The adaptive functionality of limitations on war

At Gene Expressions, matoko-chan has posted a consideration of just war theory from an evolutionary standpoint, reflections on a give-and-take we’d had in the comments of one of my posts on just wars.

It’s important that we not lose track of the fact that human social systems and the laws and rules of ethics that come with them are technologies, tools for living happier and more satisfying lives.  The ethical and legal principles governing the decision to go to war and how war should be conducted most definitely has benefits.  They enable members of societies that practice them to specialize and, as has been known for nearly 300 years, that has economic benefits—we’re more prosperous as a result and live healthier, more fulfilling lives as a result.  Practicing such principles allows the societies to avoid certain costs.

I am concerned that what we’re seeing in the hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, both on the part of the Israelis and on the part of Hezbollah, will become the future way of war in a post-Westphalian world.  This is the world being created by the radicals and ideologues who have degraded the role of states in human society by attempting to reduce the role of states and treating non-states as though they were states.  That is the nature of radicals and ideologues:  they hurry to discard social technologies without understanding the purpose and workings of the technology they’re discarding.  I think it’s a world that will be poorer and meaner.

If you want to understand the social, economic, and psychological costs of this new world, look to Israel.  They’ve been adapting to them for the last 50 years.

7 comments… add one
  • i don’t think that this is the end of westphalian war– just the continuation of bidness as usual in the adversary sense.
    my comment from gnxp–
    this is a two-player prisoner-exchange that escalated into tit-for-tat
    ahhh, the immortal SDB

  • also, according to games theory and SDB, israel is acting correctly, in its optimal interests, to win the game.

  • What the prisoner’s dilemma does not allow for is changing the nature of the game. I don’t believe that Israel is playing tit-for-tat in Lebanon and Gaza; I believe they are changing the game. Israel has spent about a decade trying land-for-peace where their opponents (Palestinians, Hizb’allah and Syria, in the most proximate sense) were trying to gain land for strategic advantage.

    That game failed Israel in two ways. The first is that Israel was still being attacked from the formerly-occupied territory. In the case of Hizb’allah, they manufactured the Shebaa Farms issue to have an excuse to not disarm and to keep fighting. Hamas didn’t even bother with the fig leaf. It was clear that the attacks would not stop. Secondly, the nature of the attacks had changed. The effort required to capture Israeli soldiers was in each case quite high, and in both Gaza and Lebanon, the enemy were firing rockets at Israeli civilian centers, though with little practical effect at the time. (Hizb’allah did not pull out the more effective rockets, nor launch them in sufficient numbers, until Israel counter-attacked.)

    Given that the land-for-peace game had failed Israel, and would clearly continue to fail Israel so long as there were armed guerillas on their borders and no state was made to pay for supporting those guerillas. So Israel has, I believe, changed the game. The only question is how, exactly, have they changed the game.

    There are a couple of strategies that Israel will, I think, adopt for the foreseeable future. The first is that Israel will not tolerate guerilla actions on its borders. This means that Hamas and Hizb’allah are going to be seriously degraded, including uprooting Hizb’allah’s buried infrastructure, occupying territory along the Lebanese border to remove Hizb’allah’s sight lines into Israel proper, destroying Hamas’ bomb factories in Gaza and so forth. The second is that Israel will make the guerillas’ supporters pay for their support. Hizb’allah’s and Hamas’ immediate civilian populations are now paying for their support. The wild card is Syria, and particularly whether Israel will punish Syria for their support of Hizb’allah and Hamas.

    If so, Israel’s best next action, once they secure the high ground in the Kayim/Bint Jbeil area, would be to strike quickly NE into the Bekaa Valley and cut off the supply lines from Syria to Hizb’allah. This would very likely draw Syria into the war, because the threat to Syria both politically and militarily would be quite high. If Israel instead turns westwards and moves towards the coast, then they are probably trying to minimize the chances of a direct war with Syria and just remove the tactical problem of guerilla armies on their borders.

    By the way, by calling Hamas and Hizb’allah “guerillas”, I am not denying that they are also terrorists. It’s just that the attacks that started this mess were not terrorist attacks, but guerilla attacks against Israel’s armed forces. Even the rocketing can be viewed as easily as economic warfare as it can as terrorism per se.

  • Jeff, then it is iterated prisoners dilemma (IPD).
    you are talking about single shot PD. 😉
    the critical point of tit-for-tat is that israel started out as a cooperator, and when hizb’ cheated by violating 1559, they retaliated in kind, ignoring whatever trucical imaginery rules govern standoffs.

    wretchard has an interesting analysis.
    we meant to do that!

  • The rules of the prisoner’s do not allow one prisoner to intimidate a gang into killing the other prisoner before he can cooperate. That is what I mean by Israel changing the rules of the game.

  • That should have been “of the prisoner’s dilemma”.

  • kreiz Link

    Jeff, I should’ve mentioned that your first comment above was one of the most heady, on-point commentaries that I’ve read on the current conflict. Very nicely done.

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