Understanding War


If we wish to understand war, we must not think of it as a primitive urge or an inevitability. Instead, we must consider it the unusual and errant breakdown of incredibly powerful incentives for peace. The basic reason for war is that groups of people have different interests, values and needs. In most cases, they can resolve these differences peacefully if all parties make concessions. But if any party is unwilling to make concessions, it can lead to conflict and, eventually, war. For example, if one country feels threatened by another, its leaders might decide to fight to protect their own populations from the other nation. If both countries believe that the threat is real, it can quickly escalate into a full-scale war.

The causes of war are not necessarily biological, but rather a conflation of long-term anthropological and psychological characteristics with specific societal and cultural situations. Bellicosity — the desire to fight for or against something — is an innate human characteristic, but it needs to be channelled and directed through policies that accept differing interests and values. The desire to fight is not enough, however, because it does not imply an understanding that the conflict is legitimate.

To avoid the tragedy of death and destruction, it is necessary to understand how war works. In fact, it is useful to think of War as an art form that requires the application of a special skill and intelligence. Civilised nations do not put their prisoners to death or destroy towns and cities, because they have learnt more effectual means of applying force than those rude acts of mere instinct. The invention of gunpowder and the constant progress of improvements in firearms are sufficient proofs of this.

Despite the many attempts to prevent war, we are still living in an age of armed conflict. As a result, there are currently around 70 million people displaced by conflict, and their vulnerability to disease is particularly acute. For example, they are at high risk of infectious diseases such as hepatitis B and tuberculosis.

When a state has to resort to war, it must mobilise its movable forces, and it must be able to co-operate with other States in order to bring them into operation. The movable forces of a country, however, cannot all be brought into action at once; they have to take into account rivers, mountains, fortresses and people. They must also factor in the climate, which is always a variable and unpredictable element.

All these factors contribute to a very complicated and unpredictable process, which makes it difficult to reduce the incidence of war. It is therefore important that we continue to develop new instruments to prevent conflict and to provide aid to those displaced by war, so that we can ensure that the tragedy of war is not repeated. By doing so, we can ensure that all individuals have access to the opportunities and necessities for a good life.