All posts by Gorm Harste

Critique of War Reason. A Perspective on Self-referential Systems, 11th-21st Centuries

This paper is a summary of my 700-page very academic thesis, in Danish, to be published by Aarhus University Press (AUP). A shorter booklet based on it was published by AUP too (November 2014, 250 pages) and so were a number of shorter articles in English, French and German. In Luhmann’s systems theory and in sociology at large there is a missing link consisting in the lack of a sociology of war. A number of German systems theoreticians use Luhmann’s theory to fill that gap. Yet Luhmann (born 1927), who was a soldier and a prisoner of war from age 15-17, would not write a “Der Krieg der Gesellschaft”. The attempt to narrow this lacuna is indeed a heavy burden and a difficult task, in which it is decisive firstly to get the basic distinctions right about a second order observation of war as a conflict system – to be distinct from a military organisational system. This, I do by beginning with a reconceptualization of Carl von Clausewitz’ form analysis and self-description of war from Vom Kriege (1832). The central point is to observe the self-reference of war, or how war became war about war. Conflict is basically a problem of essentially contested communication. Once this historical self-reference established around the 17th century was in place, war became delimited by its structural couplings to religion, mass media (propaganda), finance, welfare for victims and veterans, law, politics and other functional systems. The costs of war increased, reconstituted and transformed modern society in a way that has formed a range of risks and – of course – neglected blind spots.

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The World of Wars: Risky Systems – A second-order observation of future wars




He’s a real Nowhere Man/Sitting in his Nowhere Land/Making all his nowhere plans for nobody/Doesn’t have a point of view/Knows not where he’s going to/Isn’t he a bit like you and me?/Nowhere Man, please listen/You don’t know what you’re missing/Nowhere Man, the world is at your command/He’s as blind as he can be/Just sees what he wants to see/Nowhere Man, can you see me at all?/

Nowhere Man, John Lennon 1965


Until 1989, the long-term future did not exist and had not existed since the end of the 1950s. After the end of the Cold War, a sudden rise in debates about the future state of Europe and the World took place. On the one extreme, Kantian prospects for a variety of integration policies flourished (Habermas 1992; Held 1995); and with the 200 years festivities of his Zum ewigen Frieden, a whole range of theoretical models of thought about future possibilities appeared in political theories (Kant 1795/1977; Höffe 1995; Rawls 1999). On the other side of the spectre, US military planning had a bath in extremely well-financed investments in a so-called Revolution in Military Affairs, thereby establishing neo-conservative dreams of a unipolar 21st century where the idea of a Pax Americana reigned without resistance, without friction and with even more almighty power than the power invested in the Cold War. To some observers, like Robert Kagan, these extremely opposed visions offered the possibility to revitalise an opposition between idealist liberalism and military realism. Long lists of publications gave intellectual and strategic punch to the almighty dreams and when the US High Court elected the younger Bush as president, the dreams of linear technologically advanced strategy gained supreme political authority (Kagan 2002; Vickers & Martinage 2004).

Today, when the disasters of the neo-conservative Middle East campaigns are well known, especially with the still, at the moment in 2014, un-constrained terrorist Caliphate Islamic State in a far riskier position than al Qaeda ever was, it is amazing to go some years back and check the risk analyses. Warnings dominated strategic discussions and had done so for long (Mack 1975; Lind et al 1989; Shapiro 1999; Echevarria 1996; Tibi 2001a; 2001b). “The strong will lose” according to the more comprehensive strategic thought (Record 2005). Irregular warfare, asymmetric strategies and so-called 4th Generation Warfare can overstretch a superpower (Lind 2004; 2005; Hammes 2006; Thornton 2007). In his well-known magisterial work, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers (1988), Paul Kennedy had already warned against such possibilities.

Future prospects come and go, and ideas of almost eternally stable future orders, optimism and pessimism appear and disappear with the same speed as fashions in Paris. The Grand Narratives are certainly not as dead as Jean-François Lyotard observed in La condition postmoderne in 1979; but there are many of them, and the narrative of the Globalisation is probably the strongest and steadiest. Gone are the days when we could easily operate with distinctions between domestic and foreign policy subjects to international politics and international relations. Rob Walker challenges the classic focus with a conception of “politics of the world” (Walker 2010). I am more concerned how such politics are inherent in the social world, i.e. the social systems with which we live. What does it mean to live with military organisation systems and be subject to existing systems of war?

War is about insecurity and risk. Hence, the analysis of future wars could, for some observers, be the strive for finding eternal wisdom, silver bullets or subscribing to myths of genius, perfect planning, technical systems (drones), and the right decision at the right moment. Colin Gray rightly warns against such fixed ideas (Gray 2009b). With Niklas Luhmann’s system theory, I do not subscribe to the sociological popular theory of risk that defines risk as an unpleasant future (Beck 1997; Vedby 2006). Beck’s notion of a worldwide risk society (“Weltrisikogesellschaft”) can, however, be useful as an overall concept of risky system observations. Yet, we should observe that our observations are from the present moment, which is the risk we run that cannot be escaped. But I will not enter a first-order analysis of what substantially could be unpleasant in an unknown future. War systems are too much about innovation, change and transformation to cling to substantial predictions. Hence, per definition, it is a risky business to observe the state of the world in terms of future wars. This invites to methodological reflections that still may use classical observations to observe the future.

In order to analyse the future, I will first analyse the problem of future risks as a problem. Then, in the next section, I point towards some forgotten heritage from the past that still lives for the future to come: the traumas from past wars. Theoretically too, we have a heritage from the past, namely the still vivid strategical lessons from Carl von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu as well as strategies of asymmetric war, which I analyse in the third section. In the fourth section, I apply Luhmann’s theory of differentiated risk systems. The military systems will continue to respond to asymmetric threats and the risk is this form of inadequacy. Hacker wars, drones and private military companies will develop, but increasing numbers of refugees, for whatever reason, will create disasters that cannot find adequate military solutions.



I. Two distinctions: epistemological and temporal

If the aim is to look into the future, we should consider two distinctions. One is about knowledge, another about temporality. First of all, we shall be aware of the distinction ontology/epistemology. We can make some substantial predictions about demography, climate change and even, probably, the rise of China; but a less risky haven is to take a look at future epistemologies: We should hesitate to state what we will observe in two generations from now; rather, we should observe how we will probably observe.

What will be our systems of observation? This question shall not be considered too big in all its dimensions. We cannot observe how all systems will observe, but only some forms of observations in some of the social systems (Luhmann 1986; 1991; 1993). What does that mean, and how can we do that? In this article, I shall only consider forms of war and warfare. How do we probably observe war in the future?

One of the best among the many books and articles on future warfare is probably Colin Gray’s Another Bloody Century (2005a). He establishes a well-founded overview of 12 grand narratives of future warfare: The rise and fall of total war; the obsolescence of major interstate war; ‘old wars’ and ‘new wars’ or Fourth Generation irregular wars; new security agendas; geopolitical transformations (China, India, Russia); revolutions in military affairs (RMA), technology as strategy; expanding spatial geography of war; terrorism; weapons of mass destruction; decline of war; and then finally the, according to Colin Gray, most interesting narrative: Our past as our future. Albeit Gray’s statement was forwarded a decade ago; I, still, held it worthwhile to test its validity as a prospect for the future to come.

I do agree that without historical analysis, our observations of future wars are lost in dreams. Kantian analyses of future networks of trans- and post-national institutions and norms might therefore carry on more realism than (often) poorly financed technological dreams about military revolutions. After all, Kant’s military prospects of a realist peace and Carl von Clausewitz’ Kantian methodology about the form of war are also strongly linked. While peace-semantic stays as an amazingly continuous affair, codes of war and warfare undergo transformations over and over in evolutions and revolutions (Janssen 1979a; 1979b; Harste 2004; 2011; Knox & Murray 2001).

Nevertheless, a number of continuous forms do exist too, for instance in the rather popular, but not always politically recognized, so-called “social cohesion” and corporate spirit among soldiers (Picq 1880/2005; Hansson 2007; King 2007; Harste 2014). Of course, the presence of crusading communication codes in politics, religion and war is another aspect (Roux 2007; Tibi 2001a; 2001b). In the future, we will probably still use Clausewitz, and even the far older Sun Tzu, to analyse war.

Before entering that part of the present analysis, I want to clarify the second distinction as a distinction between the present and the absent. Temporal analysis is an advanced well-known discipline since St. Augustine and, although not overly complex, it is often neglected in social theory. However, the Bielefeld connection between Reinhart Koselleck and Niklas Luhmann has done much to reappraise it (Koselleck 2000; Luhmann 1980; 1990a; 1997: 997 – 1016). Especially, in order to redescribe Clausewitz’ analysis in more recent terms, I have applied Luhmann’s analysis of systems to a historical and evolutionary theory of the functional system of war as distinct from military organisation systems and used it to establish a theory of risky systems (Harste 2003; 2004; 2009b; 2011, 2014).Today we can observe risk structures and temporal bindings inherent to codes and practices of different social systems as law, finance, war, research, politics, mass media etc. They do not operate with identical temporal structures, and we may risk that their temporal bindings are indeed very different (Luhmann 1991). However, for an initial reappraisal of Colin Gray’s point, we should begin the analysis by targeting another set of somewhat more concrete problems.

First, it is well-known that future wars are often planned with past wars in mind. The US army anno 2001 would no doubt be able to win a conventional war against Wehrmacht anno 1941, it might even have built its military organisation and visions in order to do so (Vandergriff 2001; Huntington 1957; Creveld 2007; 2008). Quite late during the Iraq War, US strategists, after a lot of criticism, began to learn from the Vietnam War (Metz 2007; Record 2004; Record & Terill 2004).

Second, history has always been rewritten and will continue to do so in the future to come (Prost & Winter 2004). In a future reaching beyond the present synchronisation of our history into a common story, our past will be transformed to such forms that the medium of history will no longer be the same simple recognisable fact. Gottfried Leibniz proposed that the present “is pregnant with the future and loaded with the past” (cited from Cassirer 1932/1998: 38). Our past will be our future. This wisdom is not abstract metaphysics, but loaded with concrete details that have overwhelmed us beyond our comprehension.



II. The future of the Hundred Years War

That the future will be different from the past has been a promise since the Romans restructured the past as the (re-)birth of Christ in blood and flesh as Jesus, an event that coincided with the heyday of a stabilised Roman celebration of the emperor. Christ also sacrificed his temporal body in order to offer mankind “a difference that gives a difference” (Luhmann 2008: 240).

The sacrificed past is not able to recognise itself, even not as a fact, i.e. as recognised statistics. The body counts of the Three Quarter Century War from 1914 to 1989 are simply beyond a scale that any Hollywood storytelling can represent. The continuation in the Hundred Year’s War, 1914 – 2014 has not established and constituted a penetrating rupture to the dramatic narratives of suffering. During the Three Quarter Century War, three world wars and a “Zwischenkrigszeit” each considered as “wars that could end all wars” including the last one, the Cold War, that had it been warm would probably have succeeded on the worst scale possible. This history is very different from the stories we were acquainted with in schools, in politics, mass media and in the historical records of the past, not only because it ended differently and faster than what we thought for a long time. And once more, in the future, it will be very different, just an example, the stories of body counts in the Second World War. Today, in Ukraine, we are witnesses to demonstrations with an amazing mixture of generations, many seem to have roots in the conflicts of their parents and grandparents. However, the conflicts in Ukraine may be part of a much larger heritage of traumatic conflicts we, in the West, should be extremely aware about. It could easily become a disaster if we ignore the heritage of conflicts embedded into experiences of Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia, the three countries which suffered more than any other during their “Thirty Years War” from 1914 – 1945. The problem with the heritage of war experiences is that people get traumatized; traumatized people, in Ukraine, in Russia, or in Palestine, Iraq and Syria may develop desires for revenge. Sometimes they do not have much to lose.

I take the narrative about the Second World War. Hitherto we all know about one story, somewhat comfortable and also somewhat disturbing, in fact shocking to the degree that is has been difficult to “write poems” (Adorno 1966). Fact finding is a macabre story. The Cold War probably began with false stories about Soviet losses. Officially, of internal as well as external reasons, The Soviet would offer a false idealisation of itself as a strong power able to sustain its gains in Eastern Europe and also deserve them. A power second to US power, who counted losses of 407.300 dead. From an official six and a half million, the number quickly rose to plus nine million. However, at the 20th Party Congress in 1956, Nikita Khrushchev could shock the world with an amazing 20 million body count (Ellenstein 1978). Then, in 1990, Gorbachev – in his speech on the occasion of the forty-fifth anniversary of victory – gave a figure of 26.6 million (Bellamy 2007: 9). Shortly after, in a book on the removal of secret classifications, it was disclosed that Soviet Armed Forces lost 8.668.400 servicemen (Sokolov 2009: 448; Second World War Almanac 2005). The rest were civilians.

