Status quo ante bellum

by John Q on September 11, 2010

Nine years after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, we’ve all had plenty of time to think about war and its justifications. My own views have moved me steadily towards the viewpoint that war is hardly ever justified either morally or in terms of the rational self-interest of those involved. The obvious problem is that, if no one else is willing to fight, an aggressor could benefit by making demands backed by force. It seems to me, however, that this problem can be overcome by admitting that self-defense (including collective self-defense) is justified only to the extent of restoring the status quo ante bellum. That is, having defeated an aggressor, a country is not justified in seizing territory, unilaterally exacting reparations or imposing a new government on its opponent. Conversely, and regardless of the alleged starting point, countries not directly involved should never recognise a forcibly imposed transfer of territory or similar attempt to achieve advantages through war.

This isn’t a novel idea by any means, but I haven’t found an adequate discussion, and the discourse of International Relations theory seems to me worse than useless, being dominated by unrealities like ‘international realism’ , opposed to the strawman of ‘idealism’. Just war theory seems a bit more satisfactory, but I haven’t found it helpful in relation to the hard cases. [1]

Following up on the discussions we’ve had here recently, the status quo ante bellum position can be defended in game-theoretic terms, with no need to invoke unrealistic assumptions about international idealism.

The status quo ante bellum is, in game-theoretic terms, a salient point that provides a natural focus for a coalition, particularly for third countries with no direct stake. An interest in preserving international order provides third countries with a motive not to recognise gains secured by others through military force. While the gainer may be able to secure recognition from close allies, the absence of general recognition renders such gains costly and uncertain to hold, no matter how long they endure.

This isn’t merely a theoretical claim. International practice since 1945 has typically been to deny recognition to territorial gains secured by force, regardless of “facts on the ground”, no matter how long-lasting. Examples include the Indonesian annexation of East Timor (shamefully, Australia was one of the few countries to recognise this claim), the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus, the various ‘frozen conflict’ mini-states created under Russian patronage after 1991 and of course the Israeli occupation of the West Bank[2].

But there’s still, it seems to me, a widespread presumption that having gone to war in self-defense (as judged by themselves), countries are entitled to set whatever objectives they see as reasonable. The point of proposing status quo ante bellum as the only legitimate goal is to close off this capacity for self-defense to turn into aggression.

Of course, none of this would matter if the strategic use of military force reliably or even commonly yielded net benefits, as is assumed by ‘realists’ and, until relatively recently, by most holders of, and seekers after, political power. The experience of the 20th century shows the opposite – many cases of wars ending disastrously for those who launched them, and hardly any that produced clear and sustained net benefits.

I don’t intend merely the limited, and obvious point that, taken as a whole, the people of a country that goes to war are worse off as a result. Looking at the evidence, the same is typically true of the ruling classes, and of the individual rulers who make decisions to take their people to war. Of course, there are beneficiaries in the armaments industry and the military hierarchy, but almost any policy, no matter how disastrous, benefits someone.

I haven’t so far discussed the case for humanitarian intervention, punishment of war crimes and so on. The Iraq war showed that if individual governments (or coalitions) are allowed to set themselves up as judges in their own cases, disaster will ensue. The only legitimate basis for such action is a decision of the international community as a whole. At present, the best, admittedly imperfect, bodies for making such decisions are the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court. The cumbersome nature of their processes mean that many wrongs will go unrighted, and many crimes unpunished. But that is true of all legal systems. And even if such interventions are justified, that does not mean they will be feasible or, if undertaken, assured of success.

Finally, most of what I’ve said about war applies to revolution and other forms of political violence. The fact that the existing order of things is unjust and not amenable to change is not sufficient justification for the certain suffering and far from certain benefits of revolutionary violence. Most revolutions, like most wars fail, and, as with wars, initial success is rarely enduring.

fn1. I’m aware that I’m an amateur dismissing the efforts of the professionals, and therefore likely to have got a lot of things wrong. But, as an economist, I’ve often been on the other end of this kind of criticism, and I think it’s useful to face it.

fn2. I mention this example because it would be silly to omit it, but I absolutely do not want to derail discussion into another rehash of this issue. Any comment referring in any way to the Israel/Palestine conflict will be deleted with prejudice.



Jack Strocchi 09.11.10 at 11:07 am

Gulf War One (Kuwait) fits that paradigm perfectly. If only the war-party had let that sleeping dog lie.


Jack Strocchi 09.11.10 at 11:21 am

Shorter Quiggin: War should NOT be politics by other means.


Jack Strocchi 09.11.10 at 11:36 am

Status-Quo Ante-Bellum sounds like a great name for a genuinely conservative party that harkens back to the good old days. Call me in.


Hidari 09.11.10 at 11:54 am

‘Gulf War One (Kuwait) fits that paradigm perfectly. If only the war-party had let that sleeping dog lie.’

Oh yeah? My recollection is that that Kuwaitis were liberated from the Iraqis and then immediately handed back to the freedom loving Kuwaiti junta. At least in those days the Republicans didn’t attempt to bore us by blathering on about ‘democracy promotion’ and similar nonsense.


Bloix 09.11.10 at 11:59 am

What does it mean to “defeat an aggressor”? By your formulation, a country that has been invaded is permitted solely to repel the invasion, no more – thus inviting a future invasion, or at the very requiring a permanent, high-alert military presence on the border.

There’s nothing sacred about the way borders are drawn. The only reason there’s a prohibition about changing the arbitrary lines between countries is that efforts to change them lead to war, and therefore not changing them is a necessary condition for peace. But many of these borders are themselves causes of friction that can lead to war. Once peace doesn’t exist, why shouldn’t a country that has been invaded use force to change irrational borders that increase the possibility of conflict?

And the only reason there’s a prohibition on one country intervening to change the government of another is that doing so is only possible through war. There’s no moral reason that one country has to respect the right to exist of a tyrannical, warlike government of its neighbor. Once peace has ceased, what moral basis is there for saying that the invaded country cannot topple its neighbor’s government in order to assure peace for the future? What is the moral imperative for saying that it can push the invaders’ forces back to the border, but no further, thereby permitting them to re-group and invade again?


Henri Vieuxtemps 09.11.10 at 12:05 pm

What if the other country doesn’t invade, but bombs you back into the stone age. What would status quo ante bellum look like in that case?


Brett Bellmore 09.11.10 at 1:27 pm

It strikes me that, if the worst an aggressor has to fear in the event of defeat is a restoration of the previous borders, then war becomes more likely, because you don’t have to worry about ending up worse off if you lose. (Granted, I’m neglecting the not inconsiderable cost of waging the war, but both sides are subject to that, so it doesn’t effect their relative status.)

We don’t, when somebody robs a bank, take the money away from them, and leave it at that. Why treat aggressors in war better?


Greg Sanders 09.11.10 at 1:56 pm

In response to Brett’s point, I think it would be uncontroversial to say that after the break-up of the colonial empires, borders have been more fixed in this era than in past eras. This has not lead to a surge of inter-state war. This of course can be partially attributed to the rise of nuclear weapons but there similarly hasn’t been a huge jump in inter-state war after the end of the cold war which would make it less likely th at super powers would be directly involved in every fight. I haven’t specifically checked the numbers, but it’s consistent with what I’ve read before in the Human Security Report on that matter.

Secondly, Quiggin specifically mentions not imposing unilateral reparations. I think that leaves it open to multi-lateral reparations. That is to say, that the bank doesn’t have authority to imprison, society at large does. Society in this case being highly contested but the UN Security Council is the body set up for this sort of purpose, although obviously it’s not highly representative one.

Regardless, if we take Gulf War I as an example, we did substantial damage to both the Iraqi military within Kuwait as well as within Iraq. Greatly damaging the military effectiveness of an adversary is an objective that can be achieved without full-on invasion.

I think this might be an area where Quiggin might wish to elaborate a bit. Crippling the military of an adversary is not, strictly speaking, restoring status quo ante bellum. Nonetheless, doing substantial damage to the aggressor’s military is roughly the degree of victory we achieved in Gulf War I and the degree of victory we managed against Japan before nuclear weapons were involved. A lesser standard might be the damage we inflicted on the Serbian military during the war in Kosovo. Would any of these three cases (hypothetically stopping short of unconditional surrender) meet your status quo ante bellum standard?


Greg Sanders 09.11.10 at 2:21 pm

Also, as one quick addendum, first off, should have added a thank you to Prof. Quiggin as these ideas fit with some of my rudimentary thoughts but are more theoretically developed. I’d also add that when you critique straw man arguments involving “idealism” you are critiquing practitioners and pundits but not particularly engaging international relations scholarship. Idealism, as you say, is a strawman and not a school of thought. That said, this does effectively critique the scholarship for failing to shift the public debate to more meaningful exchanges. See Dan Drezner for a round up of recent blog discussions on the international relations and public debate issue.


virgil xenophon 09.11.10 at 2:38 pm

B & B (Bloix & Bellmore, not the liquor) would seem to have the better of the argument here in the early going..

(Although the liquor may triumph in the end if the thread goes on long enough)


Kaveh 09.11.10 at 2:47 pm

@5, Presumably the invading country would be less likely to want to pay the cost of invading (and being driven out) in the first place if they knew any territorial gain would be resisted, but you raise a key issue: the motive for waging war could be something other than permanent territorial gains. For example, what if the goal is merely to impoverish and weaken a geostrategic rival, destroy infrastructure, make the population and foreign investors fearful, &c.?

A lot of wars from the late 20th c. on have been fought without the prospect of territorial gains for the aggressor. Probably it’s only a very small minority of cases (the main one I can think of I’m apparently not allowed to talk about) where people really are fighting over territory, and not to topple the government. Oh, that and two of the three wars involving Iraq, which in both cases was trying to capture oil fields, but even in the first of those cases (Iran-Iraq) it was at least as much about fear of the Iranian revolutionary government as it was about Khuzistani oil.


akatsuki 09.11.10 at 3:10 pm

Why is the status quo ante bellum given such sacred status? So we are bound in a world created by the violence of the past forever now? Good thing that thinking wasn’t in place prior to the American Revolution. And hopefully occupied Tibet is just happy where they are. And when China annexes Taiwan, why not? Hell, why not pick an even more “ante” time period as the status quo…

This screed sounds like someone grown soft in a free country who just doesn’t want to rock the boat for themselves while others live in oppression. I am not saying that invading countries is right or that the current non-colonistic approach is a good or bad idea, but revolutionary violence is always the last resort of the people and you would take it away because you are spineless and don’t want to take risks. The threat of violence by the populace is part of what maintains government by consent.


Bruce Baugh 09.11.10 at 3:27 pm

Akatsuki: “This screed” is mostly shaped by the reality of what happens when people push for wars with grander aims. They tend not to work, if by “working” we mean things like increased justice, happiness, prosperity, and security. There are exceptions, but the overall record is really bad. The emphasis on status quo ante as a war aim goes hand-in-hand with the idea that if you actually want to change a society for the better, doing it by means other than war is almost always the right choice.


Lemuel Pitkin 09.11.10 at 3:28 pm

war is hardly ever justified either morally or in terms of the rational self-interest of those involved. The obvious problem is that, if no one else is willing to fight, an aggressor could benefit by making demands backed by force. It seems to me, however, that this problem can be overcome by admitting that self-defense (including collective self-defense) is justified only to the extent of restoring the status quo ante bellum.

The first half is right, and very important.

As for the second half …. it’s important, when talking about war in the abstract, to keep in mind that the initiator of aggressive war in the world as it presently exists will almost always be the United States or one of its allies.

The Iraq war showed that if individual governments (or coalitions) are allowed to set themselves up as judges in their own cases, disaster will ensue. The only legitimate basis for such action is a decision of the international community as a whole.

Is the prudential case against war any weaker when it’s UN-sanctioned? Not obvious.

Seems to me that in discussions among citizens of US, UK, Australia, Western Europe, etc. — countries that are infinitely more likely to be the aggressors than the defenders in any future war — you’d do better to stop with the first sentence quoted above.


Lemuel Pitkin 09.11.10 at 3:32 pm

The threat of violence by the populace is part of what maintains government by consent.

Absolutely. But John Q. is talking here about attacks by a strong countries (like the US) on weak countries, not about popular revolts. Different questions.


Kaveh 09.11.10 at 3:41 pm

@10 & 11 It seems to have been presumed that the status quo ante bellum rule only applies to wars between two state actors which both existed before the war began–otherwise “status quo ante bellum” is simply undefined. The problem is that in-between cases, like proxy wars, are if anything even more common than wars fought directly between two states. How would the status quo ante bellum rule apply to US involvement in Vietnam or Korea, for example? Or Afghanistan?


LFC 09.11.10 at 3:45 pm

the discourse of International Relations theory seems to me worse than useless, being dominated by unrealities like ‘international realism’ and ‘just war theory’, opposed to the strawman of ‘idealism’.

If amateur criticisms of economics are as outdated, simplistic, and caricatured as this amateur criticism of International Relations theory, then I understand why economists would be upset by such criticisms.

Two (empirical) points that are sometimes overlooked in discussions of war and peace: (1) on a global basis, the amount of armed violence (broadly defined) has actually been declining in recent years; (2) a major war directly involving two or more ‘great powers’ has not occurred since WW 2, and the prospects of such a war occurring in the foreseeable future range from unlikely to zero. Of course, there is still way too much war, belligerence, and violence in the world, but if one accepts the increasingly plausible view that (as J. Mueller put it some years ago) major great-power wars have become obsolete, this represents a change of considerable historical and normative significance.


Lemuel Pitkin 09.11.10 at 4:21 pm

a major war directly involving two or more ‘great powers’ has not occurred since WW 2, and the prospects of such a war occurring in the foreseeable future range from unlikely to zero.

One can’t argue with this. But on the other hand, the potential destructiveness of a great power war has also gotten much greater. So on the relevant question — the expected value of harm caused by major-power wars over some future period — it’s not clear that things have changed so much.

I don’t think history gives us grounds for feeling less urgency about reducing the chances of great-power war. If anything the opposite.


wkw 09.11.10 at 4:36 pm

Kind of funny that you accuse IR of being “worse than useless” when mainstream scholars (notably Powell, but plenty of others too) have been writing about the banality of war for decades now. In IR, war is almost always modeled as a bargaining failure that leads to an inefficient outcome, and it is well understood that war is always Pareto-inferior. I.e. there is no ex post distribution that could not have been reached ex ante without incurring the cost of war.

So standard IR theory takes a stronger position than you: war is never in the rational self-interest of unconstrained states, or subnational actors for that matter[1]. Fearon and his followers have spent quite a lot of time writing about the conditions under which war becomes rational because of e.g. information constraints. As you write here, those conditions generally are not met, so war is generally not a good idea. As LFC mentions above, that’s why there aren’t very many wars. As Gartzke notably put it, “war is in the error term”.

[1] There have been one or two models that show knife-edge conditions under which war can occur with complete information, but they don’t map onto the real world well at all.


geo 09.11.10 at 4:38 pm

the same is typically true of the ruling classes, and of the individual rulers who make decisions to take their people to war. Of course, there are beneficiaries in the armaments industry and the military hierarchy, but almost any policy, no matter how disastrous, benefits someone

This seems to me the core of your case, and it seems wrong. Individual rulers who take their people to war get huge temporary (and if successful, permanent) increases in electoral support. And ruling classes are differentiated. All have a common interest in some things, like maintaining a favorable international investment climate, which is a fundamental goal of US military intervention throughout the twentieth century. But beyond that, some industries have particular interests and will therefore push harder for particular policy decisions. Only if another sector has a roughly equal amount at stake will it push back equally hard. If the costs of the policy are distributed widely (like the costs of health insurance among employers, when compared to the profits of the insurance industry), the losers will bear them rather than put up a last-ditch fight. This is pretty much the case for all US policy-making, foreign and domestic: those industries with the highest stakes go all out and generally get their way; the others reserve their political capital for other fights.


Chris Bertram 09.11.10 at 4:55 pm

John, so how does your view here differ from Rawls’s in The Law of Peoples? Despite what you say about JWT, it seems to me that it doesn’t.


novakant 09.11.10 at 7:44 pm

Of course, none of this would matter if the strategic use of military force reliably or even commonly yielded net benefits

It wouldn’t? Really? It takes a lot of arrogance and utilitarian cold-heartedness to justify killing 1.000, 100.000 or 1.000.000 people on the basis of presumed “net benefits”. Who can be so sure of their moral superiority to make such judgements?


Roger Albin 09.11.10 at 8:29 pm

A) No such thing as status quo ante bellum. Whatever the outcome, war changes the basic conditions.
B) Nazi Germany.


Jack Strocchi 09.11.10 at 10:05 pm

novakant @ #20 said:

It takes a lot of arrogance and utilitarian cold-heartedness to justify killing 1.000, 100.000 or 1.000.000 people on the basis of presumed “net benefits”. Who can be so sure of their moral superiority to make such judgements?

Thats why Machiavelli’s books are still in print. But Mach’s rules really get teeth in the Hobbesian state. And once upon a time there were guys in power who one could trust to make that call: Bismark, Truman et al.

But this strategy depends on the individual leader who internalises the “ethic of responsibility”. Whereas its more reliable to have a sound institutional foundation for such policies.

Whereas Pr Q is suggesting that global agencies should literally enforce the conservative version of the social contract: restitution. Primarily relying on the self-interest of third-parties who do not want bullies to rock the boat, lest they are next.

So its a pathway from Hobbesian anarchy to Lockian civility that does not require a Leviathan.


Aulus Gellius 09.11.10 at 10:11 pm

21 comments to Nazis. Not bad.

I think status quo ante bellum probably works in terms of the location of borders, but in other ways it gets a little fuzzy. If the jerks who decided to invade you without provocation have lost their support due to the war going badly, and been kicked out and replaced with a new regime, you don’t have to restore them when you win, do you? And if you have troops in their country, when you withdraw them, are you really only allowed to turn over power to the guys in charge ante bellum, even if those guys are now more like a resistance movement?


John Quiggin 09.11.10 at 10:31 pm

@Chris #21 I was totally unaware of this work by Rawls – one reason I blog about stuff I don’t know much about is to get pointers like this. I will get it and read it. On looking at quick summaries, my preliminary response is that I agree with Rawls in general terms, but want to stress the idea of the status quo ante as a salient point, which makes an international consensus against aggression implementable. Also, due to the hazards of late night blogging, I was much harsher on JWT than I meant to be, lumping it in with the nonsense of international realism. I’ve revised the post to correct this.

@Novakant – unfortunately, arrogance and cold-heartedness are in ample supply, particularly among national leaders. So, if aggression worked reliably, it would be used

@Roger Albin. On A, any rule is ambiguous, status quo ante less than most – that’s why I’m proposing it. On B, see Godwin. Any general claim justified by reference to Nazi Germany is probably wrong.

@LFC&WKW: I thought it was obvious from the original post that I was aware of the decline in interstate wars, but I’ve spelt it out in the revision.

More importantly, unless I have greatly misunderstood what you are saying your claims about rationality are simply wrong. It’s easy enough to model war as the outcome of failed bargaining – economists do this with price wars, strikes and so on. Obviously, war only arises under conditions of imperfect information, and yields a negative sum (sub)game. But if it’s rationalex ante to threaten war in a game of incomplete information, it’s rational ex post to go to war (see the large literature on the chain store paradox). My point is that it isn’t even rational ex ante, and that the outcomes of such behavior are Pareto-dominated (ex ante and usually ex post by norms that preclude any use of threats of force to gain advantage.


John Quiggin 09.11.10 at 10:38 pm

I see I crossed with Aulus Gellius on Godwin, and also on the observation that status quo ante is a little fuzzy once you go past borders

On the specific point, which is a critical one, my claim is that once you have defeated aggression by a foreign government, you shouldn’t intervene* further either way, though of course you can cheer from the sidelines if the aggressor government is replaced by one that is more pacifically inclined.

* Or , as after GW1, promise to intervene and then fail to do so.


john c. halasz 09.11.10 at 10:58 pm

Karl Kraus: “War: first, one hopes to win; then one expects the enemy to lose; then, one is satisfied that he too is suffering; in the end, one is surprised that everyone has lost.”

Still, let’s not get too ahistorical here. The technologies of war, of the systematic application of massive lethal force, have grown so far in excess of any human purpose, that major warfare between modern national powers has become effectively impossible. Which, er, nonetheless, doesn’t seem to stop the accumulation and innovation of the means of war by such powers. Something that would seem in need of explanation. I.e. one can’t assume a merely purposive rationality for war, even as a mere potential, without considering issues of political domination and the structural organization of “legitimate” violence involved in maintaining a status quo ante.

Of course, if one starts from a basically utilitarian conception of “rationality”, then war is virtually by definition irrational and nothing can be explained about it. (Advocates for war frequently specialize in denunciations of utilitarian attitudes as banal and base, if not cowardly and utterly lacking in an heroically elevated view of the world and standard of value). A better starting point for the “rationality” of warfare might be an anthropologically-rooted, structural tendency toward paranoia, toward fear of the other and privileging the “purity” of one’s own intentions over against any recognition of one’s actual behavior and involvements in an inevitably resistant world, and then move on to the recognition that political conflict is endemic to the organization of social life, conflicts of “justice” and differing conceptions and standards of “justice” amidst differing ways-of-life. Then, at least, one has a sufficiently “tragic” recognition of the potential violence that always accompanies and is ingredient in political action and change, rather than a priori ruling out political conflict and action in the name of an imaginary consensus around a de-politicized, reductively economistic form of thinking, whereby anything but “successful” action must be accounted a mistake.

IOW if you talk about war by ignoring political domination and (deficits in) political legitimacy, then you’ve just reiterated the Hobbesian account, whereby any status quo ante is “justified” simply through its ability to impose civic “peace”.

On the other hand, if the implicit referent for this post is the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, then a “straw man” case is being constructed, since they were so obviously FUBAR in their “causes”, rationales, planning and execution, that they demonstrate less the irrationality and inefficacy of war than indict the ideological delirium of the apparatchniks of an excrescent military machine.


djr 09.11.10 at 11:36 pm

w.r.t. Godwin, surely any view on war and its justifications which breaks down when applied to the most significant conflict of the last century is incomplete to say the least.

(Which is not to say that your status quo ante bellum position does break down here – I don’t think it does, although it does raise issues over exactly what point in time could be taken as the ante bellum baseline.)


wkw 09.12.10 at 12:07 am

Okay you’re arguing two different things here. First is that a strong norm of status quo ante bellum would make the system safer. Maybe by degrees but not completely, as you acknowledge when you claim that such a norm already (mostly) exists.

Additionally, the status quo ante bellum principle can work against you here. If a credible commitment could be made to not impose reparations then that would almost surely make aggression more attractive at the margin, rather than less. Suppose thieves knew that if they were caught with stolen merchandise their only punishment was to give the goods back. Surely we would observe much more theft. There’s no downside risk, only upside.

Second is the idea that it’s basically never rational to go to war:

“But if it’s rational ex ante to threaten war in a game of incomplete information, it’s rational ex post to go to war… My point is that it isn’t even rational ex ante, and that the outcomes of such behavior are Pareto-dominated (ex ante and usually ex post by norms that preclude any use of threats of force to gain advantage.”

All kinds of problems here. First, it can be rational to threaten even if you have no intention of following through. Second, it can be rational to threaten even if you do plan to follow through but would prefer to extract concessions without paying the costs of war. Third, it can be rational to attack if you have a large enough advantage, or if the other side will concede following an attack but not before. (These assessments are made probabilistically, i.e. “costly lottery”.) Fourth, the norms you describe don’t universally exist, and to be effective they must universally exist, so they do not dominate #s 1-3. Fifth, those norms cannot universally exist, because of #s 1-3. Who cares what strategies the impossible would dominate? Sixth, as we’ve repeatedly learned since the founding of the UN (and knew before that), international institutions do not change these dynamics. The UN was intended to instill the non-aggression norm. It fails because of the free-rider problem, so the commitment to collective security (or responsibility to protect in more recent times) is not credible.

