Conflict Resolution and War

Conflict Resolution and War

William and Ida Friday Center

Chapel Hill, NC

September 16, 1995

About the Speakers. T.I.S.S. invited a total of four distinguished speakers to make presentations about the contributions of conflict resolution to the study of war. Among the panelists Thomas Schelling , Lucius N. Litauer Professor of Political Economy, Emeritus, at Harvard University and Distinguished University Professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Maryland; Bruce Russett, Dean Acheson Professor of Political Science and chair of the department at Yale University; Ole Holsti, George V. Allen Professor of Political Science at Duke University and author of several books including the forthcoming Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy; and Anatol Rapoport, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto.

Conference Proceedings. After welcoming remarks by Dick Kohn and Alex Roland to the eighty-five members of the audience, Thomas Schelling opened the conference with a talk entitled AThe War That Did Not Happen. Fifty years after the atomic bombing of Japan, nuclear weapons have not been used again in combat. In particular, Professor Schelling illustrated two categories of nuclear conflict that have not occurred. First, a global nuclear holocaust has not taken place. Second, no nuclear-armed state has used nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-armed state. It is from this point that Professor Schelling began his analysis.

According to Schelling, a typical response to the question of why a nuclear holocaust did not happen in the decades after Hiroshima and Nagasaki involves some form of cost-benefit analysis performed by the major nuclear powers. Quite simply, in this view nuclear warfare was not seen as profitable. No decision maker would ever consciously initiate a nuclear conflict because the costs of such a conflict would far outweigh the benefits. Thus, war is avoided.

In contrast to conventional arguments, however, Dr. Schelling finds this perspective somewhat questionable because during the 1950=s, it was recognized that the fear of war might generate a nuclear conflict. AWar by accident, miscalculation, and surprise was seen as a danger created by the immense advantage of what came to be called the >first strike.= Schelling maintained that the conscious effort of politicians and members of the military to develop and deploy weapons capable of withstanding a preemptive attack led to the goal and achievement of Amutual deterrence. Thus, it was the choice of weapons that closed the opportunity for war between the nuclear powers. In support of his argument, Professor Schelling gave a historical account of the American nuclear weapons program drawing on government documents, interviews, and personal experiences.

In the second segment of his talk, Schelling addressed the issue of why nuclear weapons were not used when a nuclear power clashed with a non-nuclear state. This question seems especially appropriate considering the desperate status of US military forces during key periods of the Korean War. According to Schelling, Eisenhower considered using nuclear weapons in the Korean conflict, but was advised against it. Nuclear weapons were considered qualitatively different armaments both by his advisors and the general population. Eisenhower sought to remove this Anuclear taboo, but his successors had a different perspective on the issue. Both Kennedy and Johnson held the strong belief that there was Ano such thing as a conventional nuclear weapon. This tradition of Anon-use was also honored by the Soviet Union. Thus, nuclear warfare was avoided. Professor Schelling concluded his talk, however, with a warning that states that have newly acquired nuclear weapons may not feel subject to this principle of non-use.

In the panel discussion that followed, Bruce Russett lauded Schelling=s detailed historical analysis. However, Russett called into question Schelling=s neglect of organizational history in his account of the absence of nuclear war. According to Professor Russett, standardized routines shape military behavior, and these routines are extremely resistant to change. Thus, AIf you take the command and control literature seriously, we owe the non-use of nuclear weapons to the fact that there was no diplomatic crisis during the launch-on-warning period.

Following Russett=s comment, Anatol Rapoport engaged Professor Schelling in a lively debate. According to Rapoport, the entire discussion of why nuclear war did not occur is misplaced. In Rapoport=s view, it is appropriate to ask why something did not occur when regularity is violated. Nuclear war is not a usual occurrence and therefore, it seems surprising to Rapoport that we would engage in this type of inquiry.

On a related point, Rapoport challenged Schelling=s assertion that the lack of nuclear warfare between the nuclear powers is the result of Amutual deterrence. According to Rapoport, the notion that deterrence worked is only established in hindsight. Because of the lack of historical regularity, it is difficult to determine when, if ever, deterrence is successful.

