Wars, all their bad aspects aside, also have surprisingly positive consequences. Many of the good aspects of today’s states, such as social security systems or representative democracy, might never have been established without them. The state system as it is today might never have formed. These relations are more and more neglected.
War-making and state-making are closely connected. According to one of the most convincing theories in the field, war-making has shaped European states’ domestic structure and therewith defined the current state system: Since the middle ages, leaders had to centralize their state apparatus, expand their scope and extract ever more resources from their people, thereby consolidating both their external shape and their internal institutions. In the course of doing so, they increasingly had to cope with the demands of their populations, thus developing things like social security systems and, ultimately, representative institutions. The main motor of this development was competition in the international system, stemming from anarchy (Tilly 1992).
The most important reason why states had incentives to increase their size and centralize their domestic control lies in developments in warfare. First the pikes and bows meant the end of the Knight, thus making the King more reliable on its population for military duty. Then fire-weapons and artilleries gave advantage to the ruler with simply the bigger army, thus giving incentives to rulers to expand and consolidate their state apparatus. Ultimately, the total, industrialised war could only be fought by totalitarian societies.
War is thus closely linked to the development of the European states and the European state system; ultimately, indeed, this applies globally. Today, unfortunately, this topic is more or less neglected and mostly treated by scholars outside the field of International Relations. And it is the field of security studies that advances almost no interesting thoughts on the area. Given the understanding brought forward above, this is remarkable. In the words of John Ruggie (1993: 143):
No epochal thoughts [have] been expressed by any serious specialist [in security studies on sovereignty and modernity], (…) despite the fact that changes in military technology and in the relations of force are widely acknowledged to have been driving factors of political transformation throughout human history.
I heartfully agree with this quote. The opinion that the study of international security is not dependent on knowledge from outside this area is nonsense. International security as it is relevant today is an aspect of the fundamental internal and external organization of political units – thus, it is subject to this organization. As the modes of political interaction and warfare change, so will the field of international security. I think there is much room for creative minds to work on this topic – notably while remaining in a realist or materialist framework.
- Ruggie, John G. 1993. “Territorality and Beyond: Problematizing Modernity in International Relations”, International Organization 47(1): 139-174.
- Tilly, Charles. 1992. Coercion, Capital, and European States AD 990-1992. Cambridge: Blackwell.