Am I missing something?


Cranky Observer 09.12.10 at 12:30 am

> Third, it can be rational to attack if you have a large enough
> advantage, or if the other side will concede following an
> attack but not before.

With the advent and widespread availability of AK-47s, plastic explosives, and now good man-portable anti-aircraft weapons and armour-piercing IEDs it is not at all clear that these states are even achievable much less calculable. The few hundred thousand Afghans willing to fight to the death are now on the verge of toppling their second empire in 30 years and I doubt the concept of “concede” even occurs to them.



John Quiggin 09.12.10 at 12:54 am

1. In #19, you asserted “So standard IR theory takes a stronger position than you: war is never in the rational self-interest of unconstrained states”. You seem to be saying the opposite in #30. Maybe you can clarify

2. Contrary to what you say in #30, it’s not rational to threaten a rational adversary with war unless you plan, with positive probability, to go to war (or, with a slightly different interpretation of mixed strategy equilibrium unless players indistinguishable from you go to war with positive probability). So, a rational actor model in which threats of war are made is one in which war is rational. That’s the kind of model I understand you and LFC to be referring to.

3. My perception of IR theory, at least as it informs the US-dominated Foreign Policy Community, is one in which the use of military power to advance national interest (going well beyond national or collective self-defense) is taken to be both normal and desirable. See, for example Daniel Drezner. It may be that there is some sense of these terms in which IR theory is opposed to the consensus of the Foreign Policy Community (certainly, economic theory as I understand it is very different from “economists” as seen on TV) and if so, I’d be happy for pointers on this.


wkw 09.12.10 at 1:27 am

JQ –

1. In #19 the operative word is “unconstrained”, which I should have made more clear. It may be rational for information-constrained states to attack. It never is for information-unconstrained states to do so, excluding some unrealistic knife-edge equilibria.

2. I have no idea why you think this. Threatening to go to war without intending to do so is quite frequently rational. This is what leads to cheap talk and bluffing and all kinds of very important strategies in signaling games. If this wasn’t the case, war would never happen. We must be missing each other’s points somehow b/c this is pretty simple.

3. “IR theory is opposed to the consensus of the Foreign Policy Community” is a huge understatement, in my view. It’s a bit tricky, b/c I’m not sure exactly what you mean by either “IR theory” or “Foreign Policy Community”; they are both incredibly broad categories. But to use solid examples that have already come up: Powell and Fearon (IR theorists) are definitely opposed to the consensus of O’Hanlon and Pollack (the FP folks mentioned in Drezner’s post), in method at least. Calling Krauthammer an IR theorist is like calling Jude Wanniski an economist.

For example, somewhere up-thread somebody equated realism with reckless aggressiveness, probably thinking of Kissinger. But modern realists like Stephen Walt (not Waltz) generally believe in deterrence and are almost always opposed to war for precisely the reasons you’ve laid out (i.e. it seldom advances the national interest, and incurs large costs). Walt for example opposed not only Iraq along these lines, but also Afghanistan and the U.S.’s unflinching support of Israel.

Walt’s a bit of an exception, however. With a few exceptions, IR theorists today are generally unmotivated by grand theory, instead focusing on mid-range theory that can usually be subjected to some sort of empirical examination.


Jack Strocchi 09.12.10 at 2:01 am

Pr Q said:

the discourse of International Relations theory seems to me worse than useless, being dominated by unrealities like ‘international realism’ , opposed to the strawman of ‘idealism’

The most prominent US foreign policy realists – Scowcroft, Walt & Chalmers Johnson – were more or less strong opponents of the US’s Iraq-attack in particular and its over-extended global commitments in general. They mostly advocate military retrenchment since so many US foreign conflicts are not amenable to solution by the delivery & detonation of high explosives.

These people are part of the dwindling number of “Republicans Who Know What They’re Talking About”, who are skeptical about the utility of military force in global politics. (Ike was a founding member.) They have figured out, through bitter experience, that militarism is not in the national interest.

But they would depart from Pr Q in allowing third-party agencies (such as the UN or ICC) a decisive say over US foreign policy.


Timothy Scriven 09.12.10 at 2:03 am

I feel like such a fence sitter but essentially I’m looking for intermediate position between realism & your position.

It seems to me that your position is unsatisfactory because 1) There must be some disincentive beyond a rebuffed invasion against further invasions. 2) Invaded parties have some sort of right to restorative justice, so long as this does not constitute collective punishment of the citizens of the invading nation ( perhaps an adequate formulation is “so long as it does not make the citizens of the other country worse of than the citizens of your own country, in an attempt to restore the status quo”).

And the alternative position is unsatisfactory, since it incentivizes trumped up claims of invasions, injustices against occupied people etc.

Can anyone think of a third possibility?

Btw I think by your formulation regarding states, applied to populi, revolutions may be justified since they constitute self defence. Perhaps it’s simply that I’ve too many movies in my time vaunting the herorism of the rebel alliance, but intutively I feel like people have a right to rebel against undemocratic governments almost always, since representation is a right, and in the absence of anyone else to do so we always have a right ( or at least a very strong prima facie right) to enforce our rights.


John Quiggin 09.12.10 at 2:54 am

@wkw Point 2: In game theory (at least as done by economists) ‘bluffing’ and ‘cheap talk’ are very different things. A bluffer must sometimes hold a good hand, otherwise their bluff will always be called. So, a rational actor model in which states threaten war can involve bluffing, but in such cases war must arise with positive probability.

‘Cheap talk’ is communication that doesn’t involve any costly commitment and doesn’t directly affect the outcome of the game. The main idea here is that if there are multiple equilibria, cheap talk can help us co-ordinate on one of them. That’s the point of my reference to the salience of status quo ante – it’s an easy focus for cheap talk.


Jack Strocchi 09.12.10 at 3:56 am

Pr Q @ #36 said:

‘Cheap talk’ is communication that doesn’t involve any costly commitment and doesn’t directly affect the outcome of the game. The main idea here is that if there are multiple equilibria, cheap talk can help us co-ordinate on one of them.

“Jaw-jaw is better than war-war,” said W. Churchill in an uncharacteristic moment of pacifism. Follow the link to a conservative realist think-tank.


wkw 09.12.10 at 4:04 am

JQ –

Yes I know cheap talk and bluffing are different, which is why I mentioned them both. Bluffing involves sinking costs, but that does not necessarily imply a willingness to fight a war. E.g., mobilizing troops to the border incurs costs, but does not necessarily imply that you are actually willing to cross it. In fact, if you are bluffing, by definition you are *not* willing to fight in this particular case, even if you might be in some other situation. So in this case, the Pr(invasion) = 0, despite the fact that the target state doesn’t know that.

You’re right that in repeated play a bluffer must occasionally follow through to make the bluff credible, but these are rare events and quite often approximate one-shot games. In most cases we don’t have long histories to learn from. So, e.g., Krushchev did not have to launch a nuke at NYC prior to the Cuban crisis for JFK to take him seriously. In that case, Krushchev got a major concession — the removal of American nukes from Turkey — for his bluff, even though it is almost certain that the Cuban missiles never would have been launched.

On the other hand, international “norms” of non-aggression, collective security, responsibility to protect, etc. are clearly cheap talk as they currently exist, because they are costless.


wkw 09.12.10 at 4:07 am

Brief addendum: a stronger norm of status quo ante bellum is likely to amount to cheap talk for basically the same reason: there are no credible enforcement mechanisms.


McDuff 09.12.10 at 4:10 am

I think your theory only applies as long as a rational psychopath is not involved. Luckily for humanity, most dictators and warmongers stop before the most strategically advantageous phase — that of killing everyone in the opposing nation, with nuclear or chemical or whatever.

There can, of course, be no status quo to restore if there is nobody left to remember what it was.


LFC 09.12.10 at 4:34 am

Coming back to this thread late in the evening, but I would second wkw’s point that “IR theorists” and the “foreign policy community” cannot be taken as synonymous, despite the vagueness of both categories. For one thing, to be a member of the “foreign policy community” as I understand it you have to be actively interested in policy — either making policy or issuing suggestions on what it should be. With apologies for US-parochialism here, my impression is that some IR theorists such as Powell, whom wkw referred to, generally don’t make explicit pronouncements about what US foreign policy should be, but leave the policy implications of their work more-or-less implicit.

Then there is the perhaps more interesting case of Walt and Mearsheimer, both of them IR theorists and self-identified ‘realists’ (albeit of different varieties) who do ‘grand theory’ (certainly Mearsheimer does) and also comment actively on policy. They both opposed the Iraq war, I believe. As others (e.g., Rodger Payne, Ido Oren) have pointed out (at more length and depth than I’m going to), there is an odd disconnect, if not outright contradiction, between on the one hand Mearsheimer’s grand theorizing (which I think is basically wrong on almost all counts and among other things treats war as an ineradicable part of international politics) and on the other hand Mearsheimer’s policy pronouncements, which in recent years have tended to be opposed to foreign policy adventurism, anything smacking of aggression, etc. His theorizing suggests that states and leaders are heavily constrained by structural forces and are forced to make worst-case assumptions about other states’ intentions, but his policy advocacy suggests that leaders actually have quite a lot of room to maneuver (and that they can be influenced by policy commenters in the first place).

Then there are those who on a broad definition could be called IR theorists even though some of them come from fields other than political science (e.g., Richard Falk, Francis Boyle, Robert Cox, Immanuel Wallerstein) who show probably little or no disconnect between what they say as theorists and what they say as policy commenters. ‘IR theory’ is a broad category and there are quite a number of ‘IR theorists’ who do not share the view that (paraphrasing JQ above) the use of military power to advance national interest, going well beyond self-defense, is normal and desirable. It’s not really possible for their opponents to dismiss these people with the one-line putdown that they are “naive idealists,” not least b/c the term Idealism in the sense of ‘Realism vs Idealism’ is no longer much in use in scholarly IR discourse (except in historiographical and intellectual-history discussions).


bad Jim 09.12.10 at 5:04 am

As appealing as a “status quo ante” norm would be if generally enforced, there are situations in which this is ambiguous, as when an insurgency is supported by outside forces: Bosnia, Kosovo, Papua-New Guinea for example, or the U.S. in its infancy.

Better than an insistence on the inviolability of borders might be the prohibition of annexation of territory by invaders.


John Quiggin 09.12.10 at 5:57 am

OK, I think it’s clear that what I should have been talking about is “IR theory as reflected in the views of the Foreign Policy Community”. And, at least for present purposes, I’m not particularly interested in IR theory considered separately from its policy implications. So, I’m interested to know whether there is a substantial body of IR theory directly critical of the theoretical/policy framework of the FPC (in which war is “politics by other means”), and not simply critical of particular instances of its implementation (eg Iraq).

I agree that Walt and Mearsheimer are interesting, but it seems to me that their starting point is not a critique of ‘realism’ but the particular proposition that taking one side in Middle Eastern politics is not in the US national interest. Maybe this is evolving to a more general anti-realist position, but I haven’t seen this yet.

BTW, as regards Powell are you referring to Colin Powell, or someone else I don’t know about?


Jack Strocchi 09.12.10 at 6:51 am

Pr Q @ #43 said:

I agree that Walt and Mearsheimer are interesting, but it seems to me that their starting point is not a critique of ‘realism’ but the particular proposition that taking one side in Middle Eastern politics is not in the US national interest. Maybe this is evolving to a more general anti-realist position, but I haven’t seen this yet.

Realists by definition cannot be forever pro- or anti-war since they distrust all super-historical principles. Conservative realists use the historicist method, generalising from concrete cases to more abstract principles. Which is the opposite of the more rationalistic approach of game-theoretic economists. (FWIW, I think both approaches have merit.)

But recently prominent conservative realists have been expressing a reluctance to use military force as not worth it, on balance, given the expensive messes it creates. So-called “Republicans who know what they are talking about” – an influential, if small, group of intellectuals and officials – have counted the military beans and found they dont amount to much of a political hill. They also fret about American decline, as all good conservatives should.

W&M started with a pamphlet denouncing the US’s lop-sided support for the Likud’s position in the Palestinian question. They have since generalised it to a more expansive critique of the US’s chronic propensity to open-ended interventionism in Southern Asia and associated mission-creep. And they seem to be leaning towards Chalmers Johnson’s prescient critique of the US’s immutable client state alliances as a magnet for “blow-back”.

Whether this counts as a principled opposition to militarism I don’t know. More a precautionary principle, which is just conservative common sense applied to strategy.


Chris Bertram 09.12.10 at 8:01 am

I wouldn’t read LoP just for the few pages on this John!


bad Jim 09.12.10 at 8:27 am

Condensed: war should be a non-profit enterprise.


Salient 09.12.10 at 8:44 am

Why are ‘war’ and ‘revolution’ being lumped in together?

The point of calling an aggressive nation’s war unjust is to provide cover to citizens of that nation who are engaged in disrupting or undermining the war. No other nation’s going to step in and stop the U.S. from invading Yemen, so we need to provide a compelling portrait of the injustice of war which enables citizens within the U.S. to reject the war effort of their government, protest against it, agitate for cessation, and disrupt the war effort from within.

We need a clear statement on just versus unjust war, in hard-line terms perhaps even starker than those outlined in the OP, to help individuals cut through the bullshit ‘we need to defend our national interests from possible threats’ kind of justifications that get floated for such a war. Nobody in government administration is going to use this kind of theory to soberly determine whether or not to invade: when we develop just war theory, we’re developing a justification framework for an intra-aggressor resistance movement.

That, or we’re providing cover for aggressors. I’m not seeing any (applied) middle ground.


Nick L 09.12.10 at 10:09 am

The US foreign policy community is quite distinct from the scholarly IR community, just as political science is distinct from the community of political pundits. Very few IR theorists are conventional realists any more. I just returned from a conference and there were only a handful of characteristically ‘realist’ panels. Of course, IR theory has to explain why war is such a prevalent feature of international politics (and why it appears to be in decline as a practice amongst states). Miscalculation, national ideology and the ‘cult of the offensive’, psychological mechanisms such as group-think, and the difference between ‘national interests’ and the interests of ruling groups and coalitions of concentrated interests are all suggested explanations for conflict in general and in particular. Normatively, the IR discipline includes a huge range of positions, from legal positivists to anti-war feminists.


novakant 09.12.10 at 12:27 pm

We need a clear statement on just versus unjust war

Alright then: There are no just wars.


Roger Albin 09.12.10 at 1:58 pm

Prof. Quiggin – I agree that any general claim based on the experience of Nazi Germany is very likely to be incorrect (but what does that say about Godwin’s law?), but I didn’t make any general claim. I pointed out an exception to your general claim. This is not an area where general claims are likely to be valid – either yours or the pathetic reasoning of neo-cons.


wkw 09.12.10 at 1:59 pm

JQ –

Powell refers to Robert, not Colin. This guy:

I’d think about it another way. The FP folks hear what they want to hear, and take what they want to take, from IR theory. Even more than economics, the pundit class does not represent or reflect actual academic theory in any way. And when they do they usually get it all wrong, i.e. the Bush administration actually citing Democratic Peace theory in order to start a war. I’m sure the think-tanks are a bit better, but probably only a bit.

It would be easier to say what modern IR theory thinks that war is just “politics by other means” in the sense that you mean it: basically none of it. Very few IR theorists would agree with the statement “States should go to war to advance their national interests”. The field today is basically motivated by the question “under what conditions can states cooperate with each other?” Some even call themselves “peace scientists”.

So most of the rat-choice stuff is pretty directly critical of the FP pundit class, since they show that deterrence is almost always possible and war is almost never rational. Realists don’t really believe in cooperation, but realist theory is critical of war, esp as “politics by other means”, b/c they think power is a precious resource that should not be wasted. Realists consider war a tragedy that is almost always avoidable*. As do liberals (newer name for idealists), which are somewhat rare these days, but are generally critical of war except (sometimes) for humanitarian purposes, and who believe that intl institutions can promote cooperation. Obviously constructivists generally oppose war.

*Tho sometimes war may not be avoidable, as in power transition theory.


Earnest O'Nest 09.12.10 at 3:44 pm

Maybe if we went to war quicker when there are bastards doing bastardly things there would be a chance of actually diminishing the amount of bastardly things being done by bastards.

Isn’t this the type of reasoning that underpins the ‘all dictators must be brought to justice’-type of argument?

If so, I think the opposition in some quarters to any military interventionism is of the rather too inconsistent sort.


Lemuel Pitkin 09.12.10 at 3:48 pm

47 seems exactly right to me.

It’s baffling why the original post, and more so the comments, assume that we will not be the ones starting wars.


Lemuel Pitkin 09.12.10 at 3:50 pm

… and Earnest O’Nest posts a perfect example, while I was typing:

Maybe if we went to war quicker when there are bastards doing bastardly things there would be a chance of actually diminishing the amount of bastardly things being done by bastards.

Good thing “we” never do bastardly things!


Earnest O'Nest 09.12.10 at 4:53 pm

Except that the ‘we’ of the international courts is none other than the ‘we’ of stopping bastards; but some of us are maybe well and truely beyond mistakes, such that we can trade this abstract we for the very concrete ‘I’ of those which are infallible ;-)

(and can you ask ‘us’ to prosecute all dictators, and still prevent ‘us’ from ever thinking we need to go to war? Can that interventionist non-interventionism be made consistent?)


Clay Shirky 09.12.10 at 5:09 pm

A minor point, relative to the earlier comments: talking about all of the cases _since 1945_ seems a little like talking about all of global economics since 1938, which is to say it excludes some fairly big, recent and salient events.

Even without invoking the Azi-nays as evil incarnate, the imposition of governments on Germany and Japan seem to have been a) justified in the view of the international community in 1945 and, b) to have worked out well since then, not just in reducing the bellicosity of those countries, but for the Japanese and German citizens as well.

I am _not_ proposing that casual imposition of alternative forms of government is always, or indeed even usually a good idea, but I do think that the limiting of the relevant examples to immediately after the end of WWII skews the set of cases you have to explain in ways that don’t strengthen the argument.

To extend your line of thought, I think you’d have to explain either why those success cases are now out of the question, or to explain why, despite both positive contemporary and historical judgment about the advisability of those changes, _status quo ante_ would have been a better outcome for WWII.


Henri Vieuxtemps 09.12.10 at 5:28 pm

@56, but in the case of Germany, at least, one could argue that upholding the principle of “denying recognition to territorial gains secured by force” could have halted the rise of that bellicose government there in the first place.


Lemuel Pitkin 09.12.10 at 6:06 pm

can you ask ‘us’ to prosecute all dictators, and still prevent ‘us’ from ever thinking we need to go to war?

Of course not. But who ever said the former?


aa 09.12.10 at 6:16 pm

Like Godwin, I find the evolution of Godwin’s Law unsettling (the Nazis we will always
have with us, but I hope that we can retire Godwin some day).
And if I may elaborate (OT) –

Wikipedia gives the law itself as: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1. But as Godwin said in 2008:

Still, I sometimes have some ambivalence about the Law, which is far beyond my control these days. Like most parents, I’m frequently startled by the unexpected turn my 18-year-old offspring takes. (I’m happy to say that my 15-year-old offspring—my daughter, Ariel Godwin—surprises me at least as often, although invariably in happier ways.) When I saw the photographs from Abu Ghraib, for example, I understood instantly the connection between the humiliations inflicted there and the ones the Nazis imposed upon death camp inmates—but I am the one person in the world least able to draw attention to that valid comparison.

He also states: “I wanted folks who glibly compared someone else to Hitler or to Nazis to think a bit harder about the Holocaust.” I think the Godwin’s Law we have on our hands today -and have had, for some time – is something else entirely. At one extreme, it becomes a facile way of saying (1) since the Nazi regime was sui generis, there is no point in thinking about it; (2) since Western European history in the first half of the 20th century doesn’t make sense without taking the Nazis into account, there is not much point in thinking about that either; (3) everybody knows this, because it’s Godwin’s Law. And that tendency (rather than anything said above) is what I find disquieting.


Roger Albin 09.12.10 at 6:19 pm

Henri – more complicated.

One of the key events in the chain that led to WWII was the Nazi reoccupation-remilitarization of the Rhineland in early 1936. The demilitarization of the Rhineland imposed by the Versailles treaty would be illegitimate according to Prof. Quiggin’s principle of not recognizing territorial aggression – acquisition. Under the Locarno treaty, Weimar governments agreed to continue the demilitarized status of the Rhineland but this can hardly be considered a completely voluntary act. So, the logical corollary is that the Nazi remilitarization was a legitimate act. If, however, the French government had invaded the Rhineland, they would have easily routed the trivial forces the Germans committed and that would have been the end of Hitler’s regime, which probably would have been replaced by a reactionary but much more cautious government.

Halting the rise of “that bellicose government” would have required considerably more than denying recognition of the Anschluss or the German conquest of the Bohemia/Moravia. It would have required war.

Again – a single apparently simple set of rules isn’t going to be adequate for all situations.


Henri Vieuxtemps 09.12.10 at 7:24 pm

The fact is that all the main actors did accept the remilitarization of the Rhineland, the anschluss of Austria, and annexation of Czechoslovakia; they just kept cooperating with Germany. They also rejected anti-German alliance with the Soviets offered in 1939, (arguably) resulting in the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact.

So, it’s not a fair example. All you’re demonstrating here is that by consistently breaking the rules it’s possible to create a situation where the rules become useless. Well, yes, sure.


Joey 09.12.10 at 10:35 pm

I’d like to take a closer look at this assertion:
“An interest in preserving international order provides third countries with a motive not to recognise gains secured by others through military force. While the gainer may be able to secure recognition from close allies, the absence of general recognition renders such gains costly and uncertain to hold, no matter how long they endure.”

I find this formulation problematic. Throughout the history of the Nonrecognition of Aggressive Gain, mere nonrecognition (as opposed to the use of sanctions like arms or trade embargo or the use of force like in WWII or Gulf War 1) has not only never resulted in the return to the status quo ante bellum but has been thought by many to be a useless exercise at best (Julius Stone [8 Va. J. Int’l L. 356 (1967-1968)] said it had only a nuisance value) and contributing to international instability at worst. Far from unproblematically being a strategy to preserve order, nonrecognition could be interpreted as meaning that the international community is refusing to adjust to realities and inflaming tensions.

Think of the 1971 India-Pakistan War. There were calls from many states, including the US, to condemn India’s “aggression” against Pakistan. Long-term nonrecognition was not seriously considered by most, as it was seen as too costly to have a state of 70 million people excluded from international society and generating tension between India, rump West Pakistan, the US and the USSR. There was also some feeling that Pakistani repression of the democratically elected govt of East Pakistan was illegitimate. That said, China vetoed Bangladesh’s admission to the UN on the basis that this would reward India’s aggression. India’s 1962 annexation of Goa was a similar situation.

Would it preserve international order if no one recognized Bangladesh? Probably not. But so how does it in any situation? There’s much more to be said on this but I just wanted to problematize this above claim.


John Quiggin 09.12.10 at 11:08 pm

It seemed (and seems) to me that laying down “Nazi Germany” as a trump card, with no explanation needed or offered (as in #23) is the kind of thing that should be discouraged, and Godwin provides a convenient hook for discouragement.

More generally, since Nazi Germany and WWII are sui generis, any attempt to build a theory of international relations with this as the typical case is bound to (and has) led to disaster – the implication is that your opponent is another Hitler and that only unqualified victory will suffice.

In any case, as has already been discussed, the settlement of WWII was broadly consistent with the position I’m putting. As Roger Albin points out (incorrectly claiming generality for this special case) the war changed so much that the idea of a literal return to the status quo ante was not a feasible solution. But the Western Allies did not seek any territorial gains at the expense of Germany or Japan, and gave aid rather than demanding reparations.

