Dropping the notion of 'victory' could lead to a more realistic understanding of modern warfare, suggests research.

The idea that war is all about winning is deeply lodged in popular thinking. But how useful is the notion of 'winning' when applied to contemporary warfare? New research into the ethics of war, exit strategies and how wars end suggests we should consider how useful the language of victory is to modern society.

Decoupling the idea of military success from the notion of decisive battlefield victories could lead to a more realistic understanding of modern warfare and what it can achieve, say researchers from the University of Glasgow's Moral Victories project.

"In an age of seemingly unwinnable wars and messy endgame situations such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya we have lost a clear notion of what victory in war looks like or how to end wars well," says researcher Dr Cian O'Driscoll.

While President Obama was uncomfortable with the idiom of victory, and tried to excise it from US strategic discourse, the notion of winning is very much hardwired into people’s thinking.

"It's not a concept you can easily erase from people’s consciousness, especially when it comes to war," says Dr O’Driscoll. Events have borne this out, as the rhetoric of victory has made a comeback under the Trump Presidency.

But clear benefits could ensue, the study suggests, if, rather than seeking to pretend that the term victory does not exist, politicians and military minds engaged it in new and creative ways. O'Driscoll says these benefits could be significant: "If we could better tailor what we think war can achieve to the realities of modern warfare then we may produce more realistic objectives rather than mortgage populations to never-ending wars."