International Relations and the Problem of War


War is one of the most central aspects of international relations, which explains how nations associate with each other. Countries often engage in conflict with considerable consequences, such as loss of life and significant hostility between the participants. People in various societies worldwide understand the concept of war and its devastating effects because many nations have experienced international conflicts in one way or another. Many countries have records of the war in history books, monuments, and in the media. As a result of war, bodies are mutilated, residences are shattered, and endless trails of refugees move to foreign lands seeking their safety and sustenance due to insecurity at home (Ruse, 2018). Historically, warfare is an inevitable part of human life because it has marked all periods and eras. Although the understanding of war varies, it is a vital characteristic of how peoples and countries relate, triggering the concept of the “problem of war,” which remains a critical part of international relations.

The “Problem of War”

A vast amount of literature is available that covers the topic of war in international relations. It is a continuous lethal threat to human history. Consequently, there is scarce writing on peace compared with warfare. Hence, war is the most devastating topic in global politics due to its far-reaching impact. Regardless of the major coverage of the problem, the world is yet to prevent it and achieve lasting tranquility. Evidently, the world has never been peaceful because of the constant challenge of war (Ruse, 2018). However, the conflicts have only transformed to take different shapes by way of changes in international politics and relations. For example, although tribal wars remain in various parts of the world, they are no longer as important as they were in the past due to the transformed role of the nation-state. Moreover, the nature of the warfare evident between countries in most of the 20th century took a new shape to become ideological differences that led to violence (Huntington, 1993). Despite these changes, conflict seems constant in the global arena.

The problem of war remains, regardless of changes in world politics and nation-state relations. Instead of achieving world peace due to transformations in the global arena, the issue will assume other new and probably worse forms. Evidence of this is available in terrorism and other similar manifestations of war. It is the challenge that Huntington (1993) terms the “Clash of Civilizations.” According to the writer, the world will continue to experience new forms of conflicts and violence, contending with warfare raging between nation-states and factions of various civilizations. The battle line of the future will be the division between cultures. This will be an important evolution in the problem of warfare within the international system. Significant conflicts have occurred recently, featuring western and non-western civilizations. Notably, such societies have clashed and might continue to do so because of cultural and ideological differences. Although the problem of war may take a different setup, the issue will remain an essential element of global politics.

The Role of Warfare/Violence Within the International System

The international system lacks a sovereign actor. This situation allows the occurrence of war due to the state of anarchy. In addition, it becomes difficult for nation-states that support the status quo to achieve goals that they view as beneficial to their economy. Global structures do not have authorities or institutions to create and implement international policies to promote cooperation between nations (Jervis, 1978). Such an environment makes it hard for countries to agree and leaves room for conflict and violence. Furthermore, this status creates a state of anarchy that motivates behavior that encourages war. The relations between various agents in the international system are characterized by major differences and competitions, both ideological and economic. Countries contend with others in an effort to achieve their individual goals. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that players in the system can agree and create a peaceful environment in the global system. Thus, violence becomes a defining factor in international relations.

The clash of civilizations explains the critical role of conflict within the international system. Actors within the global arena differ in their constitution, cultures, resource endowment, and abilities, among other characteristics. Such factors have always played an essential part in national differences, and the rate of competition for scarce international resources, which research suggests is constant (Jervis, 1978). Furthermore, the interactions of people from different cultures and civilizations are a major cause of conflict due to apparent disagreements. Huntington (1993) affirms that as the world becomes connected, the competition and rivalry between states and civilizations increase. The growth in interactions among cultures intensifies their consciousness and understanding of differences. Although such relations could be beneficial, they create major divergences between various bodies in the international system, both nation-states and world civilizations. Consequently, the world continues to experience many types of violence, such as terrorism.

Major IR Theories About Warfare

Various international relations theories explain the occurrence of warfare as part of the association between nation-states. Rousseau’s “Stag Hunt” is one of the models highlighting the constant reality of conflict and violence in the global system. The theory suggests that if all countries agree to pursue and trap the “stag,” they would all have adequate food to eat. However, a defection by a state to chase a rabbit would indicate that the rest of the nations would not have enough to feed on (Jervis, 1978). From this theoretical perspective, each entity will likely cooperate, knowing that others will do likewise. However, since each party is unlikely to trust others to do what one is unlikely to do, a constant state of anarchy persists due to distrust. It becomes impossible for any country to engage in a path that leads to peace for anyone because of the apprehension that others will benefit at their expense. Thus, the theory sums up the reality of the ongoing rivalry between nation-states.

Major international relations theories consider the association and competition between states that make peace challenging to achieve. Realism and liberalism are among other theoretical frameworks that explain the reality of warfare in the international system (Viotti & Kauppi, 2011). They are based on the existence of anarchy in the global arena because of the absence of a single governing authority. This environment makes it possible to develop what Schelling (2018) calls the “diplomacy of violence”. States are in a constant trend of bargaining for their interests. However, each nation considers how it will have its own needs met instead of working towards a peaceful collective agreement. Besides, every player strives to gain more power to ensure continuity and safety from adversaries. The theory explains the reality of the arms race in the global arena as each state strives to maintain its military strength. Every country works towards amassing more weapons to ensure individual security, even if it is at the expense of others. Hence, regardless of major changes in the global system’s construction, the war problem might never end.


As is evident from the above analysis, the problem of war is a constant aspect of international systems due to the existence of the state of anarchy. Nation-states relate with others in an environment devoid of a single sovereignty or governing body. Besides, each country seeks to meet its interests, such as being armed to ensure continued security and avoid any threats from adversaries. As a result, states cannot effectively cooperate to achieve mutual peace and understanding. The only constant in international affairs has been warfare and conflicts. Global relations literature argues that the form of violence has transformed with changes in the international arena, such as the emergence of globalization, but world peace remains elusive. In fact, violence is taking new forms due to the rise of other realities, such as the clash of civilizations. Therefore, the question of whether global cooperation and tranquility will ever be achieved remains unanswered to date and continues to baffle many observers, including scholars in political science and international relations. 



Huntingdon, S. (1993). The clash of civilizations. Foreign Affairs72(3), 22-49.

Jervis, R. (1978). Cooperation under the security dilemma. World Politics30(2), 167-214.

Ruse, M. (2018). The problem of war: Darwinism, Christianity, and their battle to understand human conflict. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schelling, T.C. (2018). The diplomacy of violence. In Mingst, K.A., McKibben. H.E., & Arreguín-Toft, I.M. Essentials of international relations (pp. 240-247). (8th ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Viotti, P.R. & Kauppi, M.V. (2011). International relations theory (5th ed.). Harlow, UK: Pearson.

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