Defining War and Aggression

Handout for "What is War?" lesson.
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Updated on: March 17, 2003

Defining War and Aggression

War-making by one state or insurgent group against another state or insurgent group (1)
It is the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence of another state including:

  1. Invasion or attack by armed forces
  2. Or use of any other weapons
  3. Blockade of ports or coasts
  4. Attack on air forces or naval fleets (2)
Anthropologists warn us not to confuse the behavior of individuals with the behavior of nation-states. State-sponsored aggression or war-making requires more than the potential inclination to fight that may characterize individual human beings. Among other things, war-making requires "a great deal of stimulation of martial ardour playing on vanity, fear of contempt, family attachment, group affiliation and loyalty, and so on." (1)

  • Violent conflict between organized groups (3)
  • The conditions which permit two or more hostile groups to carry on a conflict by armed force (4)
  • A struggle for control of government within a governed society (2)
  • A clash between major interests that is resolved by bloodshed (5)
  • The continuation of politics by other means (5)
  • Embraces more than politics: it is the expression of culture, in some societies the culture itself (8)
  • "Low-intensity conflicts" (insurgencies, organized terrorism, paramilitary crime, sabotage, and other forms of violence in a shadow area between peace and war) (6)
  • Limited wars (wars involving one of the superpowers and a third party that is contained within a well-defined area (wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Korea) (7)
  • Regional wars (fought within or along the boundaries of contending states) (7)
  • Civil wars (struggle for power within a state) (7)
  • Wars of self-determination or national independence movements (7)
  • Total wars mobilisation of troops and use of all available weapons and technology to defeat the enemy) (7)
What do you think?

  1. Andreski, Origins of War
  2. United Nations
  3. Glossup, Confronting War
  4. Wright, A Study of War
  5. von Clausewitz, On War
  6. Kissinger, Discriminate Deterrence
  7. Nye, Hawks, Owls, and Doves
  8. Keegan, A History of Warfare

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