PO135 Summative Essay: 1506013
What characterises the nature of contemporary warfare?
This essay will focus on the most popular contemporary warfare theory, Mary Kaldor’s ‘New War’ thesis which contributes a formulaic approach to the revolution in warfare following the Cold War Era. Working with Kaldor’s lens, I will examine the supposed defining features of ‘new wars,’ including the role of civilians within the framework of modern-war and the methods used to finance the War Economy. Many have speculated that an equation-like approach to contemporary warfare is not complete and fails to capture its complex and multi-varied nature. This essay will engage with these notable critics, like Berdal, Hoffman and Booth to evaluate the limiting features and usefulness of her theory. Kaldor places great significance on the spread of globalisation that has arguably lead to the death of territorialized sovereignty (Agnew, 2009, p. 9). I will call into question the effect of this, namely focusing on war driven by identity politics and the decline of political legitimacy. The reduction in numbers of inter-state warfare has been furthered by technological advancements in precision weaponry, like drones. Argued by Kaldor to be a ‘technology intensive’ (Kaldor, 2012, p. 180) form of Old War, I will consider what effect a physical detachment to ongoing conflict has on our interpretation of war and its place in society. Using Kaldor’s suggestion of a more civilised form of security that established a viable legal system, I will consider the problems posed by the aims of contemporary war. In addition, this essay will engage with the ‘Network War’ and ‘Hybrid War’ theses’ from a critical point of view, to extend Kaldor’s existing argument.
One of the most frequently cited aspects of contemporary warfare has been the eradication of inter-state conflict, now shifted to be conducted by both state and non-state actors. Kaldor attributes this change to be driven by globalisation ‘breaking up…cultural and socio-economic divisions (Kaldor, 2012, p. 72),’ therefore characterised by conflict based on conflicting social identities. In the supposed era of ‘post-truth’ politics, populist movements clash over immigration in the West whilst Hindu and Chinese nationalism drive policies in the Indian and Chinese governments respectively. However, the most extreme form of identity politics today has been manifested in the rise of Islamic State (Lind, 2015). Kaldor’s position that identity struggles are ‘new’ is open to doubt; it has been noted by Ken Booth that political mobilization on the grounds of identity was the very hallmark of nationalist movements against anti-imperialism half a century ago (Booth, 2001, p. 166). Nonetheless, both writers agree that modern warfare must be understood in the context of what Kaldor calls a ‘global dislocation’ (Kaldor, 2012, p. 72).
The role of civilians within the framework of modern warfare has been frequently debated. Kaldor asserts that civilians have become the new rational targets for violence, as new wars contain a far higher ratio of civilian to military casualties (Kaldor, 2012, p. 94). Current statistics seem to verify this surprising claim; the UN Development Programme stated in its Human Development Report that ‘Civilian Fatalities have climbed from 5% of war-related deaths at the turn of the century to more than 90% in the wars of 1990’ (Roberts, 2010, p. 120). However, the widespread prevalence of this statistic should not translate to an accepted truth. The accountability of the ratio between civilian and military deaths is highly speculative. One objection to this argument is that the implied assumption is wrong. Previous wars were not only fought between military forces as Siege warfare had massive ramifications on citizens, used as a form of leverage many centuries ago. However, the parameters used to measure the number of civilian casualties have not been properly questioned. As war transitioned towards intra-state conflict, the role of the citizen and soldier has become blurred to the point that they are no longer distinct. Moreover, there are several inconsistencies between offered claims as to whether death also encompassed injured or displaced people (Roberts, 2010, p. 123). In conjunction with this, the Human Security Report 2005, claimed to be the ‘most comprehensive annual survey of trends in warfare’ concluded that the 90% statistic for civilian casualties was an ‘urban myth’ of contemporary warfare (Roberts, 2010, p. 124). The idea of rationally targeting civilians is at odds with arguably a defining feature of modern warfare, that of the use of drones. According to Obama’s Advisor Harold Koh, drones-strikes are reliant on principles of ‘distinction and proportionality’ (Koh, 2010) which minimizes the risk to civilians that would result from a ‘boots-on-the-ground’ approach.
Kaldor further upholds this stance by using greater numbers of displaced persons as evidence that warfare has become population-centric. However, an increased number of refugees does not necessarily equate to warfare targeting civilians as several other explanations could be provided. For instance, the greater ease of movement between borders and acceptance of refugees has made the prospect of moving more likely or refugees could be economic migrants. One could also argue that the end of widespread conscription could be responsible for higher proportion of civilian deaths; previously, enlisted citizens would fall under the bracket of military casualties. Thus, there is not enough direct proof to conclude that civilians are being deliberately targeted. However, it would be reasonable to affirm that the proportion of the population displaced from war-zones is significantly higher, due to intra-state war often occurring in civilian areas.
Kaldor distinguishes between old wars, financed centrally from the state and new wars taking place in a failed-state setting, often with low levels of public participation. The failed-state is defined by a decline in state revenue, leading to a spread of criminality, corruption and inefficiency (Kaldor, 2013, p. 158). This type of modern war is funded through external means, such as remittances, third party assistance and scattered support and is attributed to a decline in political legitimacy, echoed by Robert Kaplan in the ‘Coming Anarchy’. In the failed state, the lack of cohesion and inability to collect taxes from citizens leads to a privatisation of violence, after which Kaplan suggests a return to a Hobbesian ‘State of Nature’ (Kaplan, 1994). De Waal, by contrast, argues that Kaldor’s thesis is mostly based on the decentralisation of the state and is therefore only representative of warfare in under-developed countries (Utas, 2012, pp. 1-34). Subsequently, this failed-state theory cannot be taken as illustrative of modern warfare across the globe. Furthermore, the assumption in Kaldor’s case is that both actors have no access to state resources, hence the ‘criminal’ measures. This is not representative of asymmetric cases, for example Pentagon Military spending, where there is still extensive state funding.