The further steps of war crimes trials and replacement of the aggressor governments were undertaken on the basis of international law, though of course much of this international law was extemporised for the purpose. The fact that all the potentially relevant international institutions and legal systems date to WWII is another reason why it makes sense to treat 1945 as the starting point for reasoning about the right way to address these issues.


Clay Shirky 09.13.10 at 1:13 am

I think this kind of “exceptionalism for exceptional events” weakens your larger point.

First, anyone wanting to argue that Conflict X shouldn’t be covered under Quigginite Rules only needs to say that X is also _sui generis_. Pick a conflict since 1945 and I could make you a laundry list of such reasons — nuclear state, colonial borders, the concrete grievances of restive ethnic polities, what have you.

Second, it looks like you are cherry-picking — saying the Allies did the right thing vis-a-vis the Axis’s territorial claims makes it even harder to explain why they did the wrong thing in imposing democracy.

Finally, the _sui generosity_ of WWII cuts both ways — both Germany and Japan had clear borders and populations with coherent ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious identities (the Germans having recently forced that situation onto their populace in the most sickening, criminal way possible.) Many, and perhaps most hard cases today don’t have those characteristics, and thus don’t have a clear _ante_ to be the target of any _status quo_; in adjudicating the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, for example, you can have your pick of _ante_, from 1947 to last Thursdays’ settlement extension, and the choice of which one to use as a goal _is the conflict._

To make a real case for this, I think you’ll need to describe pretty clearly why the extreme activist stance of the Allies in reconfiguring the constitutions of the losing states is now not feasible, in ways that bring Germany and Japan into the theory, rather than excluding them by definition.


John Quiggin 09.13.10 at 2:09 am

Clay, my view, as stated in the Original Post, is that this kind of imposition should be done by the international community as a whole, rather than by individual countries victorious in war. Broadly speaking, the Allied Powers adopted this approach, while simultaneously creating the required institutions such as the UN. The Treaty of San Francisco is an example.

So, I’m not claiming WWII as an excluded exception to my main point (although, by virtue of its scale and extent, it is a case where the concept of status quo ante bellum is more difficult to define than usual). I regret that I derailed debate by citing Godwin against its use as a trump card.


MPAVictoria 09.13.10 at 2:15 am

I don’t think you really responded to Clay’s other points John. What should be done in cases where the status quo ante bellum is not clear?


novakant 09.13.10 at 2:44 am

But the Western Allies did not seek any territorial gains at the expense of Germany

Who needs territory when you can have military bases and a client state – let’s not forget that Germany wasn’t a sovereign nation until 1990.


LFC 09.13.10 at 3:16 am

Joey @62:
I think your example of the 1971 India-Pakistan war is itself problematic b/c, first of all, that was not a clear-cut open-and-shut case of aggression, but rather a case in which India had at least a plausible claim that it was coming to the aid of an indigenous independence mvt in E Pakistan and thus doing a sort of humanitarian intervention, given W Pakistan’s actions in the East. Moreover and more relevantly, even if India’s actions in that case are deemed aggression, they did not result in any territorial gain for India and thus there was no ‘aggressive gain’ (of the sort I think JQ meant in the orig. post) to be the subject of non-recognition. (Thus China’s veto of Bangladesh’s entry to the UN was indeed not a constructive move, but it does not represent the kind of non-recognition at issue here.)

There may be problems, as you suggest, with nonrecognition as the main or only response to aggressive territorial gain, but the ’71 India-Pakistan war is not an apt example, I think, to make this point. (More to say here but I don’t have the time right now.)


John Quiggin 09.13.10 at 4:29 am

@MPA Victoria: Obviously, the choice of ante has an arbitrary element, but the focal solutions is the borders that emerged from WWII, and were mostly fixed by 1950. The crucial point being that the parties directly involved shouldn’t get to pick their own preferred point in history

Unfinished business from 1945-50 still leaves enough room for some continuing disputes, to which I don’t have an answer. But after 60 years, it’s time for the claimants to realise they’ve lost far more by pursuing the dispute than they would have if they had unilaterally given the other side what they wanted at the outset.

There’s also the problems associated with the breakup of federal/multinational states. Again, I don’t have a particularly good answer on this.

LFC, on Bangladesh, I agree and made most of these points in a related off-blog discussion. It’s also worth noting that, while India was obviously helping the Bangladesh rebels, the war proper started with a failed pre-emptive strike by Pakistan.


John Quiggin 09.13.10 at 4:31 am

A minor further point is that India captured, but gave back, territory in West Pakistan.


Jim Rose 09.13.10 at 5:09 am

John Q, John Rawls’ law of peoples has the following key points:

the fundamental division is not between democratic and non-democratic peoples or liberal and non-liberal, but decent and non-decent or outlaw peoples.

Decent peoples allow toleration and subscribe to eight principles:

1. Peoples are free and independent, and their freedom and independence are to be respected by other peoples.

2. Peoples are to observe treaties and undertakings.

3. Peoples are equal and are parties to the agreements that bind them.

4. Peoples are to observe a duty of non-intervention.

5. Peoples have the right of self-defense but no right to instigate war for reasons other than self-defense.

6. Peoples are to honor human rights.

7. Peoples are to observe certain specified restrictions in the conduct of war.

8. Peoples have a duty to assist other peoples living under unfavorable conditions that prevent their having a just or decent political and social regime.

(HT: Malcolm Hayward for neat summary)


sg 09.13.10 at 6:22 am

I don’t think it’s fair to say that the governments imposed on Germany and Japan were entirely new and represented only the caprice of the victorious powers. In fact they seem to have retained many of the properties of those states from before the development of their particular national crazinesses. Japan even kept the emperor under whose name its troops died, and about whose national religion Chamberlain wrote his prescient essay in 1905. Germany seems to have regained many of the pre-Weimar era aspects of its social order, and tellingly the two post-war governments weren’t the same, so presumably they represent a shift to some kind of ante bellum state.

In fact, regarding Japan, if you set aside the massive destruction of infrastructure and loss of life from the US bombing campaigns, Japan seems to have been restored to pretty much its pre-craziness/dictatorship borders (though it lost a bit to the North). The victorious powers then helped it regain its infrastructure and social order. This seems very much a case of restoring the ante bellum state, and I think it’s reasonable to say that if Germany hadn’t been torn up from two sides, the same would have occurred there. And those two states are now the least likely on earth to wage aggressive war – not just constitutionally, but in terms of the willingness of the people to entertain such a notion.

Those on the thread claiming that restoring the status quo ante bellum does not act to deter war should remember this, and that both Japan and Germany used their unequal treatment by other great powers (Germany’s being specifically due to punishment for a previous war) as justification for their imperialism.

I don’t know about Prof. Q’s take on IR theory, or Godwin’s Law, but it certainly seems that Nazi Germany and crazy Japan are two very good examples of the pacific benefits of simply restoring the status quo ante bellum after a crushing defeat.


jgreen 09.13.10 at 6:26 am

Hi John,

I thought you may be interested in the following. Essentially, international law (for whatever practical benefit that may be!) and its leading commentators certainly agree with you. Just a thought.

M Shaw, International Law, 5th ed, 423-4:
“Conquest, the act of defeating an opponent and occupying all or part of its territory, does not of itself constitute a basis of title to the land. It does the give the victor certain rights under international law as regards the territory, the rights of belligerent occupation, but the territory remains the legal possession of the ousted sovereign.

By the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, war was outlawed as an instrument of national policy and by article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter all member states must refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

It is…clear today that the acquisition of territory by force alone is illegal under international law. This may be stated in view of article 2(4) of the UN Charter and other practice. Security Council resolution 242, for example, emphasised the ‘inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’, while the 1970 Declaration of Principles of International Law adopted by the UN General Assembly provides that:

‘the territory of a state shall not be the object of acquisition by another state resulting from the threat or use of force. No territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognised as legal.’

In Security Council resolution 662 (1990), adopted unanimously, the Council decided that the declared Iraqi annexation of Kuwait ‘under any form and whatever pretext has no legal validity and is considered null and void’.”

Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law, 7th ed, 161:
“The modern law prohibits conquest and regards a treaty of cession imposed by force as a nullity. Even if – and this is open to considerable doubt – the vice in title can be cured by recognition by third states, it is clear that the loser is not precluded thus from challenging any title based upon a transfer from the aggressor. It is the force of a powerful prohibition, the stamp of illegality, which operates here rather than the principle nemo dat quod non habet. Apparent exceptions, when the right of the loser is precluded, occur when there is a disposition of territory by the principal powers or some other international procedure valid as against states generally. Such dispositions may result in an aggressor keeping territory he seized: but the title thenceforth is not based upon the illegal seizure.

Suppose that, objectively speaking, the result of the transfer were in accordance with the principle of self-determination: would this circumstance supersede the illegality of the seizure? it is probable that, at the very least, recognition of the title of the transference by third states would then be justifiable and would consolidate the rights of the holder.”

Of course the opposite theory, uti possidetis (juris), has also been recognised legally when it comes to the withdrawal of colonial powers. Ie, the new independent republics are limited to the territory originally ‘conquered’ by their colonial powers.


Earnest O'Nest 09.13.10 at 7:42 am

58, @lemuel – nobody did hear but the question is – if you are charitable enough to hear it – is if it is possible to be non-consequentialist when it comes to Iraq and prgamatic when it comes to, for instance, Kagame or, vice versa, to be pragmatic when it comes to Afghanistan & very non-consequentialist when it comes to Bashir. I think both the neo-con and the left fringe positions are equally, let’s say, debatable.

Also, with reference to 65, if The Original Post defined a qualified notion of ‘we’ why do you go pontificating as if it is inadmissable in your personal court.

Finally, to all, war is a very invasive type of thing to do (to say the least) to talk about status quo after having gone to war (for whatever reason) is simply ridiculous. Sure – you can only lose in a war – but then again there can be such a thing as a lose-lose situation where the loss of war is less than the loss incurred by not going to war. As most people would agree – with Clay – that this has happened at least once, it can hardly be maintained that this can never happen.

I think people here mistake there own peaceful surroundings a little bit too rapidly as the norm for the world. Surely, if you are as bloody lucky as most of us here are, why go to war? But then again, most situations are not like ours, yet.


Chris Bertram 09.13.10 at 7:45 am

Status quo ante gets a relevant mention from Tom Sorrell in the NYT here


Martin Bento 09.13.10 at 7:53 am

Let’s look at the American Civil War through this lens. I realize one can argue that civil wars are fundamentally different beasts than wars between previously independent states, but since you’ve said that your point applies to political violence in general, it does not matter: civil wars are certainly political violence. Certain things stand out to me.

The South seceded over slavery, the North egged them into shooting first, then kicked their asses with extreme brutal prejudice. The North could have just let them leave, so it was a war of choice from the North’s perspective. As I understand your standards, the war could not be justified as a war against slavery, as claims of justice cannot justify political violence, nor could it be a humanitarian intervention, as there was no international body to justify such. It could conceivably be justified as a war against secession, however, as secession changed the status quo; if one accepts the North as “the nation” (debatable, but, for the sake of argument, let’s), the nation had been deprived of territory. By this standard, Lincoln may have been justified in burning crops and using mass starvation as a technique of war – your standards do not seem to impose limits on how wars are fought – but the Emancipation Proclamation is right out. Lincoln was morally obligated to permit the South to re-establish slavery after the war, as that was the status quo ante bellum.

Furthermore, it would not matter if the cause of the conflict were entirely different. Suppose the South did not have slavery, but did want to extend the vote to women. The rest of the country resists this, and does not wish to recognize the Southern vote in federal elections, as it would be tainted by female participation. The South secedes. Near as I can tell, this is no different from the civil war that actually ensued, under you system. The North has the right to invade, impose starvation, and use violence, nominally to restore its territory, but in effect to prevent women from getting the vote.

While I think there is legitimacy in regarding stability as a virtue, one cannot make it the uber-virtue. If one examines the path we have taken to get from, say, a medieval system to here, that path is flooded with blood. Not all that blood was necessary, but it is very difficult to see a path from there to here or to anywhere like here that does not run through large quantities of blood.


John Quiggin 09.13.10 at 10:44 am

The Civil War is about the hardest case, unlike WWII (clearly justified) and the American Revolution (clearly not).

However, my view of the Civil War is pretty much the opposite of yours. In the absence of any kind of international law to call on, the War was justified only by the fact of slavery. Political exigencies made it impossible for the North to say this explicitly at the beginning, but the South did so from the moment Lincoln was elected. It was obvious that restoration of the status quo ante would imply the gradual elimination of slavery as envisaged by the Founders, and the war was justified by the South’s rejection of this.

By contrast, a war over tariff nullification, as threatened by Jackson and Calhoun a couple of decades earlier would have been utterly unjustified (on both sides).


John Quiggin 09.13.10 at 10:45 am

LM, while my points are obviously directed primarily at the US, they also apply to Russia and to thinking about how others should react to Russian attempts to use military power for political ends.


Jack Strocchi 09.13.10 at 11:03 am

Deleted – nothing more like this please, Jack. Anything further on this topic can go to the sandpit at my blog


Colin Reid 09.13.10 at 11:46 am

“But the Western Allies did not seek any territorial gains at the expense of Germany and Japan”

That’s not quite true: the US gained control over the Ryukyu islands, and France gained control over the Saarland. Both were run as ‘protectorates’ rather than formally annexed to the occupying power, but in the immediate postwar years it wasn’t at all clear that these places would ever be returned to German/Japanese sovereignty, and both could well have ended up permanent possessions of the occupiers if Japan and West Germany hadn’t ended up on such close terms with the US and France respectively. Still, it’s fair to say that the Western allies made remarkably *modest* territorial demands given the scale of the war and the totality of the final victory, and there was obviously nothing as dramatic on the Western side as the Oder-Neisse line.


Henri Vieuxtemps 09.13.10 at 11:59 am

Fighting secession could’ve been a defensible cause, but by the time war started the secession had already been completed; the CSA was an separate independent state with a government in control of its territory. The status quo ante bellum in this case would be the restoration of the Union and Confederacy, as of March 1861. As Martin said, slavery seems irrelevant.


Zamfir 09.13.10 at 12:06 pm

John Q, I don’t see the clear distinction between “slavery in the South” and “Saddam is a dictator” as justified and nont justified causes for war.

Do you imply it is a slope of evil, with slavery bad enough but Saddam not yet? I do not find it immediately obvious that the line is between those two, and not before Saddam or after slavery.

Or do you mean the South started the war on unjustified grounds, with the north as defenders who restored the status quo? In that case, the status quo principle freezes current borders in place rather strictly, if even internal seccesion is not allowed unless by wide agreement.


Pete 09.13.10 at 12:29 pm

John Quiggin: American war of Independance clearly not justified? Could you explain your reasoning and apply it to other anti-colonial wars please?


Clay Shirky 09.13.10 at 12:40 pm

@sg (#72), I don’t disagree with the idea of _sqab_. I just think the edge cases are more numerous and harder than the original formulation suggests.

I agree with your invocation of the Treaty of Versailles as an example of How Not To Do It. (Though, for John, I think this presents a cherry-picking problem again; taking the causes of WWII as evidence but not the outcomes looks a bit ad hoc for my taste.)

The territorial claim is harder in practice but easier in theory — when invoking _sqab_, it’s possible to simply throw up your hands and say “Sometimes there is no obvious anterior situation, so we have to wing it.” Such is statecraft.

The imposition of governments strikes me as the theoretically more difficult case, not because of an absence of relevant facts on the ground as because of the presence of relevant counter-examples. I’m not claiming that the governments of post-war Japan and Germany were “entirely new and represented only the caprice of the victorious powers”, nor is that the threshold John originally raised: “imposing a new government.” Given that latter threshold, Japan clearly falls into that category, and Germany arguably does.

Japan is a simple case. Post-WWII: Paliamentary democracy. Pre-WWII: Not so much. Oh, and Hirohito was forced to abandon not only dictatorial power but claims of divinity. To suggest that pre- and post-war Japan was exemplified by continuity would be like saying that the Glorious Revolution in England was a mere articulation of the divine right of kings.

And it wasn’t just representation that got a workover. Japan is the only other country with a BBC-like media system, because Britain got the job of reconfiguring their media landscape. And so on. The degree to which the institutions of Japanese society were reworked by the victors was more like colonial occupation than restoration of ante-bellum normalcy.

Germany is the harder case, because of the partition, but leaving aside the imposition of Communism (a bad idea, as it turned out, both for the reasons John notes and because wholesale prices are surprisingly useful.) Taking West Germany as our paradigm case, the post-war influence of the Allies didn’t exactly look like a catch-and-release program. The democracy Germany had in the 1950s wasn’t a return to the democracy of 1930, in part because the system was re-designed to prevent the events of 1933 from recurring.

And all of this is before the big imposition: Japan and Germany were both de-militarized. A country that lacks offensive war-fighting powers is a different _kind_ of country than one that has them, as @Greg Sanders also noted at #8.

As you observe, Germany and Japan have shed the tax and organizational burdens of maintaining an army, and built this de facto subsidy into their national identities, but given that this de-militarization was forced on them as a profound alteration in their governmental structures, and has been one of the astonishing successes of 20th century post-war reconstruction, I think that success is also problematic for _sqab_ in its political (as opposed to territorial) formulation.

If John’s idea is that we should return to a _sqab_ government, provided it is a demilitarized, with anti-demagogic circuit breakers written into the Constitution, and the powers of the executive reduced in both absolute and relative terms (less autocratic *and* more checks and balances), that seems like a big asterisk to have, even if there is no imposition of voting.

I have a feeling he means something more Zakaria-like, maybe “Don’t ask for democracy before you have a civil society at the national level” or something, but I can’t help thinking that _sqab_ is on firmer ground as regards borders than governance.


alex 09.13.10 at 1:02 pm

Germany and Japan have shed the tax and organizational burdens of maintaining an army

I was under the impression that the Japanese Self-Defence Forces were one of the larger and more technologically capable armed forces in the world. The ground component is about 40% larger than the British Army, for example, and is an all-volunteer force. Many other nations have 100s of 1000s of poorly-armed troops, of course, but I expect Japan spends a lot more on its ones.


Zamfir 09.13.10 at 1:32 pm

Pete says John Quiggin: American war of Independance clearly not justified? Could you explain your reasoning and apply it to other anti-colonial wars please?

Well, the Americans being the colonists instead of the colonized makes a difference.


Clay Shirky 09.13.10 at 1:47 pm

@Alex (#85), it’s the lack of offensive capability that amounts to the subsidy. Having an all-volunteer defense force amounts to a standing Works Project Administration project with guns, since the LDP never had to build anything like a blue-water Navy or offensive nuclear capabilities. There was also a political dividend, since the LDP never had to explain to the population why it was putting the country’s young men in harms’ way, since it wasn’t allowed to do any such thing.


sg 09.13.10 at 1:55 pm

clay, Japan isn’t demilitarized – it has a very large and effective military, which it constitutionally cannot deploy for offensive purposes.

Japanese government and civil society retained a lot of their (pre-dictatorship) structures – they have a new constitution but large chunks of the workings of their civil service, education system and corporate systems (at least in Japan) seem to have retained a similar form. I’m not sure that the break (even the Emperor’s lost divinity) is as large as you suggest.

If, for example, the victors had set the system up without concern for continuity and tradition, how come Japanese society is so much more socialist than either Britain or the US?


novakant 09.13.10 at 1:56 pm

WWII (clearly justified)

But what does that mean? A good cause justifies what exactly? The carpet bombing of German cities? The fire bombing of Tokyo? The nuclear attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima? You’re on a slippery slope here.


chris 09.13.10 at 2:04 pm

But after 60 years, it’s time for the claimants to realise they’ve lost far more by pursuing the dispute than they would have if they had unilaterally given the other side what they wanted at the outset.

The obvious counterexample to this is, sorry, the one you asked us not to mention (which also ultimately dates from the near-WWII period), in which both sides want the other to leave the disputed territory and never come back, so if you assume that they both value remaining in that territory very highly (which seems consistent with their behavior), then they may both be better off continuing the fight than surrendering, if they both prefer fighting over their homeland to being exiled from it.

Now, you could certainly argue that either or both sides’ attachment to a particular patch of territory above the lives of substantial numbers of their own people is irrational and they should realize that, but I think you’re going to be a long time waiting for that kind of goal realignment, particularly when religion is involved. A theory of international affairs that demands settling some conflict by having one side of it decide they don’t care about the outcome anymore doesn’t seem terribly practical.


Zamfir 09.13.10 at 2:25 pm

Clay, the Japanese navy is roughly the same size as the British and French Navies, with a similar head count and budget (excluding nuclear missile subs). It lacks an aircraft carrier but it has more other ships in operation.

Nuclear capability is of course a sensitive subject in Japan. Saying that they don’t have one just to save money is a bit too simplistic.


Bloix 09.13.10 at 2:51 pm

#76 – How extraordinary to find a proponent of the Lost Cause on this blog.

“The South seceded over slavery.” Lincoln promised that he would not interfere with slavery where it was established and the Republican Party did not propose to eliminate it. The South seceded over the issue of extension of slavery to the territories (per the Dred Scott decision), because the South was expansionist wanted to extend the reach of slavery throughout North America and into as much of central America and the Caribbean as could be conquered.

“the North egged them into shooting first” – South Carolina seceded in December 1860. In January 1861, while Buchanan’s term had two months to go, South Carolina militiamen fired the first shots of the conflict against ships attempting to resupply Fort Sumter. The ships withdrew, and no further efforts were made to resupply the fort until April, when their food had run out. Thus Lincoln, in his efforts to prevent war from breaking out, gave the South four months to arm and train the batteries in the harbor, so that when in April he finally did attempt to resupply the fort, the supply ships were violently repulsed and the fort had to be evacuated. Apparently, in Martin Bento’s eyes, anything other than immediate surrender of all nationally owned property to the Confederacy counts as “egging on.”

“kicked their asses with extreme brutal prejudice. ” – The South was treated with a courtesy virtually unknown in any similar war. For 20 months the North fought the war with entirely unecessary solicitude to Southern property and attitudes. They returned slaves to their masters and left property alone. It wasn’t until January 1863 that the Emancipation Proclamation took effect. Even thereafter, there were few or none of the atrocities that characterize civil wars. Immediately after the war, President Johnson issued a general pardon to almost all rebels, who were not divested of their property. Jefferson Davis became the president of an insurance company, living out his life in comfort and honor. Robert E. Lee became president of a college in Virginia; was fully pardoned in 1868; and was lionized North and South as a great war hero.

“The North could have just let them leave, so it was a war of choice from the North’s perspective. ” – Oh, really. And what would have happened in Kansas and the other Western territories? The South began the war specifically in order to spread slavery to the West. The conflict could not have been avoided unless the Union decided to allow the Confederacy to take over the western half of the continent.

Lincoln may have been justified in burning crops and using mass starvation as a technique of war” – this is a libel. There was no famine during the Civil War.


sg 09.13.10 at 3:02 pm

just to follow up on zamfir’s point about the size of the Japanese navy – one of the reasons given by Japan for its belligerent attitude towards the British was the Treaty of London (?) which limited their naval tonnage. To have established subsequent to the war the right to a navy as large as the British indicates (on that small point) an achievement beyond the status quo ante bellum.


Clay Shirky 09.13.10 at 3:09 pm

@Zamfir, I’m not saying that the Japanese don’t have nuclear capacities just to save money (or that their lack of expensive military platforms like aircraft carriers follows that logic.) In fact, I’m making the reverse argument — that the removal of offensive military capability as a condition of their surrender was imposed by the victors but has been beneficially integrated into Japanese (and German) society, making _sqab_ as goal for structures of governance hard to support.

