contemporary conflicts instead dismantle state structures.
But it would differ from existing operations in that it would be based on a different understanding of contemporary violence. Rather than ‘solving’ a deep-seated political contest, the aim would be to transform the social condition that constitutes a new war.
National security strategies, based on concepts of deterrence or traditional military capabilities, are based on the assumption that a third world war is the worst contingency we can imagine. However, this approach to security seems increasingly anachronistic when a range of other existential threats appear more immediate – climate change or deadly pandemics, for example
In the past, major inter-state wars played a critical role in enabling the new to be born, by transforming states and the international order. This is why legitimacy of states is bound up with classic national security strategies, based on regular military forces designed to fight war against other states.
Contemporary wars such as those taking place in Syria, Yemen or the Democratic Republic of Congo are very different to this classic notion of inter-state war
the effectiveness of political institutions depends on their capacity to provide human security; we need national, global and regional institutions that are able to address the spread of global violence, to reduce violence rather than to win through violence.
old war’ is the stylised version of nineteenth and twentieth century European inter-state wars. We think of such wars as deep-rooted political contests between two sides. These wars were fought by regular armies, organised vertically under the control of the state, and the decisive encounter of the war was battle
As Charles Tilly has shown , ‘old wars’ tended to be state-building. They were existential events –hugely destructive but also transformative
Such bargains led to the regularisation of borrowing and taxation, alongside more efficient administrative structures; the guarantee of certain rights for its citizens – civil rights in the eighteenth century, political rights in the nineteenth century and economic and social rights in the twentieth century. To persuade people to pay tax, monarchs had initially to provide security within the country
e adaptation of military means to improve performance in battle profoundly influenced the evolution of technology. Thus the Napoleonic wars led to liberal reforms; the establishment of the Concert of Europe, which largely kept the nineteenth century peace; and rapid growth of the textile industry.
Contemporary wars are very different. They are better described as a social condition, or even a mutual enterprise, rather than a contest between ‘sides.’ They involve numerous armed groups who gain from the violence itself rather than from winning or losing.
Pitched battles between armed groups are rare, with most violence instead directed against civilians; this is because the various groups establish territorial control through political rather than military means – they kill or expel those who oppose them, usually those of a different religion and ethnicity. Forced displacement, ethnic cleansing, the destruction of cultural symbols, or systemic sexual violence are all hallmarks of contemporary wars. Thus the armed groups gain in political terms through violence – they mobilise around increasingly extremist ethnic and religious ideologies.
They deliberately weaken and undermine the rule of law. They construct a newly rich class of ethnic or religious warlords.
In contrast to old wars that tended towards the extreme, contemporary wars tend toward persistence and spread. Their effects are felt throughout the globe, through the spread of refugees, through the virus of ethnic and religious ideologies, through organised crime – the transnational smuggling networks and associated money-laundering activities –and through the reproduction of newly cast gender relation
In old war terms, the alternative to military intervention is negotiation among the parties. In contemporary wars this is very difficult, both because there are so many armed groups, and because they have an interest in continued violence.
Involving civil society in political discussions at all levels is a prerequisite for the establishment of a legitimate political authority. By civil society, I do not mean NGOs; rather I refer to civilians or active citizens who are not involved in fighting and who are concerned about the public interest, especially women, and who offer a political alternative to sectarian identities.
An alternative approach would both tackle some of the worst aspects of the war economy in very specific ways, but simultaneously focus on creating legitimate livelihoods, while developing public works and the provision of core services. It is possible to identify concrete proposals for addressing the war economy and promoting legitimate livelihoods so as to reduce the incentives for war but these proposals are different in different areas and can only be identified through analysis and communication at local levels, particularly with civil society.
Clausewitz explained , tended to the extreme, that is to say they involved ever increasing levels of violence, as political leaders tried to achieve their political goals, as generals tried to disarm their opponents, and hatred and fear were aroused among their populations.
There were also classic civil wars that involved a deep seated political contest between government and rebels, but by and large full-scale battle was avoided
Over half a million people have died, the vast majority as a consequence of deliberate bombing of civilians by the Syrian regime and by Russia. Western countries also became involved because large parts of the territory were taken over by ISIS and this led to even more bloodshed. A country which, only a decade ago, used to export food is now close to famine.
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