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A rule of conduct or procedure established by custom, agreement, or authority. The body of rules and principles governing the affairs of a community and enforced by a political authority; a legal system: international law. The condition of social order and justice created by adherence to such a system: a breakdown of law and civilized behavior. A set of rules or principles dealing with a specific area of a legal system: tax law; criminal law. A piece of enacted legislation. What is Law?


War is any conflict involving the organized use of arms and physical force between countries or other large-scale armed groups.

International law has attempted to reduce the mutually destructive results of war. The signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the development of the United Nations System have succeeded in discouraging the description of any specific instance of warfare, by its participants, as a war. This process has been aided by such terminologies as

  • "armed conflict",
  • "state aggression by armed force", or
  • "crime against international peace."
See Articles 2(3), 2(4) and 2(7) of the United Nations Charter.

Carl von Clausewitz wrote in his classic text, On War: "Der Krieg ist eine bloe Fortsetzung der Politik mit anderen Mitteln" ("War is merely a continuation of politics by other means") and "War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will."

Wars have been fought to control natural resources, for religious or cultural reasons, over political balances of power, legitimacy of particular laws, to settle economic and territorial disputes, and many other issues. The roots of any war are very complex - there is usually more than one issue involved.

Table of contents

Types of war

Sometimes a distinction is made between a conflict and the formal declaration of a state of war. Those who make this distinction often restrict the term "war" to those conflicts where the countries have formally declared such a state. Smaller armed conflicts are often called riots, rebellions, coups, etc.

When one country sends armed forces to another allegedly to restore order or prevent genocide or other crimes against humanity, or to support a legally recognized government against insurgency, that country sometimes refers to it as a police action. This usage is not always recognized as valid, however, particularly by those who do not accept the connotations of the term.

A war where the forces in conflict belong to the same country or empire or other political entity is known as a civil war.

War is contrasted with peace, which is usually defined as the absence of war.

Another approach to classifying warfare divides it into four "generations" of war.

First generation warfare

First generation warfare reflects tactics of the era of the smoothbore musket, the tactics of line and column. Operational art in the first generation did not exist as a concept although it was practiced by individual commanders, most prominently Napoleon.

Second generation warfare

Second generation warfare was developed in response to the rifled musket, breechloaders, barbed wire, the machinegun, and indirect fire. Tactics were based on fire and movement but they remained essentially linear, with defenses still attempting to prevent all penetrations and attacks laterally dispersed along a line advanced by rushes in small groups. Second generation tactics remained the basis of U.S. doctrine until the 1980s, and they are still practiced by most American units in the field.

Third generation warfare

Third generation warfare was first developed by the Germans in World War I, to compensate for their inability to match their enemies' industrial output. Its tactics were the first truly nonlinear tactics; attacks rely on infiltration to bypass and collapse the enemy's combat forces rather than seeking to close with and destroy them, and defense was in depth and often invited penetration to set the enemy up for a counterattack.

Fourth generation warfare

Fourth generation warfare is widely dispersed and largely undefined, with a blurred distinction between war and peace and few clear battlefields or fronts. Indeed, it may be difficult to even identify which organizations and individuals are actively participating in the war. Actions will occur concurrently throughout all participants' depth, including their society as a cultural, not just a physical, entity.

Laws of war

A number of treaties regulate warfare, collectively referred to as the Laws of war. The most pervasive of those are the Geneva conventions, the earliest of which began to take effect in the mid 1800s.

Treaty signing has since been a part of international diplomacy, and too many treaties to mention in this scant article have been signed. A couple of examples are: Resolutions of the Geneva International Conference, Geneva, 26-29 October 1863 and Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 75 U.N.T.S. 135, entered into force Oct. 21, 1950.

Statistical analysis

The statistical analysis of war was pioneered by Lewis Fry Richardson following World War I. More recent databases of wars have been assembled by the Correlates of War Project and Peter Brecke.

World War 1, Gulf War, War of 1812, World War 2, Civil War, Vietnam War

See also

Military, Military tactics, Just war, Frontline, Military-industrial complex, Weapon, Laws of war, World war, war profiteer, Attacks on humanitarian workers.

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