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War is not the last resort

War is not the last resort

The Myth

War is the last resort


  • People assume and expect that decisions to use force are made when no other options exist.
  • No war can satisfy the conditions of absolute last resort.
  • There always are many good, nonviolent alternatives.
  • The price of war is too high, when people know that there are other options.
  • When people know that there are better options, they are less likely to tolerate casualties and support war.
  • The bottom line: With more information about alternatives we make better choices.

The evidence

  • When information about the expectations of success of diplomacy is not shared, people conclude that nonwar course of action are unattractive and they are more willing to back military action.
  • Public support for war is influenced by the knowledge about alternatives, success and casualties.
  • Support for forceful US counterterrorism efforts declined by as much as 20% when alternatives are described as good instead of poor.
  • Information from credible sources on viable nonwar options is likely to decrease the public’s support for war.
  • It is possible to show that any particular war was not the last resort and that superior alternatives existed.
  • Our government does not tell us the truth about our wars.
  • The reporting by mainstream media on war is biased toward violence.

Further Reading

Ackerman, Peter, and Jack DuVall. 2001. A Force More Powerful: A Century of Non-Violent Conflict. Palgrave Macmillan.
Bacevich, Andrew J. 2011. Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War. Reprint edition. New York: Metropolitan Books.
Chenoweth, Erica, and Maria J. Stephan. 2011. Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. New York: Columbia University Press.
Hastings, Tom H. 2014. A New Era of Nonviolence: The Power of Civil Society Over War. McFarland.
Hastings, Tom H. 2004. Nonviolent Response to Terrorism. McFarland.
Hoffman, Aaron M., Christopher R. Agnew, Laura E. VanderDrift, and Robert Kulzick. 2015. “Norms, Diplomatic Alternatives, and the Social Psychology of War Support.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 59 (1): 3–28.
Nordstrom, Carolyn. 2004. Shadows of War : Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the Twenty-First Century. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Solomon, Norman. 2010. War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. John Wiley & Sons.

The Flashcard

flashcard war not last resort

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