Something is very flawed in those analyses, apart from the last number being unbelievably accurate. German generals counted their losses far more accurately than the Red Army, though they could not reckon survivors from the prison of war camps (POWs). The Wehrmacht counted at least 4 million dead, later estimates count 5.3 millions though the added estimates are unclear. Total losses, including Austria, number between 6.3 and 7.8 million. However, careful descriptions of battle dead often describe German/Soviet dead ratios at around 1/10 (Frankson & Zetterling 2003). And about 55-65 percent of (surviving) women born 1905–1915 were widows. In his magisterial description of the Soviet Russian “Great Patriotic War”, English historian Chris Bellamy exposed these flaws in a somewhat simple way. On the one hand, he accurately exposed the body counts officially recognised in 1993; on the other, he described demographic accounts. Demographers calculate the ‘global loss’ of population, including couples who never met and babies not born, to be 48 million, i.e., far above the 26-27 million figure. During the last couple of decades, research and archives have opened up. In autumn 2009, Russian historian Boris Sokolov published a study based on five different entries. First he points to the danger of over- and underestimation for political and normative reasons as well as according to double counts: A Pole, Soviet citizen, soldier, partisan, then soldier again, perhaps Jew, could be counted lost on several occasions. However, all his different entries arrive at the level of 24-27.5 million military servicemen; probably 26.3-26.9 million though a variance of up to 5 million is possible. More convincing is his use of very different calculation methods. I) The Red Army did not register its troops before December 1941 and did not use medallions before that time; however, many soldiers and officers did not use them since they were observed as signs of fatal destinies. II) A few months of fighting, in particular November, fairly well counted the number of dead but, as movements were sparse, additions of those numbers could be used. Thus casualties in those months can be multiplied to the whole war. III) The same applies to the relation officer dead/soldier dead as officers normally were counted much more accurately. The Soviet army lost 784.000 officers (161 officers for every 12 German officers). IV) A list of 19 million names are recorded at the Great Patriotic War Museum that often, however, receive complaints about lacking names, and among the 5.000 servicemen found in 1994-95 approximately 30 percent were not in the Ministry of Defence’s archives. V) Local descriptions of conscripted soldiers include far more soldiers than those officially recorded; often armies simply took those available, enlisted or not. The accounts of soldiers from the Baltic countries and the later Soviet part of Poland are rather unsatisfying. Finally, demographic accounts reckon human losses to 43.400.000 inside the later Soviet territory of which civilian losses were 16.4-16.9 million. The human losses outnumber the entire population in France or England in 1939. To these figures, we should, of course, add wounded, handicapped and mentally ill persons, not to say persons with post-traumatic stress (PTS). The flaws and lack of accuracy seem to be part of the contingencies of Operation Barbarossa. Yet of course, there are other recent analyses, most of them arrive to smaller numbers than Sokolov, but some, as the renowned US Russia expert David Glantz to even more dramatic accounts.

Even compared to more recent, rather bluntly described, overviews such as Colin Gray’s War, Peace and International Relations (2007), this altogether tells us quite another story of not only the war but also its aftermath, the Cold War and the history of Eastern Europe, as well as the reasons behind success and failure of East and West. The East sacrificed so many lives compared to Nazi Germany (part of the West) that the First World (including post-war Germany) was far more successful than the Second World. The biggest historical catastrophe since the Thirty Years War resulted in the most prosperous era of mankind.

Such paradoxes are still beyond reach for normal evaluation; nevertheless, our factual history of the past has to judge and “stay cool” as a Danish-German POW in Arkhangelsk once ironically reported to me about surviving the Siberian Winter. The extremely cruel and cynical Soviet sacrifices under Stalin, Beria and NKVD were part of a struggle to survive a past Soviet dream of future life and/or a future regime against a pure destructive Thousand Year Reich. The figures could indicate that Nazi-Germany could have succeeded, for instance if the winter 1941-42 had been a little milder (December the 6th General Guderian measured minus 63 degrees Celsius; Clark 1965: 181; about 10 degrees below normal records), or if the Soviet regime had been less despotic and totalitarian, though perhaps not against a completely modern and functionally differentiated Soviet Union disposing of immense Soviet resources in the most utopian, rational and well educated ways, but anyway out of reach.

Let the lonely Jesus, but the more than 40 million Soviet citizens were paradoxically sacrificed in an extremely uncivilised way in order to save civilization. By any account, the West would never have gone that far. The Eastern hemisphere including the Persian Gulf could have turned subject to the Nazi Regime and would then probably have suffered even more had it tried to rebel. This is not counterfactual history but factual history about the past by means of standards that is and were recognised in the West. This account furthermore suggests that, conventionally, the West is less capable of suffering human losses than other kind of regimes, perhaps even so when the West had a far more heroic self-esteem than at present and in the future. As Herfried Münkler states with Edward Luttwak, we live in a post-heroic age; and the sacrifices of earlier generations will be still less possible to understand along with the growing costs of PTSD among veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq (Münkler 2006: 310-354). Millions of disabled young, mainly, males will be unproductive for generations to come and be extremely costly to the US and the rest of the West, as Philip Stiglitz predicts in his The Three Trillion Dollars War (2008) about the Iraq War, to which costs for Afghanistan and to allies will follow (Swofford et al 2009; Korb 2009; Shinseki 2013). The unipolar power-structure of the world transformed incredibly fast into a predictable financial crisis. Wars are always extremely manifold more costly than optimist warfare planners hope for (Kindleberger 1984; Frieden 2006; Harrison 1998; Strachan 2004; Rockoff 2012).

The Second World War was beyond any comparison more expensive than any other war and would have led to a comparable financial crisis as most former wars, just more far-reaching. Apart from the overwhelming Soviet costs, the war was financed by transformation of classical gold standard to a dollar = gold standard. Dollars could be printed in unlimited numbers and could purchase, purchase and purchase. Gone were the hundreds of years when international trade depended on the production of silver and gold (Germain 1998). As long as the US did not enter into the repeatedly unfinanced practice of warfare, the credit system functioned. However, after the Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars destroyed the credibility of US finance. Dollars printed to finance wars without a substantial export but too much import and tax decreases did not increase credibility (Eichengreen 2007).

The structure moving financial strength from US to China is certainly strong. The dollar as monopolised reserve method of payment probably suffers although the Euro-zone also has some problems with a public debt. Commentators continue to claim that US military spending is nine times to the Chinese; but American salaries are ten times higher than the Chinese! Military transformations can take an incredible speed as is well-known from the American explosion in military investments and corresponding capabilities during the First and the Second World Wars. However, the more important question is whether future wars will take the structure of conventional warfare. Probably not. Thus, we have to take a long-term second order view on wars and observe our past as well as our future.



III. Forms of war: Sun Tzu, Clausewitz and Lawrence of Arabia

Strategic theories of war are an amazing field of studies for many reasons. One is that very old treaties are indeed still used as classics necessary to understand modern warfare as another branch of war studies, at the same time, concerns sometimes very celebrated military revolutions that “forever will change the form of warfare” according to their proponents (Owen 2001; 2002). Tactical warfare undergoes incessant transformation while the strategic form of war fights the same problems of ungovernable contingencies, friction, planning turned into surprise, moral despair, public impatience and, above all, exhaustion in protracted wars of attrition (Gray 2005b). Hence strategy is not about meeting the future chaos or panic, but about using reflection; i.e., historically speaking to replace future war with a functional equivalent to Fredrick the Great’s brain, and future peace with a reflection capacity similar to Immanuel Kant’s (Paret 1976/2007; Pellegrini 1997).

Already Sun Tzu, reflecting on the Chin wars 400 hundred years before B.C., described the unavoidable occupation with the economy of resources in a more detailed sense than how economy is normally understood. The scope of involved resources is the weak point in protracted wars. Thus all major wars concern a scope of material resources including moral and public resources of will and motivation as well as a scope of temporality. According to calculation theory of fire power, many resources used in a short period of time are much easier to handle than the complexities involved if they were to be handled for a longer period (Biddle 2004). However, the longer period also leads to processes of professionalization and the evolution of learning (Bailey 2001: 154). Modesty in recognizing own weaknesses, blind spots and flawed cognition is decisive in order not to overstretch the use of armies. Later we have seen how Louis XIV, Charles XII, Napoleon, Hitler, Johnson & Nixon, and Bush the Younger overstretched their armies with too many campaigns, too far, for too long a time with too sophisticated materials and, in the offensive, too little public backing.

The false view on linear input-based technologically planned military revolutions is that these conditions change with insurmountable speed and firepower (Beckerman 1999). The weakness is that they invest too much for too long a time, since complexities in unknown countries destroy planning. As Harry Yarger from the US Army War College forcefully underlined in his The Strategic Theory for the 21st Century, strategic planning is about how to plan when plans are broken (Yarger 2006; 2010). The military organisation system does not enter the functional system of war before that moment. Sun Tzu’s advice is that


those skilled in war avoid the enemy when his spirit is keen and attack him when it is sluggish and his soldiers homesick. This is the control of the moral factor. In good order, they await a disorderly enemy; in serenity, a clamorous one. This is control of the mental factor. Close to the field of battle, they await an enemy coming from afar; at rest, they await an exhausted enemy; with well-fed troops, they await hungry ones. This is control of the physical factor. They do not engage an enemy advancing with well-ordered banners nor one whose formations are in impressive array. This is control of the factor of changing circumstances (Sun Tzu 400 b C/1998: 35).


Troops are never prepared to receive an attack. In that sense, one of the main principles of asymmetric warfare has always been part of warfare. The speed and strength of one part may be met with withdrawal, dispersal and slow-down. A peculiar battle of intelligence takes place and one of the most well-known phrases of Sun Tzu is the following résumé:


Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or loosing are equal. If ignorant both your enemy and of yourself, you are sure to be defeated in every battle (Sun Tzu 400b C/1998: 26).


The problem is that the strong part relies on its strength which of course is important to induce moral self-reliance to soldiers and officers, especially if they have to go abroad in some kind of offensive. They trust their strengths instead of doubting their weaknesses, their false opinions, their flawed knowledge not to say empathy of their enemy situation, language, history, religion, norms, everyday life. An even worse problem is that wars are not about “winning” and “victory” in battles and in warfare, but about winning the peace in such a way that their “present enemy must be seen as a future associate” (Rawls 1999: 101). On this point, Sun Tzu’s thought is not on the level of Carl von Clausewitz’. Tactics might be about winning a battle, but if there are no battles such forms of victory make no sense and communicating about them only offers false viewpoints, and failed communication codes thus weaken the stronger part to the point of deception and even moral dissolution. To know about knowledge is to preserve a clear judgment and what Clausewitz calls prudence (“Weisheit”) referring to Fredrick the Great as the greater strategists compared to the tactician Napoleon, “to bring peace about was his goal” (Clausewitz 1832/1952: 246). From Napoleon over his historian and general chief of staff, Antoine-Henri Jomini, the generals of the First World War and to the US way of warfare, this lack of reflective long-term strategic prudence and their first order observation of warfare might be their weakest point (Record 2006). As the distinguished scholar Martin van Creveld has said remarkably precise, “For a decade the US armed forces had talked about the Revolution of Military Affairs until they were blue in the face” (Creveld 2007: 246).

This tradition of introvert observation has been inherent in nationalist warfare policies and is surely backed by the blind spots of the military-industrial complex and interests in its own continuous growth (Eisenhower 1961). But we have to distinguish between military organisation and the functional system of war. As many revolutions we might have in the first one and maybe even in warfare, from an inductive and abductive point of view, not a deductive point of view, it will still be possible to observe the form of war (Gray 2009b). Despite this we cannot be sure that Sun Tzu’s insights in every respect will not be challenged in the future to come. But we cannot only rely on our own transformations in order to understand future wars. Wars are always about double contingencies, i.e., how one part tries to disturb how the other part tries to disturb and how both parts absorb contingencies. The difficult tactics of warfare is to imagine the imagination of the other.


An army may be liked to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army should avoid strength and strike weakness. And as water shapes its flow in accordance with the ground, so an army manages its victory in accordance with the situation of the enemy. And as water has no constant form, there are in warfare no constant conditions (…)The enemy must not know where I intend to give battle. For if he does not know where I intend to give battle, he must prepare in a great many places. And when he prepares in a great many places, those I have to fight will be few (Sun Tzu 400b C/1998: 31, 30).


Whereas Sun Tzu here used water as a metaphor in order to show the form of dissolved forms and contours, T.E. Lawrence used gas which of course was a provoking metaphor after the First World War. In his fiction- or faction-like description of the Arab insurgency against the Turks in 1916, he reflected upon his own ideas about a successful insurgency against a military stronger enemy, and he established a description of irregular warfare that has been one of the most successful lessons over the last hundred years, a lesson often judged to be one of two strategies for warfare in the 21st century. After few reflections regarding the use of Clausewitz, Jomini, Guibert and Moltke that was “making me [Lawrence] critical of all their light”, he reconstructed the spatial scene using Jominian – or one might even say Kantian – variables of contingencies in space and time, since space and time are not absolutes; rather, they are contingent on their observers. Military forces depend on space and time, which in turn are contingent on the observing system bringing them into use:


The Algebraic element looked to me a pure science, subject to mathematical law, inhuman. It dealt with known variables, fixed conditions, space and time, inorganic things like hills and climates and railways, with mankind in type-masses too great for individual variety, with all artificial aids and the extensions given our faculties by mechanical invention. It was essentially formulable.

Here was a pompous, professorial beginning. My wits, hostile to the abstract, took refuge in Arabia again. Translated into Arabic, the algebraic factor would first take practical account of the area we wished to deliver, and I began idly to calculate how many square miles: sixty: eighty: one hundred: perhaps one hundred and forty thousand square miles. And how would the Turks defend all that? No doubt by a trench line across the bottom, if we came like an army with banners but suppose we were (as we might be) an influence, an idea, a thing intangible, invulnerable, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Armies were like plants, immobile, firm-rooted, nourished through long stems to the head. We might be a vapour, blowing were we listed. Our kingdoms lay in each man’s mind, and as we wanted nothing material to live on, so we might offer nothing material to the killing. It seemed a regular soldier might be helpless without a target, owning only what he sat on, and subjugating only what, by order, he could poke his rifle at.

Then I figured out how many men they would need to sit on all this ground, to save it from our attack-in-depth, sedition putting up her head in every unoccupied one of those hundred thousand square miles (…) If so, they would need six hundred thousand men to meet the ill-wills of all the Arab peoples, combined with the active hostility of a few zealots (Lawrence 1935/1997: 181-182).


