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Analyzing Clausewitz’s Theory on War

The Nineteenth century strategist Carl von Clausewitz argued that ‘the fundamental nature of war is immutable. The characteristics or form of war typical in any particular age might change, but the essential nature of war could not. This distinction carries significant weight and holds considerable merit. As the course of international history and relations progresses, technological advancements, changes in operational and tactical strategy, and different international makeups have altered the way wars are conducted and the way in which they are fought. The underlying causes of and reasons for war, however, have remained the same throughout history, thereby affirming Clausewitz’s assertions.

Since the beginning of the ‘Westphalian’ era of international relations, warfare has experienced a number of periods of differing techniques, technologies, and strategies. The analyst William Lind described these periods as the ‘four generations’ of warfare. The ‘first generation’ of warfare is defined broadly as one of muskets and line and column tactics. Battles were formal and the battlefield orderly, with competing armies facing each other in open fields and firing in rank. Many of the distinguishing factors of the idea of the ‘military’, such as uniforms, ranks, and saluting, are products of this generation. Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, however, the introduction of rifled muskets, magazine-based ammunition and rapid-fire weapons made the application of lines and columns obsolete and, eventually, suicidal. The ‘second generation’ of warfare was one which applied mass firepower, most of which involved indirect artillery fire, and a defensive-based mentality. The First World War, with its intricate trench systems and static, defensive-based fronts, exemplified the second generation. The introduction of tanks, aircraft, and armored vehicles, intended to break the stalemate of the western front, brought about the ‘third generation’ of warfare. This generation was based on speed, surprise, initiative and decentralization of command. The Second World War was fought during this generation, and the German ‘Blitzkrieg’ doctrine of swift attacks, individual initiative, and encirclements was the prime example of the application of the ideas of this generation. The ‘fourth generation’ of warfare, which the modern world is transitioning into, is one where the state loses monopoly over war. Lind argues that state militaries find themselves fighting non-state opponents, such as Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, or the FARC, more often than one another in this generation of warfare. Furthermore, victory on the battlefield in this generation does not carry the same operational weight as it did in those prior, and rather victory can be determined by destroying the opponent’s political or societal will to fight as opposed to defeating his armies on the field.

Other forms of warfare have remained constant throughout these generations. The prime example of this is asymmetrical warfare, where one side faces an overpowering, better equipped, and/or more technologically advanced foe by engaging in guerrilla warfare. Tactics for this form of warfare include ambushing opponents, surprise raids, sabotage, and targeted killings. Although asymmetrical warfare has been a sustained component of warfare through the ages (while conventional warfare has changed considerably in technique and operational strategy), the technologies utilized in asymmetrical warfare have changed in powerful ways. Modern guerrillas utilize weaponry such as IEDS (improvised explosive devises) to destroy armored vehicles and portable anti-aircraft weapons to down helicopters and fighter aircraft. The fact that these weapons are often easy to acquire, cheap to make, yet devastating in effect presents a large challenge to the conventional force they are used against. Additionally, fighters in an asymmetrical war can, and do, now utilize elements of modern society against their foe. For example, Al-Qaeda used commercial aircraft to attack the World Trade Centers in New York on 9/11. Organizations or fighters can utilize the internet to spread their ideology, recruit to their cause (oftentimes within their foe’s country), spread information on weapon-building and utilization, and even hack or disrupt important electronic services with devastating effect.

The characteristics and forms of war have thus changed through the ages, as evidenced by the various ‘generations’ of war and military strategy and the consistent improvement and changes in technology. While these facets of war have changed, however, the underlying causes of and reasons for war have not. Clausewitz argued that war was the ‘continuation of politics by other means’. He further contended that war ‘is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will’. By these assertions he meant that war was a tool used by the state to both further act on it positions in international politics and to force the opponent to bend and submit to those positions. By defeating an enemy, a state can impose its will, whatever that will may be, upon it, and therefore further its position in the international arena. This definition of war, which explains its ‘essential nature’, has remained steady throughout the history of war and conflict since the beginning of the Westphalian era.

This definition of the nature of war is backed empirically by the examples provided in major wars that have occurred since the treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The War of the Spanish Succession and War of the Austrian Succession in the early 18th century were fought by its participants with the intention of instilling a specific monarch (and thus ruling family) over another. The victors of these wars accomplished their will by putting their choice of monarch on the throne, and thus furthered their political position in an international environment where ruling families controlled great amounts of international clout and power. The Seven Year’s war was a conflict over colonial territory, a major source of power, prestige, and wealth during the 18th century, and saw the alliance under the United Kingdom gain considerable swaths of French territory in the Americas. Through this victory, British international power was increased, and thus its political clout too increased. The American Revolution saw the United States attempting to create a separate political entity from the United Kingdom, and the war was thus an extension of political and domestic disputes between the colonists and their mother country. The American victory saw the U.K. bend to the will of the American people and granted them sovereignty. The Napoleonic Wars saw an emergent France attempting to spread ‘liberal’ ideology and increase its empire, and thus its political position on the world stage. The ultimate defeat of France made her concede to the Coalition’s will of returning to a pre-Napoleonic Europe, both ideologically and in borders. The American Civil War saw the extension of domestic disputes and politics into military conflict, with the Confederacy attempting to succeed from the Union over the issues of state rights and slavery, along with others. Again, the Union’s victory coincided with the enforcing of their will for the return to a united nation. The First World War and Second World War saw the attempt of Imperial and Nazi Germany to form larger and more powerful ’empires’ and thus be dominant political powers, and the victory of the Allies in both wars saw their will for the dismantlement of these empires (and, they hoped, the destruction of the German war machine) enacted. The American wars in Korea and Vietnam were extensions of its political goal of containing the spread of communism, and the ultimate failure of the US in Vietnam enabled the Communists to gain political control of the country. Finally, American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq saw its will for the toppling of the Taliban and Hussein regimes complete, and these were in turn due to the extension of the American ‘neo-con’ political viewpoint that the establishment of democracies in the Middle-East would stabilize the region and counter the threat of terrorism. Even non-state actors, such as Al-Qaeda, hold political motivations when conducting war with its foes. For example, they sought the removal of American troops from the Middle East and the extension of Islamist principles into Middle Eastern politics and societies. By attacking the United State and attempting to demoralize and terrorize its populace, it was simply attempting to enact this political will. Therefore, even while the world transitions into this ‘fourth generation’ of warfare against non-state actors, the underlying nature of war still remains the same. While this list of wars is not nearly comprehensive for the period of time between the modern era and 1648, the general trends shown in this list exemplify Clausewitz’s assertion that the nature of war is immutable despite changing characteristics of war. In each case, the participants were acting with a political reason and position in mind, and the victors enacted their will on the loser to further or accomplish that position.