@sg, you are now deliberately misreading me. I am not claiming — nor did John set up as a test case — victors who were unconcerned with continuity. I _am_ claiming that things like the imposition of parliamentary democracy and the re-writing of the constitution to forbid offensive use of the military were imposed by the victors, have worked out well, and violate his proposed principles.


sg 09.13.10 at 3:23 pm

clay, Japan and Germany both had parliamentary democracies of some kind before the war. Japan’s first democratic reforms were in 1867, and they used Germany’s constitution as a template in the 1880s. Imposition of a different form of parliamentary democracy is hardly a strong change.

But you’re right, constitutional injunctions against war were a significant imposition, but given the mechanism was put in place for those democracies to undo those changes pretty fast, and they haven’t been, it suggests either that the imposition in question wasn’t as dictatorial as you think, or that the Japanese/German people weren’t so interested in a return to the politics of the war era. Which would be why it worked…


Zamfir 09.13.10 at 3:49 pm

I would largely say the same as SG here. The post-war conditions might for example have stopped Japan and Germany from building their own nukes in the 1950s, when they both did have a research program and the technical capability. But it is not what stopped them all those decades since.

To some (perhaps large) extent the current US still has an influence in such affairs, but the US doesn’t have that influence as victor over Germany and Japan in WW2. It has that influence as superpower and critical ally, in the same way that it has large control over other countries that it didn’t fight in WW2 .

So the counterfactual Japan and Germany in a world without the imposition in the1940s democracy and defensive constitutions might be reasonably to similar to the actual Japan and Germany. Possibly including a similar army and a similar democracy.


Joey 09.13.10 at 4:33 pm

@ LFC 68 1) There are two points about ’71 India-Pakistan that make it a relevant example: a) that it was not a clear-cut case of aggression demonstrates that there are problems when theorizing on the assumption of clear-cut examples; and b) that it would have been a bad decision for international order not to recognize it.

2) What about Goa? Would international order be served if India’s annexation of Goa was unrecognized and a hotspot of international tension?

3) If you are going to deny Bangladesh as relevant because even though India managed to break its largest rival into two it did not legally acquire territory, then JQ can’t have the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus either.

@JQ 69 1) The ‘war proper’ started with full-scale military incursions by India throughout November in which they took and held territory in East Pakistan. But that doesn’t matter for the point which was that nonrecognition plausibly has costs in terms of international order and its benefits are unclear in terms of deterrence. So I don’t see how you have established that it is an equilibrium strategy.


Henri Vieuxtemps 09.13.10 at 4:52 pm

@92, Thus Lincoln, in his efforts to prevent war from breaking out, gave the South four months to arm and train the batteries in the harbor, so that when in April he finally did attempt to resupply the fort, the supply ships were violently repulsed and the fort had to be evacuated.

So, what do you think his long-term plan was: to prevent war from breaking out and to keep a garrison on the CSA territory forever?


LFC 09.13.10 at 5:11 pm

Joey@97 :
I will stand by my (and JQ’s) position that the ’71 India/Pakistan war is not particularly relevant here. As for Goa, it’s in the category of a big post-colonial country (India) annexing a very small piece of land which was held by a colonial power (Portugal) as an enclave, basically, in Indian territory. Arguing that the annexation of Goa should have been recognized, as it was by most countries I guess, does not seem to me to undercut very badly the point about non-recognition of ‘aggressive gain.’ Here’s a question for you: What about Japan’s invasion and absorption of Manchuria to create the puppet state of Manchukuo (sorry if spelling is wrong)? Should that have been recognized? Or did the Stimson Doctrine that sprang from that event, and which essentially codified (if my memory serves) the non-recognition principle, make more sense from the standpoint of int’l order? I’ll go with the Stimson Doctrine: not an effective deterrent in that case, granted, but I can’t see much wrong with it on the level of principle. Perhaps I am missing something here, but I’m surprised that the notion of non-recognition of territorial gain through unambiguous aggression is being contested. The fact is, this particular issue is somewhat moot these days, b/c not many states seize territory outright through clear aggression any more.


Mark Rigstad 09.13.10 at 5:33 pm

Anyone adequately familiar with the scholarly literature in the (pretty diverse) field of just war theory would know that one does not find there “a widespread presumption that having gone to war in self-defense (as judged by themselves), countries are entitled to set whatever objectives they see as reasonable.” To list counter-examples to this claim would be to construct a fairly comprehensive bibliography of the relevant literature.


Martin Bento 09.13.10 at 6:26 pm

John, so if there were an international order, and it failed to approve the Civil War, that war would not have been justified, but since there was none such, the war was justified? The war can be justified, not on its own merits, but by the absence of a UN to disapprove it? On the face of it, this would seem an argument against having a UN, but I don’t think it stands up. Is this not inventing an ideal international order to justify the things you think should be justified? After all, in the present era, you argue that justification has to be allowed by the existing institutions h, however imperfect, because allowing people to postulate their ideal international orders is too flexible. But postulating your alternative international order when there is not even an existing one to contradict you is even more flexible. I don’t even think it is plausible that a UN of the day, had one existed, would have approved this, not that such a counterfactual would be a strong argument (counterfactuals are also very flexible). Such an institution would have been dominated by European colonial powers who would have had an interest is not seeing the human rights of swarthies and the rights of third parties to use violence to establish them very appealing.


Bloix 09.13.10 at 6:56 pm

@98 –
We know what his plan was. He told us, in the First Inaugural. He proposed a constitutional amendment to make clear that the Federal Government would never interfere with slavery, and he promised to do nothing to provoke the outbreak of war. He hoped that this would entice the Southern states to return to the Union. He hoped to maintain the status quo in order to negotiate a solution that would keep the South in the Union on whatever terms possible:

Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. … I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.


I add, too, that all the protection which, consistently with the Constitution and the laws, can be given will be cheerfully given to all the States when lawfully demanded, for whatever cause—as cheerfully to one section as to another.


I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States. …

In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere … [M]y best discretion will be exercised, according to circumstances actually existing and with a view and a hope of a peaceful solution of the national troubles and the restoration of fraternal sympathies and affections.

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it. I can not be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the National Constitution amended. … I fully recognize the rightful authority of the people over the whole subject, to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instrument itself… I will venture to add that to me the convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people themselves… I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service… [H]olding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.

Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? In our present differences, is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.


My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to hurry any of you in hot haste to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it… Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.


I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.


Henri Vieuxtemps 09.13.10 at 7:23 pm

That’s beautiful, the angels and all. Too bad keeping a hundred men in that fort was a higher priority. Oh, well…


john c. halasz 09.13.10 at 7:24 pm

On the one hand, Quiggin’s account of war is so obvious as to be unobjectionable. Wars are terrible, horrifying events; they rain down on the just and unjust alike; they are not positive sum games, but negative sum games, such that, more than likely, both sides end up losers in ex ante terms; wars are never “justified”, only more or less “necessary”, with that “necessity” cashed out solely in terms of self-defense and a desperate last resort. But on the other hand, Quiggin’s views seem oddly vacuous, a bit banal, and completely vague when it comes to application to actual historical cases. And that’s because they are tautologous: wars are simply “irrational”, because, again, he insists on applying the economistic/utilitarian criteria of rational choice/public choice theory. “Rational” actions must submit to Pareto optimism, (with unremarked slippage and confusion between normative and “positive” analysis and considerations). But then one sense of “rationality” is that it consists in the capacity to explain existent phenomena. And that entails not simply ruling out of court the existent phemonena, not matter how horrible or unsettling, as merely irrational, in a confused normative and positive sense.

Wars are not economic exchanges, obviously, even if they might have economic causes, among others. What is “exchanged” is lethal violences, bad, not goods, and it can’t be taken for granted that they are motivated by or aim at self-interests, material gains, increased productive surpluses, or expected utility. Whatever the conflicting claims at stake, ostensibly or “really”, they are by definition irreconcilable, else the war would not occur. And wars occur is the absence of adjudication, in an interregnum of “justice”, in a “state of nature”. Hence their analysis and explanation can’t be made out simply in terms of a proceduralist formalism. Especially since, er, the conditions laid out for such a formal analysis are lacking. To indulge in a bit of jargon, preferences are likely lexicographic, uncertainty prevails over any calculation of risks, and thus over any expected utility or prospect, and information is inherently incomplete, indeed, subject to strategic concealment and deception, such that “intentions” are utterly ambiguous, rather than clearly defined purposive-rational aims,- (e.g. both sides likely will claim defensive “justification”). Wars occur and are hazarded in the crisis and breakdown of communication, negotiable interests, and calculable strategic equilibria. Hence to explain them in such terms is begging the question.

What’s more, wars in the modern tradition occur between sovereign powers, typically assigned to nation-states. And thus the stakes are over sovereign rule, of which territory is just a marker. Since all legal order is rooted in sovereignty, as the giver and coercive enforcer of law, neither any appeal to a purely formal proceduralism, nor to international law, can adequately decide the issue a priori. Since, international law, like the Pope, lacks divisions, and, absent a world sovereign, unlike the Pope, can only be enforced through an alliance of sovereigns, which, er, likely means a limited number of “great powers”, pursuing their own “interests”, and likely formed by prior wars and their resulting strategic balances. But without a properly political account of sovereign power, (which is not necessarily a fully stable, unified, nor fully accountable “thing”), one has simply side-stepped any realistic account and judgment of the issues of war, in general, or more especially, since there is no fully general account, in specific cases.

I’m not war-mongering here. I agree, as per paragraph one, that war is an event devoutly to be avoided. My objection is that Quiggin cashes out the issues in terms of economic action and a specific neo-classical analysis of it, and thereby lacks any relevant account of political action and sovereign power. But political action is not reducible to economic action, any more than markets operate independently of any state power, in spite of what too many economists think (or don’t think), (nor is the obverse, that politics is economics concentrated, an adequate view). Economic action is oriented toward the seeking out, realization and distribution of more-or-less material surpluses; political action is oriented toward the resolution of conflicts and the securement of authoritatively binding public decisions and agreements with respect to projects of collective action or modes of social action coordination. That’s a praxiological distinction between modes and dimensions of social action, not between entirely distinct domains. But at least it should go some way toward indicating what’s obtuse in Quiggin’s thinking, in assuming a single and continuous model of social action based on a formal, calculative “rationality”. (There have already been several threads recently here at CT on rational choice models. Can Marx’ thought be reconstructed in such terms? No. Can such thinking contribute to projects on the ill-defined left? Maybe, but in only limited and quite conditional ways and with the risk of conceding far to much by way of assumptions to the status quo.) Hence his strange aversion to social change, whereby he immediately extends his strictures against war to the case of revolution, (which puts him in the hapless Friedrich Ebert school of social democracy). But both social change and political action involve disruption, discontinuity of motivations, conflict, and incalculable risks, which can’t exclude the possibility of violence. (Cf. Hannah Arendt). But then he says that wars must result in the restoration of the status quo ante, when, as others have already pointed out, they inevitably change it, if only in terms of the ratio of living to dead which can’t be “corrected”. Just as with Analytic philosophy, so with neo-classical economics, an abstraction into a pure logical present in the name formal analysis, results in an abstraction from actual history and its temporality, (including that old ultima ratio of the political, death), such that self-stultifying conclusions are reached that the past must be retained and reproduced in the name of that esprit de systeme, “stability”, (when the untenability and breakdown of that system and its stability has already occurred). Because deduction has replaced actual judgment.

For the rest, I’m glad someone at least mentioned the Oder-Niesse line. The names of cities like Lvov, Kaliningrad, Gdansk, and Wroclaw deserve some consideration in the “restoration” of the status quo ante. As to WW2/Hitler, I think the basic point is that it established, unfortunately, what might be called the Hitler standard, a level of murderous aggression so extreme and irrational that it shattered all precedents and thus set an all-too-low strategic base-line henceforth, with ill effects that are not merely rhetorical. But it’s odd that little mention has been made of its successor, the paradoxical and squishy logic of nuclear deterence, whereby the maintenance of an inherently incredible self-stultifying threat led to an excrescent build up of “WMDs” orders of magnitude greater than needed to destroy the entire planet. We aren’t living actually nowadays in a new global era of peace, harmony and international law, but rather amidst the decay of the Cold War “order”.


Conor 09.13.10 at 8:27 pm

What jgreen said at 73.

War is outlawed in all but three cases: self-defence, UNSC authorisation and the ‘humanitarian intervention exception’. The last is the most controversial grounds – and many argue that it is not part of international law. But if it does exist (due to the deficiencies of the UNSC) then there must be a whole series of justifications for such a resort to force (threshold of crisis, exhaustion of other options, likelihood of success, etc.). There is no legal basis for invading a country to ‘bring war criminals to justice.’

I don’t really think this is very controversial. The R2P crowd have been banging on about it for years.


Bloix 09.13.10 at 8:35 pm

Yes, the angels are beautiful. Apparently you are contending that the moral course would have been to permit secession by withdrawing the federal presence from the South and ceding them all Union property, military and civilian. There’s an argument for that point of view, but there’s no realistic argument that secession would have avoided war. I pointed that out upthread, but your focus on the men at Fort Sumter seems to be an intentionally obtuse effort to ignore the point.


Henri Vieuxtemps 09.13.10 at 8:53 pm

Apparently you are contending that the moral course would have been to permit secession by withdrawing the federal presence from the South and ceding them all Union property, military and civilian.

You think this is about ethics? I see as a mere power struggle.


mpowell 09.13.10 at 9:18 pm

This is obviously a pretty complicated issue and I think JQ has really underestimated the difficulty in IR theory (and underestimated the field) by supposing that his idea represents any really advance in this area. It’s a nice starting point and a lot of people will probably agree with the sentiment, but it misses a lot of tough cases and there is a lot of work to be done hammering out the details before this thing can be really useful.

On a different note of whether a war is negative sum or not: I’ve never found those types of arguments to be very interesting because they depend on assumptions that don’t always hold in the real world. As some important historical examples demonstrate. But if you look at example like the Civil War or WWII, I think it’s useful to note how extremely rare it is for a society to be productively rebuilt in a post-war environment that does not foster ongoing resentment. In nearly all the case since WWII we can see that it hasn’t happened that way and so generally avoiding excessive engagement has been the right approach. But I don’t know exactly how you wrap this up into a theory: “No seriously, you won’t be greeted as liberators”.


Alan Peakall 09.13.10 at 9:33 pm

It is a slight surprise to me that the thread has continued so long without any consideration of the two cases from 1979 where the aggressor governments of Uganda and Democratic Kampuchea were toppled by cross-border reprisals by Tanzania and Vietnam respectively.


John Quiggin 09.13.10 at 11:58 pm

@109 I was certainly thinking about the Cambodia/Kampuchea case, another hard one, given the nature of the government that was overthrown, and I guess the same is true for Uganda.

In relation to these and some other cases, a very late clarification I should offer is that the restoration of status quo ante requires the agreement of both sides. That raises a couple of questions, versions of which have been asked upthread
(a) what if the aggressor government is unwilling to make peace (or, so dysfunctional that it is unable to do so), even after its attacks have been repulsed?
(b) what if the aggressor government offers peace but the other side does not believe the offer to be sincere?
I’ll come back to these, I hope, when I get some time, but my short answer is that pursuing war to the point of overthrowing the enemy government is justified in case (a), but not in case (b).


John Quiggin 09.13.10 at 11:59 pm

@108 I think Robespierre had something relevant to say about liberty and bayonets


Jim Rose 09.14.10 at 12:04 am

John Q,
The origins of the Second World War and the civil war are many.

As for your claim that “the War was justified only by the fact of slavery. Political exigencies made it impossible for the North to say this explicitly at the beginning, but the South did so from the moment Lincoln was elected”, I have my doubts about northern motives and the centrality of slavery.

First of all, you must explain the Border States? The 4 slave states that fought on the union side on a supposed war on slavery!

Second, in his inaugural address, Lincoln supported the Corwin amendment to the constitution: “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State”

The Corwin amendment passed congress by the required 2/3rds majorities. The amendment was ratified by the 3 states and then disappeared down a memory hole after the civil war started. Lincoln sent a letter to each state governor asking for them to support the Corwin Amendment in the last weeks before the outbreak of the civil war.

More generally on your starter post, I disagree about self-interest and starting wars and that the people of a country that go to war are usually worse off as a result.

Sadly and regrettably, countries go to war to gain advantage. They sometimes bite off more than they can chew. Wars of conquest and colonial expansion served the interests of many governments for centuries until the locals became too numerous and restless. I support demands for national liberation and regional succession without reservation.

Economists such as Tullock and Herschel Grossman have written on war, peace, revolution and colonialism in addition to usual suspects such as Schelling.

Grossman’s work on why there was no border war between the US and Canada in the 1846 but a border war in 1848 with Mexico is most instructive about rational interest and war. His paper is titled after the campaign slogan of the incoming president, which was Fifty-four Forty or Fight! Since the 1846 Oregon treaty, the USA and Canada have had the longest unfortfied border in the world despite prior great mistrust and incidents such as a few decades in the War of 1812 in which the British army sacked and burned Washington, DC. The British later supported the Confederate states to weaken the Union.


CBrinton 09.14.10 at 6:16 am

“Status quo ante bellum” is not of much help in assessing the US civil war because a big part of the dispute was over what the status quo consisted of: the secessionists insisted that the status quo was for slavery to spread into all the territories.

“How extraordinary to find a proponent of the Lost Cause on this blog.”
–Actually, not extraordinary at all. A varying and oddly-matched coalition has over the years defended the Confederacy–everyone from Southern traditionalists to libertarians, defending the CSA for reasons as varied as the claimed rightness of slavery and the inevitable wrongness of anything done by the US government. I suspect that it’s a cause that appeals to contrarians and those looking to shock the bourgeois.

“You think this [the US civil war] is about ethics? I see as a mere power struggle.”

All wars are power struggles, pretty much by definition. The US civil war was a power struggle between an organized group of secessionists determined to protect and extend slavery and a coalition of their opponents. Both ethics and power are involved.

“First of all, you must explain the Border States? The 4 slave states that fought on the union side on a supposed war on slavery!”
–A war to stop slavery expansion is a war over slavery, even if not one aimed at immediate abolition. I don’t think containment is a very difficult concept, but many people at least claim not to understand it as applied to slavery in the USA of the 1860s. The Corwin amendment would have allowed abolition by state governments (unlike the CSA constitution) and was perfectly compatible with the containment of slavery.

“The British later supported the Confederate states to weaken the Union.”
–No, they didn’t. The British government maintained a strict neutrality, recognizing the CSA as a belligerent but not a nation-state, and allowing British citizens to trade with both the USA and the CSA.


Henri Vieuxtemps 09.14.10 at 7:29 am

Bloix, the more I think about your “Union property” argument, the less convincing it sounds. What is property? In the absence of any relevant international treaties, it’s up to the sovereign to decide; the CSA government, in this case. You can buy a bag of weed in Holland and it’ll become your property, but should you cross into Germany, German cops will quickly disabuse you of your notion of “property”. How is this a moral argument? It seems quite reasonable for a new revolutionary government to take over foreign military installations on its territory; in the case of the Guantanamo Bay base controversy, for example, doesn’t the Cuban government have the moral high ground?


Hidari 09.14.10 at 9:33 am

#110: ‘@109 I was certainly thinking about the Cambodia/Kampuchea case, another hard one, given the nature of the government that was overthrown, and I guess the same is true for Uganda.’

There is a big difference between what happened in Vietnam/Cambodia and what happened, say, in Kosovo and Afghanistan and Iraq.

First: to point out the obvious. The Vietnamese action didn’t occur in a vacuum. The Vietnamese and the Cambodians have been knocking the living crap out of each other for centuries. So, in other words, the Vietnamese had very good reasons to be worried about instability across the border. (It doesn’t normally get mentioned in histories of the Khmer Rouge but, in addition to its other charms, it was highly racist, and had spent much time ‘purging’ the country of Vietnamese influence with no small amount of violence. Unlike in the case of the US’ fantasies about Iraq, the Vietnamese had good reason to think that the Cambodians might attempt to rally nationalist support in the dying days of the regime by invading Vietnam). Another point that is important here is that Vietnamese/Chinese enmity goes back even further than Vietnamese/Cambodian enmity: given that the Chinese supported the KR, the Vietnamese, again, had good reasons to fear them and what they represented (of course the Chinese eventually invaded Vietnam in 1979: these were not just paranoid fantasies).

Second, and by far the most important point, it’s not actually clear that the Vietnamese action was illegal (as the invasion of Iraq certainly was) as the Cambodians (probably) started it. The way that this war is usually represented in ‘Decent’ discourse is that the Vietnamese, for reasons of pure morality, invaded Cambodia and overthrew the Cambodians Govt. such as it was. But that’s not how it happened.

The facts are these: in May 1978 KR official sources threatened an invasion and genocide of the entire Vietnamese nation (given their record on ‘auto-genocide’ it would be foolish to assume they were bluffing). Moreover, the KR regime had specific imperial goals: they had got it into their heads that the Mekong Delta region ‘really’ belonged to Cambodia, and made increasingly bellicose noises about it back. Moreover (and ‘official’ Western sources are very quiet about this: I wonder why?) it is highly likely that the Cambodian army had been making cross-border raids on Vietnam and that these raids were increasing in frequency and aggressiveness. It is possible to make a highly plausible case that the Vietnamese were acting in self-defense and that their actions were, therefore, legal under international law (needless to say, this defense is impossible in the case of the US bombing of Yugoslavia, the invasion of Afghanistan or the invasion of Iraq).

Of course the Vietnamese attempted to create a Govt that was pro-Vietnamese. And of course their occupation went on too long. But it’s facile to pretend that their fear of Cambodia wasn’t genuine, or that they did not face a genuine threat, or that they were not acting in what they saw as self-defense.

(Of course, as is well known, the Americans immediately excelled themselves by backing a pro-KR insurgency with the help of the Chinese).


Hidari 09.14.10 at 9:41 am

The case of Tanzania-Uganda is even clearer. The war began when Idi Amin (brought to power, let’s not forget,by a British backed coup) declared war upon and invaded Tanzania. The Tanzanians were acting in self-defense. Obviously one could argue that, in both these cases, the invading power exceeded their remit in ‘taking the war home’ and toppling the aggressor govt., but that would then lead to the conclusion that the Allies decision to insist on complete German surrender during WW2 was unethical, a position I think most of us would find hard to stomach.

The question is, essentially, about having the smallest possible role for violence in international affairs. And here, I think, we should not have different rules for the ‘micro-level’ and the ‘macro-level’. In other words: If you attack me with a hammer, or punch me, or break into my house, I am entitled, legally, to reply with proportional violence. In other words, I have the right to self-defense.

I think that’s the right attitude to war in the international arena, and I haven’t heard any argument for ‘broadening’ or ‘loosening’ these criteria that makes any sense, or doesn’t run the risk of having ‘rules’ for warfare so vague that anything becomes plausible, and I am happy only to accept war in these specific circumstances.

States are entitled to resort to violence in the case of self-defense, and in no other circumstances. Therefore, so called ‘humanitarian intervention’ is a contradiction in terms (in its military usage: which is not to say we should not use other means to spread democracy and help with human rights etc.)


Guido Nius 09.14.10 at 11:00 am

Hidari, The case for self-defense is actually a very bad one. In case you allow it, you treat states as if they were persons (with the side effect that these persons when attacked can whip out their machine guns and kill anybody that happens to be nearby and can credibly be taken to be one of the attackers).

Whether or not people like it, there will have to be some universal principle underpinning what is justified or not instead of the co-incidental nature of statehood or governmenthood. One can for instance start from a treatment like Rawls’ Law of Peoples. In that treatment countries that are less than ideal are largely expected to self-heal into liberal democracy (given adequate non-violent influencing by an international community itself accepting minimal human rights). But other countries are governments can truely be considered rogue. In first instance international justice should be applied to the rulers of such countries/governments but it would be quite self-defeating imho to rule out that there can be situations in which the application of justice cannot but be had by violent means.

