Writing Armageddon

Writing Armageddon
Furious writing or writing furiously?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Large scale warfare outside Europe in the 1715-1789 period according to Langer.

An overview of large scale warfare outside Europe in the 1715-1789 period according to Langer.
By Konstantinos Travlos

"Those of you who have been following my research (all two of you), know that I am engaged in major data project whose goal is to create a Militarized Dispute (MIDs) Dataset for the 1715-1815 period. My initial forays into this en-devour where more ecumenical with a goal of creating a dataset of wars between polities in the 1715-1815 period on a global level. In the end I decided to put off non-european polities for the future and only focus on the European interstate system as a first step. This was driven primarily by the richer documentation available for Europe in the 1715-1815 period, and the great likelihood of finding non-war MIDs in sources on Europe as opposed to sources on the rest of the world. That said future plans do include a war data-set among polities in the rest of the world for the era. Cleaning up my file folders I found this little piece I had written based on my early explorations. I am putting here for the sake of scholarly curiosity."

The Thai and the Burmese fight 



This short manuscript provides an overview of large scale conflict in areas outside Europe in the 1715-1789 period as noted in Langer’s Encyclopedia of History (1980). It should not be considered as exhaustive or as complete. It is presented for the purpose of pointing out some trends in non-European conflict outside Europe before the expansion of the European system to a global system after the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815).

According to the Langer narrative there are 31 events that took place in the Indian Subcontinent, East Asia (denoting the areas that were part of the Chinese tributary system), the Middle East, and North Africa that can be considered as cases of large scale warfare. Of these 4 took place in Africa, 6 in the Middle East, 11 on the Indian subcontinent, and 11 in the East Asian region.

The majority of the North African wars were part of the long-standing condition of conflict between the North African viceroyalties of the Ottoman Empire (Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli) and the Portuguese and Spanish states.  Most of these do not seem to have reached the level of casualties that would make them wars under the Correlates of War definition. Indeed, it is more a case of raids, demonstrations, and the violent expulsions of missions, rather than war. The only exception is the 1775 Spanish conflict with Algeria that saw a large Spanish army raised and sent against the Algerian polity.  Generally speaking the trends of conflict in this era are similar to those of the preceding 100 years, characterized by extortion, piracy and mostly the equivalent of police operations.

East Asia is dominated by two large groups of conflict. One set is the traditional border wars fought by Chinese dynasties (in this case the Qin-Manchu dynasty) in their quest for controlling the political events in China's near nomad abroad (also the main source of successful invaders).  In pursuit of this goal the Manchu fought two long wars against what Langer calls the Western Mongols. They also actively intervened in Tibetan politics going so far as to conquer Tibet in 1751. These policies are not radical when compared to the long history of Chinese-periphery relations.

On the other hand the many wars that characterize south-east Asia in this period are directly the result of the power vacuums opened by the collapse of the Mughal and Ming dynasties. The old Chinese tributary system is not as powerful as it was before the change from Ming to Manchu, and the local polities jostle for a dominating position. At the same time the politics of the competing European major powers in India begin to affect the political viewpoint of the local dynasties that had for centuries looked to Peking as the center of the world.  Siam and Vietnam clash over control of Cambodia, with Vietnam fighting two wars against Cambodia as well. Siam and Myanmar-Burma clash repeatedly, fighting 3 wars in the span of 20 years, with a major Myanmar-Burmese invasion in 1760 leading to Chinese intervention against Myanmar-Burma, one of the last cases of China’s rulers trying to project their old power into South-east Asia.

Unlike the conflicts of China with the West Mongols, these wars in the political context that they are happening, have an atmosphere of radical departure from how things used to be.  These conflicts would later on serve as founding myths for the nationalisms of the respective states (both Thai and Myanmar-Burmese cinema take their historical epics from this era).

South-East Asia’s conflcit-prone political environment was heavily influenced by the epic struggle over the legacy of the Mughal Empire in the Indian subcontinent. A bevy of polities; monarchies (Mughal remnant, Nizams of Mysore), confederations of nobles (Marathas), and what amounted to commercial enterprises (the English East India Company) fought for control of the subcontinent. None of them succeeded in dominating the others until the mobilization of the Napoleonic Wars permitted the English East India Company to bring superior force to bear. Most of the conflicts within the old imperial demesne were between European interests and their local feudatories and local polities that were in the ascendancy (7 wars of 11). The major intra-Indian conflicts were between the aggressive Hindu Maratha Confederacy and more diverse Kingdom of Mysore under the aggressive Haider Ali.

 At the same time all of these polities, nominally tributaries of the weakened Mughal Emperors, sent troops to fight the great Persian invasion of 1738 under the charismatic adventurer Nadir Shah. This was a classical war of loot by the Persians, who did not aim at permanent territorial expansion.  Thus we can say that the conflict trends in the Indian subcontinent indicated an area in flux and in search of stability, like 17th century Europe. That this stability in the end came under British imperialism was not predetermined, and some kind of confederal polity under the nominal suzerainty of the Mughal Emperor’s, like the Holy Roman Empire might had been the end result. India’s fate was decided on European battlefields, a portent of things to come for many parts of the world.

The Middle East in this era is very much like China’s northern periphery when it comes to conflict trends. The three Ottoman Persian wars fit the 17th century narrative of Ottoman conflict with Persia. Adventurous Persian or Afghan nobles, like Mir Mahmud and Nadir Shah, could still try to play the role of Tamerlane, but this is an old game in the Middle East. The only new element was the steady projection of Russian power across the Caucasus and into Persia, but this aberrant element did not have the permanency it would get after 1815. In many ways and until Catherine’s the Great  wars made Russia not just a Balkan but also a Trans-Caucasian player, the 1715-1789 period of history in the Middle East did not see any great breaks from the past.

The 18th century thus gives us two regions in profound break from the past, the Indian subcontinent and South-East Asia, and two regions still in stability, the Chinese Northern Periphery and the Middle East. By 1815 the results of the Napoleonic wars would greatly challenge the stability of the Middle East, and Russian expansion in Asia, safe due to the peace in Europe, would profoundly challenge China. The young anarchic international system of India would be replaced by the hegemony of Britain, while East Asia will quickly be bifurcated between an area under Chinese suzerainty ( Cambodia, Vietnam)  and the warring pair of Burma-Siam.  This warring pair in turn would fall victim to the British hegemony in India.

Table with Data: Click on it to get a better picture


Key for Table
Title: Name of War according to Langer
Start Year
End Year
Side A
Side B
Hostility Level: Correlates of War Hostility level as inferred from Langer’s description. 4= less than 1000 casualties, 5 more than a 1000.
War Type: Classification under Correlates of War.
War participants: Maj=Major Power, Min=Minor Power.

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