Clausewitz asserted that the fundamental nature of war was immutable, despite the changing characteristics of war. While technologies, strategies, and even participants in wars change with the times, the underlying nature of war, where one state attempts to enforce its will upon another in order to accomplish its political goals, does not. Major wars throughout different eras of history, which all experienced different tactics, strategies, technologies, and applications of war, shared this fundamental facet. In each case, despite the different application of war, the fact that the victor enacted its will upon the loser and that the belligerents used war as an extension of its political agenda remains the same. Because of this, Clausewitz’s assertions are affirmed.

The Laws of War

Warfare has been a common element in interstate conduct since the dawn of civilization, and has been constantly evolving and changing as technology and strategy develops. Like many other facets of international interaction, the conduct of warfare has been subject to a number of limitations, treaties, and agreements concerning its nature. Similarly, the targets of war and weapons employed have too been limited and selectively chosen by the international community. The modern conduct of war is now limited and regulated by a wide array of treaties and laws, though the governing of war has had a long and varied history. Understanding the sources and history of these rules of war, as well as why they exist, serves to help international legal scholars understand the conduct of nations during conflict.

The sources of the laws of war are similar to the sources of all international laws and regulations: treaties and international conventions, international customs and traditions, and general principles of law recognized by civilized nations. International treaties and conventions covering issues related to war have massively shaped the nature and conduct of war in the past century, especially as the binding nature of treaties has increased substantially during that period. These treaties, however, have largely codified previous international customs and traditions regarding warfare. These customs are developed as large numbers of states adhere to the same principles or practices and view these practices as generally obligatory. Additionally, states develop laws of war around general principles, which are commonly accepted beliefs and truths about the nature of war. These principles include a belief that violence should not be allowed beyond the point of necessity, and that a degree of ‘chivalry’, which demands a certain amount of fairness and mutual respect between the opposing forces, be maintained.[1]

Armed conflict has been around since the dawn of civilization and with this armed conflict has come laws and agreements governing the use of force. The earliest known examples of governing the conduct of war are found in the Hebrew Old Testament. Deuteronomy 20: 19-20 limited the amount of acceptable collateral and environmental damage during a siege, while Deuteronomy 21: 10-14 required that female captives could not be sold off as slaves.[2] Early Christian thinkers theorized about the ethical nature of war, and attempted to codify what they determined as a ‘just war’. The ideas of St. Augustine would later be used by the priest Thomas Aquinas to determine what circumstances made a war just. He argued that a war must occur for good and a just purpose instead of self-gain or as an exercise in power, the war must be waged by and against a properly instituted authority such as the state, and that peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence.[3] In the 7th century Arab world, the first Muslim Caliph, Abu Bakr, commanded his army to spare women, children, and the elderly, to leave trees standing, not to ravage the enemy’s livestock, not to mutilate dead bodies, and to leave monks alone. Furthermore, scripture in the Koran commanded Muslims only to strike their enemy in self-defense, and to spare enemies on the retreat.[4]

Laws governing the conduct of war were present in East Asia throughout much of history, as well. In the Chunqui Period of ancient China, feudal lords organized conferences on the elimination of war and disarmament in the Chinese state of Song. During the Warring States period, rules existed amongst the seven feudal states regarding the declaration of war, the conclusion of peace, and the favorable treatment of prisoners of war, as well as rules that called for the sparing of retreating enemies and the elderly, prohibitions on surprise attacks and ruses, and protection for the wounded.[5] These rules, while setting precedents regarding conflict and codifying norms which spread across the Asian region, were not strictly adhered. Historical accounts of a battle during this era describe how the King of Qin ordered the live burial of as many as 400,000 prisoners of war, for example.[6]

Early Medieval movements in Christian Europe also attempted to limit the scope of warfare and protect noncombatants. The ‘Peace and Truce of God’ was a movement by the Catholic Church that applied spiritual sanctions in order to limit the violence of private war in the feudal society. Its origins were in the years following the collapse of the Carolingian Empire in the ninth century, during which time France had devolved into many small feudal holdings fighting against each other. The Truce of God attempted to intimidate nobles and knights into committing to peace and renouncing private wars by intimidating them with sacred relics. Certain days of the year were also set aside where violence was not allowed. The Peace of God was a proclamation issued by local clergy that granted immunity from violence to defenseless noncombatants. While the movements were unsuccessful in attempting to control warfare in the violent reality of feudal society, the precedents set by them (sparing noncombatants and controlling violence) would permeate through Medieval society and be attempted by successive movements.[7] During the 14th and 15th centuries, the institution of neutrality began to develop. Treaties containing provisions on neutrality were signed, initially meaning that one party refused to aid belligerents in war, and then including stipulations that belligerents should not attack the neutral subject. Additionally, maritime military law began to develop during the Middle Ages. ‘Prize Law’, which covered the plunder of captured enemy ships and maritime trade, was codified during this period. Prohibitions on the trading of goods with the enemy or the transportation of goods on behalf of the enemy were created, as well as provisions on the fate of captured ships. Additionally, the institution of privateering began around the 14th century, and decrees were issued outlining the methods of granting permits to privateers that would render them legitimate.[8] Hugo Grotius, a Renaissance international legal scholar, would discuss the law and nature of war in his “De Jure Belli ac Pacis” in 1625. He identified three ‘just causes for war’ as being self-defense, reparation of injury, and punishment. He further identified rules that govern the conduct of war, and that all parts to war are bound to those rules, whether their cause is just or not.[9]

