August 12, 2011

Seminar ‘The Changing Character of War’

On 12 August, the ICDS hosted a seminar with Professor Christopher Coker of London School of Economics, entitled “The changing character of war”. Professor Coker is a renowned scholar with research interests in war, security, contemporary ideologies as well as the U.S. and UK foreign policy. He is the author of such books as “Barbarous Philosophers: reflections on the nature of war from Heraclitus to Heisenberg” (Columbia University Press: 2010), “War in an Age of Risk” (Polity: 2009), “War and Ethics in the 21st Century” (Routledge: 2008), “The Future of War: the re-enchantment of war in the 21st Century” (Blackwell, 2004).

On 12 August, the ICDS hosted a seminar with Professor Christopher Coker of London School of Economics, entitled “The changing character of war”. Professor Coker is a renowned scholar with research interests in war, security, contemporary ideologies as well as the U.S. and UK foreign policy. He is the author of such books as “Barbarous Philosophers: reflections on the nature of war from Heraclitus to Heisenberg” (Columbia University Press: 2010), “War in an Age of Risk” (Polity: 2009), “War and Ethics in the 21st Century” (Routledge: 2008), “The Future of War: the re-enchantment of war in the 21st Century” (Blackwell, 2004).

During his presentation, Professor Coker outlined a number of features and trends of contemporary wars which reflected sweeping changes in their character and, perhaps, might even be precursors to a more profound change in the very nature of war. The speaker pointed out that contemporary wars involved a much smaller number of combatants and casualties, did not draw in entire societies, required much greater precision in deploying firepower and relied on an ever growing degree of automation. It was also suggested that battles declined in their importance and were being replaced by engagements of high intensity and long duration, rendering the concept of victory irrelevant and diminishing the political utility of military force. In the words of Professor Coker, “We are no longer fighting wars – we are managing them.”
The increasing reliance on sophisticated technology and unmanned systems, which are bound to receive more and more autonomous decision-making capability and authority in targeting, is even encroaching on some elements of the nature of war such as the willingness of the combatants to die, if necessary, for the war’s cause. However, the speaker emphasised that many of the changes were manifest chiefly in the Western way of war, while their presence in and impact on non-Western societies and states were often very limited.
In the ensuing discussion, moderated by ICDS researcher Tomas Jermalavičius, Professor Coker addressed such issues as the ethics of war and moral uses of autonomous weapon systems, the possibility of reversal of the discussed changes in the character of war and the growing dominance of national interest as opposed to humanitarian motives among the causes of war.

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