From the Archives: The State of War (Originally posted on July 3, 2007)

Semi-academic essay arguing for criminalizing international terrorism and constructing institutions to fight it as a crime vice using military force against states.  Basically a recount of the literature on the changing nature of war between States and the rise of non-state actors as managers of violence across borders.

Should probably update in light of Russia’s recent seizure of the Crimea from the Ukraine.  “Protecting our tribal cousins in other States” is certainly an excuse for invasion that once had traction – and that Finnemore argues no longer holds.  Here it did.


The State of War

The capture of 15 British sailors by Iranian naval forces on Friday brings to mind an interesting puzzle for international relations theorists: why has war between states become less common, even as fighting among groups within states more so? Several possible answers spring to mind, including the increasing cost of war between states as military power becomes more destructive, the growing interdependence between states as globalization proceeds apace, and the desire by intrastate groups to achieve the sovereignty required to be the masters of their own affairs.

Until the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003, it seemed that states had begun to agree on sovereignty principles that would “lock in” frontiers and create enormous stigma against changing them. States had, before World War II, accepted war in the name of territorial acquisition, dispute resolution, or punitive action. By the end of the Cold War they supported military action across state borders to stop genocide (Bosnia), protect humanitarian projects (Somalia), or to stop aggressive states (Iraq 1991), though even this principle was unevenly applied. It looks like one effect of the Bush Doctrine has been to reopen the sovereignty norm to conquering states, and by extension force states to become more defensive of their frontiers. If this is so, it makes the world a more dangerous place.

The literature on sovereignty is extensive—the rules establishing the nature of the state, how they form, live, and die, and systemic interactions among them call for intensive study of their origin, application, and legitimacy. Research into the application of sovereignty has blossomed with the idea that globalization has somehow diluted the power of the state by limiting state action and empowering new actors such as international organizations, advocacy groups, and corporations. In the last few years, scholars have published several books on the changing nature of sovereignty and the impact of these changes on the use of violence among international actors. Continue reading