There is much more to history and international relations

do not disturb-01

This is not a scientific attitude.

We are confronted with a daunting responsibility and task: To ensure we can accommodate a world population of 9.8 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100. The current population size is about 7.5 billion.

If, as I explained, the current failed states are not able to recover from their current dire condition, in 2100 almost 3 billion people will live in failed states, and not have access to basic facilities.

The mess we now create with 7 billion people is already unbelievably large: What will the world look like in 2100, if appropriate action is not taken urgently (and we get there)?

Not to mention the impact of climate change.

A better understanding of the workings of the System is crucial to find timely solutions. Science is indispensable.

However, we still only have a very rudimentary understanding of historical processes and international relations: These are ignorant ‘sciences’. The existence of ‘underlying’ highly deterministic laws – for example – is still ignored. Don’t disturb!

This fundamental shortcoming hampers us in our ability to shape the international system, and ensure our collective well-being.

Historical research and international relations theory must be founded on science – and no longer on self-serving dogmas – to be able to make valuable contributions to the challenges we face.

In my research, I show that in 1495 the System (Europe, the core of the System at that point of time) reached a critical mass and started producing war dynamics, with remarkable regularity.

A closer look reveals that ‘simple’ physical laws and several networks mechanisms determine certain key-characteristics of war dynamics (i.e. the timing and intensity of systemic wars), and also shape(d) the events that led up to wars.

It is possible to distinguish between a contingent and a deterministic domain.

The events historians, social scientists and international relations theoreticians typically focus on, take place in the contingent domain, where change also plays an important role. However, they are not aware of the existence of an underlying deterministic domain, which is governed by physical laws.

It is only possible to make sense of historical processes, the development of the System and international relations, if both domains – and their interactions – are taken into consideration: Physical laws (the deterministic domain) determine and shape war dynamics (the contingent domain), but the reverse is also the case as for example the exceptional war dynamics during the period 1657-1762 show, when non-systemic war dynamics were temporarily not chaotic in nature because of the intense rivalry between Great Britain and France; this caused a delay in the development of the second war cycle (1648-1815).

Two questions are relevant.

The first question is: Why were historians and social scientist not able to ‘discover’ the underlying deterministic domain, and its decisive impact on historical events?

Various reasons explain this shortcoming: The tendency of historians to study single events, to ignore long term-developments, and in case long-term dynamics are studied (and data is used), to use a very limited and biased perspective.

Historians typically tried to make sense of (long-term) war dynamics by grouping wars in periods of 100 years (1500-1600, 1600-1700, etc.) and ignored the fact – and the possibility – that man-made centuries, are not the correct unit of analysis for a naturally evolving system.

That is indeed the case, as I show: During the period 1495-1945, the System produced four accelerating war cycles – consistent with physical laws – which cannot be identified when centuries are used as unit of analysis.

These new insights have brought to light important errors in the works of historians.

The second question is: Why until today – despite proof to the contrary – is it still problematic for historians and social scientists to accept that humanity – and their dynamics – are not exempted from physical laws?

Part of the answer lies in the ‘entrenched’ reluctance of historians and social scientists to use the scientific method and to limit themselves in their analyses to a narrative (and often opinionated) approach. It also is difficult – it seems – to except that humanity and their dynamics are not exempted from physical laws. We are special, but not so special.

It is time social scientists, historians and international relations theoreticians no longer ignore basic facts, base their research on the scientific method, and ensure that their scientific discipline starts making meaningful contributions to find sensible and useful answers to the challenges humanity confronts.