War is a complex issue and philosophical discussion of it often leads to considerations of metaphysical issues, the philosophy of mind and human nature as well as more traditional areas of moral and political philosophy. The philosophy of war embodies many overlapping debates and discussions that are inevitably connected, making a philosophical statement on the topic difficult to make in a short space. This article attempts to establish a broad vision of the landscape that the philosophy of war offers and a means of navigating the connections that are endemic to such an analysis.
One important premise about war is that it is an activity that is primarily destructive, causing death and suffering on a massive scale. The philosophy of war therefore concerns itself largely with understanding and limiting this destruction as much as possible. This can be done through an analysis of the rules governing warfare, the reasons for war, the nature and causes of conflict behavior, and a general analysis of the way that humans behave in wars.
The most basic cause of war is the fact that humans are naturally competitive. They are also instinctively aware that their own survival is tied to the survival of their families and their communities. In addition, humans have a desire to be recognized and rewarded for their achievements. This is why military awards, a key form of recognition, are so highly valued in societies.
These factors combined lead to situations where a dominant power feels threatened by a rising power. This situation creates a ‘commitment problem’ in which a declining power cannot trust the rising power to give up its advantage, so it is better to pay the cost of war now than to gamble on an unreliable peace deal in the future.
War often involves bombing populations centers, with tens of thousands of civilians killed in such attacks during World War II and again in recent years. Moreover, the effects of war are long-term and include fear and insecurity, damaged infrastructure and disrupted economies. In addition, those who are injured by the violence of war or its consequences suffer from a range of psychological problems including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.
Wars have a profound effect on the environment as they use up a country’s natural resources in the pursuit of their goals. This can result in deforestation, pollution and loss of biodiversity. Such environmental damage is especially harmful for poor countries that rely on the environment for food, medicine and materials for shelter and homes. Moreover, in the aftermath of a war the economic development of a nation can be hindered as a result of destroyed infrastructure and reduced international trade. These factors can lead to long-term health problems such as malnutrition, disability and a reduction in human capital. This is why a large percentage of deaths from any war are not caused by fighting on the battlefield but rather by disease, poverty and malnutrition that follow the end of the conflict.