The second speaker on Saturday was Bruce Russett who gave a talk entitled AThe Kantian Project. According to Dr. Russett, Immanuel Kant spoke of a Aperpetual peace based on three conditions. First, Kant spoke of the peaceful relations that would develop between states with republican constitutions. Second, Kant wrote on the rise of Acosmopolitan law, or the ordered relations of economic interdependence that would develop among states. Finally, Kant foresaw the rise of international law and order facilitated by international institutions.

When Kant wrote of the perpetual peace, he was writing as a visionary. According to Russett, however, Kant=s vision has proven to be quite accurate. In the modern era, we have seen the rise of democracies; an increase in the level of economic interdependence; and more international organizations than at any other time. All of these factors have seemingly created a pacifying effect on interstate relations.

To support his claim, Russett referenced a substantial body of research indicating that stable democracies rarely go to war with each other or engage in military disputes with one another, especially in the post-World War II era. Research has shown that democracies are 1/8 as likely as alternative regimes to threaten each other and 1/10 as likely to use any type of force against one another. Professor Russett was careful to note, however, that this research does not indicate that democracies are more peaceful than other types of regimes. Rather, evidence suggests that democracies are more peaceful in their relations with other democracies.

Professor Russett then addressed the possibility that the democratic peace may be the result of confounding variables. With low conflict as his dependent variable, Russett stated that his empirical research has suggested that even when controlling for Arealist variables, which have been suggested as a cause of the democratic peace (such as the presence of alliances, relative power, distance, and wealth), joint democracy is a significant explanatory variable. Research done on Apre-industrial societies conducted by Professor Russett also suggests that, in general, participatory societies are less likely to fight each other. Thus, while not a universal law, Professor Russett suggests that the Ademocratic peace is a strong probabilistic statement.

In his empirical research, Russett also tests the assertion that economic interdependence and the existence of international organizations will have a pacifying effect on international relations. Economic interdependence is often seen as a pacifying influence because it affects the cost-benefit analysis of decision makers and because trade is a carrier of information that can help in resolving disputes. International organizations are also seen as information carriers. Russett=s research suggests that both of these variables are significant in explaining the democratic peace. The addition of these variables, however, does not eliminate the independent effect of joint democracy on peace.

Ole Holsti began the discussion of Russett’s presentation by questioning the robustness of his findings because there have been relatively few democracies from which to form conclusions. Professor Russett responded by acknowledging that the robustness of his findings is indeed problematic. In his opinion, there is little researchers can do, however, but to wait and see what transpires.

After lunch, the afternoon session began with Ole Holsti delivering a talk entitled “Public Opinion, Foreign Policy, and War.” Professor Holsti placed the relationship between public opinion and war in a broad context by examining the centuries-old debate on the effects of public opinion between liberals, represented by Immanuel Kant, and the realists, represented by Alexis DeTocqueville. Kant’s view that people are rational and will not do certain things creates a perception of public opinion as a useful constraint on the ability of the state to go to war. This view is in distinct contrast to DeTocqueville’s observation that the masses are subject to periods of great passion or ignorance. In such instances, public opinion is a detriment to foreign policy. It is this latter line of reasoning that has shaped realist perspectives on foreign policy.

Holsti continued by placing the debate on the effects of public opinion against the backdrop of the international events of the twentieth century. The role and effect of public opinion on foreign policy were recognized by both the Allies and the Axis powers as early as World War I. Both sides distributed propaganda to the citizens of the opposing side to undermine public opinion of the respective governments. In the period leading into World War II, critics such as Walter Lippman and E.H. Carr challenged the notion that public opinion was a positive thing.

The conclusion of World War II coincided with the development of wide-scale public polling. A series of studies was conducted that was driven by fears about the U.S. resuming the isolationist role that it played after World War I. The result of these studies yielded what became known as the Almond-Lippman consensus. This consensus held that a) the public tended to be ignorant and indifferent to foreign policy issues, b) public opinion tended to be unconstructed and incoherent, and c) public opinion had no impact on foreign policy decision making.

Public opinion research conducted during the Vietnam War provided a challenge to the Almond-Lippman consensus. In particular, the war raised doubts about whether the executive should have a free hand in foreign policy decision making. Furthermore, new studies showed that public opinion actually had a relatively high degree of stability, was somewhat structured, and had some degree of influence on policy decisions.