The invention and development of firearms in the 18th and 19th centuries and more advanced science and technology accelerated the advent of new ways of war, as well as the increased killing potential and brutality of conflict. In response to this, the conduct of warring entities was standardized in order to limit to decrease the destructive capability of war. The 1865 Declaration of Paris abolished privateering, made enemy goods shipped under a neutral flag a non-target, and made blockades binding only if they are effective in maintaining a force sufficient to prevent access to the enemy coast. The First Geneva Convention of 1864 dealt with the humane treatment of the wounded and the sick in armed forces on the field. It protected soldiers from inhumane treatment, that the dead should have their information and identity recorded, that this information should be transmitted, and that impartial humanitarian organizations should provide protection and relief for the wounded. The St. Petersburg Declaration of 1868 banned the use of fragmenting, explosive, and incendiary small arms ammunition. Delegates affirmed that the only legitimate object of war should be to weaken the military force of the enemy. The first Hague Peace Conference followed this on May 18, 1899. It was convened with 26 participating states, and its purpose was to ‘limit arms and to safeguard peace’. The Second Geneva Convention in 1906 dealt required belligerent parties to protect and care for the shipwrecked, prohibited the capture of neutral vessels, and made hospital and humanitarian ships non-targets. The Second Hague Peace Conference of 1906-1907 concentrated on the issue of laws of war. It prohibited the launching of projectiles and explosives from balloons and included conventions which stipulated that war could not begin unless there is advanced and explicit warning, made distinctions between combatants and noncombatants, called for the humane treatment of prisoners of war, prohibited the destruction or confiscation of enemy property, and protected cultural and historical landmarks as well a medical facilities. Additional conventions stated that, during occupation, the occupying power must restore and ensure public order and safety as well as the laws of the nation they are occupying and that neutrality must be respected. Many laws of naval war were also codified, including the status of enemy merchant ships, the laying of submarine mines and bombardment, the obligations of neutral powers during naval war, and the issue of blockades. The London Naval Conference of 1908-1909 added to these laws of naval war. The Geneva Convention of 1929 dealt with the definition of, the protection of, and humane treatment of prisoners of war, specifying the type of labor they were permitted to do and the terms of their captivity.[10]

The Second World War was a catastrophic event for human society, and each of the belligerent powers violated the laws of armed conflict. At the end of the war, representatives of a large number of states converged in Geneva, and deliberated on the formulation and regulation of new laws on conduct during war. On August 12, 1949, 63 states signed the new Geneva Conventions. These new articles updated and supplemented all of the prior Geneva conventions. It covered the affirmation that the sick and wounded of any party shall receive impartial treatment, and are prohibited to be killed, tortured, or subject to experimentation, that naval medical personnel, ships, and wounded must be protected, that civilians in the power of a belligerent party shall receive protection and humane treatment, that civilian settlements must not be destroyed, and that social norms (cultural, religious, etc.) must be respected. The rules included in the Conventions of 1949 are applicable to all armed conflicts, declared or not, each convention is binding to each belligerent party in a war, regardless of whether all parties are signatory, the rules adhere in conflicts of intranational scope, such as civil wars, and guarantees that the victims of such wars receive minimum protection.[11] Additionally, in 1977, representatives from all of the states gathered in Geneva and signed the ‘Protocols Additional to the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949’. These protocols expanded the scope of the Geneva conventions to include situations to which the convention is applicable to armed conflicts over colonial domination, alien occupation and racist regimes, as well as largely increasing the number of provisions regarding the protection of unoccupied territories and civilians, and strengthening protection of civilians. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which became a force of law in 1970, specified that states should not produce, and thus proliferate, nuclear weaponry, and that nuclear-armed states should begin to disarm their arsenals. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, signed into law in 1972, specified that the United States and the Soviet Union should limit their anti-ballistic missile arsenals, therefore allowing for the possibility of ‘mutually-assured-destruction’ and thus serving to reinforce the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons.

There have been many recent developments in the law of war. The Geneva Convention of October 10, 1980, on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effect, prohibited weapon systems that could cause too much injury or cause too much collateral damage. Included among these weapon systems were cluster-bomb munitions and landmines. In October 1995, the Vienna Diplomatic Conference issued the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons, which prohibiting the use and transfer of laser weapons whose functions are to cause permanent blindness. The Convention on the Prohibition on the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, signed in 1997 by 121 states, made the use of landmines illegal in war and discussed their destruction. The START treaties between the United States and Russia, signed in 1991 and reaffirmed in 2010, largely reduced the amount of strategic nuclear weapons that the two countries could possess, as well as other forms of strategic weaponry. These treaties would become the largest and most comprehensive arms reduction treaties in history.[12]

The development of the United Nations following the Second World War would change the way that states could declare and justify war. The charter of the United Nations declares that states should resolve all of their conflicts peacefully, theoretically eliminating the justification for war. However, Article 41 of the United Nations specifies, “nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until such time as the Security Council takes the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security”. Thus, nations are only justified in waging war if they are doing so in self-defense against an attack. Article 42 of the United Nations Charter stipulates that, “Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 [which discusses sanctions and diplomatic coercive measures] are inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security”. The Security Council of the United Nations thus operates as a governing council which decides when armed conflict is justifiable. Additionally, it is through the Security Council that the use of armed force can be called for or sanctioned. The significance of the Security Council and the United Nations is that they govern the declaration of war, and that all wars that are ‘acceptable’ to the international community must thus come with the support of the United Nations.[13]

Despite the codification and prevalence of laws of war, states and leaders are susceptible to violating them. In cases of intentional disregard for the laws of war, the development of international criminal justice can provide a safeguard and method to prosecute violators. In 1945, the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and France agreed to establish an International Military Tribunal, and signed the Agreement for the Prosecution and Punishment of the Major War Criminals of the European Axis as well as the Charter of the International Military Tribunal. These Tribunals would, according to the charters, prosecute ‘crimes against peace’, which included the planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war or aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, ‘war crimes’, which are violations of the laws or customs of war, and ‘crimes against humanity’, which involve murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population before or during the war. The Nuremburg Trials against the defeat Nazi leadership and the Tokyo Trials against the Japanese leadership following World War Two were applications of these trials, and convicted much of the upper leadership of the defeated Germany and Japan of war crimes, setting a precedent for international trials against war crimes.[14] In 1993, the United Nations Security Council established an International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia which prosecuted the people responsible for violations of international humanitarian law since 1991 during conflicts in the Balkans. Additionally, in 1994, the United Nations Security Council established an International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to prosecute those responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law in Rwanda during its civil war and subsequent genocide. The passing of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 1998 was also an important step in ensuring that all states abide by international humanitarian law. The newly established International Criminal Court was given jurisdiction over all war crimes. These new precedents in the legal traditions of the international community regarding the laws of war mean that those who violate the accepted laws are susceptible to trial and prosecution by international legal bodies. The hope is that this will serve as a deterrent for the committing of further war crimes.

Thus, the international community has developed rules, norms, and regulations governing war in response to purposes and principles regarding conflict and in order to mitigate hardships and problems that arise from war. The law of war attempts to facilitate the realization of these principles, while also governing the conduct of war in order to prevent certain actions that could set them back. These principles include the end goal of ending hostilities quickly, hopes for limited wars, and the protection of people and property from conflict. The hardships that the laws of war hope to mitigate thus include the destruction of noncombatant property and life, the disregard for human rights, and the declarations of ‘unjust’ wars.

