There is a fear of the other, of foreigners who pour into our countries, who threaten our identity and steal our jobs. There is a fear of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction; of economic insecurity or collapse. There is a fear of disease and natural catastrophes. It concerns fear of the unknown and of a threatening future, on which humankind can exert little or no influence. Such fears are found worldwide and have globalised through, among others, the relocation of activities abroad, job loss and “unfair” instead of “free” trade. Although one should treat (feelings of) fear seriously, they should also be put into perspective. Fear can give way to hope.


Hope is an expression of confidence and is based on the belief that the situation today is better than that of yesterday and that tomorrow it will be better than today.

There is a spiritual conception of hope: the belief in the redemption of human beings through the liberation from sin. People cannot continue without hope. In a way, we all share the calling to be “givers of hope” to one another. Give hope. Encourage each other and try to be ahead of despair, or to at least make room for despair in life. Hope is central to our Christian culture, just like belief and love.

In the secular sense of the word, hope represents the belief in one’s own identity, in one’s ability to be interactive with the world in a positive way. Hope is the opposite of resignation or surrender; rather it is a form of confidence that encourages us to come close to other people, to accept their differences from us without fear.


Humiliation is powerlessness. Humiliation is the injured confidence of those who have lost their hope for the future. We often consider our lack of hope to be caused by others, as those who have treated us badly in the past. One experiences humiliation when one is not in control over one’s own life, whether as an individual or as a people/nation. The feeling is that someone else completely dominates you and has made you dependant. You have lost power and control over the present and especially over the future. The feeling of humiliation is present in all cultures and civilisations. Humiliation itself is quite useless and we shall try to turn it into hope, else it leads to despair and to having feelings of hate or revenge, which can easily turn into a desire to destroy.


With the end of the Cold War in November 1989 (the fall of the Berlin Wall – the beginning of a culture of hope) came the breakthrough of the phenomenon of globalisation. Globalisation is a dynamic process, consisting among others in the integration of markets, nation-states and technologies. It enables individuals, societies and nations to act quicker than ever in order to “command” the world. In the period of globalisation, the relationship with the other has become more fundamental than ever. We live in uncertain times and the first one we look upon negatively is the other, he or she that comes from far away, mostly from the South. That insecurity begins with fear for the other.

Israel and Palestine

How are two peoples with different emotional “landscapes” to be reconciled? The exodus of a large number of Jewish people to Palestine was like a miracle of rebirth, a new home. That same event is called the “Nakba” by the Palestinians and for them is a synonym for a disastrous defeat and repression. Driven from their homes!

Israelis consider their state to be legitimate and a necessary manifestation of their existence as a nation. The Palestinians, just as the Arabs, experienced it as an anachronistic display of Western imperialism. This clash of two peoples is related to humiliation and fear. An absolute and unique tragedy, such as the Shoah, gave birth to a nation; and a different people has been crushed and repressed by a victim that has largely grown blind to the suffering of others. This tragic and lasting confrontation is an especially emotional event that impacts our global society.

Israel’s central and “emotional” location, in the midst of the Arab and Muslim world, has led Arabs to experience the existence of the state Israel as “stolen territory”. What a humiliation! Arabs consider this territory to be their own land, including Jerusalem and its Dome of the Rock, one of the three most holy places of Islam.

The only real solution to the conflict is that all parties recognise both the state of Israel and a to-be-built state of Palestine as full, equal and with hope for the future. It remains problematic and a reason for further conflict to continue humiliating both peoples by not or inadequately recognising them.

If there is one large community that has been humiliated during many years, it is the Arab population — especially after the subdivision of the Ottoman Empire into British and French mandates about a hundred years ago and especially through the post-1945 politics of the USA that have been characterised by political interventions and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other things. The West has humiliated the Arab world.

On the other hand, the Arab community itself should set things right by reworking the differences between Sunnis and Shiites into a workable and constructive tension which enables all people and all communities to enjoy their basic rights. It is not an option to continue humiliating, or even destroying, each other!

In conclusion

Ignorance and intolerance go hand in hand. Peace and reconciliation are only possible for people and communities that know and accept one another. Recognise each other’s existence! Despite the fact that we live in an age of information, we do not understand other people or different communities any better than we did in the past, rather the opposite seems to be true.

It seems that in our complex world, cultures, nations and even individuals are getting more and more obsessed by their own identities. This obsession can only further increase the significance of emotions in international relations. But perhaps everything first starts with self-knowledge. Only people and communities that are at peace with themselves, that know who they are and what they represent, can come to terms with others.

