The dynamics that have given rise to war between countries are usually quite different from those of civil wars. While many volumes have been written about the rationales and origins of various wars, and the particular circumstances of their combatants that led to battle, a few very general observations are helpful in distinguishing these wars from civil wars.
Often, the combatants have contiguous territory or are regional neighbors, which has given rise to disputes over land and borders, nationalism and culture. Such has been the case in wars or battles between Iraq and Iran, India and Pakistan, and Israel and Egypt, Syria, and others. Increasingly, combatants are not neighbors and not even in the same region, fighting instead for geopolitical, economic, and other reasons. Such has been the case with the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the British - Argentine Falkland Islands War, and the Iraq War.
However, some principles apply to all wars equally, particularly in terms of avoiding war. Utilizing the same litmus test that was described in the discussion of civil wars, ideas should not be judged on the basis of whether they alone will prevent war, but rather, whether they will promote the pathway to peace. Common to all situations where tensions are escalating and heading toward armed conflict is the need for new strategies and tactics to avoid war.
As the cirumstances of war between countries differ from those of civil war, a different approach toward deflating tensions is needed to redirect the momentum of conflict to that of collaboration.
Ideas / Solutions
In the case of potential or impending war between countries, hope lies in increasing the international scope of relations and actions. The involvement of more stakeholders and more issues of attention can transform a simple us-versus-them dynamic into a more complex fabric of consequences and interdependence, with many more layers of strategic considerations. Ultimately, it can transform pugilists into partners.
International involvement should be concomitantly increased in two ways, one old and one new. The first approach is already embraced by much of the world community in cases of escalating tensions. Other countries and international organizations often intervene in the conflict, facilitating bilateral negotiations or initiating multilateral discussions. While this is an accepted precept of international diplomacy, these efforts are not initiated as regularly or as automatically as they should be. Some opportunities for progress are missed. This style of internationalism is essentially a "global-down-to-local" approach, by which international stakeholders inject themselves into a local or regional issue.
The second area complements the first, and it is in this area that new potential for progress exists. Internationalism should also be construed as an opportunity to transport the attention and strategic resources of the conflicting countries to other matters of international concern. In so doing, it presents a "local-up-to-global" approach.
Each of the parties to the local or regional conflict would be co-opted into helping with international efforts in other regions of the world, or with other international imperatives such as addressing the shortages of food, HIV and other medications, and communications infrastructures. By collaboratively participating in -- or even leading -- initiatives or exigencies affecting other nationalities, they will become better enfranchised in the world community and become greater stakeholders in peaceful endeavors. Their credibility will be enhanced, as they demonstrate constructive action on the world stage for the improvement of conditions elsewhere. Their perception of paternalistic or patronizing intervention into their affairs by the world community will be dissipated, relieving them of that psychological burden. Economic benefits will accrue to them by their companies providing goods and services to countries or nationalities in need.
As if these benefits were not sufficient, the most direct benefit that would be experienced by the countries that had been redirected from conflict to constructive action is that they would be solving these problems together, along with other representatives from the world community. In effect, those who had been pugilists will have become partners. While it may not usher in a spirit of rainbows and light between these countries, they will craft a political alchemy and most likely gain at least a modium of respect for each other in the process. They are sure to witness that peaceful coexistence is possible.
In essence, in striving to deflate local or regional tensions, the international community should refrain from treating the combatants as wayward, unruly teens. Instead, the countries at issue should be urged to redeploy their resources for constructive purposes elsewhere on the world stage.