One of the primary guiding principles behind the laws of war is the hope that peace will be restored quickly. This is generally only possible when the belligerent parties fight wars of limited scope and intensity, and with limited goals. The nature of war means that states will use the maximum extent of their force in order to achieve their goals, while also reciprocating the actions that their enemies make. Because of this, laws are needed to govern the amount of force that can be used, and what tools and weapons can be utilized during wartime. Without these laws, states would not be prohibited from using their arsenals or developing strategies that would cause massive devastation and destruction in their adversary’s territory. Additionally, the reciprocal nature of war means that all of the belligerent parties could expect their territory to be devastated by the enemy. This “eye-for-an-eye” philosophy, if allowed to develop, would thus lead to sustained and harrowing losses on either party to any particular conflict. Because states will also use the maximum extent of their force in order to achieve their wartime goals, the laws of war hope to limit the scope, goals, and justifications for war. Laws governing when and how a state can declare war limits the reasons a state can use to declare war, and thus lessens the ‘availability’ of destructive conflict as a policy tool. The hope is that, through the limiting of the scope and scale of wars and thus the intensity of the conflict, diplomatic solutions to the issue being fought over can be found.

The principle of limited war is realized through the limitation of massively destructive weapons systems, as well as providing conduits through which states must go in order to declare war. The United Nations charters, and the United Nations Security Council, are now the governing and regulating bodies when it comes to the declaration and justification of war. States must receive the sanction of the Security Council prior to declaring war on other states, unless they have already first come under attack. Because of this, the amount of wars which are ‘legitimate’ in the international community should decrease. The Security Council adheres to the principles of a ‘just war’, meaning that the ‘casus belli’, or cause for war, should only be fought to redress a wrong which has been suffered, if the violence inflicted is proportional to the wrong suffered, if it is fought with a reasonable chance for success, if the ultimate goal is to reestablish peace, and if the war is only fought as a last resort.[15] According to these specifications, the amount of legitimate wars should be small, considering that most ‘wrongs’ could be resolved diplomatically or not considered as a reason for war, and the conduct and violence of those wars would be limited, for they should be proportional to the amount of force necessary to redress a wrong which was suffered. Limiting destructive weapons systems assists in limiting wars because they reduce the amount of destruction, collateral and intentional, which could be inflicted upon the enemy. The infliction of much destruction and damage would prompt an equal response from an adversary, and would likely escalate the conduct and scope of the war into a ‘total war’. Thus, by limiting destructive munitions or overly-lethal weapons systems, the conduct of war would remain light and limited, and the reciprocation between adversaries would therefore also be limited.

The protection of human life and civilian property is also an important principle behind the laws of war. The protection of civilians is conducive to the ultimate goal of peace: the destruction of cities and civilian property would make populations more dedicated to fight until the end, or make them more hostile towards the adversary. That aside, the protection of civilians is an important principle because of the way states view the nature of war. War is supposed to be fought only as a continuation of policy, and in order to achieve a political goal. The conduct of war is only to destroy and eliminate the adversary’s military capacity. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians or the destruction of non-military property does not assist in the destruction of military strength, nor does it assist in the end goal of achieving a political policy. Rather, states view it as a simply inhumane act. It is because of this that civilian populations are protected under a number of conventions and treaties regarding the laws of war, and additionally weapons systems which inflict large amounts of collateral damage or do not explicitly target military targets are limited or prohibited under a number of regulations on the conduct of war.

The development of the laws of war has had a long and varied history, beginning in ancient times and continuing till today. The massive expansion of international laws, regulations, and organizations in the last century has assisted in expanding the scope of international laws of war as well as driven the codification and development of many regulations on the conduct and weapons of war. These developments are likely to continue, as more and more sophisticated weapons systems become developed and enter service and as new forms of combat and different adversaries begin to appear. Additionally, these laws of war will change and bend according to the changing nature and participants of war. Recent developments in the legal aspect of the international community, such as the development of the International Criminal Court and the Nuremburg and Tokyo Trials following World War Two, means that violators of the laws of war will be prosecuted for their actions. A legal precedent has thus been set which will help enforce the laws of war, and will make potential violators more weary of disregarding them.

The laws of war are now enforced by legal international councils and bodies, and are largely regulated by international laws and regulations. States adhere to the accepted rules of conduct in fear of reciprocation by their adversaries as well as their international reputation. Leaders fear prosecution under international tribunals should they violate the laws of war. These laws serve an ultimate purpose of realizing a number of general principles accepted by the international community regarding war and its conduct: the realization of peace, the protection of human life and civilian property, the concepts of ‘just’ wars, and wars of limited scope and scale. Because of the laws of war, the world has seen a decrease in the lethality and destructive ability of armed conflict, as well as general decline in the amount of wars fought between states.

Works Cited

[1] General Principles & Sources of The Law, Law of War, http://lawofwar.org/principles.htm, Accessed 20 Apr. 2012

[2] Deuteronomy, Chapter 20, University of Virginia Library, http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=KjvDeut.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=20&division=div,Accessed 18 Apr. 2012

[3] Aquinas, Thomas, The Just War, Catholic Education Resource Center, http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/politics/pg0029.html. Accessed 18. Apr. 2012

[4] Aboul-Enein, H. Yousuf and Zuhur, Sherifa, Islamic Rulings on Warfare, p. 22, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, Diane Publishing Co., Darby PA

[5] Wang Tieya, ed., Guojifa (International Law) (Beijing: Falu chubanshe, 1981), p. 509; Sun Yurong, Gudai Zhongguo guojifa yanjiu (Study on International Law in Ancient China) (Beijing: China University of Political Science and Law Press, 1999), pp. 182–90.

[6] Sima Qian, Shiji: Qin benji (Historical Chronicles: Qin Almanac).

[7] Jordan, William Chester. Europe in the High Middle Ages. London: Viking, 2003.

[8] Firdman and Bastin, History of International Law. Moscow: International Relations Press, 1990

[9] The Law of War and Peace, trans. Francis Kelsey. Carnegie edition, 1925, Prol. sect. 28.

[10] International Committee of the Red Cross, International Law Concerning the Conduct of Hostilities: Collection of Hague Conventions and Some Other International Instruments. Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross, 1989, p. 69.

[11] Roberts and Guelff, eds, Documents on the Laws of War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

[12] Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I): Executive Summary. The Office of Treaty Compliance. Retrieved 25 Apr. 2012

[13] Rupert Ticehurst, The Martens Clause and the Laws of Armed Conflict, Selected Articles From The International Review of The Red Cross, p. 28.

