Chapter Review: Peace (The War Puzzle)

Chapter: Peace (The War Puzzle)
Author: John A. Vasquez
Review by: Zulkhan Indra Putra

The War Puzzle, by John A. Vasquez, is an informative and encompassing book. Vasquez has delivered an extraordinary scholarly work that presents analytical tools, theoretical understandings, and historical evidences concerning war and peace in the global world order. This book focuses on the issues of attaining and maintaining peace in the international relations. In the second part of the book, in the chapter of “Peace”, he divides it into three sections, first is the nature of peace, second is characteristics of peaceful periods, and lastly the relationship between peace and war. In this chapter, he analyzes as to how to achieve peace in the global world order, where the state of anarchy provides structure that makes war permissible. He provides the reader following questions regarding peace and war in international relations: what is the nature of globalized peace and war? and should the future of peace and war look like the past?
Questioning the reason as to why military actors have found war so attractive that made them prone to it, Vasquez argues that, at the domestic level, government and war have some of the same functions. Thus, if war is viewed as a social invention then government itself is also as a social invention, in exception to party politics or diplomacy. The reason is that government not only establishes interdependences, but also able to break stalemates. Here, war also has the same function through which stalemates could be broken. As Aristotle wrote that, we may have to make war that we may live in peace (Richmond: 2008). And the only difference between government and war is that the latter provides a unilateral solution for the resolution of issues.

Further, Vasquez analyzes that, at the domestic level, not all governments are able to prevent war, rather it is only an effective government that avoids war. So does only an effective global political system that is able to prevent war. A successful global political system would establish interdependent decision making, while war would provide a set of rules that permit political actors to break stalemates by neglecting that interdependence. In addition, peace is the outcome of effective governance and something that is consciously made by human beings. Peace is also not simply the absence of war, but also, as stated by Spinoza, a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, and justice (Richmond: 2008).

The nature of peace, after a war, was the establishment of a peace settlement with the defeated acceding to the position of the victor, which then brought both parties to the establishment of a system, e.g. the global institutional context, for resolving future disputes between them and conducting relations between states. However, here, peace is only to establish a status quo that will be enforced by the dominant balance of powers and to shape the benefit in favor of those who create it. This condition brought to the emergence of a structure of expectations as a balance of power behavior that provides a framework by which state actors understand and perceive each other. This system will result a new major war if there is a new powerful actor that attempts to a hegemonic rule.

However, Vasquez argues that not all peace systems break down in the face of new powerful actors. He, then, provides the historical facts that certain types of peace have been successful in avoiding a repeat of war. This idea is consonant with the idea proposed by Fareed Zakaria in his book “The Post-American World”. Zakaria argues that with the emergence of bipolar duopoly of the Cold War created more stable situation, although with the superpowers overreacting of each other’s every move. Then came the unipolar order reducing the possibility of major wars and lately the rise of the rests that peace would likely be maintained by several major states. (Zakaria: 2008)

In this section, Vasquez also analyzes the state of anarchy in the global political system. It is defined as the absence of hierarchical domestic types of government. He then argues that the characteristic of international system since the sixteen century has been capitalism and not anarchy. However, to see the modern global system as anarchic is to hide the historical fact that capitalist system evolved at a particular period of history. This claim soon divided the community of International Relations scholars: realism versus idealism and liberalism.

Most realist thinkers employ a Hobbesian state of nature, including Waltz, when he starts the assumption like this:
“The State among states, it is often said, conducts its affairs in the brooding shadow of violence. Because some states may at times use force, all states must prepared to do so – or live at the mercy of their militarily more vigorous neighbors. Among states, the state of nature is a state of war” (Waltz: 1979)
Kenneth Waltz enriched the basic premises of realist theory formulated by Morgenthau. He sought to silence the critics, who accused the realist theory of de-emphasizing positive interactions and cooperative gains between states, and overlooking growing interdependence in the international system and the gradual development of international legal norms to govern and regulate interstate relations. Waltz made a serious attempt to modify the traditional realist theory and set it on a firmer scientific basis. Like Morgenthau, he also accepts anarchic conditions as an autonomous causal force in the international system and treats states as the basic units of the system.

On the other hand, the idealists, represented by Kant, Locke, or Bentham adopted a positive view of human nature and international capacity to cooperate, even though they were frequently accused of being utopist and unable to focus on facts. Some idealists saw the League of Nations, and later the UN, attempts at disarmament, and the outlawing of war, as an attempt to attain this peace. Idealist thought offered the possibility of a single peace in which all conflict would end and liberalism, eventually, offered the possibility of linear progress from international institutions and organizations that would lead to the achievement of this peace. Peace in this liberal framework resembling a Kantian “Perpetual Peace”, that commonly named as the liberal peace represented by the UN system. By this view, we can conclude that Vasquez is likely the proponent of the liberal peace.

