Wednesday, 15 April 2015

'Old' Wars vs 'New' Wars?

Hello all! I am currently in the middle of revision season, with my A2 exams coming up in a couple of weeks, which is why I haven't been blogging as much recently. For part of my A2 politics course I am studying war and peace, and one idea which we are learning about is the idea that there is such things as 'new' wars. As a historian, I found this particularly interesting.

'New' wars are often seen to be civil wars instead of inter-state wars (95% of wars since the 1980s have been civil wars rather than between states). This is often attributed to the rise of 'zones of peace', which goes hand in hand with the 'democratic peace thesis', which suggests that the spread of liberal democracy will see the end of warfare (see the 'end of history' thesis by Francis Fukuyama for more on that). 'New' wars also use new technology such as smart weapons and satellite systems to create 'low casualty' warfare (seen in the NATO ariel bombardment of Kosovo in 1999).

'New' wars are also often identity wars. Globalisation has weakened the state leading to declining solidarity based on social class and an increase in ethnic conflict. It is often argued that 'new' wars are asymmetrical (i.e. Iraq and Afghanistan). This means that military strategies and technologies are used that will demoralise the enemy and break its political will, in order to create a more level playing field between opponents. For example guerrilla warfare is used (small-scale raids, ambushes and attacks, roadside bombs and suicide attacks), and a particular effort is made to strengthen links with the civilian population so that war becomes a form of popular resistance or insurgency. This is another component of a 'new' war; the civilian/ military distinction breaks down and war becomes 'war among the people'. Finally, 'new' wars are often said to be more barbaric than 'old' wars, in that they are no longer governed by 'rules of war'; kidnapping, torture, rape and indiscriminate killings are now common in warfare.

However I believe the distinction between 'new' and 'old' wars is misplaced. Inter-communal strife has always existed and there is nothing new about the large scale disruption of civilian life and mass civilian casualty. Additionally, wars have always been asymmetrical, forcing troops to use unconventional tactics such as mass rape. Therefore, whilst clearly the face of war is evolving thanks to new technologies and new ideas about morality, elements of 'new' and 'old' wars often coexist in 'hybrid' conflicts, and they always have done.