This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

Consider donating to our organization. Every donation, no matter how small, makes a difference.

Contribute to our biannual publication, Mondial!

War Crimes Are a Feature of the War System

By Byron Belitsos

Belitsos is the managing editor of World Citizen, the monthly publication of Citizens for Global Solutions. He is coauthor of One World Democracy: A Progressive Vision for Enforceable Global Law

The Ukraine conflict has been a grim reminder that barbaric warfare is too often the result of our flawed international security system—or, what world federalists often call the “war system” for short. While Russia’s wanton targeting of civilians may justifiably be called a war crime, Wikipedia’s list of ongoing conflicts reminds us that numerous other brutal wars are also under way, and, sad to say, additional mass atrocities on the scale of war crimes are being committed across the planet. Painful as it is to face, alleged crimes of war took place in Yemen with U.S. complicity and funding, and colossal violations were recently committed because of U.S. aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq. One must add to this list alleged war crimes and mass atrocities by Israel against Palestinians, plus the actual cases now being investigated by the International Criminal Court in Sudan, the Congo, Myanmar, Libya, and a half-dozen others countries around the globe. And thus, while war-crimes accusations against Russia now make headlines, it is our solemn task to point to a larger pattern of crimes of violence generated by the war system. War-making, international aggression, and war profiteering have never been an anomaly in human history, according to scholars. “The historical record,” writes Professor Marc Pilisuk, author of the masterwork The Hidden Structure of Violence (2015), “indicates that a war is occurring somewhere in the world far more often than periods of peace.” In other words, the war system is inexorable in all places and times, and this includes our own era. In recent centuries, the need to brandish ever more lethal weaponry in order to win wars of annihilation in the name of “self-defense” is a given for national leaders on all continents. The astonishing extent of warfare deaths, even in recent decades, is illustrated in this startling map of war fatalities spread out across the world since 1975, yielding a tally of over 2,700,000 war deaths. All of this slaughter has occurred in the lifetimes of many of us.

The upshot should be clear. Wars that end in terrible destruction are not just happenstance. They don’t just occur because of a few ambitious or mentally deranged leaders. War is systemic, and war crimes are a central feature of the system. War is the court of last resort in a world of international anarchy, where the law of force eclipses the force of law. Nations must be prepared to defended themselves against armed aggression at any time or risk perishing. And this condition persists because we don’t yet have a legal system that compels nations to resolve their disputes non-violently.

Because of the perverse inner logic of the war system, the ability to destroy the enemy’s war machine and the willingness to incur massive civilian deaths on their side in the process, is the very basis of protecting one’s own population. Possessing overwhelming firepower, including nuclear weapons, is key to maintaining a credible deterrent to attack. And let’s not forget that such expenditures cost nearly $2 trillion a year worldwide, wasting resources that could go very far toward solving other pressing problems. And in a real sense this grim situation is nobody’s fault, for the logic of the system drives nation-states, or military alliances of nations, toward immoral and criminal behavior. And, in the absence of the enforceable global law that CGS has stood for since 1947, warmongers everywhere will continue to get away with their crimes. 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

Get Involved

Volunteer, donate, or become a member and join the conversation.

Get Involved


No more products available for purchase

Your cart is currently empty.