It is of course crucial that the case is adjudicated properly which was not the case with Iraq and which is why most people’s common sense assessment is right: justification for one war doesn’t confer justification of another by proxy.


Jim Rose 09.14.10 at 11:43 am

CBrinton, thanks for your comments

“Status quo ante bellum” has nothing to say to most wars that trouble us, both now and in the past. It does not speak to civil wars, wars of succession from the ebbs and flows of ethnic and religious repression, and to wars of national liberation.

Ireland was an unwilling British colony for 600 years or there abouts?! Does the Irish “Status quo ante bellum” date from the partial Norman Conquest to which Gaelic resistance was never wholly eliminated; the Tudor re-conquest; or Cromwell’s re-conquest?

Ireland has the advantage of being an island for “Status quo ante bellum” purposes.

Most nations have land borders and mixed ethnic and religious populations.

Many of the new states in recent decades, and most new states since 1946 and since 1919 achieved nationhood for the first time ever. What is their “Status quo ante bellum”? Are they the scraps from the imperial tables and/or the arbitrary lines drawn on maps by junior foreign office clerks to the great powers?

For many forms of imperialism, the conquering powers were able to rule a defeated country by turning the defeated local or an implanted power elite into a vassal state that transmits and enforce the victor’s orders onto a subject population.

Britain was able to rule India for centuries because as the suzerain, it could transmit its orders to the ruling Indian princes, who in turn could enforce them on the subject population, collected the needed taxes and passed up tribute and offer preferential terms of trade and foreign investment. what is their status quo ante bellum?

“Status quo ante bellum” has nothing to say to the formation of buffer states, partition, neutral zones, neutral states, free ports, free cities and other border adjustments in peace and other treaties to reduce incentives for both new founded and mature states to fight again.

You mentioned libertarians. Some libertarian definitions on just war are:
• A just war exists when a people tries to ward off the threat of coercive domination by another people, or to overthrow an already-existing domination; and
• A war is unjust, when a people try to impose domination on another people, or try to retain an already existing coercive rule over them.

p.s. Very few Northerners proposed to abolish slavery in the Southern states by aggressive war. Their proper objection was to the attempt of the Southern slavocracy to extend the slave system to the Western territories.

p.p.s Radical abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison called for the North to succeed from the Union so that the fugitive slave law would no long apply and the Underground Railroad would start well south of Canada – at to the Mason Dixon Line. I assume you would be opposed to such a move?


Hidari 09.14.10 at 1:33 pm

‘Hidari, The case for self-defense is actually a very bad one. In case you allow it, you treat states as if they were persons (with the side effect that these persons when attacked can whip out their machine guns and kill anybody that happens to be nearby and can credibly be taken to be one of the attackers).’

Are you actually under the impression that, under British (or American) law, if I attempt to (say) pick your pocket it is perfectly legal for you to whip out your machine gun and start massacring passers by at random?


Guido Nius 09.14.10 at 1:59 pm

No, I am suggesting that if you want states to have recourse to the notion self-defence there will be a lot more impact than when you allow it to persons. And that therefore it is a bad thing to do mainly because states or not like persons at all and self-defense only applies to persons.


LFC 09.14.10 at 2:45 pm

Jim Rose @118:
Many of the new states in recent decades, and most new states since 1946 and since 1919 achieved nationhood for the first time ever. What is their “Status quo ante bellum”? Are they the scraps from the imperial tables and/or the arbitrary lines drawn on maps by junior foreign office clerks to the great powers?

The status quo ante bellum of post-colonial states, say in Africa, is the boundaries those states took at independence, which, at their (the new states’) own insistence, are the boundary lines that were drawn by the colonial powers. The Organization of African Unity endorsed application of the principle of uti possidetis juris (already mentioned by someone upthread, I think) under which the newly independent states inherited the boundaries that the colonial powers had drawn.

For a review of uti possidetis and critique of its application in more recent contexts, see a 1996 article by Steven Ratner in the American Journal of Int’l Law, available in pdf here. A couple of other sources are listed at the end of the brief Wikipedia article ‘uti possidetis juris’.


Hidari 09.14.10 at 2:48 pm


I really have no idea what you are getting at here. Of course I know that states are not persons and that this can be a dangerous assumption, but there is no ‘it is a bad thing to do’. It is the way things are done. My understanding of international law is that states are allowed to commit violence in self-defense, or if authorised by the UN security council (or otherwise authorised by the UN in some way: perhaps if there is some pre-existing treaty, although my understanding is that this still needs to be given the OK by the security council). So it’s not as if I am suggesting some radical new development of international law. Au contraire: the view I proposed is the view of international law. It was the neoconservatives who wanted to alter this view by creating the new legal option of ‘humanitarian intervention’, a view which has been roundly condemned by most sensible people, for obvious reasons.

It also seems to be bizarre that you are accusing me of broadening the criteria for legitimate recourse to violence when I’m trying to narrow it, whereas in your post #117 you talk about ‘ the application of justice’ …’by violent means’ in an approving fashion.


LFC 09.14.10 at 2:56 pm


“…the new legal option of ‘humanitarian intervention’…”

it is not new (nor is it an invention of neocons or liberal interventionists) inasmuch as there has been an — admittedly controversial — doctrine of humanitarian intervention in customary international law for more than a century. The old formula was that intervention was permitted in cases that “shocked the conscience” — this goes way back. It was always surrounded by controversy, but you cannot pin the blame or credit for inventing the doctrine on anyone recent.


Conor 09.14.10 at 3:14 pm

Hidari: I think John’s original point was ‘even if a war is legal/justifiable on self-defence grounds is it then legitimate for the country that was aggressed to go on and occupy the land of the aggressor and set up a new government?’ The answer to that is ‘no’ and that is why although the original resort to force by the Vietnamese was justified, their subsequent actions in invading and looting Cambodia and setting up a pupper government of former KRs was rightly condemned by the UNSC and humanitarian groups such as MSF.

A distinction can be made here between what happened in Afghanistan – where the US intervened in an ongoing civil war to oust the Taliban using bribes and air strikes – and what happened in Iraq – a straightforward invasion. The US argued self-defence in the former case and their use of military action was consistent with the UNSC resolutions passed at the time. The interim government created for Afghainstan was also agreed at a conference – in Bonn – called under UN auspices. For all those reasons I think the US intervention in Afghanistan was lawful, while the invasion of Iraq was not.

I think that the Vietnamese military response to the KR was lawful. However, their subsequent actions were not.

The ICJ decision on DRC v Uganda is very interesting on this whole topic.

LFC @ 123 I agree. To say that the concept of humanitarian intervention ‘has been roundly condemned by most sensible people, for obvious reasons’ is – to put it mildly – slightly simplistic.


Hidari 09.14.10 at 9:32 pm

‘Hidari: I think John’s original point was ‘even if a war is legal/justifiable on self-defence grounds is it then legitimate for the country that was aggressed to go on and occupy the land of the aggressor and set up a new government?’ The answer to that is ‘no’ and that is why although the original resort to force by the Vietnamese was justified, their subsequent actions in invading and looting Cambodia and setting up a pupper government of former KRs was rightly condemned by the UNSC and humanitarian groups such as MSF.’

By the same logic, the Allies were illegitimate in invading Germany and installing a government of their choosing (at least till elections were held, and arguably after that). The Germany Govt, at least at local levels, was, of course, staffed mainly by former Nazis.

American claims of self-defense in the case of Afghanistan were, frankly, barking mad, and I hope a comparison with the Cambodia case will make that clear.

That is a position many people are going to find difficult to swallow.


Hidari 09.14.10 at 9:33 pm

Sorry, just to make clear: last two sentences should have their positions reversed.


Jim Rose 09.14.10 at 9:54 pm

John Quiggin, you underrate the predatory nature of war as a rational basis to start wars.

Walther Funk, the Minister for Economic Affairs in Nazi Germany from 1937 to 1945 was not one of the 24 main defendants along with Goering at the main Nuremberg trial to make up the numbers.

The economic exploitation of conquered territories was central to Nazi (and Japanese) war aims. Each exploited the countries they occupied ruthlessly.

A mate’s dad was rounded up in the Ukraine to work as a slave in a German factory. My father-in-law spent part of his youth hiding in the mountains to avoid the horrors brought on by the Japanese occupying army.

You underrate the role of nationalism too.

At graduate school, my Cambodian friends referred to the period after the 1979 Vietnamese invasion and the aftermath in the 1980s as “when Cambodia was a Vietnamese colony”!

One Cambodian student at my graduate school was uniformly unpopular with everyone. When Sothy annoyed the Vietnamese students a little too much more than was the daily average, the Vietnamese students would say to him: “Remember 1979”. This remark would send Sothy off into a frenzy of resentment and distress because he remembered 1979 as an attack on Cambodian sovereignty. (By 1979, Cambodia was just so bad that it could have benefited from a successful invasion from hell. At least the devil waits until the afterlife before tormenting you).

p.s on you remark ‘Most revolutions, like most wars fail, and, as with wars, initial success is rarely enduring’ see ‘Kleptocracy and revolutions’, H. Grossman, Oxford Economic Papers 1999. He treats revolutions as manifestations of kleptocratic rivalry. However, the recent global proliferation of democracies albeit of varying quality and many more nations is at odds with your pessimistic hypothesis.

p.p.s Roger Congleton’s many writings on how democracy came to the USA, Europe and Japan as a process of slow co-option into divided governments without the threat of civil war or violent revolution is worth attention as counter-evidence against your view as well.

p. p.p.s. Tullock treats popular revolutions as part of intra-elite rivalry and succession struggles in autocracies. That is how people power happened in Manila in 1986. The coup plotters originally planned to depose Marcos and rule as a junta. Ramos, Enrile and other ambitious cronies who had progressively joined the original coup plot were uncovered by Marcos. They had to form new and broader alliances that divided the loyalty of the army even further to save their own lives from assassins sent by Marcos.


piglet 09.15.10 at 1:04 am

It may be interesting, and maybe somebody mentioned that already, that the revanchist forces in Germany have kept territorial claims against Poland and Russia alive based on precisely the notion that territorial gains through conquest are illegal. The constitutional position of West Germany was until 1990 that Germany continued to exist in the borders of 1937, and that West Germany was the legal sovereign over that territory (and the GDR legally was a non-entity). That issue was resolved by concluding a formal peace treaty that extinguished any territorial claims, and the self-extinction of the GDR by an act of its last parliament. That whole story can be interpreted as confirming JQ’s principles but … the fact remains that the territorial reconfiguration of the Eastern border and the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Poland and Czechoslovakia were deemed unavoidable and probably rightly so. Germans living in these countries had overwhelmingly participated in the aggression against their Polish and Czech neighbors and multiethnic coexistence was not a realistic prospect. The question arises whether JQs principles have an answer to how to deal with ethnic conflict. The breakup of Yugoslavia was the biggest case of violently reconfiguring international borders since 1945. It should not have happened but has become the new status quo that for better or worse has to be preserved.


novakant 09.15.10 at 1:57 am

The US argued self-defence in the former case and their use of military action was consistent with the UNSC resolutions passed at the time.



piglet 09.15.10 at 2:21 am

“The democracy Germany had in the 1950s wasn’t a return to the democracy of 1930, in part because the system was re-designed to prevent the events of 1933 from recurring.”

That seems an easy case as the FRG constitution was actually drafted by German politicians and was adopted by German representative bodies. It is clear that the allies imposed conditions and could have prevented an outcome deemed unacceptable but it would be inaccurate to portray the result as a imposed by the allies. In fact there isn’t much in the German political system that can be characterized as copied from a model presented by the allies.


Jim Rose 09.15.10 at 2:55 am


As a further example of European revanchist states, for all but a few of the 500 years up to 1801, the royal style and titles of the English Sovereign proclaimed the King of England also as the King of France. Normam England had lost all but Calais back to the French by about 1450.

For the next two centuries up until 1558, French and Flemish speaking Pale of Calais was an integral part of England, with representation in the English Parliament. What is the status quo ante bellum for the Pale of Calais then, and now?

At the 1919 Paris peace talks, the opening demand of Greece was for half of Turkey with Constantinople as the New Greek capital! This was not an especially immodest territorial claim at those talks.


piglet 09.15.10 at 2:56 am

Further to Clay 84: “And all of this is before the big imposition: Japan and Germany were both de-militarized.”

West Germany stayed demilitarized for only a decade, and during the cold war both German states maintained large armies and a draft. Arguably, remilitarization (along with stockpiles of nukes stationed by the superpowers) not demilitarization was what was imposed by the victors. Nowadays the problem for Germany is that a draft is not consistent any more with the small army now deemed acceptable.


CBrinton 09.15.10 at 3:06 am

“You mentioned libertarians.”

I did. I have found libertarian attitudes to the CSA fascinating for some time.

” Some libertarian definitions on just war are:
•A just war exists when a people tries to ward off the threat of coercive domination by another people, or to overthrow an already-existing domination; and
•A war is unjust, when a people try to impose domination on another people, or try to retain an already existing coercive rule over them.”

These definitions seem considerably broader than others I have heard from libertarians. Depending on one’s definition of “coercive”, “domination,” and “rule” the first definition could justify armed force from either the CSA or USA in 1860, and the second could brand action by either as illegitimate.

“p.s. Very few Northerners proposed to abolish slavery in the Southern states by aggressive war. Their proper objection was to the attempt of the Southern slavocracy to extend the slave system to the Western territories.”
True. I’d say that stopping an expansionist slavocracracy from taking over most of what is now the western USA is an object well worth killing or dying for. Many abolitionists and free-soilers agreed in 1860.

“p.p.s Radical abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison called for the North to succeed from the Union so that the fugitive slave law would no long apply and the Underground Railroad would start well south of Canada – at to the Mason Dixon Line. I assume you would be opposed to such a move?”

An interesting assumption on your part. Might I ask the basis for it?

I think Garrison’s proposed secession from what he called “a covenant with death and an agreement with hell” would have been a poor political strategy for advancing antislavery aims, and therefore I don’t favor it.

I have no fixed position on secession–it can be good, bad, or indifferent. Unilateral secession attempts have a nontrivial chance of igniting civil wars, which are in general a bad thing, so I tend to be dubious about them. But the conditions matter most: an early-Garrison-style secession performed an early 1870s in which the slave states, rather than seceding, had been able to get the Supreme Court to declare a right to take slaves into free states (as was quite imaginable, given the reasoning employed in Dred Scott) might be the best policy for antislavery activists.


Jim Rose 09.15.10 at 4:25 am


The definition of a just and unjust war is by Murray Rothbard. I assume that you grant that he is a radical libertarian. What other libertarian definitions of a just war do you call upon?

Rothbard’s definition is clearly superior to status quo ante bellum because it allows you to judge any war and allows for the rectification of wrongs and resistance to oppression. The Rothbardian definition of a just war is not that far removed from Rawls’ definition of a right to self-defence.

Garrison’s proposed secession of the North from the Union would have helped all runaway slaves and promoted slave revolts.

The Compromise of 1850 was built around a strict new federal fugitive slave law. Runaway slaves were a big problem in the critical border states.

Northern acceptance of the fugitive slave act as part of the Compromise of 1850 – both in Congress and among the electorate – allowed Southerners to risk remaining in the Union rather than supporting more radical action. If Northerners in Congress failed to pass this law – or if the reaction across the North were sufficiently negative as to reject the Compromise – Southerners would know then that the era of a balance of power was over and that their position in the Union would be increasingly perilous.

Frequent escapes and the occasional revolt spelled the end of slavery in a great many countries. why else did communist countries invest so heavily in closing their borders?

I wonder how the revolts against communism in 1956 and 1968 would fare under status quo ante bellum? all revolts against oppression and domination are just wars.


Guido Nius 09.15.10 at 8:30 am

@Hidari-122: Sorry. I never want anybody to feel accused. I should probably refrain from this type of intervention when I am stressed for time. I just think the notion of self-defense is lousy, when applied to states. I also believe that even if neocons basically talked crap, that not all that they ever said needs to be suspect it just because they happened to say it.

As I said, I think there is in Rawls’ law of peoples a good structure in which we can adjudicate on when we need to intervene – or not – as an international community committed to human rights. Maybe that is idealistically unpragmatic, but pragmatically resigning to the fact that states have a de facto right to continue despotism unchallenged by the possibility of intervention isn’t what I consider to be the right solution. I think the intervention in Afghanistan was well founded, and this not mainly because of the terrorist threat they posed to us.


Hidari 09.15.10 at 9:53 am

don’t worry about it, I’m no expert on international law.

As a matter of fact I certainly don’t think that a state has a ‘right’ to despotism (granted by whom?). And I think that democracy is a very good thing indeed. The problem is that what we are talking about here is: ‘how can we reduce the amount of violence in world affairs?’. And the answer ‘by increasing it, at least in the short term’ doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

The other problem (and this is going to be increasingly the case as the 21st century develops) is that the words ‘totalitarian’ or ‘authoritarian’ or ‘despotic’ and the words ‘democracy’ are, to a certain extent, in the eye of the beholder. You must remember that, as of 2010, there are a grand total of four states that self-proclaim as ‘non-democracies’ (Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Vatican City and Myanmar). ALL other countries in the world claim to be democracies of some sort or other.

The days when one could make a relatively clear distinction between ‘democracies’ and ‘totalitarian states’ (when leaders like Mussolini would boast of their country not being democratic) are over. So right there you have a problem: who decides which states are despotic and which are not, and who makes up the ‘league table’ of ‘awfulness’ that is the basis for when ‘we’ decide to ‘intervene’?


Guido Nius 09.15.10 at 12:39 pm

True, which is why I refer to Rawls’ book. Also true, even in this case somebody needs to decide but I don’t think it is more problematic – in principle – than justifying the uses of violence within states. Anyway, as far as I remember all of your eamples would not qualify as ‘rogue’ – I cannot recall what Rawls calls it, ‘non-decent’-something I think. Take Zimbabwe, when Mugabe would have denied any form of powersharing then maybe there would be a case to start to make a case for intervention (in the hope that making the case would push Mugabe to allow power-sharing in the end, before any intervention).

But whatever else, seeing the amount of violence and seeing the presumption on the part of the states that they have at least a ‘natural’ (or God given or whatever) right to be despotic because, you know, what is anybody going to do about it?


CBrinton 09.15.10 at 4:10 pm

“The definition of a just and unjust war is by Murray Rothbard. . . . What other libertarian definitions of a just war do you call upon?”
Most libertarian definitions I have seen place a greater emphasis on self-defense and the non-initiation of force. E.g. Harry Browne (twice Libertarian Party candidate for president): “Most libertarians believe you shouldn’t initiate force against someone who has never used force against you. Force is to be used only in self-defense — not used just because you don’t happen to like someone, or because someone doesn’t like you, or because he might become dangerous in the future . . . ”

Of course, the elasticity of all these definitions is shown by Rothbard’s opinion that the US civil war was a “War of Northern Aggression.” Libertarians normally think highly of using retaliatory force against armed robbery, but that evidently doesn’t apply when it’s southern slavocrats doing the stealing.

“Garrison’s proposed secession of the North from the Union would have helped all runaway slaves and promoted slave revolts.”
This appears to be an article of faith among many libertarians. There is no evidence for it but hope. The CSA would have had many proven methods available to protect its slave system.

“The Compromise of 1850 was built around a strict new federal fugitive slave law. Runaway slaves were a big problem in the critical border states.”

That “strict” law was resulting in the return of about 3% of escapees (at least 1,000 escapees per year, according to Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, and only around 30 per year returned under the fugitive slave law.

Runaways were not a “big problem” for slaveholders; they were no more than an annoyance. The fact that slaveholders chose to use their political power to get others to pay for returning them (sometimes) does not show the problem was otherwise insoluble for them. Despite some escapes, the slave population was rapidly growing.

“Frequent escapes and the occasional revolt spelled the end of slavery in a great many countries.”
Name three.

The idea (advanced by many libertarians) that escapes to a free North would have doomed slavery in an independent CSA is a fascinating bit of cognitive dissonance. Libertarians believe that governments are not very efficient and that private individuals can solve collective action problems on their own–but the slaveowners of the CSA would supposedly have been unable to keep escapes to a manageable level even though the US government could (apparently) do so.


Conor 09.15.10 at 6:05 pm

Hidari: WWII preceded the formation of the UN and attempts to codify the international rules surrounding the use of force (although see some of the above discussion on other international treaties).

There is much discussion about what ‘self-defence’ means amongst international lawyers. The inclusion of the word ‘inherent’ in the phrase ‘inherent right to self-defence’ in Article 51 of the UN Charter suggests that it is part of customary law. That right can be invoked either immediately after a country has suffered an attack or to prevent the immediate threat of one (see Caroline case for more discussion). It might be your view that ‘American claims of self-defense in the case of Afghanistan were, frankly, barking mad’ but that is not the view of most international lawyers, nor the UN Security Council, nor NATO. Sorry.

There is, of course, debate about whether the then government of Afghanistan could be held accountable for the acts of a non-state actor (Al Qaeda), but that is why Blair was always so careful to pitch the military action as being to force the Taliban to hand over Bin Laden. Toppling their government was presented, in legal terms, as a means to that end.

No such justification could ever be advanced for the invasion of Iraq, which is why it so shocked international lawyers, diplomats, etc.


Jim Rose 09.15.10 at 10:05 pm

Are there any differences in consistently supporting rights of succession than there are in supporting wars of national liberation including those led by communists?

Many in the old left, the new left and the left-over-left cut their teeth on opposing the Vietnam War and cheering on the Viet Cong. They then graduated to worshiping at the Alter of the Sandinistas.

Many all around the world felt no qualms about opposing the invasion of Iraq despite the repellent nature of the incumbent regime because of a higher point of principle.

As a contemporary example, the Australian Greens want a parliamentary debate on Afghanistan.

The Greens have consistently maintained opposition to Australia’s defence forces being deployed to Afghanistan, and opposed the original decision to send Australian troops to Afghanistan. See Bob Brown’s remarks at

Such courses of action suggest that the Australian Greens were prepared to do nothing about the medieval bondage of women in Afghanistan prior to the fall of the Taliban, and would do nothing to stop its return if the Taliban were to retake Kabul.

This principled stand of the Greens in favour of strict non-intervention, peaceful co-existence, and the belief that all rights are global, but the practical responsibility for their enforcement is local results only in admiration, if not agreement by many who regard themselves as progressives and to be morally superior to those on the Right.

The Greens were certainty not drummed out of the coffee shops and wine bars of the chattering classes for joining the libertarian right such as Ron Paul, and to a lesser extent the Cato Institute, in calling for a military withdrawal from Afghanistan.


zosima 09.15.10 at 10:35 pm

I think there is a strong case to be made, that if a country attacks another country with the intent to capture their territory, that the defending country should not stop at simply repelling the invasion. They should fight back and they should eliminate their ability to wage war. Or more correctly, the defending country should impose a cost such that:

gain_from _victory_in_war_of_aggression * probability_of_victory_in_war_of_aggression <= cost_from_loss_in_war_of_aggression * (1-probability_of_victory_in_war_of_aggression)

In other words, successful defenders need to make the expected gain of wars of aggression negative, otherwise there are likely to be asymmetric pay-offs. If successful defenders don't impose costs on aggressors, then aggressors will face small costs when losing, but large gains when winning.


sg 09.16.10 at 12:21 am

Jim Rose’s paragraph:

Such courses of action suggest that the Australian Greens were prepared to do nothing about the medieval bondage of women in Afghanistan prior to the fall of the Taliban, and would do nothing to stop its return if the Taliban were to retake Kabul.

is a piece of scumbaggery so artful and nasty in its presentation that it deserves a medal. There was a campaign to get governments around the world to pressure the Taliban on women’s rights before 2001, and that campaign was promoted by all parts of the Australian left, no doubt including the Greens. It was resisted by the conservative government that subsequently invaded Afghanistan, and derided by conservatives generally as a wasteful piece of grandstanding. Some here may recall the chain emails that were sent around for years.