* Photo courtesy of National Public Radio at

The message of internationalism is banning war

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor

Si vis pacem, para pacem
If you want peace, prepare for peace

This year marks the centenary of the end of the First World War – 1914/1918 – a conflict that reconfigured the face of Europe and the entire world with the emergence of new states in place of ancient empires. The death toll from the First World War was at least 16 million.

From 19 to 22 April 2018, the French cities of Arras and Lille (and its surroundings) commemorate and celebrate the armistice of November 1918. Pax Christi International and several members of its national sections are participating in the programme.

From the ashes of the Great War, we can learn lessons that, sad to say, humanity did not immediately grasp, leading within the space of 20 years to a new and even more devastating conflict. Some experts, by including war-related deaths from disease and famine, put the total death toll from the Second World War at over 80 million.

Lessons learned

The first lesson is that victory never means humiliating a defeated foe. Peace is not built by vaunting the power of the victor over the vanquished. Future acts of aggression are not deterred by the law of fear, but rather by the power of calm reason that encourages dialogue and mutual understanding as a means of resolving differences.

This leads to a second lesson: peace is consolidated when nations can discuss matters on equal terms. This was grasped a hundred years ago by the then President of the United States Woodrow Wilson[1] who proposed the establishment of a general league of nations with the aim of promoting for all states, great and small alike, mutual guarantees of independence and territorial integrity. This laid the theoretical basis for that multilateral diplomacy, which has gradually acquired over time an increased role and influence in the international community as a whole.

A possible third lesson is that people are made to pay for the wrongs of their state, especially when these states are losing wars. Collective responsibility has its limits. The role of an individual can take various forms from collaborator, co-perpetrator to dissident or conscientious objector. Countries that win a war determine the punishment of the transmitters, including the actions of some individuals.

Institutions to ban war

The ”Internationalists”[2] or “Multilateralists”[3] maintain that war is a barbaric way to resolve disputes and that the best way to resolve controversies is through international institutions such as the League of Nations and later the United Nations.

The League of Nations, established in 1920, was not able to make the last war the last war. The League of Nations was an international organization, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, created after the First World War to provide a forum for resolving international disputes. USA President Woodrow Wilson[4] was the initiator but due to the isolationist policies of USA Congress, his country never became member of that intergovernmental body. Throughout its history, the League has never really been able to prove its full value. There was a serious absence of an adequate organisation of international police action.

Ten years after WWI, in 1928, the Paris Peace Pact[5] was signed by 63 nations. Aristide Briand, the French foreign minister, and Frank Kellogg, the USA secretary of state, took the lead in getting the Pact realised. The message of the Pact was that the world would no longer treat war as a lawful mean to resolve disputes. War was deprived from its legitimacy. War is regarded as a departure from civilised policies. The Pact was aimed at ending war between states. It certainly had not ended all armed conflict.

The pact was supposed to end war, just as the League of Nations, but the Kellogg-Briand pact failed because of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935, and the German invasion of Poland in 1939. The pact did some good for international laws and is still known in the US as a federal law.

International peacekeeping

The establishment of the United Nations[6] took place on 26 June 1945. The Charter has been signed then by 50 nations. During the WWII both USA President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill have been the big fore takers. Roosevelt had to fight against isolationism and Churchill had to learn that the UK was at its end of being a world power.

The main idea was that four countries (USA, Soviet Union, United Kingdom and China – later on France was also de facto included in the P5[7]) should play a kind of police keeping in international relations. They gave themselves also a permanent seat in the Security Council and a right to veto draft resolutions and that became a serious blockage in specific cases, as happened in the recent wars in Syria and Ukraine for instance.

Peacekeeping is the main drive of the UN. Right from the beginning, NGO’s were also allowed to be part of the UN system mainly as consultative bodies.[8] In June 1945, the war with Japan was still ongoing and nuclear bombs were dropped on the country on 6 and 9 August 1945. The new constitutions after the war of the losing countries, Germany, Italy and Japan – the Axis – includes an article that made it impossible for these countries to go to war again. That article was enforced by the winning countries – the Allies.

They are the “United Nations”, not the “Western Nations”! The great benefit of the UN is that almost all countries are members of it. So also the countries with non-democratic regimes, some of which violate human rights on a daily basis. The UN is a forum where everyone can talk to everyone. This is a pragmatic approach.

When WWII ended, the tension between the rhetoric of self-determination and the reality of colonisation became difficult to maintain. After 1945, the number of states exploded. Two keys forms of state birth – decolonisation (notably in the 50s and 60s) and the fracturing of larger states into smaller ones – the former Soviet Union and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for instance in the 90s – led to the rapid increase in UN members. The membership has increased to a total today of 193 states and the present accommodation of the General Assembly has room for about 204 members. The most recent state is South Sudan that split from Sudan in 2011.

