Skip to main content
Read page text


Megan MacKenzie calls for a paradigm shift in international relations that leaves violence redundant

War has been called a ‘man’s game’ and Martin van Creveld, the Israeli military historian, once described combat as ‘the highest proof of manhood’. When it comes to studying wars, many disciplines focus on predicting, measuring and strategizing war and violence, but not on how to end it. These approaches have often equated security with the protection of national borders and ignored the expansive and long-term impacts of war and political violence.

Historically, those interested in peace and the possibility of ending war have been relegated to separate academic disciplines from war and security studies, including peace and development studies. In turn, those focused on peace and ending violence have sometimes been looked upon by security and war professionals as inexpert, yet well-meaning activists who do not fully understand the serious complexities of warfare and international security.

There seems to be little space to speak of the boundless ways wars fail to achieve their stated objectives. Instead, such failures are framed as setbacks, evidence of the need for a shift in strategy, or part of the painful yet worthwhile path to eventual success.

As we move into , the failures of war abound, alongside clear evidence that the greatest threats to human security and survival cannot be solved with warfare. Only six months ago, an international coalition led by the US military effectively fled Afghanistan, leaving a corrupt and unsteady government, an untrained security and police force and vulnerable citizens in the wake.

Twenty ye a r s and an e s t imated . trillion dollars later, Afghanistan is objectively less safe than it was at the turn of the century. The end of this so-called ‘good war’ in Afghanistan coincided with an ongoing global pandemic, causing massive and unequal devastation, and catastrophic fires and floods punctuating mounting evidence that climate change is the greatest imminent threat to human survival.

All this is a testament to the desperate need to for a total paradigm shift in how we think about global security and the role of war and violence in solving political problems.

I co-edited with Nicole Wegner the book Feminist Solutions for Ending War to lay out a pathway for this paradigm shift. It is grounded in the assumption that wars are not an inevitable part of global politics. Nor are they a strategy, a signal of power or ‘politics by other means’. So, if wars are not inevitable, how can we end them and why are feminists uniquely positioned to offer effective solutions for ending war? We challenge outdated ideals of women and feminists as a cohesive interchangeable group with a singular perspective on war. We offer a range of alternative definitions of war that capture its expansive and longterm impacts. And we further challenge the notions that wars have distinct beginnings and ends. Finally, we provide concrete insights on how we might organize society to live sustainably and peacefully.

It is important to disrupt clichés that present western feminist approaches to war as ‘add women and get peace’. We do this by drawing from a range of international perspectives, including Indigenous women’s knowledge, the Kurdish women’s liberation movement and queer theory to redefine war, security and sustainable peace. We encourage an expansive approach to how we define and measure the

‘Feminists have long been critical of the assumption that peace happens when formal war fighting stops’

impacts of war and political violence. This includes considering nuclear wars, everyday forms of insecurity and ‘war on country’ or ongoing colonial political projects.

Alternative definitions of war also demand different approaches to studying war. One contributor, Laura Shepherd, a professor of international relations at the Univeristy of Sydney, demonstrates how women can offer unique solutions to war from their historical knowledge about war and peace, their historical practices involving peace organization, and their ongoing practices of making connections across complex areas and geographical distances. Thomas Gregory, a senior lecturer in politics and international relations at the University of Auckland, offers a solution that challenges how war causalities are counted. Demystifying the concept of ‘collateral damage’, Gregory demands that we consider not the quantitative human costs of war, but the qualitative experiences of those touched by it.

Do wars have distinct beginnings and ends? Feminists have long been critical of their temporality and the assumption that peace ‘happens’ when formal war fighting stops and ‘post-conflict’ is a uniformly positive period for everyone, compared with war. We explore how soldiers might find meaning and friendship during war, and how the legacies of violence extend through generations in ways that cannot be measured simply through body counts. Women and feminist organizing has been key to getting warring parties to the peace table in the first place and to ensuring that agreements are upheld.

By thinking beyond our current parameters, we make the powerful case that the possibility of life without war is real. Megan MacKenzie is Professor and Simons Chair in International Law and Human Security at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia


My Bookmarks

Skip to main content