So you think war can be eliminated?

You might be one of those libertarians, or you belong to some other creed, who think war can be eliminated. For example through international trade, the better use of our ratio, or more influence for regular people on foreign policy decisions. In my own work I have tried to make clear all of these claims are false, and many related ones as well. This is all in the writings of Hume, Smith, Hayek or Rand. The base line is that in human nature reason cannot overcome the emotions, at least, not with all people, at all times. This means that conflict is one of the perpetual characteristics of human action, both in domestic and international settings.

In the unlikely case you do not want to take my word for it, read this book. Coker is a professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, specializing in the study of war. In this short but powerful book, he clearly sets out the different reasons why war will not be eliminated, providing evolutionary, cultural, technological, geopolitical and a number of other reasons. Buy it, and your world view and view of human nature will be even more aligned to the great classical liberals.

11 thoughts on “So you think war can be eliminated?

  1. I wonder who is asserting the utopian ideal that war can be eliminated. So what if it can’t? Apparently measles can’t be eliminated but the threat of measles is all but gone, notwithstanding recent minor incidents. The important question about war is not the utopian question posed here but whether the incentives for war and the likelihood of war can be substantially reduced by increased international trade. Of that I have no doubt.

    The same kind of argument applies to the claim that “reason can never overcome emotion.” Really? Never is a long time, as my grandmother used to say. The more important question here is whether through education rationality can play an increasing role in human affairs, to which I say yes.

  2. Read the book and you will see that it is not that simple. By the way: many libertarians claim enduring peace is possible. I take issue with that, it is simplistic.

  3. What are your thoughts on eliminating all out war?

    I agree with you that war/violence is a human constant and I do not know of anyone who argues that war can be eliminated.

    Do you think it is possible to eliminate the use of nuclear weapons and such though? I am much more optimistic about this possibility as no one has yet used weapons of such magnitude since their introduction in WW2. It seems as if the cost of using nuclear weapons far outweighs the potential benefits of any foreseeable conflict short of a war of self preservation.

    Unfortunately it seems ‘lesser’ weapons of mass destruction such as chemical weapons can and are used frequently.

  4. If you define peace as a situation without war, there are numerous people who argue that is possible to eliminate war. Look at thank tanks such as Mises Institute,,, Cato or the Independent Institute for example, or read Rothbard, Hoppe, Cobden, many of the leftwing ‘liberals’ etcetera. This is really a more serious issue I contend.

    It will be very hard to eliminate a particular kind of weapon or technology, or for that matter the use of any technology in (international) conflict. Cyber-war is just around the corner, robots are already used at the battlefields, and so forth. Sure nobody actually used nuclear weapons on such grand scale, and that might indeed have something to do with the costs. But as those weapons spread, who will tell what happens. No guarantees, I am afraid

  5. My goal is not the complete elimination of all conflict. But can we at least stop subsidizing it? Throwing hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, or even trillions, into war-making, does not reduce conflict.

  6. sure you can (if you convince enough others). This also does not say anything about the wars that are being fought, so I am not defending or rejecting particular interventions, or the lack thereof.

  7. Thinking about war in a purely economic sense is too simplistic. Even if the economic factors favor peace over war, men will still initiate wars, because killing other men is such a cathartic and wonderful experience. And if not the killing, then the feeling of camraderie with one’s brothers, the mutual goal, the feeling of importance and belonging. If one examines the reasons men go to war, and by this I mean the people who actually fight, most of them are emotional, intuitive, or animalistic reasons: brotherhood, patriotism, bloodlust, money, or all of the above.

    In short, war fulfills a certain need in the psyche of a man that is beyond economic concerns. The great epics of poetry such as the Iliad, the Aeneid, Beowulf, or Orlando Furioso speak to this. Modern memoirs like I’m Stahlgewittern as well. Until the need for struggle and killing leaves a man’s psyche, war will continue to exist.

    As for making war less bad, that is certainly a possibility. Economic concerns play a role, I would assume. There has not been a large scale land war between the imperial powers for decades, and small scale skirmishes seem to be the norm of modern warfare. I am not well-versed in the history of this shift to comment on its causes, but at the very least, I can tentatively conclude that what is still called “conventional warfare” is now obsolete – which may or may not be a good thing.

  8. I like this post. I like it a lot. I don’t think you can drive home the point, often enough, about war being inevitable. To answer Warren‘s and Michelangelo‘s question (“does anyone actually think war can be eliminated?”): ‘yes’ and they are mostly located on either the fringes of the libertarian movement or on the Left (where they occupy a much more prominent place).

    Thus the necessity of people like Dr van de Haar to our way of life; pointing out the uncomfortably obvious and naming names!

    Dr Gibson’s thoughts deserve better treatment than they received at Edwin’s hands:

    Apparently measles can’t be eliminated but the threat of measles is all but gone, notwithstanding recent minor incidents. The important question about war is not the utopian question posed here but whether the incentives for war and the likelihood of war can be substantially reduced by increased international trade. Of that I have no doubt.

    Exactly. Just because war is inevitable does not mean it is desirable or should be sought-after or that resources should not be devoted to avoiding violence. (Remember Dr van de Haar’s “clear set of goals” for bombing ISIS/ISIL?) On the issue of trade leading to peace, or even contributing to peace, I have to issue a note of caution: There is no substantive evidence proving conclusively that trade leads to peace. In fact Edwin made this argument in a recent blog post about how increased trade between the EU and Russia has been used as a weapon by the latter party (I would argue by the former, too).

    I linked to an article revisiting the pax mercatoria before, but here is the pdf again. It’s short, sweet, scholarly, and written by an MIT PhD candidate (PR Goldstone). Basically, trade doesn’t lead to peace. This doesn’t mean that trade should be avoided or not pursued (because it still makes everybody better off), but only that policymakers and statesmen need to be aware of its strengths and limitations when pax mercatoria confronts a world that is made up of factions rather than scholars.

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