The main difference between a war and a conflict is that a war is declared by all its opponents, whereas a conflict is an opposition that is not officially recognized by all its actors.
Oftenly, a conflict can develop into an armed conflict, and then into a war. The case of Ukraine against Russia in 2022 is very interesting because the Western world speaks of "war" while Russia speaks of "armed conflict".
Wars and conflicts are very similar and it can be hard to differentiate the two. This article aims to give you all the information that will help you understand the subtle distinction between a war and a conflict.
What is a War?
A war is "a legal condition which equally permits two or more hostile groups to carry on a conflict by armed force" according to Quincy Wright, a famous 20th-century political scientist.
This strong tension between two or more nations is especially defined by its collective violence. These tensions are generally based on territory, wealth, power, or ideology.
Long before the birth of Jesus Christ, Julius Caesar and Aristotle distinctly said:
- "If you want peace, prepare for war" - Julius Caesar
- "The object of war is peace" - Aristotle
In ancient times, all men of age to fight were requisitioned and could fight with swords or spears. Today's armies are more organized and sophisticated. They can use rockets, missiles, and even atomic bombs. Every country has an army with soldiers who are trained and ready to fight in case of war or armed conflict.
There are several types of wars such as the war of independence, the war against terrorism or the war of conquest.
What is a Conflict?
A conflict is a disagreement on one or more issues. It can occur between individuals, groups or organizations (like countries).
Between two countries, conflict can occur when one country tries to take advantage of or control the other. Conflict can also occur when two countries have different ideologies. Ideologically, this can typically be about peace and democracy, and the 2022 Ukraine - Russia conflict is a perfect example.
Armed conflict is when the military is involved in a military action. During an armed conflict, the government can for example organize an operation against a clandestine, terrorist, or anti-pacific movement.
There are multiple types of armed conflicts such as insurgency, civil war or rebellion.
Differences Between a War and a Conflict
If there is a war between two countries, it is formally declared by both countries. However, there are not necessarily formal declarations for the conflict. We can say that an armed conflict is therefore a war that has not been declared.
Often, more resources are mobilized during a war than during a conflict. These resources can be multiple:
Media plays a very important role in wars and conflicts. Depending on the country of the media and its political tendency, one media may call an opposition a war, while another media may use the term "conflict" to describe the same opposition.
History has shown that a war can be global while the conflict tends to be more localized to a particular region. For example, during the Second World War, countries from four different continents were at war. These were the so-called "Allied" countries against the totalitarian powers of the "Axis".
Comparison Chart: War Vs Conflict
|Formalized by a declaration||Yes||No|
What are the Similarities Between a War and a Conflict?
Like a war, a conflict is born from tension between several actors. Both crises have causes and will also have consequences.
Like a conflict, war can have a specific objective such as invading a region or ending a dictatorship. Both wars and conflicts can be armed and mobilize advanced military resources.
Frequently Asked Questions About Wars and Conflicts
Are armed conflicts and war the same thing?
Armed conflicts and wars are not to be put in the same basket because a war has an official character but it is not the case for the conflict. Indeed, the term "war" is used when it is formally declared by all its opponents.
An armed conflict can therefore take place without being called a "war" because one of the countries involved in the crisis has not officially declared war on its opponent.
Are wars conflicts?
All wars are conflictual and started with tensions and crises. We can therefore say that all wars are conflicts. On the other hand, not all conflicts are necessarily wars.
During times of conflicts, wars, and crises, there is a lot of confusion around the two terms "war" and "conflict". It was therefore important for the editors of 10differences to clarify this.
At first glance, distinguishing war from conflict may seem very subtle. But if you had only one thing to remember about the difference between these two terms, remember this: war is formal while conflict is informal.