What a pathetic piece of revisionism.


Jim Rose 09.16.10 at 2:06 am

How effective was this outside pressure on the Taliban before 9/11?

Did you expect an emancipation of Afghan women to come about as a result of the outside pressure you mentioned on a religious group bent on a return to the 7th century and totally ignorant and hostile to foreigners? Did these outsiders on the Left prior to 2001 have some sort of control over anything that the Taliban might want to get in return for improving the status of women?

as another example, does outside pressure on Iran about women’s rights do any good or does it just entrench the stances of the ruling Iranian oligarchy to avoid being seen as weak in the eyes of ambitious rivals and subordinates within the elite both now and in the next succession struggle? Giving in to Western opinion does not seem to get you far within middle-eastern and south Asian autocracies and could be the end of you.

Token gestures from a safe distance should be seen for what they are.


sg 09.16.10 at 2:10 am

Jim, you can accuse the Greens of being ineffective in their goals, or you can accuse them of being “prepared to do nothing.” You can’t do both. Your prior comment is a nasty attempt to accuse the Greens of doing nothing on women’s rights in Afghanistan when we know that they were the only people willing to do anything before 2001.

You made a scumbag’s claim, with the additional piece of slime-merchantry that comes with trying to pretend that the invasion of Afghanistan was either intended to help women, or did in fact help women, neither of which is true.

The facts, on the other hand, are that the only people concerned with the rights of Afghan women before or after the invasion were the Greens. That paragraph of yours is a sterling piece of first-grade nasty.


Jim Rose 09.16.10 at 2:20 am

Left is against nuclear power, and uses its usual scare tactics of woe and low probability doom to confuse and stir up the public. Negative campaigning is the first port of call of the Left.

The Libertarian Right, in contrast, opposes the regulatory privileges to nuclear power and those tort liability damages caps for oil drilling too.

The regulatory privileges to nuclear power get less attention on the Left in its better known public pronouncements because admitting that regulation is prone to special interest capture would be worse tasting than eating their own children. Tales of child cancer get better press cover that stories of regulatory capture.

who would build, and who could insure a nuclear power station without tort liability caps?


john c. halasz 09.16.10 at 2:50 am

Umm, … Quiggin’s supposed sagacity here has been based on an implicit appeal to formal models. Now, in economics, it’s easy to slide from “utility preference functions” to nominal prices, because, with suitable formal caveats, (ordinal preference rankings and no inter-personal comparison of “utilities”), the issue is really nominal price adjustments to ensure market-clearing equilibria. IOW, the theoretical fiction of the utility-maximizing economic individual/agent is meant to provide an account of price-formation. (I’ll leave aside the issue of whether it’s a particularly good or realistic explanation of nominal price formation). But once one leaves the domain of nominal price-formation, the notion of (subjective/psychological) “utility” becomes obscure: “utility” defined over what domain and with respect to what agents? So then what is the relevance of “expected utility theory”? (A claim that threats can’t occur because the ex ante threat must involve a positive probability of ex post defies prima facie evidence: sovereign state make threats, whether veiled or explicit, all the time, not to mention “coercive diplomacy”. What is actually being said is , common-sense-wise, that if one makes a threat, one should be prepared to back it up, though not with defined probabilities). And the absence of comparable standards or instances of “utility” is, er, not a bug, but a feature of the matters under consideration.

But it seems that Quiggin thinks that his “status quo ante ” criterion is derived from a “saddle point theorem” in game theory. A “coalition of the willing”, even and especially among weakly attached members, would settle upon such a rule, which would suffice for “international law”. But AFAIK, game theory only retains mathematical rigor for two player games. If applied more realistically to multi-party games and thus multiplying strategies, it a) loses any force of mathematical proof, (even if the conservation principle of maxi-min would have realistic force), b) loses any account of decidable outcomes, and c) loses any determinate pay-off matrices. IOW there is no “saddle point theorem” to be applied to back up Quiggin’s dubious intuitions. Such mathematical “beauty” doesn’t support his somewhat perverse result. (Consider the case of denizens of the Niger delta: should they really abjure violent guerrilla means, and submit to suffering the depredations of MNCs and a distant, corrupt “sovereign” government? What generalizable point is Quiggin actually making?)

Again, wars, or their subaltern configurations, are broadly political events, concerning sovereign rule, not subject to any merely economic calculus. Admittedly, the notion of sovereign power is perplexing, but a) it’s not quite reducible to economistic terms, as opposed to issues of existential “identity”, among other non-economic “goods”, and b) any sort of public sphere, which could regulate and even oppose state power, depends upon the establishment of sovereign rule in the first place. Any attempt to shift the terms and means of such rule must also amount to an attempt to organize/assume such rule. Which is a large part of the difficulty. “International law”, since Grotius, has grown up as a body of literature concurrent with the rise of sovereign states to begin with. And insofar as there is a “commons”, such as the “law of the seas”, (concurrent with “privateering”), then it might have some effective “force”. But there is no self-sufficient appeal to any such “thing”, independent of the power relations between extant states and their antagonists. Hence it’s better to appeal to criteria of legitimacy and expediency in judgments than to supposed legality and its fictitious regulatory “force”. That, at least, leaves rooms for political judgments, for all parties concerned, rather than any a priori calculus, legal or otherwise, in advance of any actual situations.

As for cases, (since actually this post has simply left everything open to cases, rather than effectively providing any crierian for deciding them), the Cambodia instance is actually the best “text-book” case for that grotesque oxymoron “humanitarian war”. (IIRC George McGovern, of all people, was calling for intervention once the news had arrived). But it wasn’t quite “humanitarian” grounds upon which the intervention arrived, eh? But if the belated Vietnamese “intervention” was illegal, then was the Maoist and U.S. support for the continued Khmer Rouge resistance thereby “legitimate”. It would seem, (at least to me), that second and third best “solutions” would be more relevant than any theoretical deduction from “international law”, as a “first best” case.

As to the U.S. Civil War (Between the States), it wasn’t directly about the emancipation of slaves to begin with, by any means. It ostensibly was about “preserving the Union”. But it’s worth considering that ante bellum some 90% of the total U.S. capital stock consisted in the market value of slaves,- (ya, there are accounting issues there, but collateral is the basis of finance),- and that the exports of their produce probably dominated the U.S. BoP accounts. Such that the North was thoroughly complicit in the business, even as they resented the constitutional imbalance toward the power of the slave-holder states. What the War was about was rather the issue of “free labor” vs. slave-holders’ power, i.e. an issue over the terms of land tenure, since much of the history of the 19th century U.S.A. amounts to a giant, “progressive” land grab, yielding the expression “land office business”. It was a war over sovereignty and territory, but not in the usual order.

At any rate, the bottom line is that Quiggin’s post actually amounts to pseudo-scientific gibberish, when more discursive and open-ended conceptions would do much better. (For all that it solicits cases, malgre lui-meme). Any saddle-point theorem here would be just a bad metaphor.


John Quiggin 09.16.10 at 3:48 am

jch, either you are
(i) confusing an informal reference to ‘salient points’ with the totally unrelated notion of saddle points; or
(ii) making sh*t up
either way, you would get a better reception if you lost the attitude


Jim Rose 09.16.10 at 4:02 am

Remind us, what exact were the Greens going to do to bring pressure on the Taliban on women’s rights. Write a firm letter to a bunch of illiterates? Ban imports from a country whose main export is heroin?

You say that the invasion of Afghanistan was neither intended to help women, nor did in fact help women. The goal of the invasion is well known.

Are you saying that Afghan women’s rights went backwards after the fall of the Taliban? Is your proposition that the return of the Taliban will improve these rights?


CBrinton 09.16.10 at 4:45 am

“Are there any differences in consistently supporting rights of secession than there are in supporting wars of national liberation including those led by communists?”

I can’t parse this sentence, and in any case it has nothing to do with anything I have written. (Much like the following bits about the Australian Greens).

I do note that, like other libertarians I have encountered who advance the “slavery would soon have disappeared in an independent CSA” thesis, Mr. Rose declines to defend that claim against even the most obvious commonsense objections.


sg 09.16.10 at 5:20 am

The Greens were involved in a campaign (along with other parts of the Australian left) to get governments (including the Australian government) to pressure the Taliban to improve women’s rights. From memory this included pressure not to recognise the Taliban as a government, not to trade with them, and to raise the plight of women at the UN. You may recall that the Greens weren’t the government of Australia in 2001 so had no power to do anything about the Taliban – they depended on the conservative Government to act on their behalf.

And what did the conservatives do? Sneered at it and did none of the things requested of them.

YOU made a nasty claim that isn’t true, you don’t get to slime out of it by claiming that the campaign in question was ineffective. Particularly given that the campaign’s effectiveness relied on the cooperation of the government of the day – the same government that supported the invasion of Afghanistan.

The status of women in Afghanistan has been in the press repeatedly these last few years, and appears to be generally worse than it was under the Taliban, or similar, though these things are hard to measure since there are huge areas of Afghanistan that observers can’t go to. You don’t get to back up your initial piece of lying bullshit by adding another unsubstantiated claim about the status of women now, or pretending it has anything to do with the invasion. Go find some evidence worth pissing on.


Jim Rose 09.16.10 at 5:58 am


My general point is many self-styled antiwar activists are what Matt Welch called temporary doves.

Temporary doves spit bile at those that support the wars they oppose – denouncing them as moral pigmies. The temporary doves then make exceptions for the wars they support and spite bile once again at those that question the whimsical nature and application of their values about just and unjust wars and the just conduct of wars.

The wars championed by the temporary doves can be equally or more bloody in civilian casualties as the wars they oppose either because of the reasons they were started or because of how these wars are conducted – civilian casualties In Iraq and Afghanistan.

Civilian casualties are put forward by the temporary doves as a moral trump card against the Iraq and Afghan wars and the atomic bombings but not the Civil War.

Many of the architects and champions of the NATO bombings in the Kosovo war opposed Gulf War II. Slobodan Milosevic, like Saddam Hussein, was described as a modern-day Hitler, eager to practice genocide against minorities and menace peaceful neighbors.

The supporters of both wars frequently invoked the Munich Agreement of 1938 and sought regime change. Perhaps less bloody but certainly slower social and political emancipation from oppression and mass murder is OK for the temporary doves for Iraq and Afghanistan but not for Kosovo.

Temporary doves are just as prepared to wade up to their armpits in civilian casualties as the next warmonger, but they then put themselves forward as free of sin when they call for war crimes trials and citizen’s arrests of those that supported and conducted equally bloody wars.

Is Bill Clinton a war criminal because he bombed Iraq and Sudan, but a human rights hero because he bombed Serbia? all of these bombings resulted in civilian deaths.


CBrinton 09.16.10 at 7:04 am

“My general point is many self-styled antiwar activists are what Matt Welch called temporary doves.”

Could be.

This also has nothing to do with anything I wrote.

Can you support your claims about the US civil war? It sure doesn’t look like you can. Why are you so inclined to think slavery would have been easily ended without war if you have no evidence to support the proposition?


Martin Bento 09.16.10 at 8:18 am

John Q.

Looking at your response again, it seems even more problematic than I thought. How can the “status quo ante bellum” be a state that never existed in the history of the country? Because the founders so envisaged it? There is nothing in your post that implies the “status quo ante bellum” is defined not by what existed before but by what someone in an even earlier age had in mind. That’s an unusual definition and an extremely flexible standard, and it seems like mere special pleading.

The antislavery faction, which was, I believe, the majority, may have wished to see slavery vanish, but they chose not to put any language into the Constitution that would cause said gradual elimination. Why not? Because it would have cost them at least 3 Southern states. And they decided having those states was worth not having any legal impetus to a gradual elimination of slavery, whatever they “envisaged”. Given that the Founders deliberately traded away a legally-enforceable antislavery position in return for the participation of Southern states, it’s not clear to me how the “status quo ante” comes to include recognition of this nonexistent – not merely overlooked but consciously foregone – Constitutional imperative.

Bloix, I am not an advocate of the Lost Cause. That is a libel. As should be obvious from reading my comment, I am attacking Quiggan’s claim that injustice cannot justify political violence without the sanction of a recognized international body. I do think it can, and that the Civil War was justified on the basis of ending slavery, but that you cannot get to that conclusion on Quiggan’s premises, and that is a problem for his premises. As for my very quick comments on the Civil War, the subject here is Quiggan’s model, not the Civil War, but I’ll make a few points.

The US government had been establishing the conditions for the long-run elimination of slavery and Lincoln said so and advocated this, for example, in the House Divided speech:

“It [the country] will become all one thing or all the other [all slave or all free].
Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new – North as well as South.”

Arresting the further spread of it meant placing it in the course of ultimate extinction. That was obviously true, and Southern reactions to Lincoln’s promises not to attack slavery where it already existed reflected this. He later promised not to personally attempt to destroy slavery, but he had advocated policies that would inevitably destroy it eventually and he knew it.

The South had managed to maintain slavery because of the balance of electoral power, but it was a hard-fought thing. It’s not like they had a overwhelming majority. The addition of new states was inevitably going to change that balance one way or the other. Make them free, and the loss of electoral power to the slave states (yes, Virginia, electoral power is zero-sum) would mean slavery’s days were numbered, including in the states where it then existed (Lincoln’s ultimate extinction). OTOH, make them slave, and the dreams of abolitionists would be dashed, seemingly permanently. The slave states would have so great a majority that they could even nationalize slavery. Split the difference? Given that one house apportions power by population and the other equally among the states, there is probably no gerrymander mathematically possible that would leave the balance in both houses unchanged. So there was no standing pat: you gained or you lost, and, as Lincoln said, the game was ultimately for all the marbles. Therefore saying the South was seeking “not just to preserve slavery, but to expand it” is making an illusory distinction. The only way they could preserve it was to expand it, and that is the most economical explanation of why they were expansionist.

Secession changed all that. Now they had a country within which there was no substantial and politically effective opposition to slavery. With secession in place, they did not need Kansas, which they certainly did before. And were they actually going to conquer the Western territories? An agrarian group of states from the American Southeast were going to conquer and hold a territory several times larger than their own, hundreds of miles away, including some of the most difficult terrain on the continent (the deserts, the western Rockies)? The same terrain that many Americans have died just trying to cross? Without significant industrialization? And do this while keeping their own slave population down? And maintaining sufficient defense against the inevitable counterattack on their own territory from the North? And do all this to impose slavery by force in areas mostly unsuited to plantation agriculture anyway? Seems pretty far-fetched. Besides which, one of the principles I think is implicit in Quiggan’s post is that you don’t get to launch wars, as in Iraq, based on your pure speculation about what the other side might do (this would be letting those waging a war of choice be judges of their own cases again). If the CSA invades Kansas, you have a casus. You think they might do so? Sorry. And, yes, I know there had been some violence in Kansas, including a siege of Lawrence. Nothing close to military conquest of the state, though, and that was just one state.

Now, once secession occurred, we did see an attempt to lock in slavery where it existed to entice the South back. That was the Corwin amendment. It was too late though, and probably ineffective even if it passed, as it was always going to take a Constitutional amendment to abolish slavery. Later amendments can override earlier ones, and it’s difficult to see how it could be otherwise. It is in the nature of an amendment to revise what was previously established. Therefore, the only real guarantee of the continuance of slavery was the political power of slave states to defend it. Nonetheless, in fairness, “egged on” was probably overstatement. I was just quickly summarizing in a sentence the situation, and that it was a war of choice for the North (the South, too, for that matter, as they did not have to secede).

On the fort, if you recognize secession, then, yes, the former national government has an obligation to relinquish military bases immediately, defined to mean as quickly as practical (we didn’t let the British keep forts here after independence either, regardless of our general regard for property rights). No country has the right to maintain military installations in another against its will. Four months is plenty of time to vacate a fort, and it is not the case that the North was trying to clear out and the South was just rushing them. They were maintaining a military fort in another country against that country’s will (again, if you recognize secession), an act of war by any standard.

Now, if you don’t recognize secession, then Lincoln had no obligation to vacate, but then the issue is secession, as I said, not that property rights give the US government a right to maintain military installations in another country over the objections of that country’s government (applies to Gitmo too). If Japan grew sick of our bases, we would have to leave, regardless of whether we agreed and regardless of any property claims we might have. The Chinese have a property interest in the Long Beach Harbor now. Does not give them the right to station troops there contrary to our will. Property rights do not include a right to military presence.

As for Lincoln’s position, he wanted the South to return to the Union without violence. But the South was not game. So he could either leave them alone and see if they if they just maintained their society or tried to violently expand it, or he could refuse to tolerate (regardless of official recognition) the secession, which would mean war. Staying in Fort Sumter in the face of Confederate opposition was choosing the latter course. Lincoln’s official position was that he would not invade the South nor try to end slavery where it existed, but that the secession was illegitimate and he would maintain the forts as federal property. But he could not both maintain the fort and avoid war – which necessarily entailed invading the South – and he chose war. So, yes, it was a war of choice on the North’s part.


Martin Bento 09.16.10 at 8:22 am

Re: hidari #136 or anyone who can answer:

Does anyone know how many and which countries officially claim a right to incarcerate indefinitely without trial? Even Stalin had show trials. I suspect Bush and Obama have placed the US in a very exclusive club.


Jim Rose 09.16.10 at 9:03 am


You say that the Greens and others were involved in a campaign to get governments (including the Australian government) to pressure the Taliban to improve women’s rights. From memory this included pressure not to recognise the Taliban as a government, not to trade with them, and to raise the plight of women at the UN. Thanks for seeking out the information.

The Taliban had diplomatic relations with a handful of governments and would not have cared about what Australia, the UN or others did. The Taliban were not hanging by the telephone in Kabul waiting to be recognised by a country most of the mullahs have never heard of nor could they find on a map, assuming they could read a map.

The opposition northern alliance held the UN seat, so going to the UN was pointless. Trade sanctions on a dirt poor country that exports opium and rugs is even more pointless.

In the late 1970s, Gordon Tullock wrote a book review about avoiding difficult choices. We make a decision in three steps: about how to allocate resources, about how to distribute resources, and then how to think about the previous two choices.

People often do not want to face up to the fact that resources are scarce and they face limits on their powers.

To reduce the personal distress from this, people often allocate and distribute resources in a different way to better conceal from themselves the unhappy choices they had to make even if this means the benefactors from their choices are worse off than if more open and honest choices were made up about there only being so much that can be done.

Little can be done about women’s rights in Afghanistan. Some face up to this honestly and openly and devote their efforts to where change is possible.

Others deceive themselves and others into make futile gestures to make them-selves feel good. These dilettantes cannot assume that they are safely behind a veil of insignificance.

Their self-serving gestures are made even at the risk of antagonising the autocratic rulers of those they want to help. They dabble at the risk of reducing the chances of political and economic progress. Autocratic ruling elites usually have an incentive to avoid looking weak in the face of outside pressure when competing with internal rivals both now and later during succession struggles. Bowing to the Western infidel does not increase your life expectancy among the Taliban.


Hidari 09.16.10 at 9:18 am


The creation of the UN was not the first attempt to regularise and legalise the use of force. Actually people have been trying to do this almost literally since the dawn of civilisation. Key developments (in Europe) here are, of course, the Treaty of Westphalia and the League of Nations, which really was the precursor of the UN, even though the extreme Right says it was. This was completely understood at the time, incidentally. Hitler, for example (unlike Bush) was very careful always to acknowledge international law and to argue that his foreign policy moves were motivated by self-defence: it’s simply not true that the world lived in an amoral state of anarchy before the formation of the UN.

As for the second bit, well I would take a long hard look at what you wrote. As you stated (I think correctly): ‘That right can be invoked either immediately after a country has suffered an attack or to prevent the immediate threat of one. ‘

This is correct, I think. Therefore, in order for the attack on Afghanistan to have been lawful the US wold have to have believed that the Afghan state was about to attack and perhaps invade the US. To repeat, this is beyond science fictional. Even assuming that the Afghans were ‘responsible’ for Al-Qaeda, the US would still have to argue that Al-Qaeda was willing and able to follow up 9/11 with other attacks. No evidence of such has ever been produced.

The fact that the American dominated security council and the American dominated NATO supported the Americans is not, frankly, the biggest surprise I have ever had in my life. Sadly, it probably was true that ‘most’ international lawyers supported the invasion at the time: they are like lemmings. Whether they would support it now is a whole other ball game.

The Afghan Govt. did, of course, offer to hand over Osama Bin Laden, but the Americans weren’t interested. The argument that invasion of Afghanistan was motived by the desire to ‘get’ Bin Laden is rather compromised by the fact that this failed and that, apparently, the Americans weren’t really that bothered anyway.


Jim Rose 09.16.10 at 9:45 am

Martin Bento,
The British had internment without trial from 1971 to 1975 in Northern Ireland. The UK Attorney-general accidentally forgot about this when getting prim and proper over the recent detention of terrorists captured in the field of battle by the USA.

Internment without trial was not new as the Northern Ireland Government used special powers acts from time to time since the 1922. The 1971 internments were activated under the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (1922) (Northern Ireland) and then, after direct rule was imposed by London, the Detention of Terrorists (Northern Ireland) Order, 1972.

Antiterrorist laws in the UK from the 1970s onwards allowed suspects to be held for 7 or 14 days without charge, and now allow for 42 days detention with being charge.

Canada interned 450 Quebec nationalists without trial during the October crisis in 1970 or 1971 after two kidnappings and a history of bombings and several murders dated from the early 1960s. That left-wing hero Trudeau was the dirty rotten scoundrel behind this human rights abomination. Canada uses a memory hole for the October crisis when it rides its own high horse.

Australia and the UK had interment of enemy aliens in World War 1 and 2..
• During the First World War, 6,890 Germans were interned, of whom 4,500 were Australian residents before 1914. In NSW the principal place of internment was the Holsworthy Military Camp. Shame Labour shame!
• Australia interned about 7000 residents, including more than 1500 British nationals, during World War II. A further 8000 people were sent to Australia to be interned after being detained overseas by Allies. At its peak in 1942, more than 12,000 people were interned in Australia. Shame Labour shame!
Among the Australian internees were Germen Jewish refugees who just got out in time. the later ANU Professor Fred Gruen was one of them, I think. See

Canada and the USA interned Japanese citizens and aliens by the hundreds of thousands in World War 2. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in the civil war. He did not consult Congress. Roosevelt had several German saboteurs that landed in the USA quickly executed after brief trials before military commissions in 1942. The courts were still open.

The detention of captured enemy combatants is incidental to the conduct of a war. Hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war were shipped to camps in the USA and Canada during the Second World War. Millions more were detained in Europe.

p.s. Australia has a system of mandatory administrative detention for illegal immigrants, or asylum seekers who arrive at its shores without proper visas.


sg 09.16.10 at 11:06 am

Jim, by your use of “you say” you make it pretty clear that you don’t know what the Greens were doing before 2001. You also clearly don’t know what happened to women in Afghanistan after 2001. Yet you made a statement to the effect that the Greens were happy to leave women to rot.

You’re categorically wrong about this. The Greens weren’t in govt before 2001, so claims about the efficacy of their stance are irrelevant. If the Australian Liberal government had wanted to, they could have responded to Greens’ concern about women’s rights in Afghanistan by invading. They didn’t. Why not? Because the only people who cared about Afghan women before 2001 were the far left.

Just as claims in 2001 that the invasion would help women were a nasty, slimy distraction, so your comments on this are a nasty, slimy work of propagandistic bullshit.


John Quiggin 09.16.10 at 11:28 am

Martin, I can’t follow what you are saying. But in any case, I’m going to cop out and say the US Civil War was sui generis. The general case I’ve made might be relevant, but is not going to provide a complete answer.