Asymmetric warfare is as old as warfare based on military revolutions. They are almost all based on evolutionary reforms on one side of a conflict and the experience of something sudden and revolutionary by the inferior part (Murray & Knox 2001). In his important analysis, The Sling and the Stone, Colonel Thomas Hammes therefore does not define the form of asymmetric warfare as “revolutionary”: it was hardly possible to predict that the technologically superior Western forces would meet a superior form of warfare, which was not about winning tactic battles but about creating fear and a sense of hopelessness among military actors. Inferior forces quickly learn to cope with superior forces – otherwise they lose (Record 2005). Already the Spanish insurgency, the so-called guerrilla or “little war”, imposed a kind of military revolution on Napoleon’s army.

Clausewitz wrote about guerrilla warfare and about asymmetries in warfare, since warfare is always, to different degrees, asymmetric (Thornton 2007; Chaliand 2008). The myth of symmetry was probably morally perfected with warfare of knights, heroised and honoured beyond any real warfare experience and established as a form of communication important to diplomatic affairs. Conventional experiences as the West Front 1914–1918 did certainly also do much to establish the longevity of the myth.

I will neither repeat Clausewitz’ famous phrases on politics and war, the trinity of war nor his accurate analysis of asymmetries in attack, defence, and abstract and real war. The above discussion of Sun Tzu’s conception could very well have been about Clausewitz’ notion of centres of gravity (“Schwerpunkte”) (Echevarria 1995; 2003; 2007). To fight the opponent’s centre of gravity is not only, for a first order observation, to fix a certain target or threshold but to put into the move and disturb the opponent’s second order observation:


Alexander, Gustav Adolf, Karl XII, Friedrich der Gro?e hatten ihren Schwerpunkt in ihrem Heer, wäre dies zertrümmert worden, so würden sie ihre Rolle schlecht ausgespielt haben; bei Staaten, die durch innere Parteiungen zerrissen sind, liegt er meistens in der Hauptstadt; bei kleinen Staaten, die sich an mächtige stützen, liegt er im Heer dieser Bundesgenossen; bei Bündnissen liegt er in der Einheit des Interesses; bei Volksbewaffnung in der Person der Hauptführer und in der öffentlichen Meinung. Gegen diese Dinge muss der Stoß gerichtet sein. Hat der Gegner dadurch das Gleichgewicht verloren, so muss ihm keine Zeit gelassen werden, es wieder zu gewinnen; der Stoß muss immer in dieser Richtung fortgesetzt werden, da Ganze nicht gegen einen Teil des Gegners richten (Clausewitz 1832/1952: 874-875).


Clausewitz based his theoretical conception of such considerations on Kant’s analysis of forms, and his teacher in methodology was Kant’s assistant Johann Kiesewetter. The distinction form/matter concerns questions of what and where, of who, and of when and how long time, beginning and end. Ever since, form analysis has been used by sociologists as Georg Simmel (1908/1923), Pierre Bourdieu and most elaborated, Niklas Luhmann (2002: chap. II, 2; Baecker 2005). The social bond is also temporal.

In its first material dimension, form analysis is about reducing complexity as to what will matter as place, territory, materials, troop strength, losses, logistics etc. In its second social dimension, it concerns the observation of double contingencies about the conflict between the partners, how the conflict conception is if compromises, alliances and cooperation can be established, what is hatred and enemy perception etc. The third dimension concerns temporality: How will the conflict evolve, is the war one of attrition and exhaustion; what is the speed and the importance of speed, penetration, halt and rest; when does war begin and when does it end? Compared with contract theory, we may describe the material, social and temporal form of contracts. The difference between forms in law and in war is that in law contracts establish binding expectations, while in war they disrupt and destroy expectations. Surprises may follow, not only in the subject of conflict (from territory to water, air, credit of course and as usual, churches and graveyards as usual etc.), but also the dimension of alliances and opponents (networks, private military companies), and the speed and length of wars (minute short; generation long).

Now this triple conception is only the first order observation established by Clausewitz. In his philosophy of war, his abductive use of a reflective judgment (Kant) sends him searching towards a form of war that handles its own form: Wars may be wars about the form of the war, i.e. about the material, social and temporal form of the war. That is why he is occupied not only with tactics but with the strategy of will formation and re-formation of such will formations. At that point he is a real Kantian, searching for a form not of autonomous will formation, but of heteronomous will formation; this form analysis is also behind his conception of floating centres of gravity: The centre of gravity may change as the form of the conflict re-enters as medium and subject for the conflict itself. Hence, even the idea of the form and the form of the idea turns into a conflict dimension (Dobrot 2007; Echevarria 2008).



IV. The present risk system of temporal bindings

Clausewitz’ point is that the form of conflict about matter might turn into a conflict about temporal dimension and from there on again into logistics and supplies, but often public opinion and morality is as important. The point is that everything that seems safe might be false. Tactical linear warfare is embedded in myths about own power, about calculated use of resources used in an isolated act, implemented in a single or a short series of blows with a decisive victory, final results and clear costs (Watts 1996: chap. 2; Fleming 2004). The problem with these myths is that not only are they false and obsolete, mostly stemming from Napoleonic warfare and inherent in Jomini’s linear conception of warfare (Jomini 1838/1855/2001), but also that such myths of storytelling and imaginary realities go for real among soldiers, public media, movies and entire populations; even officers can be endowed with such myths if the very same officers are central to enormous investments in a military-industrial complex with thousands of jobs, family lives, careers, regional growth and political ambitions (Smith 2005; Record 2010). Those myths have a “second nature” (Hegel) to such a degree that military organisations even continue to develop a “new speak” about abbreviations as if they could professionalise a rationalisation of scientific warfare even in organisational, political and social systems where they were inadequately overexposed as if the military organisations knew exactly what they were talking about. The extreme manifold use and abuse of military acronyms is only the most visible sign of a communication form comparable to Admiral Nelson using a telescope as a technological tool to observe, but what is it worth if the observer observes with eyes that are unable to observe. Telescopes and satellites can be tactically useful. But for strategic purposes translators and interpreters are often more useful.

According to Luhmann’s theory, the first risk of any social communication system is that it observes its environment with its own codes of communication and not with those immanent in the environment. Those codes might be more or less adequate, but foremost, they are established in order to facilitate the system’s communication with itself. It might inform itself about the environment, and even send or receive messages, but it interprets according to its own codes and facilitates those codes reproducing the self-reference of the system communication historically well known since the semantic of “reason of state” established sovereign forms of communication in state building. In the case of ISAF and the US forces entering into Afghanistan penetrating analyses show that the coalition tactics of usual American way of warfare ruled for so long time that it was too late to coordinate another form of counterinsurgency (Irwin 2012; Grissom 2013).

More dramatically, the respected war historian Gabriel Kolko states that “at no time has the United States entered a war aware of the time, material, and tragic human costs it would have to pay or demand of others” (Kolko 2002: 53). I have mentioned the asymmetric losses of the US and Soviet forces in the Second World War. The three wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan suffers from the same casualty ratio (1/50–1/200), not to mention “clean” high tech aerial attacks (drone, missile etc.).

Hence, such coded communication systems suffer from lacking recognition of own weaknesses. Their blind spots were that they did not know themselves and their own lack of capacities. This is the second risk and corresponds to Sun Tzu’s warning against the failure to know oneself. In fact, the military organisation system is also quick to learn from its failure and new counterinsurgency strategies (COIN), and civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) has developed (Patreus 2007; Nagl 2007; Cerami & Boggs 2007; Jalali 2009).

The third risk is that war systems operate wars in a world with very conflicting temporal bindings. Most famously, the asymmetries of speed and slow-down display the conflict between short-term bindings and investments on the one hand and long-term protraction on the other. The “nowhere man” (John Lennon, 1965) is also the “now here” and the “no-where?” whether he is a soldier, partisan, strategist or political observer; inside or outside. The ontological insecurity (Giddens 1984) and existential dissolution in Lennon’s text very well resembles the despair in asymmetric war. Military systems try to control wars through warfare, but they are themselves subject to political control and financial, moral, educational, scientific and all kind of logistic supplies. Therefore Clausewitz can say that “war is nothing else than the continuation of political interaction mediated by other means” (Clausewitz 1832/19952: 888). However, each of those supplying functional and organisation systems operate with very different and often opposed temporal bindings. The temporal horizons for their future transformation into other temporal bindings might be very different. For some, the reality of the mass media, the temporal horizon can be a few days, as their “raison d’être” and code of communication is “news”, and their function is probably to synchronise the society with itself as a present Gesellschaft able to include itself here and now and exclude everything “irrelevant” to that perspective. Political systems have longer temporal bindings, e.g., four years. Financial systems of credit, interest and rent, say seven years. Organisation systems of careers and reforms, say 20 years. Paradigm shifts, a generation of university careers, from 10 to 40 years; education, socialisation some 10-20 years, but childcare and care for grandchildren’s old age, the long perspective of say 100 years. These temporal bindings operate for real; they dissent and cannot establish any consensual complementarities perceived in an objective or absolute harmonious spirit (Hegel). According not only to Luhmann, but also his sociological predecessors Marx, Simmel and Weber, they follow their own self-referential logics.

Even in remote futures, such temporal bindings will probably still oppose each other, their temporal codes might alter a bit, and quite a few organisation sociologists propose that post-bureaucratic network organisations may shorten their temporal bindings from Weberian bureaucratic long-term career planning to short-term “projects” (Boltanski & Chiapello 1999; Rosa 2005). Furthermore, in the future, we will probably still operate conflict perceptions using a complex set of functional, organisational and network interaction systems. Some systems could be more advanced, more developed with more codes and more self-referential internally closed codes (of their own codes); for instance a garbage collection system, which will structurally be still more coupled to for instance legal, economic, transport, aesthetic, political and war systems. In the future, we may observe both garbage and water wars (important to the Palestinian and Syrian/Israelian conflict) as we historically have experienced supply wars way back.

Since the Cold War, the US military organisation system and its followers, allied as well as the political and the mass media system perceived how the war system unipolarised power. However, its conception of power was flawed by misconceptions of power. I can only shortly state the problem here. As is well known from Weber’s conception of domination and force (“Herrschaft”, “Gewalt”), Talcott Parsons’ reconstruction of the concept of power, Bourdieu’s and Foucault’s theoretical and genealogical analyses of power, and Luhmann’s theory of self-referential power, political science has absorbed a simplistic uni-linear zero-sum game conception of one actor’s transformation of will caused by another actor’s behaviour. This reductionist conception originated from Weber and Clausewitz, but neither of them meant anything more than that the initial conception of a will determination ran opposite to a Kantian moral philosophy of will formation. That would never suffice to analyse complex societal power conceptions. “Power” has been a concept historically established in order to let communication systems organise and “empower” themselves and communicate about power (Quillet 1972; Thornhill 2008). The linguistic origins in the Latin verb potere can be expressed as for instance “Macht macht Macht”, “le pouvoir de pouvoir”, “Almighty might might …” etc.

The problem is that the reductionist misconception lead to the extreme false perception of what “power” was able to handle after the Cold War. The US military power never got hand on the metaphysical power of the cold conflict nor of the Soviet power. The power inherent in the risk of a nuclear disaster was an indeed “Almighty” power comparable to Medieval conceptions of God’s Almighty power. From say 1957–1989/1991, Almighty power was all over, in every act, every person’s opinion, on every spot on earth, and all communication was coded as left/right, pro/contra. But its metaphysical and even meta-biological and meta-social power was so penetrating that it even escaped our risk perceptions and reflexive apperception capacities. Afterwards, having escaped the Plato cave of possible disappearance before we could even perceive it, it took time to rediscover the blind spots of that Almighty power. In her book, The Mighty and the Almighty (2007), Madeleine Albright has correctly, with Clinton, observed the subsequent neo-conservative misconceptions. The metaphysical power inherent in the Cold War was indeed difficult to handle in a reflexive thinking that had a hard time to think about long-term possibilities. The World as we knew it could disappear from one moment to the other, and, as Raymond Aron recognised, we could not think about our last thoughts without theological conceptions of souls, almightiness, eternity etc. Now, we may think about that.

Thus, US power thought much too easily that it could penetrate everywhere and learn normal behaviour as even former unipolar proponents admit (Kagan 2007; Ikenberry et al 2009). To follow Gabriel Kolko in his concluding sentences in Another Century of War?: “It [US] cannot. It has failed in the past and it will fail in this century; and attempting to do so will inflict wars and turmoil on many nations as well as on its own people” (Kolko 2002: 150). The disappearance of the Soviet and the dissolution of the Cold War was, according to military observers, if anything, a consequence of the digital revolution and its so-called revolution in military affairs, but also because of its additional financial and military overstretch in Afghanistan. “It was a great victory” according to Bill Casey, the former director of the CIA (Kolko 2002: 50). As Kolko explains, Afghanistan is “the trap” to both Soviet and NATO power, as US financed and trained the Mujaheddin to fight asymmetric war against the Soviet intervention and since paid the multi-doubled bill. But the trap also appears on a second order level.

If we apply Luhmann’s general theory of a risky relation between system and environment (“Umwelt”), we will turn up with the scheme shown in Figure 1. I have identified six risks belonging to the particular military system described in Figure 1 (Harste 2003). The basic observation is the distinction between social systems and environment. The social system communicates above all with itself, and only with this epistemic background it can open its observations to get informed by events in its environment.

Figure 1. The six risks of systems – in general and in particular

General theory about system risks

The military system

1. The risk not to observe the environment

1. The military system cannot observe the environment as it is, in its complexity and own dynamics. The system primarily observes its own narratives and interpretations (whether military analyses or propaganda).

2. The blind spot of the system and its limits to self-correction: It cannot observe that it cannot observe what it cannot observe


2. Internal to the military system, there are conflicts between observers and those who make decisions. There are limits to self-corrections of this differentiation.

