Assessing the Societal and Systemic
Impact of Warfare:
Societal Effects of Warfare
Among the societal effects that must be considered in a comprehensive assessment of warfare are
- Human Resources:
- direct deaths (combatant and non-combatant); indirect deaths (e.g., from collateral fire,
induced-famines and droughts, epidemics, medical shortages); direct injuries (both physical
and psychological, permanent and temporary); indirect injuries (e.g., crime and victimization,
experiential trauma, grief, diminished health and capabilities, increased insecurity); sexual
crimes and intimidation (e.g., rape, prostitution, child molestation, gender domination).
- Population Dislocations:
- costs, traumas, inefficiencies, and indirect effects associated with the displacement,
whether for personal-safety, logistic, predatory, retaliatory, or strategic-policy
considerations, of large numbers of domiciled people, either within the parameters of the
affected society (e.g., internally displaced, forcibly relocated, or sequestered persons) or
across societal borders (e.g., refugees, asylum-seekers, emigrants)(the practice commonly
known as "ethnic cleansing" contains elements of both as group boundaries are redrawn by
- Societal Networks:
- damage and distortions to the fragile fabric of inter-personal associations and the
disintegration of relationships and identities based on amity, trust, exchange, mutual-benefit,
comity, reciprocity, and deferred gratification, relations necessary for the proper and
effective functioning of normative systems (social cooperation, cohesion, coherence, and
coordination in politico-legal, economic, professional, and socio-cultural sub-systems).
- Environmental Quality:
- direct and indirect damage and destruction to general ecosystem; use or release of
explosive, corrosive, and devegative chemical compounds and mechanical devices that limit
utilization of agricultural resources, foul surface and subterranean water resources, pollute
atmosphere, disseminate toxic substances, and destroy wildlife and habitats.
- Infrastructure Damage and Resource Diversions:
- direct damage, destruction, and over-consumption of material and mechanical infrastructure,
resources, and surpluses such as production facilities, storage, transport networks, vehicles,
water supplies, croplands, food, medical supplies, etc.; indirect damage to the society's
resource and infrastructure bases (opportunity costs) through the official diversion of
resources and funding to the war effort and away from infrastructure construction and
maintenance and the provision of social services and unofficial diversions to illicit trade in
tangible, transportable commodities such as drugs, gold and diamonds, labor and sex, weapons,
art and treasures, etc.
- Diminished Quality of Life and Non-reciprocal Resource Transfers:
- tangible and intangible losses (both short- and long-term) associated with general
deterioration in the immediate, aesthetic quality of life, access to basic needs, and future
prospects in affected societies; humanitarian crises; capital outflows (e.g., "brain drain,"
"capital flight"); devaluation and unequal terms of exchange; lack of investment and exchange;
losses in human potential due to lowered self-esteem and lowered expectations, self-destructive
behaviors, alienation and introversion, and within-group factionalization and victimization.
A ten-point scale is used for assessing the magnitude of warfare events and their impact on
societal-systems. The scale values are considered to be comparable across time, place, and
typologies of warfare (e.g., interstate warfare, wars of independence, civil warfare, ethnic
warfare, genocide). The scale is roughly logistical and the orders of magnitude can be
considered a ratio scale for analytic purposes. Warfare, like most human collective endeavors,
exhibits "economies of scale" at the greater magnitudes; immediate effects such as deaths,
dislocations, and physical damage increase dramatically at higher magnitudes whereby the
long-term social costs of providing security and attendant damage to societal networks and
human capabilities are more strongly affected at the lower magnitudes. In holistic terms, then,
warfare's effects on societal-systems are additive, that is, two category 03 events are roughly
equivalent to one category 06 event and, so, the values can be aggregated and compared in
Assessments have been made and scale values have been assigned for all states directly
involved in major episodes of political violence in the world since 1946. The coded values can
and have been compiled and recorded in a dataset for comparative analysis. The data have been
aggregated annually for presentation in a series of global and regional warfare trends graphs
and used for assessing global, regional, and local contexts and their effects in quantitative
conflict research (i.e., event interdependence and the quality of "neighborhoods"). The data
also can be used in assessing systemic trends in conflict management.
