War – an inevitable phenomena?

Can a war be abolished??

By Mohsin Azhar Shah

Almost in the beginning was “peace”….

When we look back into the very beginning of time, say approaching to zero of any time scale, it seems like quite a “horrifying peaceful situation” as there seems absolute inexistence of our universe. The moment different objects were created, conflict arose, more intensifying with the passage of time, which seems as a consequence of the evolution and development resulting in the diversity of the objects being evolved or developed. The “absolute peace” became a fantasy since the origin of life on earth, as the first organism must have had to compete with its surroundings to sustain its life. Thus, noticeably, the competition began with the origin of life that reflected the initiation of competition of the resources for survival. In other words, the war for survival began with the emergence of life on the planet.

Early in the scheme of life however, the concepts of war and conflict were very limited if not extinct i.e. limited to the competition between the individuals and their surroundings, but with the development of life and its diversity the nature of conflict also became more and more complex. By the origin of the human beings on this planet, adventure had entered the world. At this point of time, the nature of war and conflict had diverted from individuals versus surroundings to the conflicts among the individuals themselves as the individuals had won the competition with nature for their survival to a much greater extent. During this course of evolution and development of the planet and its relatively recent inhabitants (the humans), there came a point when the concept of war emerged among the humans. 

This article is focused on the concept of war and the prospects of abolishment of this phenomena. Thus, to answer the question whether war can be abolished or not, it is important to understand the concept of war, its causes and relationship with the human (and) nature. After analyzing and appreciating the concept of war, and its causes and relationship to human nature, it is concluded that war cannot be completely abolished.

Concept of War

War is a very complex phenomenon of use of organized violence involving at least two or more belligerents. War is considered to be non-criminal homicide, thus it ultimately refers to the use of (so called) legitimate violence which is often in a prolonged organized form. So, the use of force to achieve the objectives (usually the political ones) that would otherwise be difficult to achieve or that might be achieved at a greater cost to benefit ratio is usually referred to as “war”. War is thus a phenomenon of organized violence, between at least two parties or groups that might be either the states, or the non-state actors, or states versus non-state actors. Thomas Hobbes suggests that war is “a state of affairs, which may exist even while its operations are not continued”. He suggests that war is a component of the international system and is an attitude of international politics. Karl von Clausewitz also explains war as a tool to achieve the political objectives, by suggesting that “war is the continuation of politics by other means”. War, as defined by the Webster’s Dictionary as a state of “open and declared, hostile armed conflict between states or nations, or a period of such conflict”. It refers to the importance of declaration of the conflict as “war”. Any conflict may be declared as war either by the belligerents, or by the international community, like in the case of Syrian conflicts, which were declared by the international community as the Syrian Civil War. Thus, war needs to be explicitly declared by some sovereign body. This aspect of war is further explained by a British military historian, John Keegan who suggests in his “History of War” that “a war must have declared beginnings and expected ends”. This statement leads to the concept that war in itself is not the end.

It is quite difficult to explain the concepts of war precisely with a universally applicable definition as the emerging concepts of war like cyber warfare or robotic or information warfare or even the concepts like cold war and the threats of global thermo-nuclear war have changed the nature of war by excluding the “use of violent means” as essential components of war. However, it is still agreed upon by all that war in itself is not the end, but serves the political objectives of the states or non-state actors. 

Can war be abolished?

The debate is ongoing on whether the concept of war is inevitable or can it be abolished completely. Some of the scholars are of the opinion that war has its roots deep inside the human nature, just like the lust of power and self-esteem (the realist paradigm); whereas others claim that war is a constructed concept and it is not the instinctive component of the human beings (constructivism). However, it is quite evident from the history that human beings have been fighting wars even in the pre-state societies, so even if the war would be a constructive concept, it has its roots so deep into the history that it appears at least as a second nature of the humans. 

It is suggested by some scholars that the concept of war is not inherent or instinctive among humans, but is a constructed concept. Whereas, the other school of thought suggests that the war is an inherent component of human nature. It may just not be the primary component, but it lies deep in the human instincts and comes to surface as soon as other basic or preliminary needs are fulfilled and secured or if these are threatened. 

Human Nature and War

Thus, to comprehend the concept of war among the humans, the very nature of humans must be well taken into account (which is one of the most complex tasks in itself). The human nature can be examined either at the individual level or at the communal scale, (i.e. groups or societies). In this article, it is attempted at both levels of analysis. As soon as the human nature is examined at both individual and group levels, it will be easier to analyze the nature of war and the probability of the continuation of the phenomena. This is done by analyzing the human psychology at individual scale and by looking deep in the patterns of the group behaviors and the patterns of formation of societies. Therefore, to comprehend the relationship between the human nature and violence or war, one have to analyze the psychology of the human beings at individual as well as communal levels of analysis. The basic components of the human psychology in one aspect (i.e. of motivation), are well illustrated by Abraham Harold Maslow in his famous “hierarchy of needs theory”. He explain the basic human needs in a hierarchical manner, in a form of pyramid by placing the largest and most fundamental needs in the lowest level, while the need for “self-actualization” on the top. This theory suggests that if the needs at the basic levels are not met, the person will feel anxious and tense. These needs must be fulfilled for the survival of the individual. Such levels include the physiological and safety needs. Then come the level of relationships, and this is the level at which the individual and communal levels of analysis overlap each other. At this level, the relationships between individuals and families are focused. The next level is the level of esteem, which leads to the acquisition of the greater ranks in a group. If one further continues to groom oneself, it may acquire the self-actualization, the highest level of satisfaction or motivation. 