[14] Edoardo Greppi, The Evolution of Individual Criminal Responsibility Under International Law

[15] Kathryn Jean Lopez, Justice in War: Just-war theory, National Review Online, 15 October 2001

The First Punic War – A Conflict Analysis

It was the longest, bloodiest, and largest conflict in ancient history, one in which over 15 percent of the Italian population lost their lives in a single military disaster on a single day. It was a conflict which pitted two of antiquity’s greatest civilizations against each other for the first time, and which would determine their ultimate destinies and the course of European history forever. Though the First Punic War, which lasted from 264 B.C. to 241 B.C., started as a minor conflict over a political dispute in Northern Sicily, it soon encompassed all of the central Mediterranean, Sicily, and Northern Africa; the Romans and Carthaginians would spend over 20 years fighting for control over the valuable sea lanes surrounding Sicily and for dominance over Sicily itself. An understudied and under-recognized war, the First Punic War is a fascinating case study of major conflict; an analysis of this conflict demonstrates how minor disputes can evolve into a major war, how former allies can quickly become enemies and vice versa, and how the situation surrounding the resolution of a conflict can lead to the beginning of a new one.

The origin, and catalyst, of the war was found in a minor conflict involving neither the Carthaginians nor the Romans. In 289 B.C., the Syracusan ruler Agathocles died and his band of mercenaries, known as the Mamertines, seized control of Messana (on the far north-east tip of Sicily). For years they secured their position and extended their power, but then came into conflict with the Syracusan general Hiero. Hiero’s victories over the Mamertines gave him the opportunity to pronounce himself King of Syracuse, while it prompted the Mamertines to seek allies. Certain factions within the Mamertines appealed to Carthage for aid and some to Rome; the chronology is rather disputed (Morstein-Marx 148) but it is clear that Carthage moved first, installing a garrison in Messana and ending Hiero’s siege. The Roman Senate was slower to respond, mired by indecision and infighting. Thus, the Consuls of 264 put the issue to a vote in the popular assembly, asking the Roman citizenry whether they would approve a decision to send an army.

Understanding the character of the Roman state is important in understanding how Rome approached foreign policy issues, and thus understanding why they approached the conflict as they did. Rome was a monarchy until its kings were overthrown and the Republic established in 509 B.C. Two annually elected “Consuls”, who came from the ranks of the Senate, ruled the Republic. The Consuls were given imperium, the right to command Roman soldiers and to dispense justice, and were often in command of armies as they engaged in war; military glory was the greatest ambition of a Roman aristocrat, and a great victory might win a Consul the right to celebrate a triumph, one of Rome’s highest honors (Harris 15). The Senate was a closed, oligarchic body of about 300 that advised the magistrates and discussed affairs of state. It had no actual legislative power and all its decrees needed to be ratified by the people, but its religious authority and its permanence ensured that it had a dominant role in domestic and foreign policy (Goldsworthy 40). Because of the glory military service and victory conferred upon the Consuls, the Roman state was often engaged in war. Indeed, throughout much of the history of the early and middle Republic the Roman army was on campaign at least once a year (Harris 15). The men of the Senate too sought, and received, the valor which military victory provided; valor and military service were seen as necessary for the advancement of a Roman politician’s career and the furthering of his repute (Harris 17). As such, the Roman state was one, which was willing and eager to wage war.

The Roman people approved the Consuls’ proposal, and the Romans mustered their force. Meanwhile, the Mamertines expelled the Carthaginian garrison at Messana from the city; primary sources say that this expulsion was instigated by the Romans (Goldsworthy 72). At this stage in the escalating conflict, there was a great deal of negotiation between the various parties (Goldsworthy 73). The Carthaginians warned the Romans not to intervene in the dispute, urging them to seek peace rather than confront the might of the Carthaginian navy. The Romans, however, stressed their need to fulfill their fides, or faith, to their new allies the Mamertines. Neither side was willing to back down, thereby exacerbating the conflict (Lazenby 47).

The Carthaginian and Roman refusal to back down can be attributed to a fundamental miscalculation by both sides of the escalating nature of the conflict, and demonstrates how states engaged in conflict often get there unintentionally. In the past the Carthaginians had endured the onslaught of foreign enemies, such as Pyrrhus of Epirus in the 270s B.C., and had eventually repulsed them. The contrast between the strength of the Carthaginian fleet, which had maintained Carthage’s vast maritime trade empire, and the almost nonexistent Roman fleet further encouraged the Carthaginian belief that the Romans would have extreme difficulty in maintaining a presence in Sicily. Indeed, the Carthaginians had little reason to think the Romans would land in the first place, or believe that any initial reverses would be anything other than temporary (Goldsworthy 75). The Romans too did not believe that their intervention would necessarily lead to full-scale war. The potential for a confrontation with the Carthaginians clearly existed, and a clash with Hiero’s Syracuse was certain, but the Romans may have felt that their military power was strong enough to deter or quickly defeat any opposition in Sicily (Goldsworthy 69). The perceptions of these states about their own power and the power of their enemies prevented them from recognizing the possibility for prolonged war, and led them into directly into it. Thus, feeling confident, the Consul Appius Claudius managed to bring most of his force across the strait between Italy and Sicily as the Carthaginians were being expelled from Messana. In response to this escalation, the Carthaginians and Hiero formed their own alliance; the ease to which Hiero was willing to cooperate with his former enemy demonstrates the degree to which all parties were now acting out of self-interest (Goldsworthy 73). The sides were now set, and the conflict were about to begin.

Polybius points out, “No sane man goes to war with his neighbors simply for the sake of defeating his opponent… All actions are undertaken for the sake of the consequent pleasure, good, or advantage” (Harris 1). The origin of the conflict was the Roman and Carthaginian decision to become involved in the Mamertine/Syracusan dispute, but these decisions were influenced and determined by a number of factors. Roman and Carthaginian interests, outlooks, and perceptions would send them into a collision course, and provoke an escalation of a minor dispute into a major conflict.

A major contributor to the Roman citizenry’s decision to become involved in the conflict was the promise of plunder. Economic gain was to the Romans an integral part of successful warfare and the expansion of power; in many ways, it is how the Romans measured and justified the success of their conquests (Harris 56). Slaves, booty, and wealth were especially attractive spoils of war to Romans with sizable landholdings, but even the poorest Romans who served in the army could expect to return home with some prize. To the Senators and Consuls leading Rome during the build-up to the conflict, Sicily would have looked like an especially attractive source of wealth. The island’s fertility was probably already known, the Carthaginian Empire’s reputation as being enormously wealthy made it a desirable target, and the possibility for territorial gain also excited Roman interests. (Harris 63). Viewed through the lens of economic gain, the Roman citizenry’s decision to approve the decision to go to send an army in 264 B.C. is unsurprising.

