What is a war in international relations

Violence in International Relations

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Definitions
2.1. International Relations
2.2. The concept of war
2.3. Armed conflict
2.4. terrorism

3. The "new wars"

4. Empirical Findings
4.1. Wars and armed conflicts since 1945
4.2. Current wars and armed conflicts
4.3. Summary

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

List of figures

Figure 1: Current wars and conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa.

Figure 2: Current wars and conflicts in Asia.

Figure 3: Current wars and conflicts in the Middle East

Figure 4: Current wars and conflicts in Latin America.

Figure 5: Internal and interstate wars.

Figure 6: Conflicts and wars since 1945.

1 Introduction

Violence and thus disputes between different conflicting parties has always existed. The Second World War can certainly be seen as the peak of these violent conflicts. Since then, a general change in the global structure of violence has been observed. In addition to the war, new forms and actors of violence have emerged on the international level.

For this reason, in this elaboration, parallel to the mirror-image presentation, I will deal with the change in the structure of violence in international relations just mentioned.

At the latest after the collapse of the bipolar world order, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, an increased development from war to new forms of violence can be observed. Terrorism and the changes it brings about in the international state system are just one example out of many. In science, therefore, the controversial term “new wars” is used more and more frequently, which Herfried Münckler first introduced into the scientific discourse in 2002 in his work of the same name.

First, I will give some definitions of terms that are important for this work in order to create a basic understanding of the terms and relationships used in the course of the work.

In the following, the corresponding change in the concept of war towards the “new wars” is presented and possible reasons for this change are worked out.

The next step is an empirical inventory of the wars and conflicts since 1945. Above all, the previous knowledge about the “new wars” should be compared with the actual developments in the international system and conclusions about the truth of the thesis of the “new wars” to be pulled.

In a final step, I will draw a brief conclusion, which will summarize the essential findings from the investigation of the topic.

2. Definitions

2.1. International Relations

The term “international relations” is based on three different understandings in today's scientific discourse, which is essentially political science.

In the classic sense, the term describes all relationships between sovereign nation-states.[1] This “narrow” term certainly only applies to a small part of the totality of international relations today. As a result of the change in the state system since 1945 and a world that is becoming more and more globalized and networked, a newer understanding of the concept of international relations has emerged today. It describes the web of cross-border, military, political, cultural, economic interactions between state and non-state actors, including international organizations such as the United Nations and supranational organizations such as the European Union. This understanding is also generally referred to as the “further” term.[2]

In addition, international relations also represent a sub-area of ​​political science. Scientists in this field try to develop normative and empirical patterns of action and predictions for the relationships between international actors.[3]

2.2. The concept of war

Up to the present day, no generally applicable definition for the term “war” has emerged. Because of their distribution around the world, the causes, forms of violence and actors are often so different that it is not possible to identify uniform parameters for their behavior.

However, the Hamburg Working Group for Research on the Causes of War (AKUF), based on the Hungarian peace scientist Istvan Kende, developed a concept of war that is widely accepted today and was also used in the drafting of international war law. This term describes war as a violent mass conflict with the following characteristics:

1. Two or more armed forces are involved in the fighting, at least one side of which is regular armed forces such as the military, paramilitary groups or government police units.[4]
2. The armed operations occur with a certain continuity and not just as occasional, spontaneous clashes, i.e. both sides operate according to a planned strategy, regardless of whether the fighting takes place in the territory of one or more companies and how long they last.[5]
3. On both sides, there must be a minimum of centrally directed organization of those who wage war and of the struggle, even if this means nothing more than organized armed defense or planned raids such as guerrilla operations, partisan warfare and other forms of violent conflict.[6]

Conflicts that meet these criteria are laid down as such in international law (international law of war) and are thus provided with a wealth of rules that the conflicting parties must adhere to if they do not want to be sanctioned by the international community.