In the section of characteristics of peaceful periods, Vasquez tells us largely about the historical periods of war and peace. He argues that peace and war is a historically determined process, in which every historical period has its own form of peace and war. To analyze the characteristics of peaceful periods, Vasquez adopts the idea of several political thinkers, such as Peter Wallenstein with his universalist policies, Kegley and Raymond with their idea of rules and norms in the international law, and Vayrynen, in his study of the role of economic cycles and power transitions among major states. Vasquez criticizes the realist notion that all periods are a struggle for power, rather he believes that each period and system has different frequency of wars; moreover, in certain period political actors do not exhibit power politics behavior involved in the steps to war. He, then, invokes the idea of “universalist policies” and “particularist policies” by Peter Wallenstein.

The way to handle war in the domestic and the global level is, indeed, not the same. Characterizing with the absence of communal foundation, a world global government cannot be expected to emerge. He, then, argues that peace in the global level could be achieved and maintained through the adoption of the “universalist policies”, which refers to a set of rules and norms made by major states to guide their relations, and where conflicts of interests are being controlled by an invisible exercise of authority. This is what he calls peaceful periods, a period in which major states have consciously attempted to establish rules for conducting relations – such as third party mediation or conferences among major states – in order to resolve disputes. Based on the evaluation of historians, the idea of “universalist policies” would have the ability to decrease the presence of wars, military confrontations, and the role of alliances, such as NATO or the Warsaw Pact. In contrast, when major states do not or unable to create such policies, or move back to “particularist policies” based on unilateral actions, war would re-occur among them.

Peaceful periods are characterized by distinguishable acts that not only create peaceful relations, but also reduce the probability of war, even in the presence of conflict. While particularist periods, conflict is increased because of the unilateral actions. However, both policies provide distinguishable forms of behavior that could either reduce or reinforce conflict. War will be less frequent among major states when the global political system restrains unilateral actions, on the other hand when the unilateral actions is unrestrained – as in a balance of power system – war is more frequent. Conclusively, it is unilateral actions, the only means, which distinguishes periods of peace and warfare.
In this chapter, Vasquez investigates certain characteristics of peace periods proposed by Wallenstein. Wallenstein argues that peace periods comprised of four characteristics. First, that to handle the territorial and ideological disputes between major states, peace periods need peaceful system that are exemplified by the use of practices, like buffer zones, compensation, and concerts of power that bring major states together to form of network of institutions that provides governance for the system.

Secondly, there is the need of the absence of messianism and expansionist ideologist, for within this period, there is more of a willingness to tolerate differences. He, then, argues that the revolutionary regime may be seen as threatening because it is viewed as unlikely to accept the status quo. However, war may be avoided if the satisfied states are willing to change the status quo to accommodate the needs of challenges and the ability of the political system to establish a structure that encourages both parties to reach some sort of understanding. Thirdly, a peaceful period characterizes with enforcing diplomacy to work out problems. In this case, he takes the historical universalist period between 1849-1870, in which there was less emphasis on building up military and 1963-1976, in which the role of alliances diminished, with the defection of France from NATO and of China from the Eastern bloc. It is because he believes that there is an interaction between alliances and arms build-ups. And alliance polarization would be expected to encourage military build-ups, as the case in 1896-1918, 1933-1944, and in the post-1945 era.
Lastly, peace is associated with periods in which alliance norms are binding. This idea is added by Vasquez from the idea of Kegley and Raymond. They argue that when states accept norms, the incidence of war and military confrontation is reduced. They, further, note that there have been two traditions in international law; pacta sunt servanda, which maintains that agreements are binding, and clausa rebus sic stantibus, which says that treaties are signed as matter stands. However, these traditions of global cultural norms implies a robust institutional context which should provide an alternative to war. However, like the presence of war, the presence of global political system is also a social invention, something that has been socially constructed by the combination of practices that have been employed by political actors. Within the effectiveness of this system, force and war tend to be less frequent.

The overall focus of the author underlines the urgent need for a global and universal that works. Desirable no doubt, and realistic because it is the way peace could be achieved. The author systematically deals with the subject. He offers accurate insights into the historical importance of past world politics through universalist-particularist periods that serves as a basis from which functional models can be developed to evaluate 21st century international relations. However, in my opinion, by educating humanity on the developmental history of war and peace, there is hope that current and future societies will be better prepared to have many more days of peace than days of war.

Richmond, Oliver P. (2008). Peace in International Relations. New York: Routledge.
Waltz, Kenneth N. (1979). Theory of International Politics. London: Addison-Wesley.
Zakaria, Fareed. (2008). The Post-American World. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.


~ by zulkhanip on December 13, 2010.

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