Who is better at avoiding wars: Hawks or Doves?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 16 May , 2017

Wars between states are increasingly become rare. It takes something ‘unprecedented’ for a responsible state to go out for war. This is precisely because the costs of war are just ‘too huge’. It’s never easy to exactly predict the outcome of a war however good an analyst is. The repercussions of war are often unimaginable. But still, states try to build up a perception to satisfy their domestic constituencies that ‘war’ might prove to be a long time solution to the problem.

Take the case of India and Pakistan, both nuclear power states. Both sides are having more ‘hawkish’ people than ‘dovish’ ones.  Hawkish people are those who believe in going out for war, like the hawks do literally. On the other hand, the ‘dovish’ population believes in avoiding war, they are by nature ‘peaceful’. In the case of India and Pakistan, the ‘hawks’ have always been popular, to the extent of being ‘glamorous’. This is because they believe that by going on a full scale war, they will teach a lesson to the ‘enemy state’ and secondly, that war would be final and decisive.

Because of this nature of thinking, war sounds like a good idea to many civilians, politicians and the media. These groups shout out the most for the war because none of them have to live in ‘war zones’ where their lives would be directly at stake. Yes, sometimes states are left with no choice but to opt for the option of war but war should always be the last resort, not the first  idea.

Unlike ‘war mongering’ citizens, who just love watching war sequences in their living room or the media, for which gaining TRPs is the ultimate goal by presenting war as a glamourous idea to a great number of naïve citizens, government of the day can’t think like that. This is because government of the day is the most responsible actor amongst many actors in the system. One needs to understand that armies march on the orders of the government. Armies in democracies have no personal selfish interests, that’s why it is said that good armies fight for their citizens and the land on which the citizens live i.e. a nation.

One must have observed that in the last few weeks there has been a great demand in the public that India should take offensive measures against Pakistan considering that we are losing our soldiers frequently. People’s expectation with the current government is that they will defend the interests of the country ‘aggressively’ not just in words but in action too. Why has been such an expectation from this government? Does this expectation come equally with every government or is there a variation of expectation depending upon who is in power?

The answer is simple yet complicated. Every government is responsible for maintaining the ‘integrity’ and ‘sovereignty’ of the state which is precisely what is expected by the citizens too. But here is the catch, the above statement is about ‘defending’ the nation’s sovereignty where ‘war’ is seen as a last option. Though, the scenario changes when the people, who have voted for those ‘set’ of people who had aggressive postures regarding foreign policy issues when they were in opposition.

When this ‘set’ of people come into power, citizens naturally expect them to remain ‘hawkish’ in their approach as they used to be earlier. This is where the citizens commit mistakes, political representatives in government can’t be expected to behave in the same way as they used to do while in opposition. All responsible governments, who value their citizens as well soldiers’ lives take restraint in going up the ‘escalation ladder’.

Therefore, those who say that BJP and PM Modi while in opposition used to take such aggressive ‘hawkish’ positions and attack the then government in power about not doing anything, are now themselves behaving in the same way as the previous governments did.  This shows almost all governments behave in a similar manner when it comes to the conduct of foreign policies. Critiques must understand that political parties while in opposition have the luxury of taking strong stance, but when they are in power this luxury is not there.

Secondly, if ‘Hawks’ are in power, then they are more likely to avoid war than the ‘doves’. This sounds incorrect but it is the truth. This is because when ‘hawks’ are in the government, they take the usual path of restraint and look for the solutions based on dialogues, discussions, diplomacy, conciliations etc. It is easier for a ‘hawkish’ government to make a public opinion for peace because the ‘doves’ in opposition are ever ready to be at peace. Therefore, a united opinion of going for ‘peaceful efforts’ is seen.

However, if the ‘Doves’ are in power, they face a real challenge of building a united public opinion to go for peace with the adversary state. This is because a ‘Dovish’ government would be under extreme political pressure created by a ‘hawkish’ opposition to go out for war. Because people like the glamour quotient of war, a large domestic constituency starts rallying around the ‘hawkish’ opposition creating further pressure for the ‘dovish’ government to go for war. In this case, two things can happen for the “doves in power” and both are ‘negative’.

The first one is that the government stands up to all the criticism and still doesn’t go to war. This would prove very costly to them in upcoming elections where they would have a high chance of losing out to the opposition and in general public would view them as a ‘weak government’ who couldn’t fight with the enemy. The second thing can happen, is that the ‘dovish’ government indeed buckles up under the pressure of ‘hawkish’ opposition and public demand to go for war and they indeed go for war, just to show that they too care for national interests. This step of going to war under pressure might prove extremely costly because as mentioned earlier “war is not a solution to any problem, war in itself is a problem”.

To sum up, it’s better to have a ‘hawkish’ government in power than a ‘dovish one’ because hawks don’t get pressurized easily by the opposition doves to go for war and they don’t have to prove like doves, that they care about ‘national interests’.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Martand Jha

Junior Research Fellow at Center for Russian and Central Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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4 thoughts on “Who is better at avoiding wars: Hawks or Doves?

  1. The STATEMENT published hello is wrong & it’s a fool statement.
    ” BJP and PM Modi are now themselves behaving in the same way as the previous governments did.” Because our PM Modi is the only brave man to conduct the great surgical strike attack against Pakistan troops as an act of retaliation to URI massacre. Whereas the previous UPA Sonia government put on shoulders with Pakistani troops while our soldiers died during TAJ massacre. No act of retaliation was performed other than false speech about peace with terrorist’s nation.

    Read more at:

  2. Mr. Jha- when you say governments dont go to war against each other any more, are you ignoring direct action as in Iraq, Syria( Turkey, Israel, US vs Syria) or Afghanistan ? Lack of a declared war does not mean peace- war using proxy actors is war as well- be it in India or Syria.

    Any government or press or research fellow like you who considers a proxy war to be some kind of peace is being parsimonious with the truth. Hawk or dove, any government which does not respond forcefully to a proxy war is abdicating its responsibility.

    Peace is not the absence of declared war- it is the absence of military action- covert or otherwise. We are not at peace and have not been for over 40 years now.

  3. Mr. Jha,

    Hawks avoid war. To understand this, we need to understand that even negative peace can only be assured when one party is stronger. Peace, negative or positive cannot be sustained when both parties are equal. In case of India, Indians want a final solution to constant pricking by Pakistan. Also please note, India is the only country that has the most land held by foreign nations. To be a realist, we need to at least engage in structural violence towards those who openly want our demise. Wouldn’t you agree?

    • One doesn’t engage in Structural Violence. This is because structural violence is existent internally by itself within societies, the level of this violence differs from society to society

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