Column: Great Powers, Endless Wars
- Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 May 2019 14:19
-by Gwynne Dyer
“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” said Donald Trump in his State of the Union speech last February, but he was wrong. That’s exactly what they do. Great powers fight more wars than anybody else, even if, like the United States today, they have no hostile neighbours.
The original observations were made half a century ago by Quincy Wright, an American political scientist at the University of Chicago. During the entire history of “modern” Europe from 1480 to 1940, he calculated, there have been about 2600 important battles.
France, a leading military power for the whole period and the greatest power for most of it, participated in 47 per cent of those battles – more than a thousand major battles. Russia, Britain, and Germany (in the form of Prussia), which were all great European powers by 1700, fought in between 22 and 25 per cent of them. And then the rate of participation falls off very steeply.
Spain was a great military power until the mid-1700s, but then dropped out of contention and can offer only a 12 per cent attendance record for battles over the whole four-and-a-half centuries. The Netherlands and Sweden, which were great military powers only for brief periods, were present at only eight and four per cent of Europe’s battles respectively. Indeed, Sweden has not used its army in war for 190 years now.