In this appendix I will consider a view about the obsolescence of war, according to which states become so well-armed that they are too terrified to fight, and this may seem to be a reason in favour of WR. This position, as we might expect, is informed by the development of nuclear weapons. However, there are other considerations that are important here as well, including ideas of total war in the conventional (i.e. non-nuclear) sense, which I will also address in this section. These all represent challenges to Clausewitz’ view that war is the continuation of policy by other means if this is taken to be a complete account of all actual and possible war. What I think they do show is that there are different concepts of war, some of which have been instantiated in practice, and some, like general nuclear war, that are so far only possibilities, and not all conform to the Clausewitz dictum. We know that in the nuclear age, the period since 1945, there have been many wars and that some of these have been fought by nuclear-armed states. In fact the majority of nuclear armed states – US, USSR, Britain, France, India and Israel – have fought wars, though not against one another.36 Chinese troops have fought against US and British forces in Korea, but China did not have nuclear weapons at the time. With the (possible) exception of the (short) Arab-Israeli wars, none of these wars were ‘total’ wars from the perspective of the nuclear-armed state.
A number of writers have said that nuclear war could not be in the interest of anyone and hence could not be ‘policy carried on by other means’. Even a limited nuclear war, with only a few weapons being used, would cause unprecedented casualties – the two tiny, by modern standards, atomic bombs used on Japan killed hundreds of thousands of people and utterly destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One single modern ICBM, with its payload of up to 14 warheads, could kill many millions. A fairly small number of such weapons therefore have the capacity to kill the majority of citizens of a country almost immediately and leave the survivors with few resources on which to live. A state that was the victim of such an attack would have most of its population killed and its territory rendered uninhabitable, and thus the state itself would cease to exist. It is unclear what could be gained by this, save for the elimination of an enemy that would seek to do the same – there is no other political gain that could be achieved by eliminating another state. The effects of nuclear weapons made it difficult, as we saw in Chap. 5, to enunciate any credible nuclear doctrine about when the weapons would be used, except as a deterrent. In which case, as sensible observers pointed out, would it not be better to get rid of them and hence ensure that they were not used by accident? Unfortunately, two side-benefits were claimed in the debate about nuclear weapons: that not only would nuclear armed states not fight each other with nuclear weapons, they would also not fight each other with conventional weapons – nuclear weapons would keep the peace – and also that nuclear armed states could extend their deterrence protection over non-nuclear armed states. Much discussion of these issues took place in the Cold War era.
With some of these ideas in mind, Waltz argued that it may be better for more states to be nuclear armed, an alarming claim that went against efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons (so-called horizontal proliferation), but one that seems to sit well with the realist outlook. Waltz’ argument was simply that states possessing nuclear weapons would be very reluctant to fight – for the reasons given above – and hence the more states that had them, the more states that would refrain from waging war. I quote the following from his article, where he says that he reaches his “unusual conclusion” for six reasons (I cite two of these six):
First, international politics is a self-help system… Fifth, nuclear weapons can be used for defence as well as for deterrence. Some have argued that an apparently impregnable nuclear defence can be mounted. The Maginot Line has given defence a bad name. It nevertheless remains true that the incidence of wars decreases as the perceived difficulty of winning them increases. No one attacks a defence believed to be impregnable. Nuclear weapons may make it possible to approach the defensive ideal. If so, the spread of nuclear weapons will further help to maintain peace. (Waltz 1981: 30)
The first reason is a statement the basic tenet of realism that states have to look out for themselves. The fifth reason speculates that nuclear weapons are the ultimate defensive weapon, turning upside down the usual view that they are the ultimate offensive weapon.37 Waltz’ view represents an apotheosis of realism, in which states are to ensure their security be acquiring the means to annihilate any potential enemy, and the states system is left in a multi-sided balance of terror – states would not merely present as pit-bulls, but as super-duper nuclear-armed Armageddon-style pit bulls.38
The problem with this proposal, and with others that advocate any increase in nuclear weapons, is the price to pay if anything goes wrong. It is obvious that the more nuclear weapons there are and the more states that have them, the higher the likelihood of accidental or deliberate use. There is here, as there often is with discussions of nuclear weaponry, an air of paradox: Waltz proposes to make the world safer in the nuclear age by having more states acquire the means for nuclear annihilation, but surely by any normal calculation the more nuclear weapons there are, the less safe we will be. This apparent paradox is due to the tension between what appears rational from the perspective of an individual state and from the point of view of the system as a whole. If no one had nuclear weapons, then there could be no nuclear war and everyone, the system as a whole, would well be better off in the sense that no nuclear Armageddon was possible. But once some states have nuclear weapons, then others (might) feel threatened – as indeed they probably should if realism is right – and so want to have them for themselves. The original nuclear weapons states may then feel correspondingly less secure and so decide to get more and better weapons, and so on and on. This is the security dilemma again, in which moves intended to enhance the security of one state provoke a response from other states, which raises the quantity and quality of armaments, and so makes everyone less secure, and provokes another round of the arms race. But the fact that international politics is a self-help system does not mean that states never co-operate – they do so when it is in their self-interest. And there has been much co-operation in preventing nuclear proliferation, with many states that could easily develop such weapons refraining from doing so because, contra Waltz, they do not think that more would be better.
