The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West by Niall Ferguson – Book Review

The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West by Niall Ferguson – Book Review

Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (The Penguin Press: New York), 654 pp., 2006, $14.96 USD

By Jeff Collins

How does one explain the vast amounts of blood spilled in the first half of the twentieth century? Just as importantly, how does one explain the decline of Western power and influence since that period? These questions lay at the heart of Niall Ferguson’s 2006 critically acclaimed book The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. For Ferguson, to find the answers requires an understanding of the period of warfare that dominated the last century. Now, grant it, there are quite a few books that have been published over the last number of years tackling the subject of Western decline (see Ian Morris’s Why The West Rules – For Now) which, in of itself, is hardly a new topic either. In fact, one could go as far back as 1918 and read German Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West. That being said, Ferguson’s book stands out for both its depth and the manner in which he interweaves several complex arguments summarising the decline of Western civilization’s predominance in world affairs. But then again, one should not expect anything less from one of the world’s most eminent historians. Continue reading

Explaining Chechnya’s ‘Black Widows’: An Organisational Analysis

Explaining Chechnya’s ‘Black Widows’: An Organisational Analysis

By Jeff Collins

Introduction

Ever since 22 year-old Khava Barayev and 16 year-old Luisa Magomadove blew themselves up at separate Russian check points on June 7, 2000 a great deal of attention has been paid to the large number of young women who have carried out suicide attacks in Chechnya’s long running conflict with Russia.[1] Labelled ‘Black Widows’ by the Russian press much of this coverage has tended to focus on the individual and societal factors underpinning this phenomenon. In particular, scholars and journalists alike have focused on the traumatization of women brought about by the loss of male family members and the prevalence of Salafi Islamic ideology in various terrorist groups as the key sources driving women into participating in suicide attacks.[2] In contrast, there has been little in the way of an organisational analysis on the use of female suicide bombers in the on-going Second Russo-Chechen War (1999-present). As such, this article argues that a combination of influences ranging from the operational advantages of using suicide attacks, to the effects of Russian counter-terrorist policies, and, finally, internal and external group dynamics within the various Chechen terrorist groups are the prime driving force behind not just the use of female suicide attacks specifically but Chechen suicide terrorism generally.[3]

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How Wars End: Why We Always Fight The Last Battle by Gideon Rose – Book Review

Gideon Rose, How Wars End: Why We Always Fight The Last Battle (Simon and Schuster: New York) 413 pp., 2011 (2nd Edition), $17.00 USD

By Jeff Collins

General Tommy Franks, commander of the 2003 US invasion force in Iraq, once told a civilian colleague during the planning phase of the war “You pay attention to the day after. I’ll pay attention to the day of.” This comment, in a nutshell, gets to the heart of the argument Gideon Rose poses in his new book How Wars End. Rose, currently the editor-in-chief of Foreign Affairs, provides a sweeping overview of the last 100 years of American grand strategy by focusing on how successive administrations, both Democrat and Republican, have failed to plan carefully in making durable political arrangements once their opponents have been defeated (p. xi).

As Rose puts it, American leaders (both political and military) have failed to grapple with what the famed Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz termed the ‘dual nature of war’. In effect, those individuals in decision-making roles have not made the ‘negative’, or coercive, component of war – the fighting – subservient to the ‘positive’, or constructive, component of war – the overarching political goals (p. 3). Continue reading

Winning the War on War by Joshua S. Goldstein – Book Review

Winning the War on War by Joshua S. Goldstein – Book Review

Joshua S. Goldstein, Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide (Dutton/Penguin: New York) 400 pp., 2011, $26.95 USD

by Jeff Collins

According to noted international politics scholar Joshua Goldstein, the greatest untold story of the last several decades is the decline in war and the role the United Nations played in making it happen. Goldstein’s book is actually one of several to take on this ‘decline-in-conflict’ trend, one of the other most notable texts being Steve Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011). Still, it is Goldstein who mounts the UN and its peacekeeping efforts on the mantle as a way to explain why states and sub-state actors are going to war less and less.

He makes quite the convincing case. Beginning with a brief overview of humanity’s propensity for violence, he scours through most of our history, cutting across every major society (examples include ancient China, the Mongols, Romans, Aztecs, European imperialists, Nazis and Communists), era, and culture to hammer home the point that before the birth of the United Nations in 1945 we were, as a species, a fairly nasty lot.

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To Use or Not To Use Nuclear Weapons: A Question of Legality

by Jeff Collins

…the use of nuclear weapons is prohibited not because they are or they are [not] called nuclear weapons. They fall under the prohibition of the fundamental and mandatory rules of humanitarian law (which long predates them) by their effects, not because they are nuclear weapons but because they are indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction.”    – Judge Ali-Saab[i]

When it comes to war and armed conflict, international law has always sought to balance military necessity with humanitarian considerations.[ii] It has done so by constraining state behaviour through “regulating the conduct of belligerents and…limiting the weapons that may be used…”[iii] Since 1945, a major challenge to this balancing process has been the threat of nuclear weapons. As the destruction evidenced in Hiroshima and Nagasaki demonstrate, in a world of proliferation (horizontal and vertical) and international terrorism, the international security implications stemming from the existence and use of such weapons is potentially catastrophic.[iv] Unfortunately – from an international legal point of view – the politics of Cold War deterrence prevented the emergence of a specific treaty prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons following World War Two.[v] This, despite the emergence of treaties prohibiting the use of ‘less’ destructive armaments (e.g. landmines) and other ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (e.g. the Chemical Weapons Convention) during the same time period (1945-present).

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The Case for Pre-emption (Not Prevention) in Public International Law

by Jeff Collins

In part due to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and in part due to the diversity of external threats that states now face in a post-Cold War era, much discussion has arisen in the past decade on when states may, unilaterally, use force to defend themselves outside of the restrictive parameters of the United Nations Charter. The two arguments advanced by a number of states and commentators that would permit a state to unilaterally use force in self-defence are pre-emption and prevention. Unfortunately, over the preceding decade both terms have been used interchangeably (as exemplified in the 2002 US National Security Strategy) to such an extent that confusion now exists over whether there is any real distinction between the two. In actuality, although both terms fall under the category of anticipatory self-defence they are distinct arguments separated, at their crux, by a “matter of timing.”[1] In short, pre-emption is to be initiated on the premise that an external attack is imminent while prevention is initiated on the belief that an armed attack is likely to occur in the future and “that delay would involve great risk”.[2] Continue reading