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War - Defining States As Warring Units, Jus Ad Bellum: United Nations Charter Of 1945, Jus In Bello

international human organized violence

How does one define a war? How can one distinguish between the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, jihad, anarchy, and wars between states? Definitions are relevant as they provide the rationale for considering a war legitimate and just and contribute to decisions about international interventions, aid, and protocol. This has become particularly important in contemporary international affairs, when the most prevalent conflicts have been nationalist and or ethnic in character and international terrorism has escalated. War has been defined in a number of ways: as "organized violence carried out by political units against each other" (Bull, p. 184); as "the legal condition which equally permits two or more hostile groups to carry on a conflict by armed force" (Wright, p. 698); and as "an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will" (Clausewitz, p. 75). These definitions encapsulate the notion of war as political, as organized violence carried out by a collective, and as ordered in that it has rules and customs of behavior. An underlying assumption is that war is a regular occurrence in the international arena and is an inevitable outcome of organized human societies.

This latter idea has been critiqued by Margaret Mead, who sees warfare as one of many inventions constructed to order our lives, in the same realm as "writing, marriage, cooking" and so on. War, like culture, takes on the veneer of an ancient tradition, something having historical depth, and has prevailed since early organized human societies. Mead suggests that war is an invented and learned activity and is not inherent to human behavior. The contending opinion emphasizes the "innateness" of human aggression, the consequences of which are sometimes violence and war. Without denying the complex interplay between genetic and environmental variables, these theories see human aggression as biologically driven. Humans fight over land, resources, and personal relationships in much the same way as other primates do, hence war in this perspective is not a social or cultural invention.

John Vasquez sees war as learned but also includes the notion that war comes out of a long-term process, is a product of interaction, is a way of making decisions, and is multicausal, and he recognizes that there are many different types of wars. Although this is a more comprehensive list of defining characteristics of war, the emphasis is on "interstate" wars and international peace and security.

War and Peace in the Arts - The Military Leader, The Heroic Soldier, Civilian Casualties In War, The World Wars In Film [next]

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