In many ways, geopolitical concerns were a leading contributor to the Roman decision to become involved in a conflict with the Carthaginians. As Roman influence expanded south throughout Italy, the two states seemed to have been on a collision course. Carthage was a far more formidable enemy than Rome had encountered for generations, and the recent invasions of Pyrrhus, an overseas enemy, made the Romans recognize the possibility of war with a foreign power (Harris 187). As the Romans came to see Italy “belonging” to them, they grew weary of the power which was stationed so close; there may well have been a fear among the Roman leadership that the Carthaginians would supply military or economic assistance to Rome’s newly acquired southern subjects if Rome quarreled with them in order to weaken the Romans and secure their own foothold in southern Italy (Lazenby 38).  The Carthaginian involvement in the Mamertine dispute thus likely looked like a further encroachment of Carthaginian power into Rome’s periphery. Though often framed by primary sources as a ‘defensive war’, the Romans likely had offensive ambitions for the conflict; many modern historians see the Romans expecting and preparing for a Punic war after Pyrrhus’s defeat in 270 (Hoyos 19). A war with Carthage had the potential to not only halt the spread of Carthaginian power, but to also push it back.

Like Rome, Carthage came to be involved in the Mamertine/Syracusan dispute because of national concerns and perceptions, and would thus find itself in a war against Rome. Carthage’s willingness to send a garrison to Messana can be traced to the political realities of Sicily at the time: Carthage was a Sicilian power, and was concerned about its hegemony over the island. A Punic alliance with the Mamertines would mean no more Mamertine raids into Punic Sicily or against other Sicilian states friendly with the Carthaginians (Hoyos 44). It also meant the extension of Carthaginian influence into the northeast side of the island, whereas it had been concentrated in the south and west before. Carthage’s actions were thus a continuation of their long-term attempt to dominate Sicily (Goldsworthy 75).

The history of the Carthaginian Empire is important when considering why the Carthaginians were so quick to respond to the Mamertine request for help. Because this dispute became the catalyst for the First Punic War, understanding Carthage’s historical interests in Sicily and Messana helps explain the sources of the conflict. Founded as a Phoenician trading city before the beginning of last millennium B.C., Carthage aggressively expanded its holdings in Africa and overseas up until its first clash with Rome. It had come to dominate much of the coast of Africa throughout the 5th century B.C., setting up trade posts and dominating the key trade routes of the western Mediterranean. Carthage had been involved in Sicilian affairs for centuries before the war, but in the decades leading up to the conflict she found herself embroiled in conflict on the island; as a result of victories over Pyrrhus a decade before the war, Carthage was the master of all of southern and western Sicily (Goldsworthy 28-32). The enormous fertility of the island contributed significantly to Carthage’s wealth, and because of Carthage’s mercantile nature the Carthaginian leadership highly valued their Sicilian possessions and hegemony. With this in consideration, it is easy to see why the Carthaginians were so invested in the dispute and reluctant to back down when Rome became involved.

Upon the expulsion of the Carthaginian garrison, the dispute could have fizzled out. Hiero had lifted his siege in response to the Carthaginian garrisoning of the city but had still been crowned king in Syracuse; the Mamertines had successfully repulsed the siege and were in a position to regain their strength. Yet the situation had also evolved: Roman forces, prompted by the Mamertine request, were now on their way to Sicily. Neither Hiero nor Carthage was willing to accept this new political reality. Carthage was likely equally concerned about encroaching Roman influence as the Romans were of Carthage, and a Roman presence in Sicily would have presented a serious threat. This was likely of concern to Hiero too, for he had his own designs on Sicily. Furthermore, the Mamertine threat was still present, and it was in the interest of both parties to suppress them. Considering the situation, the alliance between Hiero and Carthage, and their continued interest in the struggle, was a matter of expedience and necessity for both parties (Lazenby 44-47). This alliance of convenience demonstrates that states will take whatever actions and form whatever relationships they need to in order to maximize their power in times of conflict and necessity.

If the Syracusan-Punic alliance demonstrated how former enemies could quickly become allies during wartime if the political situation necessitates it, then the Roman-Punic conflict demonstrates how former allies can quickly come into conflict. Rome and Carthage had had a long relationship, and on the whole it was a friendly one. The historian Polybius lists three treaties signed between Carthage and Rome in the course of their relationship before the First Punic War. The first, signed in 507 B.C., restricted Roman trade with Africa and protected Rome’s interests in Latium. The second, dated to 348 B.C., expanded the area in which Rome was prohibited to trade but also further safeguarded Rome’s Italian interests. The third, and perhaps most important, is dated to 278 B.C., only 14 years before the start of the war. Signed when Rome was embroiled in its conflict with Pyrrhus, Carthage agreed to provide Rome with transports for any movement of troops by sea and was to come to Rome’s aid with naval forces if a necessity arose (Lazenby 30-32). This treaty was essentially a military agreement, and the significance of the nature of this treaty signed only a decade before the war cannot be understated. It demonstrates that states with competing aims, which Rome and Carthage undoubtedly had, are still able to cooperate with each other diplomatically and militarily. Yet it also demonstrates that, when the opportunity arises for a state to advance its aims at the expense of another, that state will be willing to wage war even if they had agreements and alliances. Ultimately, this shows that states will wage war, or cooperate, when the cost-benefit analysis shows it is rational to do so regardless of who they are waging war against or cooperating with.

The early stage of the war progressed quickly. Over a period of a few months, the Roman army attacked and defeated both the Carthaginians and Hiero in the field; Hiero withdrew his army back to Syracuse while the Romans raided and devastated his territory. In 263 the Romans sent both Consuls, each at the head of an army, to Sicily. The show of force persuaded many Sicilian cities to defect from Carthaginian and Syracusan control while others were captured by surprise assaults. The actions of these cities reflect a defensive behavior common during these ancient wars; they sought to ally themselves with the strongest power in order to prevent the devastation of their fields and homes (Goldsworthy 74). The Romans, meanwhile, pursued a strategy of land destruction in order to coerce the Sicilian cities to defect and to demoralize the Syracusans and Carthaginians. This strategy, coupled with overwhelming force, seemed to have worked; Hiero sent envoys to the Romans offering peace and friendship. He offered to provide the Romans with military assistance and ensure the safeguarding and maintenance of their supply lines. The Romans, suffering from supply issues, were thus more than willing to accept the offer despite the generous terms they gave Hiero (Lazenby 54). Two behaviors can be seen on the Romans’ part. First, it shows that they were willing to settle a conflict when the situation necessitated it, even if they could have extracted further gains with further campaigning. The Romans likely could have captured Syracuse and defeated Hiero, but they needed his assistance in supplying their armies in order to continue the war against Carthage. Second, by securing a peace with Hiero, Rome was shifting its objectives away from Syracuse and towards Carthage. The securing of supply lines guaranteed the Romans the opportunity to campaign and wage war for prolonged periods of time, thereby further exacerbating the conflict, and the removal of Hiero from the conflict meant that only Carthage and Rome were left fighting. The peace with Hiero thus completely changed the scope of the war.

