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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

14 - The Changing Character of Warfare

from 2 - The Traditional Agenda



The discipline of International Relations owes its origins to the study of war and peace. But do the wars of the early twenty-first century differ so fundamentally from their predecessors that they need to be considered in quite different ways? This chapter provides a barometer on the character of warfare and its implications for contemporary international relations. It begins with some comments on the diverse ends and means of warfare before considering five leading issues: the role of violence in warfare; the extent to which that violence is organised; the political nature of war; the interactive nature of warfare; and the scope and scale of war. The overall argument presented here is that while war today may look rather different to wars of earlier periods, much of its essential nature has remained intact. This should make us a bit sceptical about claims that the role of war in international relations has somehow been revolutionised.

The diversity of warfare

Students of International Relations need little reminding that they are traversing a discipline whose leading concepts are hotly contested. But we might be excused for supposing that the meaning and character of something as concrete as war would be an open and shut case. As this author has indicated elsewhere (Ayson 2006: 10–24) the field which looks at the place of war in international politics – strategic studies – often avoids endless debates about meaning and terminology, let alone theory.

Further reading
Clausewitz, Carl 1989 On warPrincetonPrinceton University Press
Freedman, Lawrence 1998 The revolution in strategic affairsOxfordOxford University Press
Kaldor, Mary 1999 New and old wars: organised violence in a global eraStanfordStanford University Press