Still, a series of conflicts emerged since 1945 and many open conflicts have not yet been solved. The UN has almost no or not at all influence over certain conflicts. The dispute between India and Pakistan on Kashmir since 1947; since 1948, conflict between Israel and Palestine; war raged in Korea 1950-1953; in Vietnam 1955-1978. Genocidal conflicts erupted in Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s; and civil war ravaged Sudan for more than two decades. In addition, in 2015 alone, high-fatality civil wars continues in Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Ukraine.

Wars are costly!

The modern attitude is to regard wars as uncontroversial bad, moral catastrophes to be avoided at almost all costs. Waging war have always been very expensive. Wars are costly, in both lives and treasure, and often lead to unintended consequences – as the turbulent aftermath in both Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya demonstrate. Wars between states are now rare. Conquest has been the exception, no longer the role. Wars within states still happen.

In a world where weak states can become failed states and failed states give rise to civil war and terrorism, it is not only good law but also good sense to pressure state institutions with outcasting – with sanctions policies for instance – rather than destroy them with war.

Need stronger framework for solving disputes via diplomacy

The concept and the right of “self-defence”[9] is and has been open for interpretations and has been allowing certain states for military interventions protecting their own territory or interests. Sure, war crimes and genocides need to be prevented. Reliance on “self-defence” as a justification for using force can only be justified in cases of “armed attack”. Good functioning international institutions should provide the framework for solving disputes diplomatically.

Throughout the world, anti-internationalist sentiment is growing. That is not a good evolution. Isolationism and unilateralism cannot be an option. We all bear responsibility for the world in which we live. Together we can and must continue to support institutions that have kept the peace, adapt them to changing circumstances, and develop new ones that will further reduce violence.

All states are by nature equal in dignity, as well as the acknowledgment of one another’s rights and the fulfilment of their respective duties. The basic premise of this approach is the recognition of the dignity of the human person, since disregard and contempt for that dignity resulted in barbarous acts that have outraged the conscience of humankind.

Indeed, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 affirms, “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.[10]

Ideas are stronger than weapons

We live in a fragile world. The status of peace should be a condition in which globalisation has produced so many shared interests in trade and finance that states prefer to go to arbitration rather than war. To win a war over the future of the world order, one must fight not simply with powerful weapons, but with power ideas. Much has to do with the struggle of the minds! “Si vis pacem, para pacem” – “If you want peace, prepare for peace”.



[8] Pax Christi International has its consultative status with the UN since 1979.


Photo courtesy of the Aleppo Media Centre.


Are we going to have a world without war? Make war impossible!

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor

Can war and violent conflict be eliminated forever? In this article, I reflect about war, which is de facto about peace. War should be abolished forever. In the past 75 years, we have seen at least three transformations related to armed conflicts: the Cold War (1946-1991); the post-Cold War (1991-2011); and this last period of time (post-post) in which we see events happening – a bewildering present – Arab Spring, theo-terrorism, globalisation of migration, in many cases culminating in civil wars or at least feeding fragile states.[1]

Events determine politics

We live in exciting times. Events often determine the outcome of elections. It happens that certain world leaders create events and express themselves with tactless statements.[2] The commotion on the status of Jerusalem is a recent example. Consequences of these statements are not always calculated.

Officials are expected to cover more than ever the “events policies”. Urgent events happening create pressing responses to act. Examples are the refugee or migration crisis; terrorist acts related to the Islamic State (Daesh); and the rising trend of extremist and exclusive political nationalism related to a populist mentality and/or authoritarian nationalism. Citizens expect their political leaders to act consequently and urge them to immediately deal with these challenges: result-oriented.

Some of the powerful still believe in war making

In my opinion, war has no future. Wars are no longer declared, they simply begin. Wars happen because the ones who start them think they can win them. Wars usually start with at least one side confident about the outcome. Campaigning to go to war always presents a glorious victory within reach!

You cannot abolish war by continuing to wage war. War does not solve conflicts. Enough is known to get on with the business of outlawing war and finding better means to resolve disputes. War should be abolished just as slavery was eradicated centuries ago.

The contradiction we live in today is that states continue to prepare for war while professing to wish to legislate it out of existence. A recent example is the fact that political leaders want to get rid of nuclear weapons and, at the same time, decide to modernise their nuclear arsenals to be significant for the next two generations or so. Nuclear weapons states decided to modernise their arsenals. At the most recent count, the Russian Federation has 1,796 nuclear warheads and 508 missiles; the USA has 1,367 warheads and 681 missiles.[3] Both are upgrading relatively old systems. The financial costs of such a modernisation are huge.