Although the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory is generally referred to as a theory of human motivation, yet it may be implied to the connotation of war (as motivation for war). This theory may help explain the phenomenon of war or violence as a necessity means for survival at some levels, whereas at other levels, it may refer the violence or war as an inherent component of human nature or instinct. At the most basic (or the lowest) level, the survival of an individual is at stake if the fundamental physiological needs are not fulfilled, which may lead that individual to commit violence to ensure its survival. This has been the case in instances of skirmishes or wars in the primitive societal groups (or even the industrialized societies) based on the resources. Man has been fighting wars for the acquisition of more and more resources since the pre-historic ages. However, with respect to the Maslow’s theory, the violence due to the fundamental resources must have been limited to the scuffles and skirmishes between or among the tribes, where the resources might get so much scarce that might threatened the survival of the tribe. Whereas, lack of the safety needs and lack of security might have resulted in much larger conflicts as well. Such needs are also relevant to the “territorial integrity” of the various societal arrangements, including the scuffles among pre-historic tribal communities as well as the wars among modern industrialized societies and states. As soon as the needs regarding the safety and security of the individuals or the communities are fulfilled, they begin to seek the status or honor and recognition among others. Therefore, at this level, the concept of leading and dominating others to show one’s power and distinction may emerge, which may lead to violence. This self-actualization may suggest to the maximum use of one’s potential and realizing it that the maximum possible achievement is being made. This level may lead to the hegemonic character of various nations in different dimensions, like the United States’ overall hegemonic character compared to the regional hegemonic tendencies of countries like India. Historical evidences are there to indicate that the tendency of being the hegemon either regionally or globally, have lead the states to commit violence, either in the form of conflicts of relatively smaller intensities or to the large scale wars. 

The concept of war as being a component of human nature is also illustrated by various scholars from the realist school of thought. The most prominent one of these scholars, i.e. Thomas Hobbes suggests the war as a true or underlying nature of human beings. Thomas Hobbes also suggests that the basic human nature is imperfect, and has lust for power which may ultimately lead to the use of violent means and waging wars. Other philosophers and scholars have also agreed to the Hobbes’ descriptions regarding the war and human nature. Some prominent scholars who follow the construct of Hobbes in one way or another include John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant. Although these scholars do not completely agree to Hobbes, yet they agree that the human nature has such characteristics that will lead to war or war-like situation. John Locke rejects Hobbes’ argument of total anarchic and warlike structure of human nature, but accepts that there will always be people who will take advantage of any opportunity to wage war. In other words, he suggests that the tendency of war is different among different peoples. Rousseau apparently opposes the Hobbes’ claim of war being a component of nature by arguing that humans are quite peaceful in nature, but when it comes to the international politics, he is also of the similar mind that war cannot be avoided if the state sovereignty is to be maintained. Kant on the other hand states in his “Perpetual Peace” that war is a tool to seek peace and federation, and propose that war is ingrained in human nature.

Those who reject the proposition that war is an inherent component of human nature have not completely rejected the link between human nature and war. One of the opponents of the claim that war is ingrained in the human nature, include Kenneth N. Waltz. He suggests that war or peace cannot be primarily suggested as components of human nature, as the humans are not at war or peace all the times. However, he also admits the role of human nature in bringing about war in his Man, the State and War

By comparing the ideas and propositions of the “hawks” and the “doves” the claims of the proponents of the concept that war is an inherent component of human nature or instinct are much stronger than those of opponents of this idea. At best, the relationship of war with human nature appears to be having a perpetual paradoxical relationship. Now since the concept of war is embedded in human nature, the question of abolishment of war may seem irrelevant as the appropriate question should be how to ‘tame’ the tendency of war and fighting among humans in order to minimize the humanitarian losses.

Why wars should be abolished

Wars are not the best ways to achieve the objectives as they often involve the use of violent means. However, as discussed above, the concept of war is deep-rooted in the human nature and psychology, it is quite evident that war cannot be abolished completely. Nevertheless, the question raises that whether wars should be abolished or not; and if wars should be abolished then on what grounds. Here comes the moral factors that suggest the minimization of the use of violent means to achieve the objectives. Even if wars cannot be abolished, there must be some ethics of wars based on moral and humanitarian values. At least attempts should be made to make wars justifiable and ways should be developed to avoid wars to the maximum extent. The concept of “Just War” is a step in this direction which should be promoted as the only legitimate mode of war. However, as Thomas Hobbes suggested that the international system is anarchic in nature, it seems quite difficult to develop a body that regulate the concepts of just wars and enforce the ethical and humanitarian values effectively as the states in the international system are sovereign and independent in their actions.

However, the international organization can play vital role in the implications of the moral values and ethics of war by developing some legal framework for the conduct of war and by effective punitive actions against the bearers of the guilt of the war crimes. Although some legal framework has been developed in this regard like the International Humanitarian Law, but it needs to be more effective. The only way to make such legislative frameworks more effective is to develop some sort of hierarchy in the international system by making some international institutions (like the UN, particularly the Security Council and the ICJ) more authoritative in relation to the states for the purpose of establishment of global peace. 


War is one of the most complex components of the universal phenomena, which is directly associated with the creation and nature of universe. So is its relation with the human beings, i.e. war is an underlying component of human nature and therefore, is inevitable. However, attempts should be made to avoid wars or at least take into consideration the ethical and moral values while waging wars. This article, arguing war as all-pervasive phenomenon of universe, just gives a generic vision of the concept of war as a component of human nature, yet it suggests the subjectivity of the subject matter and lends itself for further ontological and epistemological considerations. However, I end with the argument that war can be totally abolished only if the whole universe and all the objects are obliterated. Thus, if we may be hypothetically able to see the absolute end, we may find “absolute peace” in the end of everything.

…and thus, almost in the endwill be “peace”.

Mohsin Azhar Shah is a lecturer at Lahore School of Aviation, the University of Lahore, Lahore, Pakistan.

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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