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Unequal War and the Changing Borders of International Society
Unformatted Document Text:  11 only to be restored to the true faith or liberated or, as Khrushchev said, ‘buried’. In these circumstances the regular working of the states-system is deranged (Wight 1977: 36). European history from the Peace of Westphalia to the First World War is a striking example of that relationship between the bracketing of war and the geographical as well as chronological limits of international society. In fact, European international society can be regarded as the most successful attempt to distinguish war as a legal status from formless violence, and to combine the bracketing of war with reciprocity. On the one hand, as Bull strongly emphasizes, The development of the modern concept of war as organized violence among sovereign states was the outcome of a process of limitation or confinement of violence. We are accustomed, in the modern world, to contrast war between states with peace between states; but the historical alternative to war between states was more ubiquitous violence (Bull 1977: 185). On the other hand, such confinement was made possible by the mutual acknowledgment of the jus belli, which became impervious both to the belligerents’ grounds for war and to their internal characteristics – in the sense that each state (whether “good” or not) was fully entitled to take part in the game. That is what Carl Schmitt meant when he defined interstate war as a non-discriminatory war, and when he stated that the jus publicum europaeum (European international law) fundamentally ‘rationalised and humanised war’. At the same time, mutual acknowledgment was also the basis of the characteristic analogy between war and duel – namely, the most perfect metaphorical reflection of the traditional nexus between war and reciprocity. If such different witnesses as Clausewitz (a strategist), Schmitt (a jurist), Huizinga (a historian), or Bouthoul (a social scientist) could portray interstate war as a duel, it was because «both belligerents had the same political character and the same rights» (Schmitt 2003: 142), and because both had a chance of victory, whether by their own efforts or with the help of allies. However, such bracketing of war (guerre en forme, as the Swiss jurist Emerich de Vattel put it) also marked the geographical limits of European international society, by distinguishing the (legal) violence which took place within these limits, and the (formless) violence which took place beyond them. Outside Europe, the absence of any traces of power and legal reciprocity among combatants left no room for any restriction on violence, nor for any mutual acknowledgment of the jus belli, nor for any clear and unambiguous distinction between the state of war and the state of peace. Indeed, the European non-discriminating wars gave way to a brutally discriminating use of force – so that the colonial wars can be regarded as the true archetype of unequal war. Even international law and diplomatic practice recognized the dual nature of international cohabitation. Consider, for instance, the distinction already made in the eighteenth century between paix maritime and paix continentale; and the notorious “amity lines” put forward by the peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, 1559, in order to divide the zone of limited wars from the zone of perpetual war. As Martin Wight reminds us, «‘no peace beyond the line’ became almost a rule of international law, giving freedom to plunder, attack and settle without upsetting the peace of Europe» (Wight 1977: 125). Finally, the removal of the restrictions on violence in the two World Wars of the last century also reveals the chronological limits of European international society. It is true that some of the foundations of European international society had already come under attack after the French Revolution and the treaties of Vienna, which had not managed to be «to the Revolution, what the Peace of Westphalia (had been) to the Reformation»

Authors: Colombo, Alessandro.
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only to be restored to the true faith or liberated or, as Khrushchev said, ‘buried’. In these 
circumstances the regular working of the states-system is deranged (Wight 1977: 36). 
European history from the Peace of Westphalia to the First World War is a striking 
example of that relationship between the bracketing of war and the geographical as well 
as  chronological  limits  of  international  society.  In  fact,  European  international  society 
can be regarded as the most successful attempt to distinguish war as a legal status from 
formless  violence,  and  to  combine  the  bracketing  of  war  with  reciprocity.  On  the  one 
hand, as Bull strongly emphasizes,
 
 
The development of the modern concept of war as organized violence among sovereign states was the 
outcome  of  a  process  of  limitation  or  confinement  of  violence.  We  are  accustomed,  in  the  modern 
world, to contrast war between states  with peace between states; but the historical alternative to  war 
between states was more ubiquitous violence (Bull 1977: 185). 
 
On  the  other  hand,  such  confinement  was  made  possible  by  the  mutual 
acknowledgment  of  the  jus  belli,  which  became  impervious  both  to  the  belligerents’ 
grounds  for  war  and  to  their  internal  characteristics  –  in  the  sense  that  each  state 
(whether  “good”  or  not)  was  fully  entitled  to  take  part  in  the  game.  That  is  what Carl 
Schmitt meant when he defined interstate war as a non-discriminatory war, and when he 
stated  that  the  jus  publicum  europaeum  (European  international  law)  fundamentally 
‘rationalised and humanised war’. At the same time, mutual acknowledgment was also 
the basis of the characteristic analogy between war and duel – namely, the most perfect 
metaphorical  reflection  of  the  traditional  nexus  between  war  and  reciprocity.  If  such 
different witnesses as Clausewitz (a strategist), Schmitt (a jurist), Huizinga (a historian), 
or  Bouthoul  (a  social  scientist)  could  portray  interstate  war  as  a  duel,  it  was  because 
«both belligerents had the same political character and the same rights» (Schmitt 2003: 
142), and because both had a chance of victory, whether by their own efforts or with the 
help of allies. 
However,  such  bracketing  of  war  (guerre  en  forme,  as  the  Swiss  jurist  Emerich  de 
Vattel put it) also marked the geographical limits of European international society, by 
distinguishing  the  (legal)  violence  which  took  place  within  these  limits,  and  the 
(formless) violence which took place beyond them. Outside Europe, the absence of any 
traces of power and legal reciprocity among combatants left no room for any restriction 
on violence, nor for any mutual acknowledgment of the jus belli, nor for any clear and 
unambiguous  distinction  between  the  state  of  war  and  the  state  of  peace.  Indeed,  the 
European non-discriminating wars gave way to a brutally discriminating use of force – 
so  that  the  colonial  wars  can  be  regarded  as  the  true  archetype  of  unequal  war.  Even 
international  law  and  diplomatic  practice  recognized  the  dual  nature  of  international 
cohabitation.  Consider,  for  instance,  the  distinction  already  made  in  the  eighteenth 
century  between  paix  maritime  and  paix  continentale;  and  the  notorious  “amity  lines” 
put  forward  by  the  peace  of  Cateau-Cambrésis,  1559,  in  order  to  divide  the  zone  of 
limited wars from the zone of perpetual war. As Martin Wight reminds us, «‘no peace 
beyond the line’ became almost a rule of international law, giving freedom to plunder, 
attack and settle without upsetting the peace of Europe» (Wight 1977: 125).    
Finally, the removal of the restrictions on violence in the two World Wars of the last 
century also reveals the chronological limits of European international society. It is true 
that some of the foundations of European international society had already come under 
attack after the French Revolution and the treaties of Vienna, which had not managed to 
be  «to  the  Revolution,  what  the  Peace  of  Westphalia  (had  been)  to  the  Reformation» 


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