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Wars of Aggression, Wars of Refusal, and Wars of Retribution

There are different reasons why wars start, but eventually everything boils down to three types of war such as a war of aggression, a war of refusal, and a war of retribution. Before the First World War began, Austria had attacked Serbia furnishing it as a war of retribution, because Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria had been assassinated in Sarajevo. However, it was a typical war of aggression as Hapsburg Empire, in fact, did not expect any concessions from Serbia and wanted its elimination. Meanwhile, in 1940, the Great Britain refused Hitler’s peace offer and got involved into a war of refusal, because Churchill did not trust Hitler’s promises and wanted revanche for Europe. Thus, the World Wars can illustrate all the three types of war.

In order to understand the structure of war, one must understand the rationale behind war. A decision about war is taken “if and only if the perceived benefits (utilities) are greater than the costs” (Magagna). If a state is threatened by state death or permanent reduction in power, it chooses war, even if its chances to win are few. Obviously, the worst peace is always better than the best war, but in case of a looming defeat, war is a more preferable option than state death (Magagna). Additionally, there are cases when war may occur even if it seems intuitively unlikely. If a state feels that it is weak to launch offensive on its own, but an alliance with another state will make it stronger, this state may launch a war of aggression. This may be the case in the situation of a conflict between the Austria-Hungarian Empire and Serbia.

Masked as a war of retribution, Austria began its aggression against Serbia. The Austria-Hungarian Empire had gotten beware of Serbia for some time after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Together with other Slavic states such as Greece, Montenegro, and Bulgaria, the newly independent Serbia dreamt of independency for former parts of the Slavic part of the Ottoman Empire. Thus, it wanted Bosnia and Herzegovina to itself, but the Dual Monarchy acted faster and annexed it (Fromkin 52). Austria-Hungary realized that it angered Serbia and was aware of its own Slavic component as an unstable element that could shake its integrity. Vienna not only feared bold and impudent Serbia, but it also saw its possibility to join forces with Russia, as a Slavic partner. Moreover, in this case, the Austria-Hungarian Empire would have no chances.

This fear of Austria-Hungary was fueled by Germany that, in turn, felt threatened by Russia. Even weakened after the Russo-Japanese war, Russia was viewed, amidst the restless Balkan states, as a powerful Slavic ally that could disrupt a fragile balance of power. Germany’s idea was to push Austria to deal with Serbia, while, at the same time, settling the score with Russia. The Dual Monarchy needed Germany’s support, because if Russia had helped Serbia, Austria would have lost the war. Thus, Berlin and Vienna’s interests seemed mutually beneficial, and each country nudged one another to begin.

However, Austria’s rulers were peace-loving and unhurried and refused to indulge their ministers’ bellicose intentions. Both the emperor Franz Joseph and his heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand opposed the circling ideas of starting war against Serbia. Therefore, Franz Ferdinand’s assassination on the territory of Serbia gave a free hand to Austrian politicians who advocated the war. However, in order for the offensive against Serbia to pass as a war of retribution, Austria had to act quickly, which it could not have done. Nevertheless, because of constant lying of Germany’s Army, the Chief of Staff, Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke and the foreign minister of Austria and Hungary, Count Leopold von Berchtold, were not aware of the real state of things (Fromkin 291).

Even though the slow speed with which the clumsy government bureaucracy of the Dual Monarchy acted revealed that its intentions were other than a war of retribution, its real giveaway was its flat refusal to accept a bargain. In wars of retribution, a major power usually agrees to have a bargain if it exceeds the state’s benefits from war (Magagna). In fact, Austria’s ultimatum was drawn up in such a way that it left no room for maneuver for Serbia. While Serbia intended to keep its independence with any means, the Dual Monarchy aimed to destroy the country’s economic and politic power unsparingly. Other European countries saw that the ultimatum was unacceptable; Winston Churchill said that it was impossible both to accept the ultimatum and for “any acceptance, however abject, [to] satisfy the aggressor” (Fromkin 188). Thus, Austria saw the only worthy bargain in total surrender of Serbia. For Serbia, it would mean state death and the loss of just recently acquired independence and was absolutely unwanted.

Wars of retribution are considered the least likely type of war. They are “counter-intuitive, because bargaining should prevent war” (Magagna). Usually major powers start wars of retribution if they want to get something from minor powers. It can be their territories, the weakening of their powers, and the change of the regime. For a war of retribution to start, the major power should have some valuable return. First, the major power’s benefits from war should exceed its war costs. Next, costs of war should equal costs of status quo or be less. Finally, the major power should be strong enough to be only damaged in the least favorable outcome and not defeated completely. Eventually, “major power is indifferent between certain benefits and equivalent bargain” (Magagna).

According to the theory of war, states that start wars of retribution demand more than a simple bargain. If the minor power begins negotiations and haggle as to what conditions accept, the major power increases its demands: “the major power will only accept the bargain equal to certain benefits of war if minor power concedes without qualification” (Magagna). Now their payoff should go beyond “the point of indifference” (Magagna). It means that the minor power needs to comply with some demands additional to the bargain that the major power had voiced before. If the minor power is unable to comply, in this case, war looks better for the major power and it launches offensive.