In order to aid comprehension of the ten-point categorical warfare scale, descriptive,
representative scenarios of the several categorical values are included. Referent figures for
population displacements and direct deaths are listed for each category but it must be
emphasized that these figures are approximate for conventional scenarios under "standard"
conditions. The total effects of warfare result from intensity over time and vary accordingly.
For example, direct deaths may be inflated under conditions where combatants' lives are
under-valued and refugee flows and humanitarian crises will be much higher under conditions of
general poverty, the brutal victimization of civilians, and/or more transient or subsistence
livelihoods. What is more important in determining the magnitude of the impact of warfare on a
society are the relational goals, available technologies, and relative means of the combatant
groups. Of course, the combination and levels of effects vary from case to case but levels
across effects will usually coincide. The recent development and application of precision
guidance systems to the targeting and delivery of ordnance create unique warfare effects
whereby the societal infrastructure may be destroyed while casualty and displacement figures
remain low. Contrast this to the development of the "neutron bomb" which has been touted to
produce maximum casualties with minimal infrastructure damage. In these futuristic scenarios,
one or more of the traditional measures of effects (death, damage, and displacement) may be
strongly disproportionate to the holistic effects. The dynamism of human ingenuity confounds
generalities, in general. Human reason, however imperfectly, largely restrains the most extreme
impulses to deploy destructive technologies.
The range of contemporary events (1946-2006), fortunately, does not provide
any examples of categorical values greater than seven (7) as the necessary military
technologies are not present in most contemporary warfare locations; some historical
events are used for illustration of these more extreme values. Warfare is an
inherently self-limiting event. Population and technical capabilities determine
the potential for warfare intensity while actual warfare's consumption and destruction
of material infrastructure and human resources makes the continuation of warfare
dependent on the continued production, procurement, or capture of sufficient
quantities of essential war materials. As such, both the conduct and resolution
of warfare are especially dependent on external sources of support and recovery,
both strategic and humanitarian. Unfortunately, there has been little, systematic
study of the external "sustenance" of protracted warfare and, so, both the capacities
of war actors and external linkage dynamics remain implicit in the following
- Category 10 -- Extermination and Annihilation.
- Extensive, systematic, and indiscriminate destruction of human resources and/or physical
infrastructure with persistent, adverse effects. The social identity itself is the target of
destruction. Greatly disparate power and weapons' technologies and singularity of intent
between adversarial groups make this category possible. Historical events that illustrate this
category include Japan for a period when it became the location of nuclear warfare in 1945 and
German territories during the Holocaust.
- Category 09 -- Total Warfare.
- Massive, mechanized destruction of human resources and physical infrastructure in a war of
attrition, with intentional targeting of both combatant and non-combatant societal factors
resulting in widespread destruction and long-term effects. Whole societies are the target for
destruction, that is, their capacity for both action and reaction; adversaries are of
comparable strength and compromise is unacceptable. Population dislocations often exceed twenty
million; deaths exceed five million. Ninety to one hundred percent of societal production is
consumed in the war effort. Military victory (unconditional surrender) is prioritized over all
other societal and humanitarian values. Historical examples include Germany 1941-45 and the
Soviet Union 1940-44.
- Category 08 -- Technological Warfare.
- Massive, mechanized destruction of human resources and physical infrastructure in a war of
attrition with medium-term effects, non-combatants are not systematically targeted although
great numbers are directly affected by violence. The adversary's military capabilities are the
target for destruction; adversaries are of comparable strength. Population dislocations often
exceed ten million; deaths often exceed two million. Sixty to ninety percent of societal
production is consumed by the war effort. Society and human capital are prioritized over
military victory (capitulation or stalemate are possible). Historical examples are France
1914-18, Germany 1914-18, and Russia 1914-17.
- Category 07 -- Pervasive Warfare.
- Technology of destruction is extensive but resources and productive capacity are limited
and, so, continuation of the war effort is often dependent on supplemental resources from
external suppliers. Effects are persistent and development is arrested over the medium- to
long-term. Social roles and mobilization are almost entirely determined by the culture of
warfare. No location within the society is secure from attack, including the largest cities.
