the day the IRA formally renounced the use of violence, Gerry Adams
asserted there was "a time for war and a time for negotiation."
The research reported on in this essay seeks to understand more
about the judgment that there is "the time for war" in
the belief that only such understanding will enable us to more effectively
constrain the use of warfare.
sought to discover the patterns and trends involved in the1000 incidents
of the use of warfare which occurred from 1400 to 2000. I find the
results from the investigation very disturbing, but I believe they
represent reality quite well and therefore cannot be readily put
aside, despite their distasteful nature.
back worldwide warfare occurred at a constant rate (1.3 new wars
per year) from the middle ages until the end of the 18th century.
With the advent of the industrial revolution new war starts doubled
to 2.6 per year. In the early years of globalization warfare has
gone up by another third to 3.5 new war starts per year. Clearly
we are not succeeding in reducing the frequency of the use of warfare.
Our base of understanding must be improved.
data used represent an exhaustive listing of warfare incidents in
the literate world. The fundamental data patterns supporting this
essay are contained in the tables at the end of the presentation.
My volume of collected papers on "Knowing the Roots of War"
provides good detail and is available to anyone interested.
most profound pattern found in warfare is that of the extreme stability
in frequency of conducting warfare by major cultural groups. For
six hundred years, corrected for technology change, the world community
has started a fixed number of wars per year. In those years the
West and Islam have fought a fixed number of wars per year. For
six hundred years the West and Islam have held fixed shares of all
wars and held constant the shares of wars against each other. Asians
have fought a fixed number of wars per year, but within a different
context. Tables 1-5 give the exact numbers behind these assertions.
numerical citation here in the text is perhaps useful to indicate
the degree of regularity. Using 33 year intervals and starting in
1400 the new war starts world wide were 44, 45, 45, 43, 46, 38,
49, 50, 39, 36, 40, 50. This list covers the years until 1800. In
the 19th Century war starts doubled to 80, 92, 87. Prior to 1800
an average 44 wars were started during each third of a century.
Excluding the war fatigue slowdown following the religious wars
the max downward variation was 12 % and the max upward deviation
was 11 %. Considering the level of technological and political changes
that took place over these four hundred years this is a remarkable
stability of pattern.
technology effect referred to earlier comes from the steam power
and industrial revolutions at the start of the 19th century. Increased
industrial and financial capacity made it possible to support more
warfare and the increased transport and communications capacity
increased the interactions points and conflict of interests levels.
As noted as this happened the fixed number wars per year doubled.
other stability, fixed participation rates, carried across this
divide from pre-modern to modern. Although the number of wars doubled
at the start of the modern era, the share of wars participated in,
both separately and against one another, by the West and Islam remained
unchanged. (See Tables 4 & 5)
the full six hundred year period the West and Islam together participated
in 86% of all incidents of warfare. Thus, in terms of the total
human experience of warfare since the end of the 14th Century it
is Islam and the West that establish the institution.
there is long-term stability, there are three periods, each about
a generation in length, in which the fixed level of warfare was
reduced somewhat. The three periods are 1) The years following the
religious wars, 2) the years after WW I and 3) the years after World
War II. Each of these periods demonstrates the war fatigue effect.
After the chaos of the French Revolution warfare in Europe did recede
as would be expected; warfare was exported to other regions of the
world, preventing a fall in overall warfare levels.
a technological window the long-term tendency is for a stable number
of wars to occur. Moreover, the sharing of those wars between major
cultural groups is fixed. Technological change does not change the
mix of participants but does bring the level of warfare to a new
and higher plateau.
within this stability pattern, there are elements for change. To
reduce statistical clutter for the reader primarily concerned with
conclusions I have collapsed the years before 1800 into a single
time period that I term Pre-Modern while the years after 1800 are
treated as a single period termed Modern.
fighting levels are stable, the reasons given for fighting vary
quite sharply between the Pre-Modern and Modern time periods. Five
warfare descriptors which in my view tend to represent the interests
of kings had an average occurrence in warfare of 31 percent Pre-Modern,
falling to 19 percent in Modern times. Another six descriptors which
tend to represent in my view the interests of people rose from an
average 14 percent to 28 percent. Winston Churchill referred to
this evolutionary effect in observing early in the last century
that the wars of kings were gone and the more terrible wars
of the people would be the wave of the future. If we look within
the Modern period the trend of shift from kings to people has continued.
The downward trending king's wars indicators fall further to an
average of 15 percent, while the people indicators continue upward
to an average 33 percent.
my belief is that technological change is operating, changing values
and interests and political systems as wealth and health security
changes in reasons for fighting are evolutionary, except for one
category — that of ideology with respect to the proper ordering
of society. This basis for warfare is cyclical in nature in these
data. Traditionally Western and later World history is considered
to have three periods in which revolutions in social thinking were
occurring. First from 1520 to 1650 is the period of religious reformulation,
second from 1776 to 1850 is the period of political reformulation
and most recently from 1913 to 1989 is the period of economic reformulation.
