War between major powers is obsolete. Discuss.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, in the wake of the relatively peaceful end to the Cold War, the threat of major war that once loomed over humanity began waning. We have seen an unexpected period of peace in the developed world as conflict between major powers of the international system has now been absent for more than half a century. Notable shifts in political, social, and technological trends surrounding warfare in developed countries leave scholars to claim that war between major powers is, indeed, obsolete. It must be clearly stated that war between major powers is obsolete, but it is not impossible. War itself “has not been abolished”, but it is “increasingly unlikely” that we will again see a major war— “a war fought by the most powerful members of the international system, drawing on all of their resources and using every weapon at their command, over a period of years, leading to an outcome with revolutionary geopolitical consequences including the birth and death of regimes, the redrawing of borders and the reordering of the hierarchy of sovereign states”—because war “no longer serves the purpose for which it was designed.”1 In this paper I will explain the obsolescence of war by focusing on changes in perspective regarding economic gains and power, the development of international norms and institutions, the spread of democracy, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. However, because major war is not impossible, I will take the time to discuss two countries where the trends of “warlessness have made less headway than in Japan, the US and Western Europe”—those being China and Russia, but I will focus more on the Russia’s current situation.2 For the purpose of this paper, it is important to specify that based on economic and military supremacy, the most powerful members of the international system currently include the United States, China, Russia, Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and India. Five of these eight members (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and India) possess large nuclear arsenals. 3 Despite the potentiality of war, we have seen peace between these powers for more than half a century. However, small war between less powerful members of the international system continue to take place. One reason for major powers deterring from war is due to its high costs and low gains. According to Carl Kaysen, for most of history, the potential gains from war far outweighed the costs because of the way in which societies were organized.4 Early agricultural societies were organized around landholding – that is to say that economic and political power went hand in hand with the amount of land one accumulated. Therefore, war fought to control land resulted in increased power for the landholder. The costs were minimal due to simple weaponry and the gains were high. Moreover, it would be the landholders themselves engaging in battle, so there was a direct connection between those who would be burdened by the costs and those who would benefit from war. Ultimately, it would seem that “economic motives…seem to have become decreasingly significant as motivations for war over the last centuries”5 due to trade and economic interdependence, the state’s new role as a market state, and the declining importance of territory for a state’s economy.6 “Major war in the twentieth century is more costly – that is, more destructive – than previous wars of any kind.”7 (This analysis still applies in the twenty-first century). War can result in a high death toll: The First World War had a death toll of approximately 17 million individuals, military and civilian. The Second World War accumulated a death toll of approximately 50 million. Apart from the death toll, the destruction of infrastructure and tangible capital stocks led to high costs. These wars were more costly than any before because the instruments of war were more...
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