3. Conflicts between the different temporal horizons of functional systems

3. The military-industrial complex stays committed to inertia of armament and the economy in jobs and investments as well as their programmes and codes of observation

4. Dissent in communication between functional systems: Functional systems do not communicate with each other

4. The war system does not communicate with the political system that addresses itself only to the military organisational hierarchy. Structural couplings, as between electoral groups and lobbyists, do only reinforce miscommunications in other areas.

5. There is no recursively entrance to a system of total vision that morally transcends and visualises everything totally. The whole is less than the sum of its parts.

5. The prevailing military system still observes itself as almighty on the level of the total power that reign conflicts in the years around 1956-1991. The prevailing system did not observe that this metaphysical form of power has escaped its power. Still, for some time, this exaggerated power perception might stay in power and strategists conflict about this.

6. In modern society there are only those systems that operate and no other. All observations and possible reforms only establish meaning by and through the systems.

6. There is no other military superpower than that of the US and its organisation of the military system is structurally coupled to other functionally differentiated subsystems. But the US military system has overstretched its manpower resources and financial supplies.


During the Cold War, the long-term future was dissolved by the short-term suspense. Apart from a few lunatic utopians, the future did not exist in the present: not as planning, not as will, not as long-term forecasts, but mostly as myths of revolution. Economic macro models established the so-called “wisdoms” of the future since anyway no view beyond a few years could be taken seriously. Short-term strategic conceptions of war ruled among tacticians, for instance known from John Boyd’s – in military circles – rather famous Observation-, Orientation-, Decision-, Acting-cycle the OODA-cycle, prevailed and dominated the so-called strategies (Osinga 2006). But after the Cold War, the long-term future was reinvented. long-term strategic considerations were reinvented. Asymmetric wars are not about winning battle space, but about not losing in terms of long-term exhaustion and “the strong losses” (Record 2005). The US has no strategic interests in Afghanistan and cannot – in terms of military social cohesion nor financially – afford that war and will retire together with the coalition forces which will establish a major moral-political blow to NATO (Gray 2009a). As the veterans and winter soldiers will remain a burden in the risk structure of future welfare systems for a long time, and as their traumatic experiences will claim further expenditures, the long-term costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, though nothing compared to the exhausted populations of those countries, could sufficiently cover the costs of the Iraq “Three Trillion Dollars War” several times (Stiglitz & Bilmes 2008).



V. Conclusion and paradoxical perspectives

By now we can return to the long-term risk structure and take a look back on the future history of Soviet Russia in the Second World War. If Stiglitz’ conservative estimates of the long-term costs of the Iraq war is used to characterise the Soviet costs in the Second World War according to different criteria, we approach astronomic figures as 150-350 years of Soviet BNP. Payback time is long, long and long, and path dependencies are beyond imagination. If US forces should have fought the Wehrmacht alone, it would only have been able to do so after the invention of the atomic bomb. We also now know why Soviet could not by any means succeed in the complex construction of a modern society. Hannah Arendt is surely right that Stalinism anyway, beforehand, was disastrous to the Soviet people, and the Red Army could have done much better without the horrible cleansings of about 80 percent of the officers in 1937-38. The afterthoughts of the Second World War have not ended yet. On the contrary, future generations sufficiently emancipated will ask questions about their lack of emancipation and about the heavy path dependencies put on their shoulders. If we compare with the repercussions of, probably the best example, the Thirty Years War that by any measures was disastrous to especially the German Empire (Rystad 1994), we can observe a range of temporal bindings stretching well into the late reign of Fredrick the Great more than four generations later, when the reform fever of Enlightenment finally took over from despotically enforced armament policies, fear, asceticism, pessimism and depression.

Today, the temporal bindings in the Middle East endure generations. I have focused on the temporal bindings of functional systems. However, one of the longest and most enduring bindings can be found in the socialisation of generations which apparently remains a much too remote and marginalised part of sociology and political science. Traumatized populations may give birth to terrorists.

The consequence is that the military organisation systems do not respond adequately to the war system, when wars turn radically asymmetric. The tragedy of the so-called “peace dividend” after the Cold War is not only that it was difficult for military organisation systems to decrease their activity levels (also because Russian fascism could turn into a real threat). But that they for almost two decades succeeded to convince that RMA-investments were necessary to a take-off for the West and for an unchallenged monopolized uni-polarity; they were so convincing that when once the financial crisis came because of financial overstretch, it was not possible to make cut downs in those employments sectors. The “peace dividend” turned out to be a “wartime surplus”, and military budgets grew as never before since the Second World War. But the economic and moral disaster is that only few surplus innovations have followed from those last decades of military investments. Internet, mobile phones etc. was invented in the last decades of the Cold War. The World Wars offered extreme diffusion of usable innovations, not only in technology, but also in organisation, politics, morality, law, research etc. (Rogers 1961; Burns & Stalker 1962). Innovation followed because its back was to the wall. This was somewhat, although probably also somewhat falsely, believed to be the case during the Cold War. But the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT is here used as a professional/dilettante abbreviation) has not yet lead to any usable innovations. Anyway, of course technological innovations cannot in any way at all justify war or even increased armaments. Drones, very much used by US Air Force since a decade, were invented after the First World War and do, by the way, not represent a sustainable strategy since they are cheap and easy to copy for about everyone.

As the opposite, peace constructions can be observed as self-referential and self-organising systems. (Harste 2013). We cannot escape how communication systems have evolved and still will evolve. When military systems and the diabolic war system pave the way for peace and federalism, it is because war systems induce and oblige forms of convergent practices. Kant describes how a rather complex network of con-federal, federal and treaty organisations could evolve in the future, and this, still, is probably a quite adequate prospect of what is on the way and will happen in the future. If military competition, trade spirit (“Handelsgeist”) and overloaded credit systems, as Kant thought, will continue to lead world development, then functional differentiation of systems and separation of powers will follow as implied developments, and we will observe convergences between USA, Europe, China, Russia and even Brazil and India. The states do as the other states in about every functionally differentiated detail, hence we may question whatever could be meant by sovereignty in such a world; but anyway freedom, autonomy and will-formation is in any Kantian or post-Kantian conception impossible if not headed by obligations and rule-following.

To such a picture “new wars” (Münkler 2007), civil wars, terrorism and irregular warfare will not change as much as Jürgen Habermas suggested in his 1995 reappraisal of Kant’s theory of roads towards perpetual peace. His 2004-reconstruction of a Kantian road to convergence and cooperation is more probable. Future warfare is about compromising and ruling regular warfare and about how to avoid political utopian or rather strategically dystopian dreams about how to rule in nowhere lands. Even the US national strategies become normal (Korb & Bergman 2007; White House 2010). Yet, this, let us call it Chinese challenge of normal responses will maintain symmetric answers, also to be taken in use in asymmetric wars. The Middle East and Africa will develop still growing numbers of refugees, because of past and present disasters, repressive regimes, and especially scare ressources for populations that may double in a few decades. The West, probably will not be able to admit and to handle its responsibilities for present and past disasters in the Middle East. This entire region is still embedded in the First World War’s “peace to end all peace”, when the Ottoman Empire was dissolved with the Sevres and Lausanne Treatises in 1920 and 1923 (Irwin 2012; Kamolnick 2014; Fromkin 1989).

Another development might be more risky from the point of view of this political, legal, financial, public and moral accountability that is so important to Clausewitz’ dictum about war as a continuation of politics. Several authors point towards the commercialisation of war in the form of private military contractors or PMCs (Singer 2004a; 2004b; 2008; Leander 2004; Rosén 2008a; 2008b). The failure of the United States to intervene in Iraq and Afghanistan has resulted in a steep growth in privatisation and the practice of outsourcing warfare and logistics into private companies (Blackwater; Halliburton etc.). This could display another vision than a Kantian network of federal and confederal governance, NGOs and lex mercantoria (Verschraegen 2010; Teubner & Fischer-Laescano 2007). If the trends continue, a serious futurology enters a paradox. The future we face is as close to the military contractors or condottieri well-known from Machiavelli and the early renaissance (Rogers 1995; Machiavelli 1521/1991) as the internet is in its capacities to synchronise information to the capacities of the Holy Spirit in the high medieval era when it should synchronise interpretations. If the “next society” (Baecker 2008) is a network society, we should carefully study the medieval network, corpus spiritus, in order to find out what forms of communication, power and corporate spirit such a society could display (Quillet 1972; Spruyt 1994; Thornhill 2008; Harste 2009c).




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From War to Financial Crisis – Analyzed with Critical Systems Theory

In his 1973 book Legitimation Crisis, Jürgen Habermas described a transformation mechanism that can lead an economic crisis into an administrative crisis, if the capitalist economy and state administrations do not reorganize themselves to handle the problems facing the economy. This transformation accurately describes what happened from 1974 to the mid 1980’s, to say nothing of what has been happening ever since.

However, Habermas developed the transformation hypothesis still further and took it to the realm of politics. If the public administration could not simply reorganize, it would have to invoke a number of reforms that involved claims for legitimacy. This shift from the economic system to the administration system and to the political system could happen smoothly, and not entail a transformation of the lifeworld of citizens. Accordingly, Habermas only conceived crisis as a phenomenon that in the lifeworld involves a legitimacy crisis in the motivational resources that are involved in those reforms undertaken in the political system. This transformation machinery can be re-described and applied in many contexts. Critical systems theory describes how it is difficult, if not impossible, to govern self-referential systems functionality differentiated from political systems: Accordingly, they may pose severe problems for their environments, and eventually lead to legitimation crises. Modern functionally differentiated systems are probably more difficult to govern than we use to think. In between Habermas’ theory of crisis transition and the work of his German contemporary, sociologist and leading systems theoretician Niklas Luhmann, a reconstruction of legitimation crisis theory has taken place. This is articulated in Poul Kjaer, Guenther Teubner and Alberto Febbrajo’s co-edited volume The Financial Crisis in Constitutional Perspective – The Dark Side of Functional Differentiation (2011). My aim here is to add a still darker side to this critical systems analysis.

            In the present article I will first describe the classical problem of political transformations and revolutions that occur due to financial constraints. As we will soon observe, those crisis scenarios historically often develop in the aftermath of wars. Hence, I proceed to analyze the structural coupling between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the overall game of superpower strength. In order to get the problem right with regard to the dynamics of war and its resulting financial costs, I turn to Carl von Clausewitz’s form analysis and his concentration on the transformation of the center of gravity from the battlefield to the costs of war. This, finally, leads to an analysis of the structural couplings between wars, state-building and financial crises.

The classical problem of war and credit

Ernst Hinrichs (1986) used these same ideas to interpret the crisis that led to the French political revolution in the second half of the 18th century. Whereas Habermas also, albeit briefly, mentioned ecological crises and military crises as two differently induced crisis phenomena, Hinrichs developed the transformation from war to finance to reorganization, political reforms and motivational transformation. In the present article, the point is to deal with the structural coupling from war systems to military organizational systems to financial systems, and the critical limitations imposed upon such a transformation. The actual background, of course, is the present financial crisis that began in 2007-8 and its links to the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars, as well as to the currency and credit systems that have developed in the capitalist world since the end of the Second World War. My main point is that the present crisis was extremely foreseeable from the end of the 1980’s, since it repeats the structure of those relations that have imposed themselves on the modern social order since the 16th century. The heritage of that long-term form and path dependency imposed a self-referential system of wars that could only be developed if government organizational systems took absolutist power over the ‘reason of state’ and asked for a financial revolution in the structural coupling between tax systems and credit systems. Those systems came to a decisive breaking point at the end of the 18th century. They had already by the early 18th century implied a functional differentiation of the social order that imposed itself in opposition to an absolutist state in an estate society.

            A centrally placed observer of those developments such as Immanuel Kant concisely saw what was at stake in such a modernized society. In his 1793 treatise On the Common Saying: ‘This might be true in theory but does not apply in Practice’, there is a short but an extremely accurate analysis of a number of paradoxes in the relation between politics and war, including the following description of the structural coupling between finance and war:

The increasing culture of the states, along with their growing tendency to aggrandize themselves by cunning or violence at the expense of the others, must make wars more frequent. It must likewise cause increasingly high expenditure on standing armies, which must be kept in constant training and equipped with ever more numerous instruments of warfare. Meanwhile, the price of all necessities will steadily rise, while no-one can hope for any proportionate increase in the corresponding metal currencies. No peace will last long enough for the resources saved during it to meet the expenditure of the next war, while the invention of a national debt, though ingenious, is an ultimately self-defeating expedient. Thus sheer exhaustion must eventually result, in what goodwill ought to have done but failed to do: each state must be organized internally in such a way that the head of state, for whom the war actually costs nothing (for he wages it at the expense of others, i.e. the people), must no longer have the deciding vote on whether war is to be declared or not, for the people who pay for it must decide. (This, of course, necessarily presupposed that the idea of an original contract has already been realized.) For the people will not readily place itself in danger of personal want (which would not affect the head of state) out of a mere desire for aggrandizement(…) And thus posterity will not be oppressed by any burdens which it has not brought upon itself, and it will be able to make perpetual progress towards a morally superior state. (Kant 1793-1977: 170)

Accordingly, Kant is often celebrated as the inventor of the liberal theory of the so-called ‘democratic peace’ and this was certainly a liberal plea for a separation of power. This separation of power, its rule of law and legal state (‘Rechtsstaat’), he saw as constitutive for a democratic representative form of the people’s sovereignty. To Kant, the state and its separated powers developed according to extremely realist differentiations that imposed their principles and codes on what happened to the political order before a moral will could reconstitute what was already constituted (Harste 2009).