War is inherently immoral

We need more focus on the conviction that war is inherently immoral because of its costs to human well-being. Over the last century around 0.7 % of the world’s population died in armed conflicts. There are over 65 million refugees forced to flee their homes and their livelihood. Perhaps 600,000 people have died since 2011 by civil wars in Syria (including more than half a million), in Yemen, in Libya and Iraq, and 17 million people from that region have been displaced from their homes. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan (and partly Iraq) are hosting most of the Syrian refugees.

                                                          Photo courtesy of the Aleppo Media Centre.

The laws defining the conditions whether to go to war – ius ad bellum – and the laws defining how to deal within a war – ius in bello – (proportionality and distinct combatancy/non-combatancy or military/civilian for instance), did not seek to make war illegal. They did try instead to make it less miserable. With the phenomenon of “collateral damage”, we see that there is such a thing as “non-combatants immunity” — that means that civilians should be spared but also that even weapons directed at purely military targets could affect people with no combat role.

Rapid evolution in technology and communication

Efficiency in transport, speed and communications make war more likely. From 1850, weaponry techniques and the speed of projectiles began to transform military confrontation into a truly inhumane event. The then industrial principles of mass production were converted to martial arts and put at the service of mass destruction. The German victory over France in 1871 for instance was made possible by impressive mobilisation of its forces, appreciating the role of railroads in getting men to the front. The railway infrastructure made the movements of troops during the First World War practical. During the Second World War, highways, especially in Germany, made the fast mobility of tanks and troops possible.

The Second World War resulted in unprecedented levels of killings, with conflicts in Asia and Europe merging, the murder of millions of civilians on an industrial scale, and every type of warfare — naval encounters, massive air raids, lightning offensives, dogged defending, and partisan resistance, concluding with atomic bombs. This was total warfare!

Militarism meant allowing military figures, arms manufacturers, and patriotic themes to dominate public life. Manufacturers want to make money, profits. Arms dealers view every new type of weapon, from machine guns to torpedoes, from heavy artillery to the Kalashnikovs, from drones to killer robots, as a business opportunity.

Weapons kill, even if they are not used!

Disarmament is urgently needed. Vast sums are spent on preparing for war. The total military expenditures for 2016 according to SIPRI[4] are 1.69 trillion dollars. That is 0.4 % higher compared with 2015. Weapons kill, even if they are not used! Saudi Arabia spends 10.4 % of its GDP on defence; Iran has 3 % and Israel spends 5.8 % on defence. The Middle East has a high security risk with Israel having nuclear weapons and having the Saudis (Sunnis) and Iranians (Shiites) as the two major opponents in the region.

Military expenditure is wasteful. Weaponry absorbs tax revenues, and contributes to scarce resources. Armament firms encourage conflict to increase demands for their products, frequently based on feelings of distrust, fear, exclusive nationalism or patriotism. Extreme nationalism is a driver of conflict and war. Some political and public opinion makers see their national sovereignty as a god — and nationalism as a religion. That can result in the rejection of international cooperation. The main motive is “Si vis pacem, para bellum” – “if you want peace, prepare for war”.

Research in warfare is main driver of change

Technology and the development of research and new findings in modern warfare are the main drivers of change in warfare. New types of weapons make war more possible. Atomic bombs were used for the first time in August 1945 when they were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, obliterating both and most of their residents. This is seen as a steep change in warfare. The then driving argument of using the atomic bomb was to stop the war. Over the next decade, with tests of new and even more powerful weapons, the likely character of a nuclear war became clear. The humanitarian impact of the use of atomic bombs and of nuclear tests in all their dimensions is immense. The possibility of accidental war has becoming prominent.

Our history has seen the possible intentional use of nuclear weapons, as for instance during the Korean War in early 50’s, the Berlin Crisis in 1961, the Cuba Missile Crisis in 1962, the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the latest in Ukraine in 2014. The distinction between rhetoric and bluff and the way sometimes-foolish politicians are dealing with or thinking about nuclear weapons make it all very dangerous.

Further possible proliferation of atomic bombs, human errors, miscalculations or mechanical malfunction of these weapons of mass destruction became also a main driver for diplomats to come to a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons[5] in July 2017. The strategy of nuclear deterrence became unbelievable because of the real risks were out of control. Nuclear deterrence can no longer be tolerated. The use of, the threat with and the possession of nuclear weapons are illegal and immoral.