In his conclusion, Professor Holsti addressed the future role of public opinion. Holsti felt that public opinion is likely to play a more important role in the coming years. Many of the issues that concerned foreign policy makers in the past required speed, flexibility, and secrecy. Thus, the role of public opinion was limited. Holsti concluded it would be hard to make similar arguments for issues that confront politicians today such as immigration, the environment, and trade.

Professor Rapoport opened the discussion of Holsti’s talk by questioning the value of democracy. In particular, Rapoport questioned when the masses should rule absolutely and when they should not. For example, on medical issues, most people give up some degree of authority to experts, e.g., doctors. In response, Holsti stated that the main problem with public opinion and foreign policy has to do with the level of information that the citizenry has. For example, many Americans do not understand how much is actually being spent on foreign aid. Thus, it is usually impossible for them to formulate educated opinions.

Thomas Schelling then questioned Holsti whether and how the role of public opinion has changed recently. In response, Holsti stated that pollsters are now able to give political leaders instant feedback. Thus, the ascribed value of public opinion polls has increased dramatically.

Russett concluded the discussion by raising the issue of systematic differences among the public opinion stances of different demographic segments of the population, especially by gender. Holsti responded that evidence indicates that women are more environmentally concerned and more protectionist. In terms of use of force, however, there does not seem to be a systematic gender difference. More importantly, Holsti suggested that when controlling for party and ideology, the effects of gender on public opinion may wash out.

The final speaker of the day was Anatol Rapoport who delivered a talk entitled “The Institutional Approach to the Study of War.” According to Dr. Rapoport, much of the research referred to as “peace research” is in actuality “war research.” Although in his opinion this is unfortunate, Rapoport argued that in many ways the same can be said of medical research. In both medical science and peace research, we are interested in the causes of afflictions. In the case of medical research, these afflictions take the form of diseases. In peace research, the afflictions take the form of war.

According to Rapoport, in both realms, researchers endeavor to find the necessary causes of the afflictions. In his opinion, the necessary cause for war is already known. It is the existence of weapons. Without weapons, wars of complete destruction are impossible. Unfortunately, no infrastructure exists for implementing a cure for war.

Rapoport then presented a challenge to the orthodox treatment of peace research. As opposed to viewing war as an event with onsets, durations, and ends, which naturally suggests an investigation of causes, Rapoport offered an alternative opinion that war can be studied as an institution. When war is analyzed as an institution, it is analogous to slavery.

Taking war as an institution, Professor Rapoport suggested is necessary to study the origin, behavior, and evolution of the institutions. In particular, the latter characteristic proves moat interesting to him. In Rapoport=s opinion, war “adapts” to its environment, so that it can survive. Institutions that do not adapt cease to exist. Thus, war may one day become obsolete, but such developments will not occur because of some abstract notion of morality or justice. Rather, wars could cease because they become stagnant and non-evolutionary.

Professor Rapoport argued that war continues to exist because it has become so embedded within society that its existence is seen as indispensable. Thus, war has defended itself against the forces that would destroy it. The speaker concluded his presentation by arguing that both monarchs and war are obsolete in that they have lost their original function. Both have adapted to the changing environment, however, and continue to exist. This is the only similarity, however, between monarchs and war. In Rapoport’s opinion, war is far more insidious because the profits of the war trade now help to finance world trade. In this way, the tools of war have embedded themselves within the society.

Dr. Russett opened the discussion of Rapoport’s presentation by challenging his characterization of the Correlates of War project as an example of a non-institutionalist approach to the study of war. In Russett’s opinion, the Correlates of War project has evolved to the point where war is treated as part of a pattern and is now more process-oriented. Russett further challenged the notion that war will continue to adapt. Using both the Supreme Soviet and the Cold War as examples, Professor Russett asserted that many institutions cease to exist. Thus, perhaps war can be eradicated as well.

Rapoport was then questioned as to the possibility of changing the social environment within which war adapts. In his response, Rapoport noted that a simple answer to this question is impossible. Each individual should be aware of the surrounding environment and act accordingly. However, individual action will probably prove inadequate. Rather, some form of collective action will be needed to eradicate the institution of war.

Robert Nabors, Rapporteur