Kant saw that wars are overly costly and involve far more than just taxes. He several times warned against risks involved in credit systems (Kant 1795/1977: 198-199). Developments of credit systems advanced from the Dutch differentiations between Amsterdam’s Wisselbank, its Actien, its Vereeingde Nederlandsche Geoctroyeerde Oostindische Compagnie, and its Beurse (Ferguson 2008: 128-135). The credibility of such internally differentiated subsystems enlarged and conditioned the possibility of creating a functional self-referential system of credits beyond the solidity of the single institution and organization. The differentiation principle seemed to have been decisive, since a non-differentiated and overly integrated system was developed a bit later in France under the ruling concept of an absolutist united idea in the Scottish ‘John Law’s system’: in 1717 John Law was nominated for finance and tax minister, director of the Beurse, the central bank, and main shareholder. Whereas Louis XIV, before his death in 1715, could say ‘L’État c’est moi’ and accordingly embark on a military overstretch that left France with an almost unpayable war debt, John Law could say that ‘La finance c’est moi’. He overtook the French public debt – but his overly unified and integrated system broke, since everyone soon realized that the Mississippi Company, that only possessed the Central USA, had no real value to sustain the assets of the company – at that time (Ferguson 2008: 139-158).

The final form that took place with the so-called financial revolution (Dickson 1967; Brewer 1990) can be reconstructed as a circular form in which finance appeared as a self-referential system, to be distinguished from the French tax system and internal credit system (Dessert 1984; Vauban 1709/1988). Enclosures and colonies were successively used to pay creditors (Marx 1867-1894) whereas the parliament stayed as the guarantee that payments were sustained (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The British external credit system and its financial revolution

In 1988 Paul Kennedy published a widely read book, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. Therein he at length presented an argument that all superpowers since the early 16th century have developed a so-called ‘military overstretch’. The Habsburgs did it and became insolvent eight times within less than one hundred years. France embarked on an overstretch, not only with the War of Spanish Succession and Louis XIV’s earlier wars, but also with the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) and the War of Independence (1776-1783). Great Britain after the Napoleonic Wars had to transform itself from an estate society into a class society, which involved a democratization of its parliamentary rule. Germany committed an overstretch, and did so twice, in the World Wars, as did the Czar’s Russia with the First World War. The United States approached overstretch in the Vietnam War, and the Soviet Union could not sustain its campaign in Afghanistan (1979-1988). Hence the United States, yet another superpower, should be careful not to develop the same kind of overstretch. Furthermore, the risk for United States was to believe that it conquered the almighty power invested in the Cold War’s infinite destructive power. The U.S. actually got far less power to impose its will on other countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Empire.

However, the trap has developed to include several topics that should be distinguished. First, the U.S. as an economic system led the information technology revolution and widely increased its economic and cultural power during the 1990’s. Second, the IT revolution was linked to a so-called Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) (Owen 2001; Vickers & Martinage 2004). The PC and the internet were invented by DARPA due to military needs for transiting information by multiple information highways in case of general war. Yet paradoxically the military trap developed as a consequence of the risks embedded into the successes of the internet and the RMA: the U.S.’s war strategists became more and more susceptible to ideas of invincibility due to inventions in tactics – not in strategy (Knox & Williamson 2001: 175-194). Along with the strengthening public discourse about globalization, the provocation became still stronger with debates about who ruled The McWorld vs. Jiihad, as Benjamin Barber’s 1995 book was titled (Tibi 2001a; 2001b).

According to U.S. military strategists such as William Lind (1989), Thomas Hammes (1994; 2006), and Arreguin-Toft (2001), the only power strong enough to destroy the almighty powers of U.S. was U.S. itself. However, U.S. forces were already, at that moment, embedded into the trap created by American advices and finances to the Mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan who also robbed the Soviet Union of its upper hand. The U.S. partook in the financing of the Mujahedeen with the Saudi Arabians and invested three billion dollars (Kolko 2001: 45-85); accordingly, the Mujahedeen and its subgroup al-Qaeda learned to reflect on and use U.S. tactics and strategies. They learned how to involve American forces in a military overstretch. The tactics that were to form the core of the overall strategy for dismantling the U.S. McWorld were to provoke the new neo-conservative to believe in the U.S.’s almightiness and embark on a military overstretch. In fact, the British colonel Thomas Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) had already developed that strategy of the trap in order to establish an Ottoman military overstretch (Lawrence 1928/1997: chap. 23).

Then, after 9/11, a U.S.-led coalition embarked on Operation Enduring Freedom, OEF, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, OIF. From this point, it is possible to observe the military quagmire imposed by asymmetric warfare (Mao 1955; Mack 1975; Hammes 2006; Gray 2005; Harste 2011). Such arguments can be developed with analyses well-known to informed military strategists today. If we, however, wish to open the analysis more widely for a deeper understanding of the structural couplings between the war system, the financial system and the political system, we could learn the lesson from classical analyses of modern society and the role of war in it. Here I will first introduce Carl von Clausewitz’s theory of abstract and real warfare and its transformation of the gravity center of war. Then I will outline the main points from the historical sociology of the links between war, state-building and finance. Finally I will shortly describe some of the motivational and moral shadows of wars and describe their costs and conclude about those implications the costs have had for the differentiation of the credit system.

Clausewitz and the second order realities of war

Carl von Clausewitz, better than anyone, in his masterpiece Vom Kriege (1832/1952) elucidated the no-governmentality of war. His famous phrase that ‘‘war is the continuation of politics conducted in another medium’’ (1832/1952: 888) is not a master plan about how the political system could control war. On the contrary, it is a description of a much more complex and tragic relation that concludes from his basic assumptions about the interchanges (‘‘Wechselwirkungen’’) undertaken in war and how they lead from ideal and abstract plans to the transformations that occur in the realities of war. In the course of these transformations, the center of gravity moves and the culmination point in war is when this center (‘‘Schwerpunkt’’) undergoes such a transition.

            The form of the interchanges is a form Clausewitz takes from Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781/1787/1966: B 256), probably inspired by his mentor in methodology Johann Kiesewetter, who was Kant’s assistant. With later sociological form analyses developed by Georg Simmel and especially Niklas Luhmann (1986; 1991; 1997), it is possible to discern a far clearer idea about Clausewitz’ conception than military strategists so far have conceived. Clausewitz conceives three forms of interchanges and observes what happens with them at two levels – the abstract and the real war – or, explained with Luhmann’s theory of self-referential communication systems, the first order observation and the second order observation.

AI. The material interchange

A very common view of tactical rules prevails in the eyes of the public, the political system and idealizing military planners such as Napoleon’s chief of staff Antoine-Henri Jomini in Précis de l’art de la guerre (1838/1855/2001). He was literally and intellectually Clausewitz’s adversary and told a suggestive narrative about victorious warfare. The view is that war is that kind of tactical warfare that fights about a material battlefield such as piece of land, borders, or access to sea or resources. According to this view, the number of troops, cars, airplanes, and battleships can be calculated, and the party who has the most of such instrumental means to be used as input into the system of warfare will be sure that the output of fighting leads to guaranteed victory. The outcome of warfare can be calculated (Biddle 2004; Beckerman 1999).

BI. The social interchange

In a battle between opponents there is a clearly identifiable conflict between those who enter the battlefield. Classical warfare is about symmetric troops and armies opposed to each other in a continuation of states in conflict and political systems that are adversaries according to clearly identified goals. Of course, such a state governed conflict scheme has not always been the case, but since the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), that scenario has ruled and wars have been identified and planned according to this ruling narrative. Accordingly, this is also what ruling ideas of just war (jus ad bellum and jus in bello) are about, and the narrative corresponds to the basic form of the Westphalian System of sovereign states (Knutsen 1997; Teschke 2003; Tuck 1999).

CI.The temporal interchange

The classical conception observes conflict as the combination of a static interchange with a linear process that describes a transition from a time of peace to a time of war and back to a time of peace. Military campaigns can be planned (in peace) according to goals, and accordingly lead to a decision about battle; successively the battle follows; and afterwards the losses are counted and the winner takes it all. Time is linearly planned, although since Fredrick the Great’s campaigns towards Saxony and Prague (1756), synchronization between separated troops (divisions) has led to a still-increasing speed in warfare. The side that can increase speed and synchronization the most will prevail if the number of troops and resources are equal. This has been the leading tactical idea from Fredrick the Great to Napoleon and Jomini to Helmut von Moltke’s campaigns in 1866 and 1870, to the German Blitzkrieg and to the American RMA.

Yet this first order observation of warfare, according to Clausewitz, leads to a misconception of real war. Only very few wars, if any, have been conducted according to such a simple scheme. Initial warfare, as in the Gulf War (1991), Israel’s Six Day’s War, the U.S. attack on Granada or the Falklands War may have had such a form. In reality, wars transform themselves, and even often become wars about what is conceived and conceptualized as war. Hence, the basic first order form in almost all major wars is transformed into a second order form about what is conceived as war.

AII. The second order transformations in the material dimension

According to Clausewitz, wars lead to a transformation of the center of gravity into a multiplied and still more complex, not to say chaotic, combination of dissipative forms. The conflict about the battlefield becomes, first and rather directly in modern warfare, a fight for supply lines, centers of communication, airports, electricity supplies, bridges, main roads and so on. However, soon problems of finance appear, since wars are extremely costly. Every major war leads to greatly increased taxes; or whenever taxes do not increase, huge financial difficulties soon appear, and secondary solutions such as debt increases have to follow. The public may be resistant, especially, according to Clausewitz, in offensive warfare, since offensive attacks used to be conducted with an idea of surplus or justification. This paradoxical principle of the weakness of the offensive and the strength of the defensive is less about the strength of surprise but about the weakness of finance. For example, neither Nazi Germany nor Japan initially increased their taxes substantially compared to what those two countries did in the later part of the Second World War, whereas the UK and the Soviet Union did (Harrison 1998: 20). In the First World War, the financial costs came as an immense surprise to all parties. After the first few days, the war was conducted according to tactical possibilities, and the strategic idea of the war became the first offer in that extremely fatal war.

Yet when finance turns into a messy affair, the gravity center once again shifts and public acceptance of the immensely increasing financial costs become the focus. The opposing parties fight to break their adversary’s back of supplies, then finance and then the public. But additional supplies follow: the humane costs, including their long-term economic costs. Hugh Rockoff (2012) has demonstrated that more than half of U.S. financial costs of war are caused by the opportunity costs of casualties and war veterans. Disabled veterans who cannot contribute to the nation’s wealth from, say, the ages of 25 to 65 are immensely costly for a country when they are counted in thousands, if not millions; and Rockoff does not even count the costs to the relatives. In sum, wars are not over when the truce comes and the peace is concluded. Wars have no conclusion. Accordingly, we have to account for the financial and humane costs of war much more accurately than is supposed in the first order analysis, and admit that calculations at a first order level are completely misleading. We are led into severe complexities of a second order.

BII. The second order transformations in the social dimension

The social dimension of war does not only concern troops or members of the military organizational system. Victims and collateral damages are all over, including civilians, relatives, traumatized persons, raped women, starving persons, refugees etc. At the second order level, wars involve a wide range of other people far beyond those in the military. This implies a number of transitions in warfare.

Precision strikes are not a very adequate answer to such complexities, since with drones they seem to easily increase the number of strikes, seeing as how the spots of collateral damage concern quite a number of innocent people placed far from anything looking like a war zone. At the same time, precision is demanded by the national and international public, which somehow should accept the legitimacy of offensive strikes against an enemy that is hoped to become a future friend (Rawls 1999), and who rather often is not the cause of conflict but innocent, and even perhaps the cause of a campaign with a responsibility to protect (R2P).

The social dimension of warfare also includes transitions to so-called asymmetric warfare (Thornton 2007). Whereas the rich and strong parties to a conflict easily can afford fortifications, compounds, trucks, tanks and protective uniforms, the weaker have to find other solutions. Hence they look towards sabotage, guerilla tactics and what U.S. Colonel William Lind termed fourth generation warfare. In a somewhat famous article from 1989, he saw warfare as a kind of entropic system that spread the confrontation from a concentrated battlefield (1st GW) to longer lines, as in the Napoleon Wars and especially the First World War (2nd GW), to the synchronized in-depth attacks as with the Blitzkrieg (3rd GW), and to a completely different form with the 4th GW. This form is not as recent as was supposed by Lind, however. It is well known from the Spanish resistance to Napoleon (the Spanish ‘‘guerilla’’ = little war), the Languedoc Camisards in early 18th century and the Danish Snaphaner fighting against the Swedish superpower. Theoretically, Lawrence (1935/1997) explained how the Ottomans, a major regional power, could not conquer and secure the whole Arab peninsula despite its immense number of troops and great financial costs. Hence, simply to attack here, there and everywhere, now or later, stressed the troops as well as the finances and resources meant to supply the troops. Accordingly, the strong had to draw back. The conclusion is that the strong loses and the weak wins. As Henry Kissinger said in 1969 during the Vietnam War, ‘‘the strong will lose, if he does not win, and the weak will win if he does not loose’’ (Mack 1975; Arreguin-Toft 2001; Thornton 2007).

CII. The second order observation of temporalized war

In Vom Kriege, Clausewitz is thoroughly occupied with those realities in war that lead to protracted wars of attrition. Plans are blown to pieces and what Max Weber called the material rationalities obscure every idea of formal rationality, in the realities and complexities of war far more than in courts, in schools, at universities, in normal daily life and in other functionally differentiated systems of modern society. In war ‘‘everything simple becomes complex’’, ‘‘friction’’ and ‘‘fog’’ characterize the normal catastrophic experience and nothing turns into normality or normal procedures and rules. Surprise is everywhere, and rules do not hold for more than a day. This, of course, obfuscates every juridical idea about normal rule-following.

