Friday, May 27, 2016

The "State" of International Security: History, Theory, Practice

We study conflict and security problems, and we try to think of approaches to overcoming those problems. How should we do that, though? I believe we should view any approach effort through a lens shaded by three filters: history, theory, and practice. This is essentially the pedagogical model the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) uses to teach up-and-coming operational and strategic thinkers. Over the next three weeks, I would like to share a bit of history that informs theory put into security practice. Let us begin where all contemporary history of state conflict begins — Westphalia. Today’s story goes something like this.

The international system of state-based, sovereign political organization began with the reordering of Europe following the 30 Years’ War. Peace treaties signed in Westphalia, commonly known as the Peace of Westphalia, ended the war and established the idea of states and the principle of state sovereignty. Over time, these Western structures and ideas were adopted (or imposed) around the world. Consequently, many of the international security challenges today are a function of the breakdown of those state structures and a dilution of the principle of state sovereignty. Sound familiar? Here is some context:

From the Army War College's Guide to National Security Issues Volume 1, Chapter 14, Theory and Practice of Modern Diplomacy: Origins and Development to 1914

“Europe created modern diplomacy because Europe created the modern, geographically sovereign state — the so-called Westphalian state — after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The new form of international actor that has characterized the modern international system required a new kind of diplomacy, matched to its needs and consonant with its nature.”[1]

From the Army War College's Guide to National Security Issues Volume 2, Chapter 10, The International System in the 21st Century

“While the nation-state, first codified by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, remains the dominant political body in international politics, its ability to influence events and people is being challenged by an assortment of nonstate actors, failed or failing states, and ungoverned regions.”[2]

From Henry Kissinger, World Order

“The Peace of Westphalia became a turning point in the history of nations because the elements it set in place were as uncomplicated as they were sweeping. The state, not the empire, dynasty, or religious confession, was affirmed as the building block of European order. The concept of state sovereignty was established.”[3]

Is this true? Well, let us begin at the beginning of this story. Actually, let us begin at the end of the beginning of this story — 1648 and treaties signed at Münster and Osnabrück in Westphalia. We will save the preceding 30 Years War for later. What did the treaty actually say? Let us find out by reading the English translation of the text. The Avalon Project, through Yale’s Law School has an accessible rendering. It is not terribly long, but it is very detailed as to provisions of authority and responsibility for restitution ordered onto many regional actors. As you read it, keep this layered question in mind — are we living in an international system ordered by a Westphalian concept of states based on a principle of state sovereignty? Here is a preview of the treaty’s opening:

That there shall be a Christian and Universal Peace, and a perpetual, true, and sincere Amity, between his Sacred Imperial Majesty, and his most Christian Majesty; as also, between all and each of the Allies, and Adherents of his said Imperial Majesty, the House of Austria, and its Heirs, and Successors; but chiefly between the Electors, Princes, and States of the Empire on the one side; and all and each of the Allies of his said Christian Majesty, and all their Heirs and Successors, chiefly between the most Serene Queen and Kingdom of Swedeland, the Electors respectively, the Princes and States of the Empire, on the other part. That this Peace and Amity be observ'd [sic] and cultivated with such a Sincerity and Zeal, that each Party shall endeavour to procure the Benefit, Honour and Advantage of the other; that thus on all sides they may see this Peace and Friendship in the Roman Empire, and the Kingdom of France flourish, by entertaining a good and faithful Neighbourhood.[4]

[1] See U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Issues, Volume I, (2012), p. 179. Available at:
[2] See U.S. Army War College to National Security Issues, Volume II, (2012), p. 137. Available at:
[3] See Kissinger, Henry, World Order (2014), p. 26. Available through Amazon at:
[4] See Treaty of Westphalia, Article I, available at:

Friday, May 6, 2016

Iraq, Gray Zones, and Dead Prussians

I hate to call up the dead Prussian, but we do have to remember that Carl—that is Clausewitz—did have a point with his paradoxical trinity of war. In today's context, wars and conflicts are so much more than just the threat aspect of circumstances. They entail the threat and the policies and the social structures and the norms and motives and the whole host of other things that make up human interaction. Consequently, we find situations like the challenge with ISIS and Syria and Iraq confusing at best and mismatched at worst. I will offer two options to think and ponder upon this weekend.

The first is a great interview session for the podcast, To the Point, with Warren Olney. The show segment about Iraq teetering on the brink is very telling as they discuss the recent demonstration by citizens inside the "green zone." This is an important and significant event, in my opinion. It is what I would suggest is an indicator of something. Of what, I am not exactly sure, but it is likely not to be good in the near term. There is significant potential for serious instability that could make the fight against ISIS a side show. Listen to Warren Olney talk with several guests about these recent developments.

To The Point segment: Iraq Teeters on the Brink

In terms of colored zones, we should then think about the ever present gray zone. The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative has a nice piece discussing the gray zone, before it became in vogue in military circles. The piece by Sven Peterke takes a look at drug wars and “gray zones” from an international law. This perspective further illustrates the point that conflict is not so simple. The duality of peace and war seems like a simple construct, but when you look at international laws, norms, jurisprudence, humanitarian considerations, and the totality of interactions between states, non-states, and everything in between, you see that conflicts—wars—are comprehensive phenomenon.