In 262 B.C., the Roman armies besieged the city of Agrigentum, the main Carthaginian supply base in Sicily. Following a major battle, one of only a few fought during the course of the war, the city fell to Roman forces. According to the primary sources, the fall of Agrigentum convinced the Roman Senate to extend their war aims to include the total expulsion of the Carthaginians from Sicily (Goldsworthy 81). It meant that the Roman hold on eastern Sicily was finally secure, and that the Romans could begin to think about expanding the scale and scope of the conflict. (Lazenby 60). Thus, the fall of Agrigentum represents a turning point in the conflict; whereas before the conflict was fought over limited objectives, it was now a struggle over the control of Sicily. This demonstrates how certain events, such as a major military victory or defeat, can change a state’s objectives in a war and how conflicts can easily be intensified and expanded by a state’s perception of its success. Also of enormous importance during the years 262 and 261 B.C. was the Roman decision to build a fleet. Polybius argues that this decision coincided with the fall of Agrigentum, though other scholars have pointed out that the Romans appeared to have been preparing for the construction of a fleet during the years before (Lazenby 64). Either way, the construction of a Roman fleet further represents the Roman decision to escalate the scale of the conflict. Whereas before the conflict had been confined to Sicily and fought only on land, the Romans now wanted to contest the Carthaginian control of the sea. What had begun as a minor dispute with limited objectives had transformed into a struggle over the control of Sicily, and was now transforming into a conflict over the control of the Mediterranean. Thus, in 3 years, the Roman and Carthaginian conflict had evolved into a major clash between civilizations.

Over the next few years, the Carthaginians and Romans clashed at sea and on land. Minor Carthaginian advances were made in 260 and 259 B.C. but were repulsed and a number of Roman offensives were staged in the years that followed. The situation in Sicily had become a bit of a stalemate; though the Romans were often on the offensive, the time it took for the Romans to besiege and capture the Sicilian cities allowed the Carthaginians to repulse and reverse many of the Roman gains (Lazenby 81). However, during this time the Romans had had considerable success at sea. Thus, the Romans, hoping to force a definite conclusion to the conflict, decided to strike directly at the Carthaginian homeland.
The invasion of Africa in 256 B.C. represents another clear stage in the conflict; the Romans sought to further expand the scope of the war. It was a way of putting further pressure on Carthage (Goldsworthy 91). It also reveals the Roman confidence in their capabilities; Roman troops had only left Italy for the first time 8 years prior, and now were preparing for an invasion of Africa. The voyage from Sicily to Carthage was about 400 miles, and the Romans would need to transport an entire army that distance while defending against the still formidable Carthaginian navy. The Roman perceptions about their capabilities convinced them that they could undertake this operation, and thus contributed to their expanding of the conflict (Lazenby 81).
The Consul Marcus Atilius Regulus led the campaign and was initially enormously successful, ravaging the Carthaginian countryside and destroying the Carthaginian army at the battle of Adys. Regulus then sent envoys to Carthage to negotiate terms of peace. This attempt at peace was significant, but also demonstrates the nature of the Consular office. Regulus’s term was almost at an end, and he wanted to finish the war and take the credit before a successor arrived to gain an easy victory. Indeed, this followed a precedent set by past holders of the office; in many ways, personal ambition and the quest for glory were significant factors contributing to when the Roman leadership decided to seek peace (Goldsworthy 87). The terms of the treaty, however, were enormously harsh: the Carthaginians would need to give up Sicily and Sardinia, release all Roman prisoners freely whilst ransoming their own, pay the Romans an indemnity and annual tribute, only make war and peace on the approval of Rome, and only retain one warship for their own use while providing 50 to serve under the Romans. The Carthaginians, though at a disadvantage, were not at the end of their resources and refused to accept the terms. Faced with a Roman refusal to grant concession, the talks failed.

The harshness of the terms, and the ultimate failure of the talks, reflect the attitudes of these states towards waging and terminating war. Roman wars ended only when the enemy ceased to be a threat by admitting total defeat and accepting their future as a subordinate ally; the only alternative for the Romans was to suffer such a defeat themselves. The Carthaginians had a far less deterministic attitude towards war, and expected a war to be ended with a negotiated treaty that reflected the actual balance of power (Goldsworthy 92). Thus, the Romans expected a peace with Carthage to be a total submission to Roman power, whereas the Carthaginians saw the situation they were in as far from being totally beaten. Because of these conflicting attitudes about peace, no peace was to be found. This demonstrates how differing approaches, and perceptions, about what the nature and limitations of a peace treaty should be can influence the resolution or prolongation of a conflict. In the case with the First Punic War, the result is that the conflict would drag on for another decade.

After rejecting Regulus’s offer, the Carthaginians managed to rally their troops, defeat Regulus in a stunning battle, and force the Romans from Africa. The Roman invasion had ultimately been unsuccessful, but it was not a total failure; Carthage’s African subjects, recognizing the disadvantage Carthage was in, began to instigate rebellions and revolts, forcing Carthage to focus energy away from Rome and towards its agitated subjects. Furthermore, the Carthaginian navy had been seriously defeated at Ecnomus during the Roman invasion, and would need another five years to rebuild before beginning further operations (Lazenby 84). In the years, which followed, the situation in Sicily was more or less reminiscent of the stalemate that occurred before the invasion of Africa. The Carthaginian army was seriously defeated at the battle of Panormus in 250 B.C., the last major set-piece battle of the war, and from that point on the Carthaginian strategy on land was, for all intents and purposes, entirely defensive. The Romans began the siege of Lilybaeum, the last Carthaginian stronghold on the far west coast of Sicily. Yet the Roman navy also suffered an enormous defeat in the battle of Drepna in 249 B.C., loosing almost its entire fleet. Despite these events, the Romans and Carthaginians continued to wage war.