            Time goes on and every matter becomes different. Human actors develop new visions about what they do and why; their judgment dissolves and transforms into abductive reasoning in complex situations. Above all, time changes, plans have to change, and the time horizon of bounded planned time becomes obsolete. With Luhmann, we may describe the war system as a risk system in which the system cannot observe that it cannot observe what it cannot observe (Luhmann 1986: 52, 59; 1991). The orderly relation between the present moment and the future moment becomes obscure, and the vision of the future looks different. Thomas Mann’s 1924 description of time in Der Zauberberg certainly is also a comment on the temporal vision of transitions during the First World War: Time fades away. Days become weeks, weeks become months, months become years, and still more years. This is what protracted warfare is about.

            This means that costs rise explosively. Not only do financial costs accumulate exponentially with the escalation and expansion of all those dimensions that warfare tries to control. The human costs also increase. Warriors turn into war veterans, and some veterans turn into disabled, crumbled, psychically terrorized, and traumatized non-individuals, in the sense that they are no longer coherently unified persons, or human beings not divided into pieces, as we could expect from in-dividuals (=non-divided). Their minds may be blown up; their nightmares and flashbacks destroy their bodily sensation of being themselves. They might cohere into their small units with their buddies, who will become the only people able to understand their experiences. The more often they are sent to the war zone, the more likely they will suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and the more they long to unite with their buddies and companions (Harste 2014).

            The huge wars of the early 20th century sent soldiers back in the tens of millions to a society with routine work, conventionally routinized norms, and given ideas of public and private life, including private suffering. During the Vietnam War this changed, and the so-called heroes went back to a post-heroic life. Since the 1970’s people have had to deal with self-development, self-realization, competence innovation and an organizational culture where they have to sell themselves as coherent images of successful people with CVs and life trajectories to be told as decent biographies. Accordingly, the soldiers and their victims are still more traumatized. The fight continues when they come back, and often it becomes still worse when the physically and psychically disabled are squeezed between disconnected welfare systems, turning their lives into protracted suffering. Wars take about three generations to end. The humane and financial costs continue to veterans’ children and close relatives, and if entire regions have suffered from wars, the grandchildren have no way of escaping the traumas and become traumatized themselves. In Eastern Europe that has been the case, especially in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, the three countries that suffered the most from wars in the 20th century, even more than Cambodia, Vietnam and Rwanda. According to more recent and accurate research, probably about 45 million people died in the Soviet Union due to the Second World War, and about 20 million starved to death since Ukraine, taken by the Nazis, was the breadbasket of the Soviet Union (Sokolov 2009; Collingham 2012).

            To sum up, Clausewitz’s thesis of the structural coupling between war and politics tells a story quite different than one about control and best case scenarios about just decision making, power and the will to power, to say nothing of heroes and rational strategies and strategists.

            First, we observe that wars begin to feed themselves, but successively they run out of supplies. It is at this moment that the societal and political conditions for protracted warfare expose critical limitations for still more extended wars. The public and the creditors do not accept still increased burdens, and demand the political system end the wars. Political systems may control warfare in the very moment of decision to go to war, and have more or less mythological ideas about abstract successful and clean wars without suffering. Such best-case stories almost certainly never become long-term real history. Wars are functional systems and functional systems control themselves. According to Luhmann’s great theory of self-referential social systems, organizational systems cannot control functional systems; churches cannot control religion; theaters and galleries cannot control art; legal administration cannot control law; universities cannot control research; schools cannot control education; and military organizational systems cannot control war (Luhmann 1997). Organizational systems of course have a major impact, together with other actors and their communications. But hierarchy, membership, and decision-making are only one form of inclusion and exclusion that is typical to modern western states and organizations. Elsewhere, in the failed empires that tried to rule the world, all kinds of different segmentary and stratified social orders made arrangements and networks obscure and complex (Luhmann 1997: 618-708; Centano & Enriquez 2010).

In addition to Clausewitz’s analysis, mythologies are all over (Smith 2005), and organizational systems seem to close themselves off from the disasters of war. Clausewitz and his contemporaries were somewhat occupied with this risk and its political and organizational friction. Military organizations reorganize and develop particular bureaucracies and organizational cultures in order to establish at least some form of self-control (Huntington 1957; Vandergriff 1999; Irwin 2012; Grissom 2013). More recently, in the last few decades, hybrid wars seem to result in hybrid states due to the fact that the famous Western wars – OEF and OIF – developed as coalition wars with a polyphonic coalition of goals, interests and strategies that cannot unify into anything like a coherent strategy. Accordingly, the military organization systems become hysterically occupied with a form of self-closure in order to decide upon how to decide. They turn themselves inwards and follow the paths of the RMA and its so-called ‘‘system of systems’’ (Owens 1995; 2001; 2002). Even before the so-called revolution in military affairs, military communication became crowded with massive bombardments of communication codes and acronyms (RMA, OEF, OIF, 4GW, COIN, CIMIC, etc. etc.) in order to synchronize communication still more and still faster; – and thereby win wars that are lost in almost every other kind of dimension (Gray 2006; Record 2006; 2010; Ritter 2007).

The historical sociology of war finances

In historical sociology, some of these short- and long-term costs have been analyzed under the umbrella of the Charles Tilly thesis ‘War makes states, and states make war’ (Tilly 1975). Much of the debate about this thesis has turned around another thesis, namely Michael Robert’s analysis of ‘the military revolution’ from 1560-1660 (Rogers 1995; Downing 1992; Porter 1994). Earlier and later periods have been analyzed, and it has been debated whether they were more important. Yet Robert’s main topic was about the organizational, financial, legal and political conditions for such a revolution, which he mainly referred to using the Swedish reforms under Axel Oxenstierna and Gustavus Adolphus (Roberts 1973). For the present article, the point is to draw attention to the structural coupling between the war system, the military organization system, and the financial system. The Tilly thesis probably exaggerated the focus of war as an independent causal variable, although it was not Tilly’s intention to establish such a causal analysis. Rather he tended towards a traditional functional multiple framework of mutual conditions, including political conditions (Tilly 1984; 1992; 1993; Harste 2013b). This implies that a simple statistical description of the number of troops that so often has been forwarded as the main characteristic of the Tilly thesis does not satisfy a more coherent theoretical analysis of war and crisis. Rather, the very point is in the mutual conditions and structural coupling of different functional systems and their organizational condition.

Thus we have to understand, firstly, the organizational background implied by the Reformation that secularized the formerly Catholic church organization and its corpus spiritus, transforming it into early bureaucracies with a form of esprit de corps and estate which became the porteur parole of a ‘necessary’ ‘reason of state’, even in Catholic countries such as France under Cardinal Richelieu (Thuau 2000; Cornette 1992). The precondition of the revolution was the establishment of an organizational framework that linked authorized legitimacy with law and with a coherent institution of representation, meetings, delegation and power. Power was already constitutionalized when the military revolution had its start (Quillet 1972; Thornhill 2011; Luhmann 1997: 565). But organizational power was not militarized, and the war system did not become a self-referential functional system before the Thirty Years’ War. But in this more or less thirty year-long war, the war began to feed itself in a competitive escalation system (Brücher 2011).

Secondly, we can observe those transformations that took place in the systems of delegation and representation along with the military build-up in the self-referential war system. Wars could be transformed into competitions for still-stronger central administrative delegation systems, and into still-better representative estate and parliamentary systems that could guarantee future contributions in the form of resources, manpower and taxes, as shown above in Figure 1. With the Konstanz edicts from 1183, the church transferred its canonical law of contracts to towns that thereby became independent; and at the same time they accepted the credibility form of churchly networks (from credos = faith). This paved the way for contracts in trade and commercial agreements in towns and between towns. In this way the form of credibility systems emerged, for instance in the fairs of Flanders and in the banks of Florence and other Italian cities, with Lyon as the trading and credit center between northern and southern Europe. Credit also developed among merchants (Braudel 1979; Dessert 1984; Grenier 1996; Germain 1997; Fontaine 2008; Stasavage 2011).

The problem of financing war was about easy money, fast and expedient. Taxes took years to gather, whether in the form of contributions from estates or as money gathered by tax administrations. In any case, also with the later innovation of parliament-guaranteed payments-to-come, a huge range of possible tax developments needed to be proposed. Taxation forms and still more tax reforms were proposed over and over during the 17th and 18th centuries (Bonney 1995a; 1995b; Collins 1995). However, once a war began, huge payments needed to be supplied immediately to those creditors who supplied the resources and, until the conscripted armies of the French Revolution, to the mercenaries, bought or rented from the condottieres. Under such circumstances, taxation soon became a medium for taxation forms and reforms (Braun 1975; Bonney 1995).Still in 1576, Jean Bodin in a classical account could describe that the government money came from five sources; the crown domain and sale of domain, conquest, allies, inflation, and taxes. His list was successively a description of less and less important financial measures; but then things changed.

The mass of the armies grew, especially with the still-increasing number of fortifications and garrisons that could house and train them to keep them available for defense or attack. In addition to the growth in logistics, weaponry, cannons, wagons, horses, uniforms, food, armament industries etc., armies and supplies became still more permanent following the first, the French royal (only 2000-man strong) companies d’ordonnances in 1440. In the early 18th century, Louis XIV disposed of not less than 400,000 permanent troops, many of them in about 200 fortifications and garrisons. Of course, such an army and a somewhat similar navy with more than hundred ships, built and supplied by naval bases, necessitated an immense state organization and tax administration. However, in times of war, the financial burden often was higher, and sometimes, as in the later world wars, far higher, than the tax revenue. The world wars were only financed by about 15-20%, in spite of extremely increased taxes. The Soviet Union is a particular case, since the Soviet state could not make use of a credit system of bankers similar to the French-British-American network (Harrison 1998; Strachan 2004); the Soviets simply used their planned economy to supply the war effort. They could not, in any case, buy supplies in the disrupted world market, but received huge quantities of still quite insufficient materials from the U.S.

In sum, we should describe the burden of wars according to three dimensions: the material dimension of logistics; the social dimension of the number of troops involved; and the temporal dimension of the permanency of wars and their protracted character. Hence, we have a three-dimensional form and figure as demonstrated in Figure 2, in which the financial burden of an imagined army anno 1570 is compared to an imagined army anno 1720.

Yet we also have a similar three-dimensional evolution in the organizational form of the state that is to supply such a military form. The tax bureaucracies, and a number of additional organizations (e.g. transport), also have a material growth in their resources, the personnel employed, and the permanency of their staffs. Whereas the state in the early 16th century was constituted by a nominated estate governing and organizing from their homes, the staff increasingly was permanently employed and placed into official administrative buildings of the state. Hence we see a structural coupling between the war system, the military organization system and the state administration system, including its tax administration.

However, we should also add the more invisible credit system (Mann 1986; 1987; 1993). The idea of an invisible blind balancing of contracts and trade most certainly comes from the mythology of Justitia, who as an innocently dressed young woman was placed on commercial markets many places in Europe during the Renaissance. She carried a scale in one hand, a sword with the other, and had a band over her eyes, ready to cut off the trader who cheated her (Robert 1993). In addition to the three-dimensional figure we can add an increasing war debt that necessitated a still more complex credit system, which according to some interpretations hides future risks behind hedgings in order to establish a trade between present payments and loans in future (invisible) payments.

Figure 2. Growth in military organization and finance from 1500-1780

Size of army/navy x logistics depenses x permanency =
Fo(organisational size x professionalisation x permanency) =
Ftd(Ft taxes + Fd debt) = F(bureaucratization)

Y =
Quantity of servicemen
Quantity of bureaucrats
Taxes & War debt

With Paul Kennedy, we can depict the lesson learned from the historical sociology of war finance. When a strong state, say a superpower, sends a logistically overly supplied big army out far away for a long time, we can look at the classical model depicted in Figure 2 and see what happens. Clausewitz’ warning is that the gravity center of war will be transformed from the battlefield to the fields of finance, humane costs and public support. When France sent an army to Indochina in the early 1950’s and once again to Algeria at the end of the 1950’s, and when the U.S. sent an army for more than eight years to Vietnam and repeated that story with OEF and OIF, it took on too heavy a burden and knocked itself out, as when George Foreman tried to hit Mohammed Ali hard in eight rounds in the ‘battle of the century’, the 1975 boxing match used as a model to explain why the strong will lose and the weak will win (Collins 1978; Arreguin-Toft 2001).

Hence, the strength of the argument is that Figure 2 is not only about past history. It is indeed still a story about burdens of wars. Remember that the burden of war includes the cost of veterans. In fact, second- and even third-generation traumatized veterans protract the end of wars into a future that easily becomes as long as the debt burden. The debt is twofold; it is about long-term repayments of financial war debt and about the burden of disabled soldiers. After the First World War the first generation of disabled soldiers was still a burden into the 1970’s, and their children are still alive today. In Hugh Rockoff’s penetrating account of U.S. war economies, the burden of war veterans is, financially, as costly as the wars themselves (Rockoff 2012).

            Paradoxically, this fact is hidden after major wars, since they also create extreme opportunities for organizational and technological innovations (Rogers 1962/2003; Mazzucato 2011). Wars are destructive as well as innovative, and nothing has been as paradoxically destructive and innovative as the two world wars. Their immense costs were embedded in stories about technological and economic growth, and even in the Soviet Union, the most destructed country with the highest losses of manpower among all warring parties, its propaganda machine demonstrated growth and prosperity. However, the negative savings, i.e. the long-term destructive first, second and third traumatization effects, continued to have their impact and demoralized the populations for generations to come. The paradox is most visible in states like Japan, Germany and Northern Italy: some of the countries who suffered most happened to establish the highest growth rates, known by the German phrase ‘Wirtschaftswunder’, during the 1950’s and 1960’s, including South Korea, which was thoroughly destroyed in the Korean War; in fact, North Korea also had initially high growth rates.

