Vital Signs

Is War Unavoidable?

Currently wars are being fought in the Balkans, in Russia, in Southeast Asia, and in various parts of Africa, but they involve relatively few people. Despite these wars, we live in reasonably peaceful times, and no threat of a major war appears on the horizon. Yet, although we don't know when war will break out next or where, we do know that war is unavoidable. Not because human nature requires it. Nature makes it possible, but it is the organization of the world that makes war unavoidable, and that in turn is not avoidable.

The world has always been and still is divided into countries of various size and power. Each has an independent (sovereign) government. Hugo Grotius defined sovereignty in the 16th century as potesta legibus absoluta—power independent of law. Sovereignty of course existed before the word did. Governments are power-holders and lawgivers. They cannot be bound by any law except what they choose themselves to create and (spottily) observe. If they disregard their own laws they cannot be compelled to obey them. Nor can governments be effectively bound by laws other than their own or even by treaties and rules they may choose to subscribe to at any moment.

The many independent governments that run the world have divergent interests, real or imagined, material or moral. They independently pursue these interests that may be in conflict with the interests of other governments. Usually such...

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