war, armed conflict between states or nations (international war) or between factions within a state (civil war), prosecuted by force and having the purpose of compelling the defeated side to do the will of the victor. Among the causes of war are ideological, political, racial, economic, and religious conflicts. Imperialism, nationalism, and militarism have been called the dynamics of modern war. According to Karl von Clausewitz, war is a "continuation of political intercourse by other means." As such it often occurs after arbitration and mediation have failed. War has been a feature of history since primitive times. In ancient states warfare was usually a community enterprise, but as society divided on a functional basis a warrior class developed, and the army and navy became component parts of the state. In many instances, both recent and historic, the military has ruled the state. The use of fighting forces as instruments of war became a scientific art with the development of strategy and tactics. Modern war was been even more greatly influenced by industrial development, scientific progress, and the spread of popular education; a new era of machine warfare, prosecuted by masses of troops raised by conscription, rather than by rulers and the military class alone, developed after the wars of Napoleon I. Modern total war calls for the regimentation and coordination of peoples and resources; the state is compelled to demand a surrender of private rights in order that unity of purpose may enable it to prosecute the war to a victorious conclusion. Wars are waged not only against a nation's government and armed forces but also against a nation's economic means of existence and its civilian population in order to destroy the means and will to continue the struggle. Organized efforts to end war began with the peace congresses of the 19th cent. and culminated in the formation of the League of Nations after World War I and the United Nations after World War II. The threat of nuclear war has created a movement for nuclear disarmament (see disarmament, nuclear). During the cold war the threat of nuclear retaliation has restrained the use of nuclear weapons; instead there was an arms race, a succession of regional wars, and a proliferation of guerrilla wars and counterinsurgency campaigns. The end of the cold war has made arms control a more realistic goal.
See studies by Q. Wright (2d ed. 1965), G. Blainey (1973), J. Keegan (1976), and V. D. Hanson (1989, 1999).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.