Warfare within these three periods occurs with the same frequency
as for other years, but the prevalence of ideological conflict is
unique to these periods. In aggregate during the 280 years encompassed
by the three revolutionary periods, over a third of wars, 36 %,
involved conflicts over which fundamental ideology was to prevail.
For the 320 years outside the above intervals only 7 percent of
wars involved conflicts over societal ideology.
a single sentence the institution we set out to better comprehend,
warfare, is stable in frequency of occurrence and in participation
rates, is evolutionary in its justifications and is cyclical in
terms of the intensity of conflict over fundamental beliefs about
the nature of a system that will ensure fairness and justice. These
are factual assertions, assertions regarding events that actually
element needs to be added to this mix if we are to more fully comprehend
warfare. Over the past three centuries in 700 incidents of warfare
(excluding civil wars in which I did not feel it possible to determine
success) more than half of the nations and groups initiating the
warfare (firing the first shot) failed to reach their apparent objectives.
An evolutionary element is present here also, with failure rates
growing in the last 50 or so years.
aggressors, failing to achieve success in managing their conflicts
of interests through the use of warfare, after a period of fighting
hostilities recede. After a further time of relative peace, normally
less than a generation, hostilities are resumed in well over half
fights at a constant rate, given time specific capacity. Increased
capacity to execute warfare increases the frequency of warfare.
The political groups established by man participate in a fixed share
and mix of wars. Man changes his rationale for fighting given improved
quality and certainty of life and the nature of his political system.
Periodically man focuses on fights over how to structure society
when fairness seems to have receded too far. And in starting warfare
man usually fails, requiring yet another war. A six-hundred history
is not readily ignored. The above statements while absolutely true
do seem to fail to make a lot of sense.
does man continue to fight when the track record of obtaining desired
results is so poor?
would the rate of fighting, the rate of participation remain constant
while the reasons for fighting change quite sharply?
is there a constant level of warfare — is it that the opportunities
are constrained, or is it that the ability to sustain fighting is
constrained, or is a combination of both?
do wars cease before issues are resolved and are then resumed after
a period of time?
does the West fight twice as often as Islam and fights a fixed but
small percentage of its wars against Islam?
comprehend, I believe, we must first discard the concept that war
is a rational pursuit of group interests as assumed/advocated by
Clausewitz. It simply makes no sense, that I can comprehend, to
attempt to reproduce this historical record out of any theory that
presumes rational pursuit of interests.
Clancy in his novel Debt
of Honor had the National Security Advisor tell the President
Almost every war since the Industrial Revolution was initiated
by the side which ultimately lost. Q.E.D. going to war is not a
can we find irrational elements that could explain such an empirical
record? Perhaps the following list gives some of the bases for warfare
use and misuse.
toward violence, as end, is imprinted on the genetic code —
there are as well other imprintings that work against that of
resort to violence. The tendency toward violence is there and
surfaces when the situation is right.
has become a tradition and can be resorted to as an institution
to manage severe conflicts of interests and beliefs. Warfare
capability is kept ever at the ready
who bow to pressure from other nations and groups are viewed
by their people as weak and inadequate.
it is better to have fought and failed than not to have fought
to mislead the opponent with false information and with secrecy
work against careful consideration of alternatives to warfare.
become part of the social heritage — Ayodhya in North India
for 500 years, the Crusades for nearly a thousand years are
just two of many possible examples.
falling in battle are eulogized.
seeks absolute beliefs that will provide security of existence
despite his mortality. These absolute beliefs are often judged
as worth fighting for.
on financial capacity and limits on psychological willingness
to experience "excessive" warfare place constraints
on its use which presumably account for the upper bounds of
the frequency with which warfare is used.
quality of life and the health security against many terminal
diseases, the needs for security and certainty of life restrain
the genetic leaning toward violence through warfare.
essay sticks with the facts of history. These facts raise many questions
as to the why of warfare. The answers offered above are consistent
with the historical record, but are not proven by it. One answer
that appears to be inescapable is that warfare has been and remains
a part of the human existence and there is little evidence that
we have discovered means for constraining its use. Much remains
to be done.
1: NUMBER OF WARS BY CENTURY
2 NUMBER OF WARS BY THIRTY THREE YEAR INTERVAL
3 TOTAL NUMBER OF WARS/WARS PER YEAR PRE-MODERN/MODERN
4 PERCENT OF WARS BY CULTURAL GROUP BY CENTURY
West vs Islam
Islam vs Islam
5 PERCENT OF WARS BY CULTURAL GROUP, PRE-MODERN/MODERN
West vs Islam
Islam vs Islam
6 DECLINING WAR TYPES, PRE-MODERN/MODERN
7 INCREASING WAR TYPES, PRE-MODERN/MODERN
8 WAR TYPES IN REVOLUTIONARY/NON-REVOLUTIONARY ERAS
to 1650 Pre-Modern
to 1850 Modern
to 1989 Modern
to 1519 Pre-Modern
to 1775 Pre-Modern
to 1912 Modern
Frank Denton [send him mail],
a retired foreign service officer, is the author, most recently,
of Knowing the Roots of War.
article originally appeared on the Green
Institute GP360 web site.