Population dislocations often exceed five million; deaths exceed one million. Over fifty
percent of societal production is consumed by the war effort. Core issues are considered
non-negotiable. Contemporary examples include Vietnam 1958-75, Afghanistan 1978-present, and
- Category 06 -- Extensive Warfare.
- Technology of destruction is extensive but limited; supplemental resources from external
supporters are limited. Effects are persistent and development is arrested over the medium-term.
Social mobilization is largely determined by the warfare event but crucial areas are fairly
secure from attack. Population dislocations often exceed two million; deaths often range from
five hundred thousand to one million. Over forty percent of societal production is consumed by
the war effort. Issues of contention are perceived as vital but terms are somewhat negotiable
as neither war party has the capacity to unilaterally impose and enforce a lasting settlement.
"Ethnic cleansing" is often viewed as a strategic imperative in the struggle to control a
territorial and resource base. Contemporary examples include Ethiopia 1974-91, Iran-Iraq
1980-88, Sudan 1983-present, and Bosnia 1992-95.
- Category 05 -- Substantial and Prolonged Warfare.
- Technology of destruction is at a high level but goals are limited and often ill-defined.
Impetus to warfare is often sustained by issue complexities that make negotiation and
compromise difficult. Warfare is intense but mostly confined to particular regions. Population
dislocations may exceed one million; deaths range from one hundred thousand to half-a-million.
Over twenty-five percent of societal production is consumed by the war effort. For challengers,
local autonomy may be preferred over complete separation or predominance, allowing negotiated
outcomes. Contemporary examples include Guatemala 1966-96, Lebanon 1975-91, Sri Lanka
1983-present, and Somalia 1988-present.
- Category 04 -- Serious Warfare.
- Available technologies of destruction are at a lower level and/or applications remain
limited; challenger groups' authority, discipline, and objectives are often diffuse and/or
indistinct. Areas affected by warfare may be extensive but the intensity and the effects are
limited, otherwise, warfare is confined to distinct areas and/or periods of time. If armed
conflict is protracted, long periods of dormancy will be punctuated by sporadic operations
(re)establishing opposing group boundaries. Population dislocations may exceed one hundred
thousand in affected regions; deaths range from fifty thousand to one hundred thousand.
Contemporary examples include Angola 1961-75, Israel 1967-70, and Liberia 1990-97.
- Category 03 -- Serious Political Violence.
- Technologies of destruction are limited; objectives are usually focused on strategic
authority, including control of human and/or material resources. Long periods of relative
quiescence may be punctuated by focused operations targeting armed factions, group leaders, or
symbols of defiance. Population dislocations respond to specific, localized operations and may
be counted in the tens of thousands; deaths range from ten to fifty thousand. Effects of
political violence are unevenly distributed, mainly targeting militias, leaders, and symbolic
targets. Contemporary examples include Chile 1974-76, Turkey 1984-present, and Sierra Leone
- Category 02 -- Limited Political Violence.
- Applied technologies are limited. Objectives may be limited and clearly defined allowing
warfare to remain confined or the general support for warfare and/or the nature of the
opposition may be weak or resistant to provocation. Events are confined to short periods or
specific areas of operation or may involve sporadic acts of terrorism over longer periods.
Population dislocations of short duration may occur; attributable deaths range from three
thousand to ten thousand. Contemporary examples include Cuba 1957-59, UK 1969-1994, Cyprus
1974, Georgia 1991-93.
- Category 01 -- Sporadic or Expressive Political Violence.
- Applied technologies are relatively low level; objectives are often diffuse and ill-defined
and violent actions occur mainly as an expression of general dissatisfaction and/or social
control. Oppositional violence is achieved mostly by small militant groups or confined to a
very specific time, target, or location. Small population dislocations of short duration may
occur from areas directly affected by violence; deaths usually are less than two thousand.
Contemporary examples include US 1965-68, Argentina-UK 1982, and Moldova 1991-97.
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