Defensive war

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In classical war theory, a defensive war is a war that an invaded country wages for the purpose of defending itself against and pushing back against a foreign power . As a counterpart, the attacking country wages a war of aggression . War of aggression and war of defense are two aspects of the same war. In international law , wars of defense have been considered the only just war a country can wage since the Briand-Kellogg Pact outlawed wars of aggression in 1929 . A defensive war can be waged individually or collectively within the framework of alliance obligations.

Concept history

For a long time, the opinion has been held, according to natural law, that wars of defense (as opposed to wars of aggression) are justified. Often, with the domestic analogy of the individual right to self-defense, it is concluded that there is a collective right of defense that legitimizes war for the defender's side ( ius ad bellum ). Nevertheless, the defense attorney must also adhere to the rules of martial law during war ( ius in bello ).

Count Wilhelm von Schaumburg-Lippe presented an early theory of the war of defense after 1760 , presented coherently in his main military theoretical text Mémoires pour servir à l'art militaìre défensif (1776). Schaumburg-Lippe saw the war of defense as the only legitimate war and saw the perfection of the means of war for the defensive war as a way to prevent war. Accordingly, he pursued the expansion of fortresses, formed military alliances for joint defense, settled fortified farmers as colonists in endangered parts of the country and promoted the training of militias .

In 1812 Carl von Clausewitz developed the theory further. Clausewitz differentiates between two levels of defensive war: on the political level, a defensive war is waged for the continued existence of a country's independence; on the strategic level, defensive war means restriction to those theaters of war that are prepared for it. Whether the individual battles in that theater of war are fought offensively or defensively, on the other hand, does not matter. According to Clausewitz, the defense is stronger than the attack with the same force, but it has a purely negative purpose: the defending power wants to prevent the opponent from being able to impose his will on it. Ultimately, every successful warlord must take the offensive.

The developed war practice has made the distinction between wars of aggression and wars of defense problematic since the 20th century . In addition to the lead times required for mobilization , military technology is playing an increasingly important role, as it offers little tactical leeway due to the considerably shorter reaction times of a power. Therefore one tries to give wars the character of preventive wars .

Public opinion plays an important role in evaluating wars as defensive wars . Since wars of aggression are morally reprehensible, practically all warring states try to present their side of the war as a war of defense.


A war of sanctions based on UN Security Council resolutions can be understood as a universally extended defense war.

The Nazi regime tried to portray the attack on Poland as a war of defense. On the morning of September 1, 1939, Adolf Hitler announced the beginning of the war against Poland (in a Reichstag speech broadcast on the radio) with the following words:

“For the first time last night, Poland fired through regular soldiers on our own territory. The fire has been firing back since 5.45 a.m. And from now on, bombs will be rewarded with bombs. "

The use of the term “war” was expressly forbidden by the Nazi regime. The Nazi propaganda spoke of a "punitive action" for alleged provocations and border violations by Poland.

Web links

Wiktionary: Defense War  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Oliver Schulz: The ideas of Prince Wilhelm zu Schaumburg Lippe . In: Gundula Gahlen, Carmen Winkel (ed.): Military elites in the early modern times . Universitätsverlag Potsdam, Potsdam 2010, ISBN 3-86956-070-3 , pp. 219-221.
  2. Beatrice Heuser: Read Clausewitz !: an introduction . Oldenbourg, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-486-57743-3 , pp. 113-116.
  3. Egbert Jahn: Intervention and Law . In: Mathias Albert, Bernhard Moltmann, Bruno Schoch (eds.): The delimitation of politics: international relations and peace research . Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 3-593-37458-7 , pp. 65–73.
  4. quoted from
  5. The Second World War. German Historical Museum , accessed on July 22, 2014 .