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2015: War

The 2015 Engelsberg Seminar considered the topic of war. War has historically both built and destroyed civilisations. How have the driving forces behind war changed through history and what role does it play in the creation of societies? Can historical patterns be discerned and what do recurring wars say about human nature?

According to Herodotus, the Persians taught their sons three things only: “riding and archery and truthtelling”. There could be no empire without warriors. This seminar will deal with war as both creator and demolisher of civilisation, and investigate the driving forces of armed conflict through a long historical perspective. What role does war play in the creation of societies? 

During three days we considered the long history of war, current conflict zones and the future of armed conflict. The first day examined the intrinsic part war plays in the formation of societies and the concrete driving forces behind armed conflict. Can we see any patterns? What does the constant recurrence of conflict say about human nature and the human condition? 

We also explored how war has been perceived – from the discrepancy between the eye-witness accounts and the official propaganda of the Thirty Years’ War to images of war in contemporary jihadist poetry. What are the realities of war and how do writers and thinkers explain them? 

During the second day of the seminar we focused on the 20th century and the wars that defined the era and still shape our understanding of modern conflict. We discussed the world wars, the transition from the Cold War to small wars and current conflict zones such as the Levant and the Russian borders. We also asked what the future of war will look like as advanced technology challenges accepted concepts of strategy and combat. 

We ended Engelsberg 2015 by investigating the current and future role of the US in a world where large-scale conflicts seem increasingly likely. We also discussed the question of Europe in the Atlantic partnership. What threats to peace and security are on the horizon? What wars will shape our time?


Alexei Arbatov: The Ukrainian Crisis and Nuclear Deterrence

Head of the Center on International Security, IMEMO, Russian Academy of Science; Scholar in Residence, Carnegie Moscow Center, Russia

David Betz: The Restless Pursuit of the “Fun Wars”

Reader, Department of War Studies, King’s College London, UK

Philip Bobbitt: War and Statehood

Herbert Wechsler Professor of Federal Jurisprudence; Director, Center for National Security, Columbia University, USA

Christopher Coker: War and the Human Imagination

Professor of International Relations, London School of Economics, UK

Rolf Ekéus: How to End Wars – Lessons from the Wars in Iraq

Ambassador, Sweden

Richard J Evans: War in Nazi Imagination

Professor Emeritus of History, University of Cambridge, UK

Gregory Feifer: How War Serves Putin’s Russia

Author, USA

Lawrence Freedman: The Long Peace and Nuclear Deterrence

Professor Emeritus of War Studies, King’s College London, UK

Janne Haaland Matlary: Can Europe Act Strategically? The Response to Russia in 2014–2015

Professor of Political Science, University of Oslo and the Norwegian Defence University, Norway

Dick Harrison: The History of the Thirty Years’ War: On the Gap Between the Official Versions and the Forgotten Eye-Witness Accounts

Professor of History, University of Lund, Sweden

Jonathan Haslam: Why the Russians Could Not Break Enigma

Professor of History, University of Cambridge, UK

Tom Holland: The Sacralisation of Violence

Author, UK

Robert Johnson: “Modernity” and War

Senior Research Fellow, University of Oxford, UK

Frederick Kagan: Development of US Warfare Since 1991

Christopher DeMuth Chair and Director, Critical Threats Project, American Enterprise Institute, USA

Kimberly Kagan: The United States and the New Way of War

President, Institute for the Study of War, USA

Elisabeth Kendall: Militant Jihadist Poetry – the Battle for Hearts and Minds

Senior Research Fellow in Arabic, University of Oxford, UK

Fredrik Logevall: The Permissive Context of Recent US Military Interventions

Professor of History, Cornell University, USA

Rana Mitter: Memory of the War of Resistance and the Reconstruction of Asian Order

Director, University of Oxford China Centre, University of Oxford, UK

Peter Pomerantsev: The Information Age Is Turning into the Disinformation Age

Senior Fellow, Legatum Institute, UK

Andrew Preston: Threat, Risk, and the Invention of “National Security”

Reader in American History, University of Cambridge, UK

Magnus Ranstorp: Recruitment of Jihadist Fighters in Sweden

Research Director, Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies, Swedish National Defence College, Sweden

Malise Ruthven: The Challenge of ISIS

Writer, UK

Charly Salonius-Pasternak: Nordic and Baltic Countries Prepare for an Unwelcome Guest

Senior Research Fellow, Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Finland

Nathan Shachar: Spain 1936: How the Press Turned a Complex Tangle into a Straightforward Communist-Fascist War

Journalist and Author, Sweden

Lilia Shevtsova: Why War Again? How the World Is Threatened with a New Challenge

Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution, USA

Jessica Stern: What Can we Do to Stop ISIS?

Fellow at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University, USA

Tommy Stiansen: Perspectives on Cyber Warfare

CTO/Co-Founder, Norse Corp, USA

Hew Strachan: The Impact of the First World War on Strategy

Professor of International Relations, University of St Andrews, UK

Pascal Vennesson: War in the Age of Transnational Politics

Professor, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Michael Weiss: The Battle of Narratives

Journalist, USA