The Limits of War
USMA Research Unit Affiliation
Army Cyber Institute
In the wake of President Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the threat of war still hovers in the background, albeit to a far lesser extent than it did a mere few weeks ago. Trump described the meeting as having gone “better than anybody could’ve expected,” but as recently as a few weeks ago he was reminding Kim that the U.S. military is “ready if necessary.” Nor is Korea the only site of conflict. After the United States withdrew from the Iran deal last month, national security adviser John Bolton — a new presence in the administration’s burgeoning “war cabinet” — warned that “Iran is bringing us closer to war with its belligerent activity in Iraq and Syria.”
Now, it seems, would be a good time to revisit the purpose and utility of war. If the Pentagon’s expanding budget is any indication, U.S. policymakers clearly think diplomatic problems can be solved through application of military force. Unfortunately, these perceptions of war’s utility have become unmoored from the historical record, which tells a story of chaos, devastation, unintended consequences and moral compromise. The United States would be wise to keep this in mind as it considers its next steps in a turbulent international arena. Once unleashed, the dogs of war frequently bite their masters.