June 22, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his semi-weekly “Conservative Columnist” feature for National Interest online, the web edition of the foreign policy journal The National Interest, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, questions whether the Hamas takeover of Gaza might not strain the delicate security balance of the Middle East, creating an intolerable situation that will lead to open conflict.

However, recalling the consequences, Second Lebanon War between Israel and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah last summer, whose “implications which bear not only on the current tense situation in the Middle East, but also the very future of armed conflict in other situations around the world,” the article questions the future of warfare. Noting the Clausewitzian view of war as the continuation of politics by other means, Dr. Pham writes:

Statesmen ought to do everything possible to prevent the outbreak of hostilities, but, once it is clear that diplomacy has failed or one of the parties initiates hostilities ( casus belli), warriors are allowed to deliver what diplomats failed to produce: a definitive resolution of the conflict by determining a winner and a loser so that the outlines of the peace to follow might respect the comparative strengths and other realities on the ground—and thus be more stable than the status quo ante bellum.

 Precisely because war is a bloody business, however, the traditional doctrine carried strong sanctions which discouraged bellicose leaders from pushing their nations into conflict: Once they unleashed the dogs of war, they faced dire consequences, including debellatio, the ending of their belligerency through the complete destruction of their state.

Nowadays, however, irresponsible leaders “can rest assured that ‘humanitarian considerations’ in world opinion—and, ultimately, at the United Nations—will put them and their targets on the same moral plane and, if it comes to it, not only save them from total disaster, but likely dictate that the clock simply be wound back to just before the outbreak of hostilities, leaving them no worse off for having gambled.” Consequently, the column concludes:

The lesson of last summer’s conflict in Lebanon is that the antiwar zeitgeist might well dictate, in the name of avoiding open hostilities at all costs, that the unstable situation in Gaza be perpetuated for a very long time, Washington’s wishful efforts to bring about a Fatah restoration notwithstanding. Whether preventing the natural course of power dynamics to restore the security balance constitutes “peace”—much less, whether the slow-bleed of countless small clashes is at all “humanitarian”—is an entirely different matter. The reality of a world where no winners are allowed is that we might all end up losers.

The text of Dr. Pham’s essay, “The End of War as We Know It?”, can be accessed by clicking here.