Jim Rose 09.16.10 at 12:30 pm


would the Greens have supported an Australian invasion of Afghanistan (from forward bases in Pakistan, I presume)? Would that invasion be possible without civilian deaths, which are not allowed?

The current position of the Greens is to ensure Australia acts decisively within UN supported operations to prevent acts of genocide and crimes against humanity and to bring perpetrators to trial in the International Criminal Court. The Greens also call for an immediately withdraw of Australian forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.


Conor 09.16.10 at 7:22 pm

Hidari: John’s orginal question was ‘even if a state can legally/justifiably resort to the use of force on grounds of self-defence, is it justifiable for it to go further than restoring the status quo ante?’ This issue has been the subject of extensive discussion amongst international lawyers, diplomats, soldiers, aid workers, etc. I am looking at several shelves of books on the subject right now. I think that you might want to get a little bit further off your high horse before you dismiss them all so airily.

I referenced the various treaties that jgreen cited in my first comment (at 105) and then gave a quick summary of the US/UK legal case for Afghanistan at 126. You responded that these claims were ‘frankly, barking mad’. You now say that international lawyers are ‘lemmings’.

You also say that it is ‘no surprise’ that the US-dominated UNSC and NATO accepted their legal justification for military action but (a) since Chapter VII UNSC authorisation for military action automatically legalises it then how can you still say the actions were illegal and (b) why did neither NATO nor the UNSC back the invasion of Iraq?

On self-defence and armed attack I have already referred you to the Caroline case, which is the generally accepted legal definition. Most informed observers accept that the events of 9/11 do qualify for the definition of an ‘armed attack’, although the issue of state responisbility (the Taliban-run Afghanistan) for the actions of a non-state actor (Al Qaeda) remain more controversial.

I realise that you might find these legalistic distinctions a little abstract, but the point is that there is an existing framework covering the issues that John raises above and it is called international law.


john c. halasz 09.16.10 at 8:43 pm


Nope. I haven’t made sh*t up. I engaged in “critique”, i.e. an examination of the grounds and conceptual means and their limits for the claims of a conclusive position. (Since there are no ultimate “foundations” for anything, paralogism is always a possibility and a problem). At first, I thought you were just reiterating Norman Angell and the doux commerce thesis. Yawn. But then, thinking about it, I realized you were engaged with something weirder and more abstracted, yielding somewhat perverse conclusions. You were and are attempting to use the means of formal “rational choice” models to provide some fully general decision procedure for the issues of war and peace, or, by your own rather gratuitous extension, political violence in general. But you were applying them out of domain, without rigorous formal backing and relevant conditions of application, by analogical extension. Hence you appeal to utility functions, where they don’t have any clear consistent meaning or definable and substitutable orderings. And you have repeatedly invoked game theory where the complexity of actual situations doesn’t allow for any formally rigorous application, (else what the point of game theory?), or even heuristic insight. Hence I intuited, after thinking about it some more, that your “salient” point amounted to an analogy to a “saddle point” unique equilibrium, which is how you derived your supposed generalizable rule of a reversion to the status quo ante bellum as the optimal stable strategic equilibrium. Futhermore, you are applying a model of economic action, the utility maximizing individual, which is itself a rather artificial and unrealistic account of actual social agents, let alone collective agency, under the dubious assumption that such action is inherently peaceable (or, as Delong once put it, with his usual sublime complacency, economics concerns solved political problems), and thus amounts to a superior account of political action. (Are you being seduced by the slippage from economic interests to supposed national interests?) Which amounts to a plain category mistake and an evasion of the actual political issues involved in considering war, (while taking for granted or simply assuming away difficult questions of sovereignty and legitimacy), as if the supposed power-free nature of economic relations would thereby solve conflicting power relations and potentials for violence. Or even capture the sorts of issues involved in such conflicts. And your far too narrow account of rational agency then just leads to confusion and conflation of normative and positive claims concerning “rationality”.

You and I obviously have much different mind-sets and work with different conceptual “equipment”. Without going whole hog for the Hegelian “the real is the rational and the rational the real”, such a notion of “objective reason” whereby rationality is rooted in the structures of the social and natural world, rather than just in the subjective capacities of reasoners, (since, er, the capacities of individual reasoners are a collective endowment), means that descriptive and explanatory adequacy are criteria of “rationality”. If wars are irrational and in nobody’s interest, then why do nations maintain extensive and expensive military establishments and accumulate such massive means of destruction? And why do nations in fact make and exchange threats and engage in coercive attempts at diplomatic dispute resolution? (It’s a commonplace observation that the maintenance of external enemies re-enforces social solidarity and entrenches the power of ruling elites, which ought to be a clue). But furthermore, “objective reason” means that social theories bear a reflexive relation to underlying social practices and their own contexts of emergence and application. They don’t begin from sheer abstraction and a bird’s eye overview, and hence such theories don’t escape from and transcend the historicity of events: theoretical priors can no more trump the course of events than they can abjure considerations of actual effectiveness. So, for the life of me, I can’t figure out what your general status quo ante bellum rule means or how it could be realistically applied. Do you think that once the hostilities commence the movie can simply be rewound, as is the apparent fantasy of Gen. Petraeus? And what exactly defines the status quo ante bellum? And what exactly would enforce the reversion, aside from abstract appeals to international law, if not some alliance of greater power? But then are you advocating restorations, Congress of Vienna style? Why does your notion of a strategic equilibrium authorize a theoretical reversal of time? Are you advocating yet another scheme of “perpetual peace”, in a tradition that goes back before Kant to St. Augustine, for whom worldly peace must be preserved at all cost, since those who suffer injustice will have their reward in heaven? “The fact that the existing order of things is unjust and not amenable to change is not sufficient justification for the certain suffering and far from certain benefits of revolutionary violence. ” So are you advocating Tolstoyan pacifism, “resist not evil”? (The Gandhi/MLK notion of non-violent resistance was itself a deliberate political strategy of claiming the moral “high ground” against provoked violent resistance, dependent on quite specific claims to and configurations of political legitimacy, which are not somehow always universally available or applicable). And just what is it that necessarily legitimates the current configuration of coercive power over all others, let alone its auntie, other than the bias toward theoretical abstraction? “He who wills the end, must will the means”. Are you saying that there are no valid ends that can “transcend” the status quo, that there can be no disruptive social change, that future goods must be sacrificed to the accumulation of opposing means? Do you see why your proposal might strike some as having perversely reactionary implications? Why it might bear the musty smell of right social democrats who perpetually and self-defeatingly capitulate the prospect of fundamental social change in the name of securing their own “legitimacy” and thereby already compromise the struggle before it has begun? And who think that some technocratic policy design can fully substitute for political action? (Cf. the current, misfortunate prime minister of Greece).

Anyone can issue their own amateur fatwas about international law, as some have already done here. But that’s not the same as endowing it with actual efficacy. It’s fine to say, e.g., the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal, in violation of international law, and I, for one, wouldn’t disagree, but nothing actually results from that. (In U.S. law, there is the “sovereign immunity doctrine”, which makes it impossible to hold government officials civilly or criminally liable so long as they carried out their public duties “in good faith”; something of the same applies de facto internationally). But it’s much more effective to criticize the invasion IMHO on grounds of expediency, as planned and executed with stunning ineptitude, and on grounds of legitimacy, not just in terms of the U.S. international reputation and the GWoT, (wherein the acquisition of “HumInt” is crucial and crucially determined by perceived legitimacy), but in terms of having collapsed the sovereignty of another nation without being able to institute an alternative legitimacy for it. Properly political criticisms, not legalistic or moralistic ones. (My reactions when the war drums were starting beating in early 2002: 1) what about Afghanistan? 2) Lebanon, 3) what are they really thinking, since the public “case” was such an incoherent hodgepodge of ever shifting reasons and prevarications, in strategic geo-political terms? I still have no answer to that third one, though somehow oil must have been involved. But there is substantial public evidence that the Cheney administration simply intended an exercise in demonstrative violence for the sake of “full spectrum dominance”, in which case we’re in “Hitler standard” territory, a paranoid ideological delirium fully equal to Al Qaida’s own political-religious nihilism).

Clausewitz’ dictum that “war is the continuation of politics by other means” is not necessarily just a blinkered piece of military rationalism. It doesn’t say that war is an especially effective political means. It could be read ironically in reverse to mean that “winning the peace” is still far more difficult than winning the war. That might make for a better starting point for properly political deliberations and tergiversations about war and peace amidst that strange alchemy between organized violence and legitimation constituting sovereignty, without which there is also no political freedom. But the upshot is that there is no algorithm or generalized formal decision procedure that can substitute for political judgment and its risks. Political judgment is a mixed form of “prudential” or practical judgment involving considerations of available ends-means relations, estimations of extant power relations and matters of ethical “justification”. But such judgment is always situated, which means it always comes down to specific cases.


LFC 09.16.10 at 8:47 pm

john c. halasz @146 —
You seem to think that any reference to game theory in a discussion of international relations carries the implication that wars are not “broadly political events” and that issues of war and peace are reducible to an “economic calculus.” That is absurd: no one here has denied that issues of war and peace are political issues. You seem equally hostile to any mention of international law, putting the phrase in quotation marks. But again, reference to international law does not deny the political nature of these questions. It’s worth noting that some of the key 20th-century Realists in IR were originally trained as international lawyers (e.g., Morgenthau and Wolfers); while critical of international law in some respects, they did not contend that it was “fictitious” (to use your word). AFAICT, you seem mostly to be tilting at windmills of your own imagining.


LFC 09.16.10 at 8:59 pm

john c. halasz @147–it is, IMHO, ridiculous to suggest that a “properly political” approach to issues of war and peace must abjure all reference to “moralistic” and “legalistic” considerations. This is a caricatured recycling of potted Realism that bears rather little connection to what Realists actually wrote. And contrary to your insulting characterization, what some having been doing here is not “issuing amateur fatwas about international law” but rather providing their understanding of what the current state of int’l law is.


LFC 09.16.10 at 9:00 pm

sorry i meant @162, not @147


John Quiggin 09.16.10 at 9:24 pm

“Hence I intuited, after thinking about it some more, that your “salient” point amounted to an analogy to a “saddle point” unique equilibrium”

Umm, no. The whole point of talking about salience is that it becomes relevant when there is no unique equilibrium.

And, this is only the first of many straw men. I never said anything about expected utility theory, and don’t in fact think that it is applicable here. Anyone even vaguely familiar with my work would not make such a silly imputation. I did not commit the error of treating collective actors as utility maximizing individuals (ditto). I made no reference to, and don’t believe in, the “power-free nature of economic relationships” (ditto). That’s just the first three or four sentences – LFC points to more.

If your aim is, at it appears, to demonstrate your intellectual superiority, you might try to look as if you know what you are talking about.


Lemuel Pitkin 09.16.10 at 10:02 pm

I’m going to cop out and say the US Civil War was sui generis.

I think you’re conceding more than you need to here. As someone noted upthread, the abolition of slavery was not the action of a military victor, but was accomplished through the same legal procedures as if the war had never happened. And contrary to the wishes of some radicals in the North, the South was not treated as “conquered territory” but was quickly restored to its prior constitutional status. In fact, it seems to me if you want an example of the SQAB principle in action, you could hardly ask for a cleaner one than the US Civil War.


Jim Rose 09.16.10 at 10:14 pm

John Q,
Was the American Revolution sui generis too? The American Revolution was a war for independence led by slave holders and most to all of the 13 states permitted slavery!

Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation on 7th November 1775 promised freedom for any slaves of American patriots who would leave their masters and join the royal forces! The British imperialists were trying to abolish slavery in as full a measure as Lincoln’s 1863 emancipation proclamation freeing slaves in rebel provinces but not in the Border States.

Were all wars prior to the abolition of slavery in the early to mid-19th century sui generis as one or more of the belligerents was tainted by slavery?

This need for an extensive application of sui generis to most wars in human history prior to the 20th century is why I prefer moral criteria for just wars over the defence of morally arbitrary borders, and the consistent application of just and unjust war criteria to conflicts between often imperfect belligerents:
• A just war exists when a people tries to ward off the threat of coercive domination by another people, or to overthrow an already-existing domination; and
• A war is unjust, when a people try to impose domination on another people, or try to retain an already existing coercive rule over them.”
It is possible to judge the morality of wars of succession while calling for internal revolution and uprisings. Opposing military attacks on the eastern bloc communist states or the Viet Cong or the Sandinistas while hoping for the downfall of communism was also rarely seen as moral incompatible.


Jim Rose 09.16.10 at 10:29 pm

The wiki on slavery in America has the following of interest:
“Slavery in England had never been authorized by statute. In 1772 it was made unenforceable at common law by a decision of Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, but this decision did not apply in the colonies. A number of cases for emancipation were presented to the English courts. Numerous runaways hoped to reach England where they hoped to be free. The slaves’ belief that King George III was for them and against their masters rose as tensions increased before the American Revolution; colonial slaveholders feared a British-inspired slave revolt.”
Down with the rebels, up with the British!?

See Somerset’s case where it was held that while colonial laws might permit slavery, neither the common law of England nor any law made by Parliament recognised the existence of slavery, and slavery was therefore unlawful.


Norwegian Guy 09.17.10 at 1:37 am

I don’t really get Jim Rose’s position here. On the one hand, he cites Murray Rothbard’s libertarian arguments against interventionism. On the other hand, he criticizes the Australian Greens for not being interventionist enough. Perhaps Rothbard would have voted Green if he was Australian and still alive? There were certainly some of his followers that voted for Ralph Nader, at least in 2004.


john c. halasz 09.17.10 at 1:59 am



“I never said anything about expected utility theory, and don’t in fact think that it is applicable here. Anyone even vaguely familiar with my work would not make such a silly imputation.”

I’m sorry for not being extensively familiar with your work, but claims about the necessary cost-benefit futility of war sound a lot like claims about gains which ought to be simply dis-allowed. So I read that into what you, strictly literally, had said. But then claims like:

“More importantly, unless I have greatly misunderstood what you are saying your claims about rationality are simply wrong. It’s easy enough to model war as the outcome of failed bargaining – economists do this with price wars, strikes and so on. Obviously, war only arises under conditions of imperfect information, and yields a negative sum (sub)game. But if it’s rationalex ante to threaten war in a game of incomplete information, it’s rational ex post to go to war (see the large literature on the chain store paradox). My point is that it isn’t even rational ex ante, and that the outcomes of such behavior are Pareto-dominated (ex ante and usually ex post by norms that preclude any use of threats of force to gain advantage.”

… seem an awful lot like claims for U-max. Unless I missed some subtleties, the chain-store “paradox”, (which has already been solved in reality, qua Walmart), looks an awfully like sheer economic reasoning in terms of U-max. If it’s a pure game theory point, then that’s because there’s already an “elective affinity” with terms like “Pareto-dominated”. I’m certainly no expert here.

But then I apparently missed the secret meaning of “salience point”. Or did I? I didn’t say you were making a “saddle point” claim of unique strategic equilibrium, but rather that you were “reasoning” by analogy. But if there is no strategic equilibrium, even weakly “Pareto-dominant”, but rather multiple possible equilibria, for which your only claim is that you’re selecting a plausible “cheap talk” criterion, do you actually have any formally backed argument to make your case? If so, please lay out a rough sketch version for examination. If not, what’s the difference? My claim is simply that these issues can be discussed in terms of ordinary discursive concepts, without spurious formal claims clouding the issues. Unless you can clearly show the applicability of the formalism in question and the “superior insight” it affords, what exactly is your point?

“I did not commit the error of treating collective actors as utility maximizing individuals (ditto). I made no reference to, and don’t believe in, the “power-free nature of economic relationships” (ditto).”

Of course, I don’t think you’re an idiot. But I also think what you’ve proposed has curiously retrogressive implications. Can you rebut that imputation?

“If your aim is, at it appears, to demonstrate your intellectual superiority, you might try to look as if you know what you are talking about.”

Why the ad hominem about my desire for “intellectual superiority”? (If that were my heart’s desire, would I be responding at the dead end of an internet thread?) No, my aim is to puncture claims to false mastery. What exactly is the “coalition of the willing”, independent of threats and bribes, that you postulate would take up the role of the general interest of the “international community”, as a substitute for any deus absconditus ?


Norwegian Guy 09.17.10 at 1:59 am

As to the troubles with fitting certain wars into John Quiggin’s model, isn’t the easiest solution to say that the model only applies to war between sovereign states, and not civil wars?

And what is the alternative to status quo ante bellum. That the USA should for instance cede Texas to the Iraqis, and let the Texans move to Alaska? I don’t think that would be neither just nor helpful.

And by the way, since someone mentioned how Hitler justified WW2 as a response to Polish aggression. Some Germans still see it that way:


Jim Rose 09.17.10 at 2:41 am

Norwegian Guy ,
My points are about the crusader state, and how armchair peace keepers can make matters worse.

Closer to home, the best that the Greens could do on East Timor was to call for Australia to support a multilateral armed intervention peacekeeping force being deployed in East Timor, with or without the Indonesian government’s approval. No unilateral action.

A phony threat of an invasion would consolidate Indonesian elite opposition to outside views to save face and show strength in internal power struggles, rather than promote dialogue. The Greens are big talk.

What does an invading multilateral peace-keeping force do when the local military shoot at them in earnest? The Belgians famously withdrew their paracommandos from Rwanda as the genocide was starting after eleven Belgian soldiers were killed. We live in the age of post-heroic warfare.

The armed forces of advanced countries with low birth-rates are not available for combat operations except insofar as these military interventions are conducted without many casualties. Zero-casualty troop insertions usually fail.

Afghanistan and Sudan are catastrophes, but successful humanitarian interventions would fail because their sheer size, inland location, and their lack of infrastructures would require elaborate and costly logistic preparations as well as large-scale operations and a willing new colonial power willing to give and shed blood.

In Somalia, NGOs did many things to help the locals, but the NGOs paying warlords to protect them, and feeding their warriors sustained the fighting whose consequences they were trying to mitigate. Once the TV cameras departed, so did most NGOs. Since then, the fighting in Somalia has notably waned. The hard-currency earnings from NGO protection fees directly fueled the war by paying for ammunition imports.

The Kosovo war proved that precision modern air bombardments can be effective as humanitarian interventions only in unique circumstances:
• an enemy sufficiently economically developed to offer targets worth bombing, and
• sufficiently democratic to respond to the inconvenience thereby inflicted on civilians at large;
• And yet sufficiently primitive and authoritarian to become the target of a humanitarian bombing campaign in the first place.
In most cases, from the Taliban’s Afghanistan to Zaire and from Rwanda to Sierra Leone, there were no identifiable, high-value, and relevant targets.
In Bosnia, the post-heroic behaviour of almost all peacekeeping troops in UN service ranges from doing little or nothing to protect civilians while engaging in every possible form of misconduct, from black-market trafficking to cowardly passivity in the face of mass murder.

(HT: Edward Luttwak)

I did praise the ideas of strict non-intervention, peaceful co-existence, and the belief that all rights are global, but the practical responsibility for their enforcement.

But as a fan of Tom Schelling and Edward Luttwak, I also favour an armed peace. If you want peace, you must prepare for war. Simplistic peacemaking can cause wars, while arms race, credible war threats and mutually assured destruction can reliably prevent wars.


CBrinton 09.17.10 at 3:51 am

“The British imperialists were trying to abolish slavery in as full a measure as Lincoln’s 1863 emancipation proclamation freeing slaves in rebel provinces but not in the Border States.”

Not even close to true, but sadly typical of “libertarian” discussions of the US civil war.

By January 1863 the USA had banned slavery from the territories and ended slavery in the District of Columbia. In which areas controlled by the British parliament did legislation banning slavery apply in 1775? Britain was still protecting the slave trade at this time (as the USA did until 1808).

Also, you might consider that Dunmore’s proclamation applied only to Virginia (where Dunmore was governor). Rebel nor slaveholders in other colonies did not have their slave “property” threatened by the British government.


John Quiggin 09.17.10 at 6:18 am

@171 jch You have all this backwards. I’m describing the position of International Realism, which certainly does treat nation-states as if they are utility-maximising individuals and which (contrary to some claims made by previous commentators) relies on the assumption that war is a rationally chosen outcome of policy. Since I referred to this idea in the post as “worse than useless”, it ought to be obvious that this is not my position.

I’m sorry that even a passing and informal reference to game theory appears to press all kinds of hot buttons for you. If you don’t like me discussing the issue in this way, you’re welcome to a full refund – I’m sure there are other blogs that would be more to your taste. But, as I said first up, you’ll get a long way further if you drop the attitude.


Norwegian Guy 09.17.10 at 4:02 pm

It’s interesting who the reasons, sources and motivations for the American Civil War are viewed differently among the, broadly speaking left and right in the USA and in Norway, and perhaps the rest of Europe. Here, you will probably find more support for the more idealistic interpretations of the war from people in the political centre and right wing, while the left will be more likely to see the war through the lens of historical materialism. Righteous war to abolish slavery is the more “conventional bourgeois” explanation, while leftists rather see it as a conflict between to different ruling classes; the industrial, capitalist, protectionist and modernist north and the agrarian, semi-feudal, free-trading and traditionalist south, with slavery as only a secondary motivation.


Lemuel Pitkin 09.17.10 at 4:09 pm

Righteous war to abolish slavery is the more “conventional bourgeois” explanation, while leftists rather see it as a conflict between to different ruling classes

Interestingly, Karl Marx was very much in the “righteous war to abolish slavery” camp. From one of his New York Tribune pieces (there are many other similar passages):

The people of England, of France, of Germany, of Europe, consider the cause of the United States as their own cause, as the cause of liberty… now to be defended sword in hand, from the sordid grasp of the slaveholder. … All the wars waged in Europe have been mock wars, groundless, wanton, and carried on on false pretenses…. The first grand war of contemporaneous history is the American war. … In this contest the highest form of popular self-government till now realized is giving battle to the meanest and most shameless form of man’s enslaving recorded in the annals of history.

(My emphasis.)


Jim Rose 09.18.10 at 12:59 am

CBrinton ,
Thanks for the reminder of the effectiveness of the 1863 emancipation proclamation.

Enslaved African Americans did not wait for Lincoln’s 1863 emancipation proclamation before escaping to Union lines to secure manumission after being declared contraband of war under the Confiscation Act of 1861.

From the early years of the War Between the States, hundreds of thousands of African Americans escaped to the Union lines to secure manumission, and from 1863, emancipation. So many fled that camps and schools were created. Nearly 200,000 African-American men, mostly escaped slaves, served as Union troops.

At #138 you said that “runaways were not a “big problem” for slaveholders; they were no more than an annoyance”. I counter that hundreds of thousands fledge north once sanctuary was far closer than Canada and the fugitive slave law was sidestepped through to secure manumission as contraband of war.

Maybe peaceful abolition, which was the path to emancipation everywhere else but Haiti, was possible after all by moving the underground railroad south, and perhaps as far south as the lower south with only a rump of gulf states as the secessionist states?

A condition for a just war is force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical.

Was military force the last option used in the case of the American civil war? Were civilian casualties avoided? Was cost in blood proportionate to goal? Another precondition for a just war is the 600,000 dead were worth the price in blood.

Is it possible to start a just war, and stop it from becoming an unjust war because the war lasted too long and the civilian and military dead became too many. both sides in the Civil War expected a quick, low cost conflict. World War I was supposed to be over by Christmas.

If the British imperialists had issued an emancipation proclamation covering all 13 of the colonies, would the American Revolution be a just or unjust war?


Norwegian Guy 09.18.10 at 5:25 am

Lemuel, that doesn’t necessarily contradict my point above. Karl Marx wasn’t – in a 19th century setting – anti-capitalist and anti-industrial. He welcomed the development of the forces of production! And the humanitarian and moral case for abolishing slavery was clear enough for anyone reasonably enlightened.