Conclusion: The transformation of the gravity center

With the Vietnam War, the Bretton Woods system, initiated in 1944, almost collapsed. Because the United States received almost all liquid gold as payments during the Second World War and came out of that war far more prosperous than any other country, the dollar was equalized with gold. Hence dollars could be used for payments all over the world and became the currency of reserve, at the same time as the Federal Reserve Bank became the lender of last resort (Kindleberger 1984; Frieden 2006; Eichengreen 2007; 2011). The Korean and Vietnam Wars drained the Fed of gold, and Belgian economist Robert Triffin’s paradox turned into more than a theoretical model: the US trade deficit could be paid with dollars, since every country continued to believe that something useful could be bought for dollars. In 2011, Germany was the biggest exporter in the world (219 billion dollars, followed by Russia with 198 billion dollars and China with 155 billion dollars), whereas U.S. imports stood at 784 billion dollars, about five times as much as the second biggest importer, the U.K. Nevertheless, the dollar remains the reserve currency, although the Euro easily could take that place and sometimes does function as a reserve currency. Yet the peculiar problem to understand is the impact of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars on the public debt and the financial crisis that began in 2007-8.

            Joseph Stiglitz and Laura Bilmes published their book The Three Trillion War about the Iraq war in March 2008, almost at the very same moment as the financial markets began to break, with the Lehman Brother’s insolvency in September 2008 as the major starting point. Yet the three trillion figure is a very conservative underestimate, in the sense that Stiglitz believed five to six trillion was more probable, in addition to the Afghanistan war, which happened to be almost as expensive, to say nothing of other countries’ expenses. About 10 trillion is closer to the final expenses for the coalition partners, in addition to the Iraqi’s and Afghani’s own expenses. Stiglitz foresaw that the low rents policy established by the Fed in order to keep domestic U.S. investments high in spite of the drain from the combined wars, of course led to over-borrowing among homeowners.

Debtors were guaranteed loans with a new mechanism that was invented after the Smithsonian Agreements that followed the Gold Standard. In the 1980’s and 1990’s international trade and prices could be guaranteed by insurance on future prices for commodities such as oil sold in Rotterdam. These so-called swap contracts were a financial product established by leading bank networks and had the form of insurances. Yet since the Reagan and Thatcher years the financial markets were still more deregulated, and in 2008 there was, unbelievable, only one employee in the U.S. institution for financial regulation. As early as 1988, the leading World Bank economist Eugene Versluysen wrote a report warning that deregulation was so pervasive that a rapid meltdown could take place. The problem was, that deregulation made it possible literally to create money out of nothing, in the sense that credit markets sell credibility. The crucial point is that credibility is trustworthy if a great range of institutions establish guarantees that they will pay for contracts at a given price, at the same time as they take insurances that those prices will hold, and thus earn money even if the price does not hold. Accordingly, the market created a mechanism for success even in the face of failure. And such a mechanism happened to be worth money; it could be sold or used as a guarantee and for borrowing, as if it were a solid commodity. Accordingly, the credit system was decoupled from the production economy. Credits turned into a self-referential system, which sells trust and time (Luhmann 1988; Baecker 1991; Krugman 2009; Esposito 2011). Trust is a form of communication, which tries not to inflate its credibility (Luhmann 1968; Ahamed 2009).

            Of course, some firms and some householders became overly indebted; indeed, they were encouraged to do so by firms that sold loan assurances. But then smaller risk-taking banks became insolvent, only to send the bill from their sub-prime loans, accredited by Fannie Mae (Federal Annual Mortgage Association) and Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation) for two trillion dollars, to still bigger banks. At the end, the bill ended up at the Fed, which would not pay and sent it to the U.S. Congress. These costs are added to the war costs of, say, 10 trillion dollars. Yet, beforehand, the Bush administration took some account of the future costs of an Iraq war and asked a commission, led by Carl Kaysen (2002), to write a report about future costs of the Iraq war. The Republican estimate in 2002 was 49 billion dollars, the Democratic estimate 59 billion dollars, and a worst case told about 99 billion dollars. Kaysen and his associates, however, found that the risk for an economic crisis due to rising oil prices and lower stock markets could increase the total cost to 1.9 trillion.

            Altogether, war has a major impact on economy and credit systems. Wars have very immediate effects on the functioning of credit and taxes. When taxes rose so quickly during the world wars it was because of the need to absorb the excess money with which supplies were bought. Nevertheless, George W. Bush and some of his coalition partners, such as Denmark’s Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who became Secretary General of NATO, lowered taxes during the Iraq war. The political narrative seemed to have been a form of securitized risk story, e.g. that a crisis could not come, the warnings were wrong, and the combination of RMA and financial derivatives would assure a combined neo-conservative and neo-liberalist almighty power into the future, eventually backed with a religious faith about the right world order, as when the good should fight the evil (Albright 2007; Smith 2005). Niklas Luhmann warned in 1991, in his book Soziologie des Risikos, that the political system is coded in such a way that it tells stories about best cases and neglects worst cases. In wars, there are no best cases and no good stories, only stories about loses. The truth will be lost, finances will be lost, and human traumatization is the neglected hidden story underneath the invisible hand of history (Coker 2001; 2009).


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The Peace System – As a Self-referential Communication System



Ever since Abbé Saint-Pierre wrote his magisterial Projet d’une Paix Perpétuelle, published in the aftermath of the Utrecht Peace in 1713, it has been questioned whether the “system of peace” could tackle the “system of war”. Earlier, “times of war” followed “times of peace” or vice versa. Under the umbrella of a pontifical order, the organisation of peace could manage to cool the inner dynamics of armed conflicts though the pope was definitely sometimes part of heated campaigns and war endeavours, as at the time when he initiated the first crusade in 1095. During the so-called Italian Wars, from 1494 to 1559, the combined dynamics of state organised campaigns were loaded with new heavy weapons as guns and soon after specialised warships; defensive strategies of fortifications followed by the religious conflicts of the Reformation did indeed rupture whatever could still be established as a pontifical peace (Porter 1994; Autrand 1998). The last such half-hearted peace endeavour was the Trento Council in the middle of the 16th century. Albeit the “Landesfrieden” in 1555 established a peace between Catholic and Protestant princes inside the Roman Empire of the Holy German Nation, an ongoing explosive conflict began in France in 1561 between Catholics and Huguenots only to be followed by the rebellion of Dutch provinces against the rule of Spanish Philip II in 1566.

From that moment a still stronger whirl of war increased the call for state organisation and its justification principle, the “necessities” entailed by a “raison d’État”, only to be followed by an increased competition among militarily organised states that copied each other’s innovations with a still higher speed. The so-called Thirty Years War took its departure in that context with the Bohemian rebellion, the “defenestration”, against Austrian rule in 1618; it faded of exhaustion in the years before the famous Treatises of Münster and Osnabrück that concluded the Westphalian Peace in 1648. Still, the French-Spanish Peace of the Pyrenees and the Danish-Swedish Peace had to follow in 1659.

After a hundred years of war, the system of war won an internal self-reference and was established as a functional system that was ungovernable for any other system outside itself. Its means were too strong, its dynamics too necessary and the powers that did not follow its imperatives were annihilated such as Burgundy in the 16th century, Denmark-Norway nearby in 1659 and Poland at the end of the 18th century. When Carl von Clausewitz, in the aftermath of the Napoleon Wars, was able to write that “war is the continuation of politics with other means” (Clausewitz 1832/1952: 888), it was because even absolute wars were in need of real supplies, and logistics could be governed. The still more complex and professional military organisation system could be controlled and governed; but not the war system.

The struggle between control and ungovernable dynamics has always been tested as one of finance. Seemingly politics could control war finance when the political legitimacy of still higher taxes disappeared, and loans and credits were stopped; however, this turned out not to be the case. Wars demand extremely increasing supplies of finance, and they have always exceeded any limitations whatsoever. The invention of not only new taxes but especially new credit systems far beyond imagination turned out to be part of the competition, symmetric or asymmetric, of wars. Every major war was decided less by the so-called decisive battles and more by the exhaustion of resources and their financial sinews.

What happened to the peace system? If the war system had its own hard-hitting dynamics, what about the dynamics of the peace system? Could any dynamics and self-referential codes of communication be identified in what was once called a peace system? Or did the peace system disappear after 1648 or 1713 as anything worth mentioning as a “system”? What are the semantics, he codes and resources to be found in such a system? And which potentialities could be detected inherent to a peace system (Bély 1993)?

This does indeed question: What precisely does “system” mean? What advantages, if any, could such a conception offer to a description of peace potentialities?

I will begin with a short outline of some frames offered by recent system theory. Although several system theories have been presented since Jean Bodin, Thomas Hobbes, Gottfried Leibniz and Abbé Saint-Pierre presented the first system theories – and especially has been established with great endeavours from German immigrants in America after the 1930s – the only system theory I find just remotely adequate to answer these questions is German sociologist Niklas Luhmann’s. He did not himself undertake the task of writing anything like “Der Frieden des Gesellschaft” comparable to his many magisterial books about Das Wirtschaft der Gesellschaft (1988), Der Wissenschaft der Gesellschaft (1990), Das Recht der Gesellschaft (1993; Law as Social System 2004), Die Kunst der Gesellschaft (1995; Art as Social System 2000) Die Politik der Gesellschaft (2000), Die Religion der Gesellschaft (2000; A Systems Theory of Religion 2013) Das Erziehung der Gesellschaft (2002), Die Moral der Gesellschaft (2008) and not even his greatest achievement Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft 1-2 (1997; Theory of Society 1-2, 2013). As a German, born in 1927, he did not feel that he himself was sufficiently at a distance to write a “Der Krieg der Gesellschaft” nor a similar book on peace, on it functions, its communication codes, semantics and self-descriptions, its evolutions, organisations, structural couplings, sense and whatever else such a theory would imply. Though, comparable to a so-called “contingency formula” of for example “justice”, he several times wrote about the importance of a contingency formula of war/peace indicating when a war or a peace begins and ends. Gertrud Brücher wrote Frieden as Form (2002) and later Gewaltspiralen (2011) to compensate this lack in the theory of self-referential systems; but she did not focus on the form of communication and the codes of diplomatic communication according to the historical evolutions of diplomatic self-descriptions.

Yet, Luhmann wrote an important booklet on Trust (Vertrauen, 1968). From this he embarked into studies of risk and mistrust. Diplomacy and peace establishment is constituted by trust in order to cope with mistrust, and we may say that trust re-enters into mistrust, interprets mistrust and interprets war and conflict with peace, negotiations and contracts. Whereas Luhmann in his major general theory of Social Systems (1984) writes about conflict as the continuation of communication but in other means, he does not only paraphrase Clausewitz’ “war is the continuation of politics, but in other means” he also describes how conflicts could be displaced into law and contracts. To Luhmann the evolution of law and contracts was his answer to the solutions necessary to replace war with peaceful if not conflict free and dissent free means.

No other system theory is not even close to the level of theoretical and historical elaboration offered by Luhmann’s theory of self-referential communication systems. In the first section, I shortly introduce some of the basic conceptions of the theory useful for a construction of a system theory of peace (I). In the second section, I mark some of the basic self-references and use communication codes of diplomacy as an example (II). In the third and concluding section, I indicate what diplomatic communication codes mean in the actual modern world.


I. Medium, code, function and system: Giving sense to peace


Niklas Luhmann was not the only one to warn against identifying society with a nation-state, its territory, its population, its language and its narration of a national history. Émile Durkheim, Norbert Elias, Jürgen Habermas, Anthony Giddens and, more recently, Slavoj Zizek have done the same, and before them, perhaps more than any, Karl Marx. The problem is to detect exactly what the problem is. Using Gaston Bachelard’s famous concept, Luhmann describes the distorted identification as an “obstacle épistemologique”. The strive to concretise by identifying society with a certain spot to be circumscribed as the green, yellow or blue surface on a map, repeated over and over in schools for the past two hundred years, dissolves the possibilities to observe exactly what is the object in question. In fact, several obstacles are layered into each other.

Another obstacle is to conceptualise society as if it could be adequately observed as a sum of individuals or eventually as more than the sum of a mass of individuals, as if the little word “more” is adequate to answer questions about the dynamics of the mass. On the contrary, a Dutch society is not more flat than a Swiss, and an American society is not discovered to be heavier than a Japanese even if statistics show that Americans have another bodily weight than Japanese citizens.

Rather, “society” is a concept used in history in order to establish a communication with certain concerns. Above all, “society” is a medium of the communication that takes form in society itself, i.e. in the object in question. Hence the failure or obstacle is to turn immediately to the object rather than to constitute the conceptualisation with the concept of communication. Society is about communication. Society has the form communication offers, and it is very possible that the course of history has led society to communicate about territories, population statistics and grammatically well-defined languages. However, communication has led in all different kinds of directions. The spatial reference of communication has throughout history also and perhaps mainly been occupied with water, with rivers, the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the Chinese Sea, but also with marital alliances and links between princes, princesses, uncles, aunts and parents. Even more to the point, the post-Jewish monotheist theologies developed conceptions about a trans-territorial and transcendent spirit of interpretation, whether the Umma or the Holy Spirit enabled synchronisation of communication across huge distances. More than anything, this re-established a conception of society after the dissolution of the Roman societas civilis. Society was constituted as a body of differentiated societal orders and estates (Luhmann 1980). Such a system of orders – to speak with Bodin (1583/1961: 562, 1056) – could use historical records of hereditary privileges in order to structure its own ordered hierarchy and even later on call it national history in order to exclude incomers.

