Is the use of force obsolete after the end of the cold war?

Term Paper, 2003

13 Pages, Grade: 1.0 (A)



1. Clinching with a new disorder

2. Cold War, its place in history and the emergence of non-traditional security issues

3. Realism, its false impact on the concept of sovereignty and the problem of pre-emptive force

4. Global Players and the use of force

5. The use of force as a paradigm and its concept of sovereignty

6. Conclusion

Is the use of force obsolete in the post-Cold War era?

"War, in our scientific age, means, sooner or later, universal death " Bertrand Russel1 "Peace can only be seen as the absence of war" von Clausewitz2

1. Clinching with a new disorder

Contemporary theories of International Relations regard the use of force as an outcome of the security dilemma that exists between sovereign nation states due to the reciprocal lack of knowledge about their actors' intentions and goals. As the above quotations show, different theoretical approaches lead to different concepts of peace. While for the scholars of Realism, who see war as a necessary evil, the question if the use of force is obsolete really is obsolete, the followers of more normative orientated theories like Liberalism, Structuralism or Functionalism aim to reduce the use of force by the creation of political, economical and social interdependencies, which should lead to spill-over-effects and finally to unintentional, ho-hum cooperation.

This essay will ask about the future role of force in international politics by challenging the widely acknowledged perception that the end of Cold War gave impact to an essential paradigm shift of International Relations. It aims to explain why the scholars of International Relations, as well as the actors of global politics, face a widening gap between an accelerated implementation of international institutions and an increasingly troubled world, hit by the violent outbreak of ethnic and national conflicts, the rise of global terrorism and a new cultural and religious conservatism. Today we are in the really paradox situation that the bipolarity of the Cold War - long perceived as the most frightening constellation of the international system - can be seen as its stabilizing factor. To find the origins of the resulting disillusion it is necessary to ask for the reasons that made the western actors in the 1990's believe that they succeeded. What made them believe that the end of Cold War meant the extermination of the use of force? Did the end of the Cold War really impose a paradigm shift! Did it really change the nature of International Relations?

The thesis provided in this essay will be: no! It didn't! It has to be shown that Cold War only represented a common constellation of the international system, which can be often found throughout history; that the contemporary confusion exists because the paradigms of International Relations are based on a misinterpretation of Hobbes' state of nature 3 ; and that the use of force is the only continuous variable and therefore can be seen as a paradigm of international relations. This approach aims to lead the debate back to an actor-centered model of international relations, which tends to reduce force by a more flexible, constructivist interpretation of political leadership in the background of the actor's contemporary political and economic environment.

2. Cold War, its place in history and the emergence of non-traditional security issues

Even if the presence of weapons of mass-destruction during the Cold War marked a never experienced degree of reciprocal vulnerability, also the conflicts between Greek and Sparta, Rome and Carthago or Christianity and Islam in the medieval were perceived as their times' worldwide controversies. And although they sometimes culminated in open clashes, these conflicts went through long periods of cold phases. In the case of Christianity and Islam these phases endured several hundreds of years. While the solutions of these conflicts were accompanied by several changes in the reciprocal perceptions of their people, they didn't change the underlying principles which drove the actors' motivations of going to war or not. If changes were made, they were handled domestically. The struggle for democracy e.g. only affected the Roman and the Greek society, not their relations to foreign countries.

The biggest misperception scholars of Liberalism and Functionalism are hooked on is that they regard historical institutionalization as a continuous process that affects all levels of decision making. But even if the end of Cold War led to an accelerated international institutionalization and restricted the operational scope of the actors, their motivations rested surprisingly resistant against changes in the structure of the international system. To explain why the end of the Cold War didn't mean "The End of History" 4 at all, it is necessary to have a closer look on the transition from classical paradigms of international politics like sovereignty, security-dilemma and international law, to non-traditional paradigms like non-state actors, restriction of natural resources and environmental pollution.

Two eye-catching puzzles should attract attention immediately. First the difference between classical on non-traditional paradigms: while the first ones more or less represent a fundamental basis for global order, backed by theoretical considerations, the latter describe ontological realities. There are non-state actors, natural resources are restricted and environmental pollution is a serious threat to the global community. Secondly, it is obvious, that these non-traditional security issues already existed before the end of Cold War. They are not new phenomena at all. Regarding e.g. non-state actors, it is possible to argue that trans-border migrations drove the international system for thousands of years. Modern Europe would be unthinkable without the knowledge of migration.5 Or the often stressed economic Globalization: did we forget the silk road, the Medici, Fuggers and Rothschilds, who build up trans-national trade empires with immense influence on governments, because they not only were able to borrow them money, but also employed half of the labor force of the then known world? Finally concerns about strategic resources like metals and water always have been a source for border conflicts, which until WWI represented the main reason for warfare.


1 Bertrand Russel, Unpopular Essays (London: George Alien & Unwin 1950) -

2 Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. Michael Howard (Penguin Classics Paperback, 1982)

3 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck (Penguin Classic Paperback)

4 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (Bard Trade Paperbacks, 1992)

5 A brilliant overview about the role of migration in Europe's nation-building process is given by Klaus J. Baade, Europa in Bewegung (Munich: C.H.Beck, 2000)

Excerpt out of 13 pages


Is the use of force obsolete after the end of the cold war?
National University of Singapore  (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences)
International Security Issues
1.0 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
434 KB
International, Security, Issues
Quote paper
Jochen Gottwald (Author), 2003, Is the use of force obsolete after the end of the cold war?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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