2007 Threat #04 Inter-State Conflict Forecast

PDF:  04 Inter-State Conflict

THREAT:  Inter-State Conflict

War is not an independent phenomenon, but the continuation of politics by different means.  – Vom Kriege (1832), General Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831)

Although the US has not declared war since the World War II, it has been involved in several dozen war-like circumstances occasioning the death of soldiers and others. These range from the UN Police Action in Korea (1950+), to Military Assistance in Vietnam (1961–72), to All Necessary Means under UN Security Council Resolution 678 (UNSCR 678) in Iraq (1991), to the present Iraq liberation (2003+) based in UNSCR 687, the cease-fire conditions for the 1991 action.

Because very few profit from war, it is often bad press to start one. This may explain the few wars but very many police actions, military operations, pre-emptive strikes and responses to something the enemy did. Also – to use scurrilous logic — if war is not declared it can not be lost, there can be no war crimes, no blame for starting a war (which is against international law), no obligation to obey rules of war, or rules for treatment of combatants, or rules for the protection of Cultural Property under the Hague Convention (1899). Not calling a war “war” also circumvents constitutional and legal constraints on Declaration of War. In the US, only Congress has power to “declare War”. Whether this means Congress alone has power to approve war-like actions has not been tested in the Supreme Court.

Clausewitz says war is a complex interplay of a three elements – the goals of government, the sentiments of the population, and the intrinsic uncertainty of warfare itself. A war may start with popular support and then lose it; government imperatives may change during the war, an unbeatable army may be defeated by a trick, or the weather, or by the enemy general. This trinity of war – Government, Population, Military – seems to work well for any of the euphemisms for war and for other actions counter-posed to war such as civil war and insurgency where two or more political wills, populations, and armed groups are in conflict. But war is not going to get any easier. In future there may be fewer howitzers but a grinding globalised antipathy lasting decades, routine sabotage of home and foreign assets and infrastructure, and the occasional devastating 9/11 type of incident – the sort of continuing social unease that renders fielded forces, and some of Clausewitz, useless.

The euphemism of politics has largely done away with War – we may now be in for a century or two of something worse.


Iraq (and Somalia) remind us there is also politics and a population on the other side. A military may be defeated but is rarely possible to defeat a population. Recent events prove that war is foolish without clear, achievable goals, a supportive population, and a military up to that specific task.  One of the prime causes of War are previous wars. War whether won or lost is a bell that can’t be unrung, a 12 month war can bring 12 generations of enmity. As General Colin Powell said “If you break it: you own it.”


Wars go very wrong through failure to appreciate the full cultural, political and military picture. It is even more crucial to understand this if today’s wars are grinding cultural antipathy with little to shoot at – an eternal urban insurgency.  Effective and flexible military prowess will be as important as ever but more important will be broad-based global monitoring, political and cultural analysis, and scenario development – all of a quality not yet seen. But this quality Peace-keeping will still be cheaper than war.


As Clausewitz says, war is not an independent phenomenon. In war-time the generals take control of all the khaki bits, but a society that is not mobilized for peace will need to fight unnecessary wars.  All nations will need to marshal their best resources (largely knowledge-based) for success in both peace and war. In comprehending and managing the threats to peace – Poverty, Civil War, Water Wars, … — all military and civil intelligence must be harnessed toward the national and global good.