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Cabinet wars, derived from the German expression Kabinettskriege (German: [kabiˈnɛtsˌkʁiːɡə], singular Kabinettskrieg), refers to the type of wars which affected Europe during the period of absolute monarchies, from the 1648 Peace of Westphalia to the 1789 French Revolution. They are also known as "wars between princes." Such wars involved small armies, officer corps from the nobility, the use of mercenaries, limited war goals, and frequently changing coalitions among the belligerents. In contrast with preceding wars of religion and 20th century total wars or revolutionary people's wars, cabinet wars had limited goals. The German term Kabinettskriege plays on Kabinettsregierung (Cabinet government), Kabinettsjustiz (Cabinet law), etc.

The Thirty Years' War, based on religious conflict, had been marked by plundering and marauding armies. Order was reestablished by the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which formulated the rules of international relations which held force for centuries, in particular in respect to the laws of war (jus ad bellum and jus in bello). During the Age of Enlightenment and under the direction of the "enlightened despots," wars became more regulated. Civilian populations were still affected, but incidents such as the 1572 St. Bartholomew's Day massacre became exceptional. Thus Berlin was not plundered during the Seven Years' War of 1756-1762, despite having fallen into enemy hands not once but twice.

Cabinet wars, which mostly took place between 1650 and 1792, included:

The development of the levée en masse (mass conscription) during the French Revolution put an end to cabinet wars. Later wars were not simply due to conflict between princes, but involved nationalism and conflicts over the boundaries of nation-states. Thus, the Peninsular War was called by Spanish the "independence war"; this conflict also led to the first guerrilla warfare, against the regular Napoleonic army. A bit later Napoleon's invasion of Russia, called Patriotic War in Russian historiography, also sparked considerable guerrilla warfare. The Crimean War (1854-1856) could be classified, however, among the "cabinet wars," as it was conducted with limited goals and released only moderate passions from the people of the involved belligerent states.


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