Surprisingly, Carthage didn’t press the advantage of having destroyed the Roman fleet in 249 B.C.; doing so may have helped it regain the losses it had suffered in Sicily. This can be explained by the escalation of the conflict to include Africa, and the resulting revolt of the Carthaginian subjects. Carthage’s attention, and the focus of its military strength, had been diverted (Lazenby 143). This diversion of attention in part resulted from the election of the Carthaginian general Hanno “the Great” as leader of Carthage. Hanno was the commander-in-chief of Carthage’s African army, and was, according to Polybius, most accustomed to making war in Africa. It is possible that he felt that the war in Sicily against Rome was no longer worth waging, and that Carthaginian attention should be refocused towards its African campaigns (Lazenby 144). This demonstrates how changes in a state’s political leadership can have dramatic impacts on the foreign policies it is pursuing. In the case of a conflict, a new leader may take different steps than his or her predecessors and thus alter the course of the war, as the case with Hanno shows.

In Sicily, the Carthaginian Hamilcar Barca was given command, but his calls for an aggressive strategy were rejected, and he was forced to make do with the limited soldiers he had and wage a guerilla war.  In the meantime, Rome rebuilt its fleet, largely off of donations provided by private citizens, and commissioned private citizens to launch their own naval raids against the Carthaginian coast. This shows the total involvement of the Roman state in matters of war, and the fact that Rome’s private citizens were willing, and even eager, to provide assistance helped prolong the struggle (Lazenby 150). Using its newly rebuilt navy, the Romans met and engaged the Carthaginian fleet at the Aegates Islands in 241 B.C. and overwhelmed them. Carthage lost most of its fleet in the battle and was unable to find the manpower to support a new one. Following this defeat, the Carthaginians recognized that they were unable to regain control of the sea, and thus unable to support their troops in Sicily. The Carthaginian leadership gave Hamilcar the order to seek peace with Rome. The terms of peace the Romans offered were similar to what Regulus had demanded in Africa a decade earlier. Carthage was to surrender Sicily to the Romans, free all Roman prisoners whilst ransoming back their own, pay an indemnity and a tribute. Furthermore, neither side was allowed to make war on the others allies or recruit soldiers and raise money in the territory of the other (Goldsworthy 128).

The longest war in ancient history was now over; Carthage and Rome were again at peace. Yet despite the enormous cost of life, property, and wealth and the exhaustion of constant campaigning, the Carthaginians and Romans would find themselves embroiled in another struggle, the Second Punic War, only 23 years later. The cause of the Second Punic War can be found in the termination of the First, demonstrating how the sources of conflict can be derived from the events of a past struggle. The manner in which these events transpired demonstrates how individuals can a play vital role in exacerbating conflict. Hamilcar Barca, who was given command of Sicily in the last stages of the war, was very angry that he had not been given the resources to wage a more aggressive war against Rome. He thought that he would have been able to force a victory and that the Carthaginian leadership had allowed the Carthaginian defeat. He further felt that the Roman invasion of Sicily had been an unjust breach of Rome and Carthage’s past treaties, and that in the period following the First Punic War the Romans had demonstrated themselves to be highly untrustworthy. (Lazenby 171). Barca would later be chosen to command the Carthaginian campaigns in Spain during the 230s B.C., where he forged for himself and his dynasty a semi-independent quasi-kingdom. He used his wealth acquired in Spain to buy loyalty from his army and win political support from home, and soon came to be a powerful voice in the Carthaginian government (Goldsworthy 136). His animosity towards Rome remained, however, and he taught his young son to “never show goodwill to the Romans” (Lazenby 176). His son would be profoundly influenced and shaped by his father’s perceptions of Rome; indeed, because of them, he would later become Rome’s greatest enemy, setting off the Second Punic War and bringing war to Roman Italy. This boy was Hannibal.

The ultimate success of the Romans over the Carthaginians in the First Punic War can be attributed to a number of conflict behaviors, actions, and other factors. The simple quantity of troops involved should be taken into account. The Romans outmanned the Carthaginians throughout the war, and ultimately this proved to be a main reason the conflict drew to a close; the Carthaginians simply could not find the manpower to continue waging war (Lazenby 165). The ultimate determination of the conflict, however, can be attributed to fundamental differences in Carthaginian and Roman strategy and how they approached war. The Carthaginians operated in reaction to Roman actions throughout the war, and made no serious attempt to force a Roman defeat. They had been able to repeal major invasions by outside powers in the past, and thus sought only to preserve their hegemony on Sicily by ‘holding out’ (Lazenby 167). Because of this approach to war, the Carthaginians were again and again put on the defensive, and hardly initiated any major offensives of their own. Perhaps this is because war to Carthage ended with a negotiated settlement, not in an ultimate defeat, and they thus did not seek a total war. The Roman approach to war, however, fundamentally different than the Carthaginian approach, and helped both the conflict and ultimately force a Roman victory. They tried a number of times to force a Carthaginian defeat; the Roman invasion of Africa is an example of this strategy. For Rome, a victory ended only when the other side was subjugated; there were no negotiated settlements. It is thus easy to see why the conflict lasted as long as it did, as the Romans were unwilling to stop hostilities until Carthage had been totally defeated. As such, they waged war with a serious ferocity and determination; despite serious losses and setbacks, the Romans would not abandon their offensive. Even when outnumbered or in a disadvantageous position, they constantly continued to attack in order to apply continuous pressure on the enemy (Goldsworthy 130). Because Rome was constantly taking actions to defeat the Carthaginians, and the Carthaginians were constantly trying to respond and defend against these actions, the momentum lay with the Romans. With this in consideration, it is hard to see how Carthage could have ever emerged victorious.

The Roman civilization has profoundly impacted the modern world; western civilization and culture owes its heritage to the Romans. Had the Romans failed in creating their European empire, the world today would be a completely different place. The First Punic War is thus perhaps one of the defining conflicts in history: the Roman victory over Carthage set in motion its domination of the Mediterranean, and thus the eventual creation of its empire. If Carthage and Rome had gone their separate ways, history might have been forever altered. Understanding the First Punic War is thus vitally important to understanding the overall course history, and understanding the origins, sources, behaviors, and actions of the First Punic War is vital to understanding the way it was fought, why it was fought, and how it concluded.

Works Cited

Goldsworthy, Adrian Keith. The Punic Wars. London: Cassell, 2000. Print.

Harris, William. War and Imperialism in Republic Rome 327-70 BC. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Print.

Hoyos, Dexter. Unplanned Wars: Origins of the First and Second Punic Wars. Berlin: W Hildebrand, 1997. Print.

Lazenby, J.F. The First Punic War. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996. Print.

Morstein-Marx, Robert and Nathan Rosenstein, A Companion to the Roman Republic. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing LTD. 2006. Print.

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