In addition, wars are considered to have ended when the fighting is ceased permanently, i.e. for a period of at least one year, or only continued below the AKUF war definition.[7]

In order to be able to establish a typology of war, the AKUF divided the wars since 1945 into five different types of war:

1. Anti-regime wars:
Wars in which the overthrow of the rulers or the change or preservation of the political system or even the social order are fought.[8]
2. Autonomy and civil wars:
Wars in which there is a struggle for greater regional autonomy within the association of states or for secession by the association of states.[9]
3. Interstate wars:
Wars in which the armed forces of the established governments confront at least two state-constituted territories, regardless of their status under international law.[10]
4. Wars of decolonization:
Wars in which the liberation from colonial rule is fought.[11]
5. Other domestic wars

Wars in which reasons other than the above are responsible for the outbreak of fighting.[12]

2.3. Armed conflict

The term “armed conflict” includes all violent conflicts in which the criteria of the definition of war are not fully met. As a rule, these are cases in which sufficient continuity of the fighting is no longer or not yet given.[13]

2.4. terrorism

Terrorism, which has been ubiquitous since September 11, 2001 at the latest, does not fall under the definition of war. For the simple reason that terrorist violence usually occurs selectively, it is hardly possible to classify it under the concept of war developed by the AKUF. Furthermore, terrorist networks do not necessarily require the support of a country's population and civil infrastructure. This renders an assignment to guerrilla groups obsolete. They just need the support just mentioned. Furthermore, because of its worldwide networking and attribution to individual states, terrorism, unlike war, has slipped into the gray areas of international law and makes its prevention an almost impossible project. However, the governments of individual states that are at war or armed conflict often use terrorist organizations and resources to resolve their conflicts.

3. The "new wars"

In 2008, with a total of 345 conflicts, the highest conflict intensity since 1945 was measured. Of these, however, only seven were interstate wars. The remainder were domestic wars and armed conflicts. Until 1991, most conflicts and wars were characterized by the "bipolar bloc constellation" and went down in history as so-called "proxy wars". They were clearly assigned to the states of the two blocs and were therefore to be classified as interstate wars. Today that number is falling.

The last classic state wars took place between Taiwan and China, Iraq and Iran, and Ethiopia and Eritrea. But there are more and more domestic wars and conflicts. These often cross borders, but cannot be clearly assigned to individual states with their governments and officially authorized armed forces.

Herfried Münckler therefore introduced the term “new wars” into scientific discourse in 2002.

Several factors can be named as the cause of the shift towards domestic wars and conflicts:

1. Distribution injustice between rich and poor
2. Scarcity of resources
3. Climate change à natural disasters
4. Religious and Ethnic Differences
5. pacifism[14]

These factors already existed in the past and they also played a role there, but they are becoming more and more important today due to a world that is becoming more and more globalized and networked.

Even more important, however, is the collapse of the old power structures after the end of the Cold War.

The collapse of the Soviet Union also meant the loss of the previously existing weapons monopoly. A plethora of "cheap" weapons at once were put into circulation and private actors stepped onto the stage that was previously only available to the states of the two competing blocs.[15]

In addition, with the end of the bipolar world, many states lost their monopoly on the use of force in whole or in part. Thus the war was gradually depoliticized and economized. The monopoly of force is increasingly being passed on to private actors such as mercenary groups, criminal gangs and terrorist groups. The war is thus being nationalized and waged more and more for reasons of personal enrichment. So-called “violent entrepreneurs” such as private security companies often take over the warfare for individual states and try to enrich themselves from the conflicts they have waged themselves.[16]

In addition to the new variability of theaters of violence, also caused by terrorism, which states are increasingly using as a means to enforce their interests, warfare is shifting into the gray areas of international law. A clear distinction between combatants and non-combatants is often no longer possible and the nation-states are involved in unconventional processes of warfare between state, sub-state and non-state actors.[17]


[1] See Krell, 2004: 27-28.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See http://www.sozialwiss.uni-hamburg.de/publish/Ipw/Akuf/kriege_aktuell.htm#Def

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] See Münckler, 2005: 13-33.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

End of the reading sample from 16 pages