The world is much safer when treaties for global disarmament are reached. But that is not enough. We have seen treaties on anti-personnel mines, the so-called Ottawa Treaty[6] and the Convention on Cluster Munitions.[7] The main challenges remain to have key players signing and ratifying these treaties and at the same time have them implemented in a constructive way. Treaties do not guarantee the outlawing of war making in general.

Who are the masters of modern warfare? Drones for instance brought together many critical technologies: highly efficient regimes, advanced sensors, global positioning systems, and instantaneous communications. Their operators could identify, monitor, and then strike a target thousands of miles away, without putting lives in direct danger. War making takes place from a distance — such as drone pilots. These pilots could live a normal life. A pilot can visit his wife who just gave birth to a child in the maternity ward after just killing someone on the other side of the planet. Unmanned systems kill without seeing the other. Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams talks about “it” as doing the killing. It is not me or you who kills; it is a neutral body, an “it”. Almost everything is delegated to machines.

Duration of civil wars has extended

The days of armed conflict between nation-states are ending – although it still happens and is still possible. The number of civil wars or intrastate conflicts has increased. The duration of civil wars has extended. Civilians are part of the struggle and many of them are the victims of it. Some of these civil wars are rather “regional war zones” where certain groups and their actions moved without regard for national boundaries. Borders have become progressively less relevant.

About 4 % of civil wars were internationalised in 1991; 40 % had become so in 2015. This is certainly true of the Middle Eastern civil wars, all of which began as local conflicts, but have become internationalised which made possible solutions of these conflicts even more complicated! Wars in Iraq and Syria are examples. In its 17th year, the campaign in Afghanistan is the longest in U.S. military history and the Taliban are resurgent.

Peacekeeping and policing  

The only reason for nations to have a military capacity is for the capacity of peace missions and in cases of self-defence under strict criteria. For two decades, France has headed the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations.[8] China is bidding to take over the lead of this. There is a good reason for China doing so. It is the second largest funder of peacekeeping operations, paying 10 % of the 8 billion dollars budget, and it deploys more blue helmets (2,639 at present) than the other four permanent Security Council members combined.

Although here we can make an argument that some military capacity can be required for purposes of both national and international policing. Policing is not the same as war making. Some nations have no armies,[9] and have a good functioning police system instead.

I believe that war, all war, can be abolished. Bombing cannot win wars! War is a terrible way to settle disputes: there are far better forms of settlement and they now need to be applied. States should be encouraged more than ever to seek for arbitration, mediation, negotiations, dialogue and diplomacy instead of war to solve disputes. Political problems should only be solved by political means.

Need for quality governance

Part of the problem is the quality of those states that are malfunctioning. Disturbing phenomena are so-called failed states. They are also called collapsed states, troubled states, fragile states, states-at-risk or weak states. Sometimes these countries have fragmented populations, weak political institutions and a propensity for rule by violence. A fragile state mostly lacks representation and accountability, stable legal standards, and checks to coercive action by the state, combined with an inability to control territory and borders. Fragility is concentrated especially in cities. Failed states cannot end violence. A degree of political stability is needed. Success means strengthening institutions, ensuring that no minority is excluded and all enjoy opportunities for political and cultural expression, competent economic management, an absence of corruption, and responsive administration.

Some states (of the total of 193) are a danger to themselves and their neighbours and need to be put into an international equivalent of intensive care. Several of these states in crisis are the breeding ground for more violence, chaos and anarchy. The United Nations or intergovernmental bodies such as the Organisation of American States or the African Union have, in my opinion, a role to play in policing those states. Development of peacekeeping forces (composed partly of civilians, police and military) for both inter-state as well as civil wars is a mechanism that can work effectively, if there is enough ground to keep the peace! Some 47 UN peacekeeping missions were initiated between 1991 and 2011, nearly three times as many as during the previous four decades.

Ethnic cleansing, mass killings or genocides remain a serious challenge in our world. A few examples are the killing fields in Cambodia in the 70’s, Rwanda in 1994, Srebrenica in 1995 and Rohingya in 2017. How to prevent these? The international community has the responsibility to prevent crisis and armed conflict and to protect civilians. The General Assembly of the UN agreed to take the responsibility to protect (RtoP)[10] populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Efforts should be made to resolve the underlying root causes of armed conflict that includes fundamental security, well-being, and justice for all its citizens. Needless to say, this is an unfinished agenda!


[2] For instance US President Trump on the status of Jerusalem:

Photo courtesy of the Aleppo Media Centre.