In case of wars of retribution, minor powers do not seem to have much choice. If they choose the bargain plus whatever the major power wants, they lose much. According to the theory of war, “bargaining losses may not be controllable” (Magagna). Therefore, minor powers might choose to fight. However, if they agree to the war they might lose all as they are weaker and worse equipped. If the bargain is the death of state, an option to fight seems favorable, because in an hour of need even weak states can get organize and act together on the wave of patriotism and enthusiasm. How much population is willing to pay the costs of war in the form of conscription, debts, and taxes, is “a function of domestic commitment” (Magagna).

The best illustration for such a war of retribution between major power and minor power is the conflict between the Austria-Hungarian Empire and Serbia in 1914. Hearing rumors of the impending Austria’s treat, Serbia attempted to gain the backing of Russia. Russia declined and Serbia realized that it was unable to stand on its own against the major power of the Dual Monarchy supported by Germany. Against its better judgment, Serbia accepted Austria’s ultimatum with some qualifications, but it did not matter because in reality Austria’s intentions were a war of aggression and no bargain could satiate it but Serbia’s full destruction.

Disguised as a war of retribution, the Dual Monarchy’s offensive against Serbia was in fact a war of aggression. Austria wanted to neutralize a rival whose power was getting stronger. To this effect, it saw its goal in Serbia’s complete loss of its sovereignty. Vienna was nudged by Berlin in its desire to deal with Serbia so that Germany could settle accounts with Russia that would come to the rescue. Therefore, Austria-Hungary began partial mobilization so not to alert major European powers as full mobilization usually signals a beginning of war (Managna). After Austria-Hungarian ambassador left Sarajevo, Serbia announced conscription (Fromkin 185). Just in case, Russia ordered pre-mobilization, which was interpreted by Germany as full mobilization. Berlin declared war on Russia and France, and thus, all major European powers found themselves mobilized and in the state of war.

However, despite the Austria-Hungarian Empire was a major power, it was weakened by inner conflicts. In case with Serbia, German’s support turned nominal because Berlin’s interest lied with Russia. As soon as Austria announced war on Serbia, Germany declared war on Russia and France. Thus, the goals that seemed mutually beneficial in the beginning eventually turned out mutually exclusive. When Austria began conscribing its male population to launch offensive against Serbia, Germany demanded its support at another front fighting Russians and French. Given the patriotic fever of Serbs even with worse ammunition and military preparation, Serbia won the war with Austria and both countries joint World War One.

As was already mentioned above, if a bargain is not acceptable, war can be an acceptable choice despite a state’s power. In case of state death or defeat, war becomes the only choice. Another case when war starts is expansionist intensions of a major power, which continue no matter what a minor power does. Ancient Rome acted in this manner. Some would argue that it was Hitler’s tactics as well. Additionally, there are wars of refusal when a state “weakened by war prefers continuing the war to an offer of surrender” (Magagna).

In 1940, the Great Britain entered into the war of refusal when Hitler offered peace (Magagna). Britain and France were allies, and fights in France weakened Britain. After Germany invaded France, Hitler offered Britain truce. Not trusting Hitler, Britain was in doubts. The former prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, had been avoiding war at all costs. This policy was supported by Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, who believed that this way the Empire could survive even if accepting humiliating conditions. However, Winston Churchill, who had just been appointed as Britain’s prime minister, had much more bellicose intention.

European population was still under the impression of Nietzsche revelation of the dead God, so people were largely for violence, aggression, and destruction for the sake of something new and better. Following the horrors of World War One, people realized that everything was possible and that with significant effort anything could happen. Therefore, Churchill relied on his people’s ability to mobilize their strength and stand up to Hitler. Additionally, Churchill did not trust Hitler. There were no guarantees that while offering peace Hitler would not capture Britain’s navy or military bases. Besides, other countries that had surrendered to Hitler lost their sovereignty. With this reasoning, Churchill managed to convince other politicians who were in charge of taking a decision to reject Hitler’s peace offer. As a result, Europe plunged into World War Two.

Thus, separate elements of two World Wars can served as the examples of three types of war. World War One sparkled from the conflict between the Austria-Hungarian Empire and Serbia disguised as a war of retribution. Declaring its need to revenge for the assassination of the heir Franz Ferdinand, the Dual Monarchy, in fact, concocted a plot to destroy Serbia as a threatening enemy. Supported by Germany, Austria realized that Serbia would ask Russia’s assistance as a Slavic ally. In this case, Germany would settle its accounts with Russia. Thus, a war of retribution turned out as a war of aggression, which immediately morphed into World War One. Meanwhile, during World War Two, Germany’s aggressive movement through European countries could have stopped on France. However, Churchill did not trust Hitler’s peace offer so France’s ally the Great Britain rejected Hitler’s peace offer and World War Two went into its full swing involving all European countries, Japan, Australia, and the USA. For the Great Britain it was a case of war of refusal.

In all types of war, participating countries choose the option available to them, not always the best one. If peace is better than war, than war is better than defeat and a complete destruction. Therefore, sometimes war becomes the only option available because it makes survival possible.

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