Courtesy Reuters

Does War Have a Future?

Ever since there have been organized societies-whether tribes, city-states, nation-states or empires-there has been war among them. Indeed, the conduct of war, if only for defense, was what brought such societies into existence to begin with, and until recently it has remained one of their principal functions. Until our own times, therefore, such societies have felt no compunctions in principle about the open resort, with due formality, to organized physical violence against one another. Now, however, as the twentieth century approaches its last quarter, a combination of developments raises questions about the future of this traditional activity, not excluding the question of whether it has any future at all.

War is merely the most extreme among the several means by which conflict among organized societies has traditionally been conducted. Other means are diplomatic negotiation and maneuver, economic manipulation, and the contingent threat of military violence as distinct from its actual practice. There have always been accepted rules of behavior supposed to govern the use of these means. The general acceptance of these rules, in its degree, has invested them with the authority of legitimacy in men's minds, branding with the stigma of illegitimacy whatever behavior transgresses them. A society which is seen to transgress them suffers in its reputation, thereby weakening the allegiance of its friends and arousing hostility against itself. It follows that any general course of action in violation of legitimacy, persisted in, can lead to ultimate disaster; for even the most powerful nation depends in large measure on the goodwill or, at least, the acquiescence of others for the realization of its objectives.

What represents legitimacy, however, changes from generation to generation, and nations have found to their cost that behavior which had traditionally been accepted was so no longer. It is in these terms, among others, that we must think about the future of war.

A government, in choosing the means it will use in any particular situation, has to weigh both political feasibility and political cost.

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