But the left – and especially Marxists – tend to look for economic explanations, and distrust explanations based upon ideas and idealism. So many people doubt that the war in Afghanistan really is about liberating women or other humanitarian concerns, and rather look after for instance oil pipelines. And similarly, though obviously sympathizing with abolitionists and the Union side, doubt that Northern elites really cared about the plight of the slaves (how much did they care about the problems of their own workers?). Then it’s easy to look for other explanations, like the protective tariffs that are necessary for countries that want to industrialize, but where not in the interests of the Southern cotton exporters.


Lemuel Pitkin 09.18.10 at 5:34 am

Well, this is not a debate we’ll settle in a comments thread. But I would argue that (1) the Civil War really was about free labor in a way that Afghanistan was certainly not about the rights of women, etc.; and (2) the development of the United States was still somewhat open at the time of the Civil War — proletarianization of the working class as in Europe was one of only one possible future, albeit the one that was realized. Certainly Marx believed that in the mid 19th century United States (as in a very different way in the communal organization of the Russian village) there was the basis for an incremental evolution toward socialism.


Lemuel Pitkin 09.18.10 at 5:56 am

It really is fascinating to read Marx’s journalistic writing about the Civil War, a lot of which is online. He was emphatic (and the dude did get emphatic) that the only people presenting the war as a clash between two equally self-interested ruling classes were the allies of the slaveowners.


john c. halasz 09.19.10 at 7:55 am

Ya. It’s your blog and thus your ball and bat, and you can take them home with you, if you want. Though that, umm, is not very sporting, eh, mate?

I’ll make one last attempt at clarification, (since I don’t think I’ve actually been unreasonable, obscure or grossly mistaken), then leave off. Of course, I get this academic move all the time: there is an extensive body of literature on f(X),- (VAT, FX rates, international law, foreign affairs, Jane Austen novels, etc.),- which stands conclusively revealed in the hyperouranios topos, of which I am blissfully and shamefully ignorant, having failed to apply myself with sufficient pedantry. So be it: I’m only laying claim to ordinary worldly acquaintance and reasoning capacities, not to any superordinate expertise, (which, er, may turn out to be contradictory or too narrowly focused anyway). So:

1) I did not take you to be claiming that states are unitary, utility-maximizing individuals, which I agree is rather silly. a) I interpreted you to be basically claiming that wars are destructive of all utility. That is an arguable factual claim, since it’s not impossible that a belligerent might realize some sort of net gain. b) But regardless, you then seem to derive from that the normative claim that wars are irrational and shouldn’t occur. c) From a) and b) you seem to derive your proposal, as a kind of negation of the negation, that gains from war ought to be reversed and could be done so by some sort of international “coalition of the willing”, supposedly derived from some sort of game-theoretical analysis. I counter-claimed that d) there is slippage and conflation/confusion between postivie and normative analysis going on there, though I don’t think I exactly managed to pin it down. e) From a) I inferred that you were relying on a basically economistic mode of thinking, (not a large stretch, I should think), and thus a basically economic model of “rational action” and agency. f) But neither utility-seeking or material gain are the relevant criterion, since wars are fundamentally political events and involve political modes of action and agency in pursuit of political ends, (and I defined the difference above). What is always at stake in wars is the “identity” of organized sovereignty, its who and in the name of what and its social cohesion over some delimited human group, which is what tends to make them so intractable. Even if there is some economic, territorial or resource “cause” at stake, it always involves a political “supplement” derived from conflicting claims of sovereign “identities”, which would be why they involve such excessive violence, easily derail, and go on too long. Not utility, but “security” is the “currency” at issue. (Do you dispute the phenomenological accuracy of that account?) g) So you’ve simply applied the wrong criterion for “rationality”, a category mistake, with presumably consequences for the assessment of what might be “rational” and effective action. “Rationality” is already an inherently normative term and debates over rationality or reason concern its normative structure and contents. But a more differentiated account, without too easy assumptions of unity, is likely a better account. (And if “reason” can be said to be one “thing”, it’s a giving of accounts, an ethic of accountability). So the target that I was taking aim at in my criticism or questioning wasn’t utility or game theory, (which may well have domain-specific applications with respect to, say, nominal price formation or oligopolistic competition), but more generally rational choice theory and its abstract, formal, and deductive model/criterion of rational agency, as to whether x) it captures relevant features of actual agents or agencies, (which are always already socially and collectively situated, subject to conditions, structural constraints, contingencies and consequences, and concerned with the formation of normative “identities”, etc., such that their options and decision-making capacities of similarly limited), and y) as to whether it can really generate fully general and also applicable rules for “rational” decisions through a formal calculative procedure that substitutes for uncertain deliberation. It’s both the normative and positive, the real and the rational, aspects of such modeling that I find, well, off-base.

2) You can issue opinions all you want, -that’s your right-, but if you back them with some sort of argument, then it’s open to examination. It actually seems to me, in my infinite ignorance, that there is no dispute over game theory here. O.K., I missed the “technical” meaning of “salient point”, but I wasn’t saying that there was or could be a formal “saddle point” equilibrium solution; to the contrary. But then it seems we’re actually in ironical agreement here. It’s not a matter of some sort of allergy to game theory. I simply intuited that you were arguing from a fully formal model by analogy. If you actually have a game-theoretical model that backs your judgment, show your home-work here, at least in rough sketch form. But if it involves an N-dimensional matrix, without any even weakly dominant criterion for decidability, but rather multiple and unstable equilibria, then your choice is as arbitrary as mine. And that claim the choosing a “cheap talk” option as most effective is dubious. (Realistically speaking, third parties are actually highly reluctant to get involved or intervene in sovereign conflicts between belligerents, precisely because of their weak attachment to the issues involved, whether they are major powers or lesser states: they lack the motivations and commitments to endure the sacrifices involved.) But I’ll venture just two thoroughly ignorant comments on game theory. a) Game theory involves an irrealism, insofar as any social communication between parties is disallowed, except, of course, as signaling moves within games. But, in reality, there is no conflict or dispute without some prior social communication, since there can be no conflict or dispute without it being over some sort of “common ground”: ships passing in the night don’t enter into conflict. b) Pure strategic action, as a version of instrumental action calculating the most efficient means of achieving some arbitrary end, but involving one or more such calculating agents or agencies in its set of calculable items, quickly results in an escalation of expectations, qua I think that he thinks that I think that he thinks, etc., such that pure strategic action quickly breaks down into muddling-on-through, as the default option. Likely wars are a result of strategic miscalculation just as much as as strategic calculation, but then the same might apply to efforts to prevent or stop wars.

3) It’s likely you’re lacking that conceptual chunk, as part of your equipment, which might be labeled “critique of the metaphysics of presence”, which I applied diagnostically to your proposal. It has to do with the way that, not just metaphysical or philosophical theories, but their modern-day derivatives, function as defense-mechanisms against the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. Part of the point is a point of epistemic criticism: how and from what do theories emerge and derive, from what specific concerns, understandings and experiences, and what are their specific contexts of application? What good are theories and how are they broadly useful? (So, at least, is how I read part of Wittgenstein). But the other part of the point is that the theoretical attitude of abstraction, in its illusory self-sufficiency, tends to operate synchronically, in denial and suppression of the diachronic order of events, such that recursion to the having-been, (to “substance” as permanent being), becomes illicitly the criterion of theoretical “rationality”. And thereby theory becomes a fictitious machinery for restoring lost time, and, equally fictitiously, restoring the status quo ante and re-enforcing the merely “given” order. That, at least, is how I interpreted your dubious deduction of a theoretical equilibrium and your equally dubious proposal that it would yield a means of restoring the status quo ante bellum, once hostilities had commenced. And thereby criticized its tautologous nature and peculiarly retrograde implications, because there is no way, except in theory, to rewind the movie backwards, and any settlement would involve inevitably changed conditions. In other words, rather than addressing any actual issues, your proposal simply theoretical abstracts from and evades them, repressing the underlying realities in the name of a “prior” equilibrium, when the whole point is that any such “equilibrium” has broken down in cases of war. Your position really boils down to saying that wars should simply be suppressed, because their ghastly destructiveness is an unnecessary evil utterly disproportionate to any stakes or gains involved. But the question is not just: can they? Is you proposal actually practicable? But rather also is your proposal actually desirable? Or doesn’t it rather involve an elision or occlusion of essential features of political life, whether through a failure to consider them or a suppression or denial of them, of which war is just one possible misfortunate consequence? (To indulge in fanciful analogy, it’s a bit like denouncing sex because of rape, on the grounds that the sole function of sexuality is procreation and the legitimacy of offspring must be secured above all. Or again, your proposal has something of the air of economists who think that “moral hazard” and therefore, sic!, financial crises can be eliminated simply by raising capital ratios, when, er, capital ratios are as much a function of what’s on the left-hand as the right-hand side of the balance sheet, and the dysfunctions with the system of credit/debt might have more basic roots than that).

4) So I’m not war-mongering here, by any means: there is nothing heroic and much that is horrific about wars. But no one wins points for obviousness. Nor am I opposing or stigmatizing international third-party attempts to mediate potentially belligerent disputes and the mobilization of international pressures, (though I am often skeptical of both their “purity” and their efficacy). (However, I find it strange that you don’t really address the notion of “deterrence” , which I would guess is a major preoccupation of all that unread IR Realpolitik literature). But I made the basic point that all law is rooted in the constitution of sovereign power, and one can’t simply avoid or ignore the perplexities involved in the notion and reality of sovereign power. “International law” might have an interesting heuristic literature, which I’ve obviously failed to master, but it can have efficacy only if a) there is some sort of “spontaneous” international commons, such as with maritime law, or b) if it is backed by treaty commitments between sovereign nations and their alliances, which, er, doesn’t escape from international power-relations between such sovereigns, because treaty commitments can always be broken or partially evaded, (cf. Munich). (The U .S. has clearly violated international laws, and since IIRC the Constitution declares ratified treaties the “law of the land”, its own laws, but it’s hard to see that any actual consequences have resulted). Hence there is a displaced liberalistic illusion involved in appeals to “international law”: the idea that law is an autonomous self-regulating medium. The “rule of law, not men” is only a meaningful slogan insofar as it indicates the difference between personal rule, (“slavery”), and the extensiveness of modern systems of law, but, obviously, laws are made by, for, and over menschen, rather than descending from the heavens. Hence not only are laws, legal systems, rooted in sovereignty, the “organized monopoly of legitimate violence”, according to the alchemical formula, but laws, legal systems, are dependent on a political supplement, as indicated by that “organized” and that “legitimate”. But then laws are mostly a codification of extant relations of property and power, and their relation to “justice” might be sheerly adventitious: i.e. laws can be just as much an instrument of repression or oppression as of protection or enablement.

On the other hand, the inevitably collective “nature” of social life necessarily engenders power relations, which must be organized into some system of governance, sovereign rule. I take a broadly aristotelian view of “freedom”, i.e. human agency, as rooted in (structured and thus limited) capacities, which are augmented by the conditions of social life. But which also involve conflict potentials within and between agents. Hence the obverse side of both such “freedom” and such conflict is the generation of power, (which would take place even in the most egalitarian political community), as the doppelgaenger of “freedom”, thus the organization of an alchemical sovereignty, as a means to conflicted ends. (Both law and politics are higher-order systems of social action, oriented toward the resolution of endemic social conflict from their base, though it’s important not to conflate the two, nor to let either subsume their social bases). So, yes, I am offering a neo-Hegelian account of the rational necessity of the state, since neither political “freedom”, nor “justice” can quite exist without its counterpart in sovereign power. (Which is why citizens tend to commit their loyalty to and identify with their sovereigns, even as they resist and contest one another over such power.) But equally the “violent”, coercive core of such power can’t be denied and is an ongoing reality, even if such violence remains latent, in structural and symbolic forms of violence, and not explicitly lethal, is more fraud than force. (The coercive element in all social relations BTW is why I have no patience for libertarians; it’s not just that their idea that human societies can be constituted in terms of entirely voluntary relations, else some outrageous injustice has occurred, implies a notion of “free will” that could only descend from the metaphysical heavens, but it’s that they actually are only leveraging the notion of “freedom” in order to impose discipline, while evading any political responsibility for such an imposition). The bottom line, is that states, sovereign powers, are the condition for the generation of any sort of public sphere, and therefore politics in any modern sense. I’m not arguing for the primacy or superiority of politics over other spheres and ends, just its irreducibility to them. But that also brings up the second fundamental illusion of liberalism: that politics can be conflated or identified with morality. No, morality concerns private conscience as determining the formation of individual beliefs and the conduct of individual lives. Politics involves living in community with others who might be utterly unlike oneself and have completely different “value” orientations, while nonetheless coming to agreement on collective, public projects and action orientations. The conflation of morality with politics does damage to each and both: moralization of political conflicts tends to render them all the more “absolute’ and thus diminishes the potential for conflict resolution, (e.g. the abortion debate, which can’t be decided by means of public deliberation, but can be politically exploited to depoliticize the public sphere, while mobilizing it for other purposes), whereas a publicly dictated “morality” isn’t just a sham, but injures the self-formative capacities of participating citizens. But politics then is pre-eminently a sphere of alienation, of passing-over-into-otherness, since man is. er, the hypocritically self-justifying animal. And the same conditions apply internationally as domestically: it’s relatively easy to condemn wars moralistically, but it’s far more difficult to confront them politically, since wars likely involve competing and conflicting “moralities”, however horrifically.

Which foregoing just brings me to what I found obtuse and undesirable in your proposal and mind-set, (since desire is the seeking out of human ends and the ultimately desirable, the good, is their validation). If both political “freedom” and “justice” are fundamentally dependent on sovereign power, however much they might oppose it, and if sovereign power has a core in violence, actual or potential, then contesting and shifting the terms of sovereign power and its legitimation to bring about fundamental change in the pursuit of political “freedom” and “justice” is being disallowed. Rather the potential for violence and even warfare is the “price” for the open-endedness of seeking out political “freedom” and “justice”; it might just be the cost and risk of fundamentally reparative and fruitful motives. Dante espied the source of damnation is “perverse desire”, defined as desiring what one fears. I say, “Debout, les damne’s de la terre” and tante pis for the liberalism (or social democracy) of fear.

One last remark here. Terrorism “works” precisely by attacking overwhelmingly dominant sovereign power at its weakest point: through the wanton murder of innocent civilians, it “gives the lie” to the sovereign’s promise of protection, and thereby provokes misguided and excessive sovereign response, – ( and much political hysteria, as can be empirically observed),- which re-enforces its “cause”. Whether terrorism is or can be ever a politically “rational” strategy might be open to cold-blooded debate, since it amounts to the destruction of any possibility of political communication. But it’s also worth keeping in mind that sovereign states have far greater capacities to impose and effect terror than terrorists ever will.

5) “Lose the attitude”? Nope, that’s just snide. It’s not as if you’ve been issuing coolly logical obiter dicta and I’ve just been engaging in cheap rhetorical modalizations. Rather I suspect it’s just that I took aim at the mask of sober, sententious objectivity to expose the actual modalizations and faulty reasonings involved. Since, er, formal methods don’t guarantee an absence of “attitude”. Thanks for the free admission ticket, but I’ll just point out that good blogs involve not just agonal competition, but, in equal measure, a gift economy of intellectual labor. Some boundary policing might be necessary to maintain “quality”, but that tends to be in inverse proportion to the amount of clustering of like-minded opinion. Which those of us to the left might feel CT tends to cultivate. If you don’t want to expose your deliverances of opinion and reasoning to open comment and contestable criticism, (an eminently “liberal” ideal), then it’s not just the wrong blog, but the wrong medium.


CBrinton 09.20.10 at 3:34 am

“Maybe peaceful abolition, which was the path to emancipation everywhere else but Haiti, was possible after all by moving the underground railroad south”

No. Emancipation in Cuba was not “peaceful”; the Ten Years’ War was as destructive, on a per capita basis, as was the US civil war in the CSA-joining states. And the War of the Tripe Alliance played a significant role in the ending of slavery in Brazil.

Lincoln offered compensated emancipation to all US slave states before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation; all declined it.

Libertarians have an odd fondness for neo-confederate claims.


Martin Bento 09.20.10 at 9:01 am

Norwegian Guy, it seems to me the problem with supposing that John’s model doesn’t apply to civil war is that he said it applies both to war and revolution. If a theory of political violence is general enough to apply to both those things, wouldn’t it need a specific reason to exclude civil war? To model it a bit simplistically, civil war seems to me to lie somewhere on a continuum between war and revolution.

On your other point, I’m mostly in the righteous war to abolish slavery camp, although human motivations on something as complex as this are always mixed. There was a strong and idealistic abolition movement, after all, which found much fault with Lincoln for his moderation. I also don’t think the North would have had the stomach for what it did had it not felt it was fighting for a higher good.

Cbrinton and Jim Rose, it’s very hard for me to see the Confederacy seceding for the sake of an unending right to enslave only to abolish slavery in anything but the very long run. By seceding, the South made itself a nation and made slavery, not just one feature of its society among others, but its national essence. Many societies have practiced slavery, but a country created expressly for the purpose of enabling slavery in perpetuity? Unprecedented AFAIK. And monstrous. They would have to glorify slavery and the racial myths that justified it ever more stridently to justify to themselves, their progeny, and the world the decision that they had made. Since it seems likely they would fall behind the North as it industrialized largely without them, this need for justification would become more. not less, urgent over time. Ease at admitting big mistakes is not characteristic of the human race that I know. It is in fact quite scary to contemplate what the South would have become having to defend and define itself by its peculiar institution. It’s also hard to imagine the South would not have found itself embracing the similar ideology of Aryan supremacy that was getting off the ground in Europe not long after this.

Lemuel, before the Civil War, slavery was legal in many states, and there was no legal or Constitutional imperative to abolish it, though there was a political movement to. That was the “status quo ante bellum” . After the war, the South was compelled to abolish slavery. They did not freely choose to. In terms of what John specifically said above, the North certainly did impose a new government: for a period, the governments of the states were imposed on the South rather than selected by them, and the South was forced to live under a Constitutional order that disallowed slavery. A new constitutional order is a new government. Although the unelected government was not permanent, the new constitutional order was. The change was radical, permanent, and involuntary. How that comes to be synonymous with the “status quo ante bellum” is a mystery to me.


Martin Bento 09.21.10 at 9:11 am

Jim Rose, forgot to respond on the detention question. thanks for the info. I did put the question in the present tense, however, and none of youur examples appear to be current. Anyone know of any nations who today claim a right to indefinite detention without trial?


ajay 09.21.10 at 10:08 am

Anyone know of any nations who today claim a right to indefinite detention without trial?

All of them. The right of nations to detain people without trial is universally recognised and codified in international law.


Jim Rose 09.22.10 at 5:44 am

Martin Bento, thanks.

Ajay is correct. The detention of belligerents until the end of the conflict is incidental to the waging war by any nation. The purpose is to prevent these captured belligerents rejoining their comrades and taking up arms again and to encourage better treatment by the other side of your own captured soldiers. The end date of any armed conflict is unknown.

The Geneva Convention of 1949 specifically deals with how people detained in the course of a war are dealt with by signatories and how prisoners of war are identified by the signatories to qualify for better treatment for playing by the rules and combat immunity for criminal prosecution but not war crimes prosecution.

Armed conflicts extend beyond armed conflicts between states. Armed conflicts can be with pirates, rebels, and mercenaries, past and present, as well as terrorists.

The Hostages Trial at Nuremburg dismissed some charges because partisan fighters in Europe could not be considered lawful belligerents under Article 1 of the 1907 Hague convention. The tribunal stated:

“We are obliged to hold that such guerrillas were francs tireurs who, upon capture, could be subjected to the death penalty. Consequently, no criminal responsibility attaches to the defendant List because of the execution of captured partisans…”

Francs-tireurs – literally “free shooters” – was used to describe irregular military formations deployed by France during the early stages of the Franco-Prussian War. It is sometimes used to refer more generally to guerrilla fighters who operate outside the laws of war.

Detention without trial for spies, saboteurs, and francs-tireurs is an improvement on a field court-martial and being shot at dawn. The only right in addition to humane treatment that captured spies, saboteurs, and francs-tireurs have is that if they are put on trial – if they are put on trial – that trial must be before a regularly constituted tribunal.


Martin Bento 09.22.10 at 5:33 pm

Well, yes, I meant civilians. And I know the Bush administration tried to redefine anyone they suspect of terrorism or support for terrorism as a combatant, but I don’t think that flies. Even if it does, then terror suspects are supposed to get the protections of the Geneva Conventions. But the US invented the category of “unlawful combatant”, so that neither civilian law nor the conventions apply. So let me put it this way: is there any other signatory to the conventions that has a category where neither the legal protections of civilian law nor those of the conventions apply? Among non-signatories, are there any that have established procedures for indefinite detention of civilians without any due process of law whatsoever.


Jim Rose 09.22.10 at 10:13 pm

martin bento,

who is a solider and a civilian in a war without uniforms in a global battlefield? What is the reward for wearing a uniform if your treatment is inferior to those that do not and intermingle with civilians.

The term combatant denotes the right to participate directly in hostilities. Lawful combatants cannot be prosecuted for lawful acts of war in the course of military operations even if their behaviour would constitute a serious crime in peacetime.

Whereas the terms combatant, prisoner of war and civilian are generally used and defined in the treaties of international humanitarian law, the terms unlawful combatant, unprivileged combatant/belligerent do not appear in them. They have, however, been frequently used at least since the beginning of the last century in legal literature, military manuals and case law.

If a person who has participated directly in hostilities is captured on the battlefield, it may not be obvious to which category that person belongs. The Geneva conventions provides for a special procedure (combatant status review tribunals) to determine the captive’s status. There were thousands of these in the Vietnam War to classify Viet Cong and Army of North Vietnam captives.

(HT: The legal situation of unlawful/unprivileged combatants (IRRC March 2003 Vol.85 No 849) by Knut Dörmann who is a Legal Advisor at the Legal Division of the International Committee of the Red Cross.)

The term unlawful combatant was first used in US law in a 1942 United States Supreme Court decision in the case ex parte Quirin. The Supreme Court upheld the jurisdiction of a U.S. military tribunal over the trial of several German saboteurs in the US. This judgment states:

“By universal agreement and practice, the law of war draws a distinction between the armed forces and the peaceful populations of belligerent nations and also between those who are lawful and unlawful combatants. Lawful combatants are subject to capture and detention as prisoners of war by opposing military forces. Unlawful combatants are likewise subject to capture and detention, but in addition they are subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals for acts which render their belligerency unlawful.”

(HT: a long Wikipedia entry on unlawful combatants).

Much of the U.S. litigation, at bottom, is about the quality of combatant status review procedures. Boumediene v. Bush 2008 provides that the right of habeas corpus review applies to persons held in Guantanamo and persons designated as enemy combatants on that territory. The military court procedures prescribed by Congress in the Detainee Treatment Act 2005 overturned by Boumediene v. Bush provided the essential protections that habeas corpus guarantees.


Jim Rose 09.22.10 at 10:20 pm

BTW, all terrorists and members of the Taliban asserting rights to be a lawful combatants and otherwise are war criminals because:
• Article 51(7) of Protocol I of the Geneva Convention states: “The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations.”

• The Geneva Convention also holds that “The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points of areas immune from military operations.” (Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 1949, Laws of Armed Conflicts, 495, 511.)

• the Rome Statute is clear that “utilizing the presence of civilians or other protected persons to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations is recognized as a war crime by Article 8 (2) (b) (xxiii)”.

• Article 57(2) of Protocol I of the Geneva Convention, like the Hague Convention of 1907, “prescribes that effective advance warning must be given of attacks affecting the civilian population, ‘unless circumstances do not permit’..

Comments on this entry are closed.