Accordingly Luhmann defines society as a communication system and not a society of individuals, but what is communication? Communication cannot proceed without reference to individuals or space; but above all communication must be able to refer to communication itself and leave individuals, space, organic or mechanical systems outside in the environment of a communication system. Communication is not able to communicate about everything at the same time. Complexities have to be reduced if social communication about any matter should give any actual sense. In a social dimension, communication has to reduce complexities in order to establish communication about any substantial matter in any temporal delimited sense. When sense and nonsense is defined in communication, it is because communication can establish distinctions between left out external complexities and internal reduced complexities handled inside communication. Communication operates with distinctions. But these distinctions are asymmetric; they observe communication from the side of the internal operations of communication, not from the external overly complex side of communication. Thus, the distinction operated in communication can be designated in the following way (Figure 1) just as Niklas Luhmann does when he follows George Spencer Brown’s logical designation technique (Baecker 1999; 2005).


Figure 1. The form of distinction










More advanced communication theories usually go back to a tripartition of communication in order not to reduce communication to a transfer of information or transfer of intention – again two epistemological obstacles well-known to communication analyses. Since Charles Sander Pierce and Karl Bühler, several proposals have designated such tripartitions. Luhmann distinguishes between information, message and understanding. Full communication operates with a temporal dimension of ongoing understanding of information as a substantial dimension in the form of the social dimension of messages. This tripartion could be indicated as in Figure 2.



Figure 2. The form of communication











Thus, understanding is, in fact, only possible if communication can operate with its own understanding of whatever is accounted for as information. Information might appear as if it handles some observation of an outside world, but information only makes sense if operated by an ongoing communication interpreting information as if changing information is the difference that makes a difference to the understanding itself. Such operations are possible because messages take form as all kinds of semantics some of which are coded in binary ways as for example justùunjust peaceùwar or trueùfalse. The operation of such binary codes allows for a duplication of the form of codes, hence the distinction can be handled in a way that in itself is justùunjust; this duplication can be established and in the course of history even monopolised by a legal system that has monopolised communication about the code justùunjust in such a way that it can claim to communicate about it in a just way. Hence Luhmann describes how communication re-enters into itself in a form of self-reference separated from other forms, as law communication is differentiated from political communication, aesthetic communication or communication about war. With a reconstruction proposed by Dirk Baecker this could take a form as sketched in figure 3.


Figure 3. The differentiated form of communication separated from other forms



















Communication =




























The same construction of re-entered communication can be observed in cases of the codes of war and peace. And communication of war could even re-enter into – what Luhmann terms a “structural coupling” of law communication – the communication war has on war, this might happen with the so-called jus in bello and its codes of conduct.

However, operations of war were originally coded in terms belonging to the peace side, such as honour, justice, sacral virtues etc. The tactical codes of war as a form of interchanges about annihilation of force were in operation and can be traced in Roman or Greek warfare. However, war communication had not fully managed to communicate about tactics, strategy and operations; it only did so in the self-referential hard-hitting form that professionalised itself according to its own codes since the Thirty Years War. Ever since Cicero’s Republic and Augustin’s The City of God (book 19, chap. 12), the code peaceùwar was communicated as if it was self-evident that peace was understood as being the side from which the observation of the code was undertaken. This might still apply to systems of legal communication or political communication; however, in war communication the opposite distinction replaced it at latest with the Thirty Years War and, accordingly, Clausewitz could write his masterpiece as if the code peaceùwar was replaced by one of warùpeace as if war could strive towards absolute war without moderation of realities. All functional systems communicate about themselves as if they can neglect the moderations imposed by their environments; this is of course an illusion but, indeed, a very real illusion filled with consequences when wars go on and are planned as if their opponents have no plans of destroying those plans and accordingly planned without thought for constraints to the gravitation centres of moral, sorrow, public opinion, finance and credit.

Here the question is: What happens with the code of peaceùwar observed from the peace loving side?


II. Diplomatic communication about peace


The semantics and codes of peace communication can be observed in diplomatic communication. This entrance to the analysis of peace systems is obvious due to the fact that diplomacy throughout history has been extremely concerned with communication in every obvious way. The role of diplomatic communication has been described according to the communication form that wars begin and stop when diplomacy stops respectively begins.

In his penetrating book A History of Diplomacy, respected British historian Jeremy Black describe three functions typical of modern diplomacy as it emerged since the 17th century: Information gathering, representation, and negotiation (Black 2010: 12, 73ff). Other functions such as tribute and vassalage can also be observed, for instance in the Osman Empire, in Russian traditions, Popal diplomacy and in Chinese Ming or Manchu traditions. If anything was the result of the Westphalian peace system, it would probably appear to be a certain shift in diplomatic communication, a transformation that did not occur during the negotiations in Osnabrück and Münster, but rather in the interpretations that stabilised some of the codes of communication that ex post were traced back to 1648, and even better, they could also be traced back to the Landesfrieden in 1555 or the Italian and especially Venetian republican interaction system of diplomacy. Under Louis XIV, French semantics conditioned a diplomatic communication structurally established and coupled to a bureaucratic organisation system. Diplomats travelled to other monarchies instructed with codified dispatches as if they were commissioned as commissaries, later called intendants or prefects. They should inform about who, how and what (Harste 2013; King 1948; Bely 1990; they should negotiate for and represent their absent monarch This was no evident commission given the fact that the telegraph, not to say telephone, internet or even a regular postal service was well established. Black describes the interdependency of those functions as if they were held together by the communication form figured above. Hence I will re-describe diplomatic communication as in Figure 4.



Figure 4. The form of diplomatic communication










The representation form enables the temporal dimension of ongoing communication. Representation is about a lot of often extremely costly rituals establishing what communication theory normally calls phatic communication: keep in touch, especially when the presence of political decision-makers (princes, ministers, generals) is quite absent.

The communication established among diplomats emerged as a form structurally coupled to the organisation system of foreign ministries. The French foreign ministry was probably the first ministry to departmentalise itself into resorts, simply because foreign affairs have many sides. In other states, the departmentalisation into resorts often followed linguistic skills, but in Paris and among diplomats the language was French anyway, especially after the transition with Versailles, Colbert and Louis XIV 1660-1680. Organisation systems can be observed with system theory as communication systems specialised in decisions are always in the temporal form of decisions about decisions (Luhmann 2000). Furthermore, organisation systems do include members and offer them positions as responsible persons in hierarchies according to a stratified ordered society; responsibility is communicated as a form that can be delegated and, in extreme cases, decentralised by sending persons far away from the present organisation to re-present positions. This construction was established by the church organisation of a body of monks, coordinated and synchronised inside the communication form of a Holy Spirit. During the 17th century, this theologically interpreted corpus spiritus was replaced by a secular form of an esprit de corps that permitted delegates to interpret their commissions according to the same codes present at the organisational and political centre, for instance in the councils and the court in Versailles.

Thus, as a whole, war communication took place as a certain self-codifying form; but it was structurally coupled to the war system, inside it but also striving for control of war, at least from a distant position, organisation systems did increase their decision-making communication and their organisational complexities; then again, inside organisational systems, diplomatic communication took place in a form oscillating between internal and external positions. Diplomatic communication could very seldom offer anything like a securitisation of a link between internal decision-making operations and external negotiations. Stretching the figures of form analyses to their outmost possibilities, the form of classic early modern diplomatic communication could be sketched somewhat sophisticated as in Figure 5.


Figure 5. The form of diplomatic communication structurally coupled to war communication and organisation systems












organisational decision-making



































Of course there was a paradox inherent to classic diplomatic communication: Displaced and departed negotiators could only negotiate as if they were still to be trusted as representatives, as if they did not have their own interests and as if they somehow were online with the spirit of decision-making present at the organisational centre. Therefore, cities emerged as a medium of credibility where entrusted representatives could inform themselves and at the same time interpret and understand which decisions their far away organisational centre, who financed their costly commission, would favour. Seemingly absurd forms of communication in diplomatic communication offers far less non-sense to the careful symbolisation of respect, politeness and forms of listening inherent in diplomatic communication; a famous example is offered by Rousseau:


The context of what Kant had in mind was provided by Rousseau who, in his somewhat ironical commentary to Abbé Saint-Pierre in Extrait du Projet de paix perpétuelle, wrote about the common sense of diplomatic deliberations that


”From time to time there are convoked in Europe certain general assemblies called Congresses, to which deputies from every State repair solemnly, to return in the same way; where men assemble to say nothing; where all the affairs of Europe are overhauled in detail; where men lay their heads together to deliberate whether the table they sit at shall be square or round; whether the hall shall have six doors or five; whether one plenipotentiary shall sit with his face or his back to the window, whether another shall come two inches further, or less far, into the room on a visit of ceremony: in fine, on a thousand questions of equal importance which have been discussed without any settlement for the last three centuries and are assuredly very fit to engross the statesmen of our own. It is possible that the members of one of these assemblies may, once in a way, be blessed with common sense. It is even not impossible that they may have a sincere desire for the general good. For reasons to be assigned shortly, it is further conceivable that after smoothing away a thousand difficulties, they will receive orders from their sovereigns to sign the Constitution of the Federation of Europe.” (Rousseau 1761/1971: 340)


No doubt, Rousseau himself behaved as a careless communicator with disrespect of everything and everyone. Yet, the main formula for respect and carefully coded communication is found in Le Callières Comment negocier avec les princes from 1716.

The costs covered by those who commissioned the delegate was in itself a symbol of trust; high costs signified the standing of the negotiator at the same time as the centre sending the entrusted diplomat could risk that they invested to much in the symbols. Thus, fixed embassies are a relatively new phenomenon, especially outside Paris, since Paris was, so to say, as a city the centre of negotiation, information and representation. The central position is revealed by the fact that the absolutist Danish king found his foreign minister, Johan Bernstorff, in Paris. He was a Hanoverian diplomat, who was probably, even for a while, a close friend or even the lover of Madame Pompadour; his nephew and two sons later also became foreign ministers, one of them first in Denmark and later in Prussia.

The risky oscillation of diplomatic communication could be short cut with congresses among princes, dukes and others with similar standings. This bracketed the organisation system and even the functional system of war. The mythical position of such meetings is still absolute in the mass media. In reality, diplomats always made the hard work in negotiations, information, argumentation, deliberation among possibilities etc. in such a way that the decisions made were embedded in form of communication responsible to all kinds of accounting. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who had a background as a diplomat in Venice, was sceptical of the possibility for self-referential peace systems to be something that could match war systems. He revised Saint-Pierre’s project about the possibilities of a peace system and his description of classic diplomatic communication signifies the form of meaning he accounts for when describing diplomatic communication.



III. Conclusion


The legacy of classic diplomacy seems obsolete and absurdly embedded in l’ancien regime, but it is not. Rather it was truly an early modern way of communication in a modern functionally differentiated society in which status, at that time, was important, but the point was to communicate across lines of divisions. Divisions took place between different functional systems, different status layers, across borders, cultures and languages (even if the main post-Latin language was French). Already Hugo Grotius displayed how rules and normative orders are possible across confessional divisions (Grotius 1625/1999).

A very important example may give a hint of why communication constituted by codes of honour and respect is not obsolete. When George W. Bush’s diplomacy in 2002 – 2003 should convince the world public and Saddam Hussein that Iraq had delivered on the issue of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), the classic (French) diplomatic code of communication said that Hussein, as an Arab clan leader, in no way could admit that he had a less threatening weapon arsenal than he had claimed in his military diplomacy of threats towards Iraq’s most important enemy, Iran. In fact, earlier, USA strongly supported Iraq in its deterrence policy against Iran; materials used in weapons of mass destruction were sold to Iraq in order to build up such deterrence. An Arab leader had to sustain his glory and be feared by his opponents. This is not a substantial question of facts and materials, but an unavoidable and indispensable symbolic fact. This code of honour was far more important in the 6,000-year-old Mediterranean and Mesopotamian cultural context than life and death. In cultures based on honour, the identity of persons and positions is constituted beyond life and death into eternity.

This is well-known to informed diplomacy. Governments that do not recognize such cultural foundations for diplomatic communication will be unable to establish peace communication. Peace systems are not constituted only by one actor or one state. Peace systems are built in co-operation with a system that tolerates differences in actors including differences of their communication form and how they communicate about responsibility and honour. Instrumental responsibility of materials (WMDs) is ontologically secondary to the primary code of deontological communication, which Western diplomats should have known. The result of this neglect was a war that has cost at least 120,000 lives plus an extra one million lives; thousands of US soldiers have been killed and even more continue to commit suicide because of such communication failures. The financial system of the world lost its stability and USA its position as a monolithic superpower.  

A reflexivity of opposed temporal orders is established by such codes. It is possible to proceed into the future with Immanuel Kant’s theory of post-national con-federal networks and his theory of a self-organisation among such systems; at the same time, it is possible, historically, to trace the constitutionalist potentialities detected by Kant back to the legal and organisational means invented and constitutionalised during the pontifical reconstruction of canon law since the 12th century (Thornhill 2008; 2011; Brunkhorst 2012). The European Integration re-constitutionalised the first sufficiently self-referential peace system (Harste 2009). This system does not proceed without risks; it is especially risk differentiated by incoherent system dynamics that unfold their internal temporal structures in unbalanced ways; rather than having a well constitutionalised separation of powers, more than anything the capitalist logics used in its beginnings and, in combination, the intellectual deficit – not any so-called “democratic deficit” – among political elites and mass media has distorted the risk structure of a European peace system. An admittedly risky further conclusion can describe some of the risk structures inherent in a modern future world society. The lack of a political legitimacy of the war induced debt structure of US as a falling star, – or a falling 50 stars – is a political risk outside imagination. At the same time, Chinese diplomacy will induce a more vassalage based peace system not constitutionalised by law and justice but by a far stronger state legacy than the absurdly incoherent Pax Americana. Kant outlined the possibilities of a convergent system among great powers. This is what Europe could hope for, the risk, however, is that a US population, still reluctant to pay taxes after the 1776 – 1783 War of Independence, will be unable to accept China as a main creditor and step into a still more neo-fascist desperate strife for claims of a worldly rule of the American Way of Life.




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