I said above that the advent of nuclear weapons calls into question Clausewitz’ view if this is taken to be a description of all war, because nuclear war could not fulfil any political aim short of annihilating a rival, which in turn is not a continuation of states’ dealings with one another by ‘different means’ and forcing the opponent to submit. This ‘transcendence of war’, as far as war using nuclear weapons is concerned, is a consequence of the existence of these weapons. We should note that there are concepts of total war which have also been proposed in opposition of Clausewitz, but for a different reasons. There are in fact two senses of “total war” in the literature, and they are related. Total war normally refers to a war in which at least one side tries to maximise the use of its resources, human, economic, etc., to the prosecution of the conflict. Total wars have only become possible with the ability of states to centralise administration and organise and mobilise society and the economy. Total war was thus not possible before the middle of nineteenth century, hence after Clausewitz time. One issue here is the scope of non-combatant immunity in total war. For instance, if munitions or armaments workers live in an area surrounding an arms or munitions factory, as Alfred Krupp’s workers did, are they, as well as the factory, legitimate targets for enemy bombers? Various positions have been taken on this question, but they are not directly relevant to our present concern.
Another idea about total war expressed by one of the German commanders of WW1, Erich Ludendorf mentioned in the main text above, about the second sense of the term, suggests that there are really no non-combatants in modern war. Ludendorf believed that Clausewitz was out-dated – his theories should be “thrown overboard” (Ludendorff 1936: 24) – because he underestimated the way in which a state could fight. Ludendorff speaks of the nation, not merely the state, being engaged in a life and death struggle when it fights a modern war – obviously, his experiences in WW1 informed his views. One reason it is worth referring to Ludendorff here is that he was a Nazi sympathiser, an associate of Hitler’s in the 1920s, and perhaps it is no coincidence that plans and directives for the war on the Eastern Front in WW2 contained echoes of his ideas on total war.39 The American Civil War, from the South’s point of view at any rate, and WW2, certainly from the perspective of the Soviet Union, Japan and Germany, were total wars in Ludendorf’s sense. With these experiences in mind, it looks as if total war will, in practice, be a struggle for survival. If a state is willing to put all of its resources into fighting a war and it loses, then it appears to follow that it has lost all of its resources, used up in the fighting, and hence as these begin to run out, the conflict does become a struggle for survival. This was the experience of Germany in both world wars, although it had the good sense to choose to surrender in WW1. States that lose total wars do not survive. The South did not survive the American Civil War, the German Empire did not survive WW1, the Third Reich did not survive WW2, and so forth. The people and the land did survive in these cases, and form new political organisations and so new states. There is some similarity here with the idea of nuclear war. With nuclear war it is guaranteed that states will not survive and neither will the majority of the people, and hence nuclear war is total war where many do not survive, and as such is again a kind of limiting case.40
According to Clausewitz’ notion, even general or absolute war is more limited than this. And with its vital interest in security, it is not rational for a state to risk its survival for any political objective, though Clausewitz acknowledges that wars can be fought for the survival of the state. He was aware that weaponry would improve and wars become more deadly, but he could not have anticipated the advent of nuclear weapons. Moreover, Ludendorf’s idea of total war is clearly at odds with Clausewitz, at least in the sense that the latter thought that wars should always be in accordance with the political process. In the three examples just mentioned, the loser started the war, by making the first move. Those who start wars do not do so thinking that they will become enmeshed in a total war that they will eventually lose, though Germany started both world wars because it thought it had a better chance of winning if it decided when to start wars that it thought it had to fight. However, some states fight total wars and win when its enemy does not commit all of its resources to the war, and hence when their enemy does not engage in total war. The Vietnam War from the North’s point of view was such a war. The North fought with all it had, and the South and its US ally eventually gave up – one might say that the policy conducted by the US ‘by other means’ was in the end not worth pursuing. What this example makes clear is that states fighting total wars really have no choice, for if they give up, they will cease to exist. Had the South and the US prevailed in the Vietnam War, the communist North Vietnam would not have been allowed to continue. We can conclude that Clausewitz’ view of war is not outdated in the modern era – it should not be thrown overboard – with the advent of nuclear weapons or with the ability of states to mobilise all their resources to fight.41 It is rather than in our thinking about wars and the states system we need to supplement this view with (at least) two other concepts.