In his critique, Mats Berdal argues that ‘new wars’ are solely describing civil wars as the various features, such as a decentralised economy and conflict between non-state actors, are aspects that play an important role in civil conflict (Berdal, 2003, pp. 477-502). Statistically speaking, since the seminal ‘New War’ of Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995, the proportion of countries with civil war or conflict has dropped from 0.22 to 0.13 (Roser & Nagdy, 2016). Yet, Kaldor emphasised in her later defence that new wars are not Civil Wars and her argument was not used to suggest that modern warfare had become more fatal, rather to capture the changing character of war (Kaldor, 2013, p. 8). Berdal’s definition fails to consider this decline of political legitimacy that underpins modern conflict. Contemporary warfare is not just civil; the new war thesis encompasses several cases that Berdal has omitted, including sectarian conflict, criminal violence and transnational terrorism. Particularly in the Middle East and Africa, the state has lost its monopoly of armed force (Hobsbawm, 2002), thus military grade weapons are now widely available to non-state actors. Subsequently, the failure of the central economy has lead warring parties to become ‘self-provisioning’ (Duffield, 2002, pp. 153-166). Paramilitary groups are now able to extend their networks into other industries, including both legal and illegal businesses to continue funding the war economy. Kaldor’s definition has right considered this view and captures how local resources are used in global markets to fuel insurgencies.
Given the notion that contemporary war extends to more than just civil conflict, Kaldor brings into question cases of asymmetrical warfare between a state and non-state group. Having considered the imbalance of power and funding, it would be reasonable to look at the effects of technological advancement on our interpretation of war. The start of the 21st Century saw a ‘Reinvention in Military affairs’ presided over by then Secretary of State, Donald Rumsfeld. This landmark era, following on from several technological advancements, saw an increased prevalence of armed drones. Westerners are no longer in proximity to violent events, with conflicts predominantly taking place in Asia and Africa as found by the Global Conflict Tracker (Stares, 2017).
Consequently, the use of drone-strikes has become a characteristic of contemporary asymmetric war. Despite this Kaldor asserts that drone warfare is just an ongoing extension of older methods and does not represent a significant shift in warfare strategy (Kaldor, 2012, p. 180). This section will focus on the evidence in support of this position, with emphasis on the use of drones by the United States against Pakistan. The decision-making process behind drone strikes is largely unclear, described by journalist James Traub as ‘remaining covert and classified’ (Traub, 2012) hence furthering the divide between the public and state. In addition, the number of drone strikes has increased from 48 in the Bush Administration to 302 since Obama came to power (Tiedemann & Bergen, 2013, p. 4). Thus, the ease of drones is now leading to fears that the system of targeted killings will become institutionalized. Given the advantages and efficiencies of drones, by the same token we must take into consideration the complications arising from targeted strikes. Looking at the evolution of warfare, Neta C Crawford argues that war is taken to be an expression of human aggression and subsequently the ‘background ideas’ of war have never been questioned (Crawford, 2016, p. 283). This offers an explanation as to why war has been such an arduous constant over the course of human history. Kaldor’s solution to this pressing problem comes in the form of a different type of intervention, constructing a legitimate political authority (Kaldor, 2012, p. 182).
Hence, the greatest downside of drone warfare lies in its complete lack of mechanism in place to fight the structural causes of war. Targeted killings only serve to eradicate the enemy in the most cost-effective way possible without gaining intelligence about the infrastructure of the paramilitary groups targeted. For this reason, Kaldor’s position is tenable. Drone usage has a complete absence of any humanitarian element and is simply a technologically-advanced form of Clausewitzian-era conflict, where war was an ‘act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will (Clausewitz, 1984, p. 1). This point is also sustained by Trevor McCrisken, who suggests the methodology behind drone strikes is not new and likened to procedures used in Vietnam where success was measured in the numbers killed (McCrisken, 2013, p. 118). The immediate priority to kill over-rides the more difficult process of capturing, arguably contravening humanitarian law due to a worrying ‘lack of disclosure’ (Alston, 2010, p. 26). Some speculate that Obama himself is responsible for the final decision (Becker & Shane, 2012) whereas others believe government entities like the CIA have the delegated responsibility (Mayer, 2009).
Kaldor then goes on to attribute the failure of the Iraq War to a style of ‘old war’ thinking that is embodied by this manner, where the aggressors failed to plan for the aftermath and didn’t engage with the population, leaving a power vacuum (Kaldor, 2012, p. 157). Primarily due its operational effectiveness without endangering American forces, Annie Lowrey explains that the use of drones will usher in a ‘very different vision of count-terrorism and war’ (Carlson, 2009). Consequently, there is legitimacy to Kaldor’s claim that technological advancements are not sufficient and a different approach to security is needed. Future governments will likely immediately resort to the system of targeted killings without considering the underlying structural causes of terrorist groups.
The perpetual nature of war is further exacerbated by consistent military spending in the pentagon, that has not received general questioning despite far exceeding spending during the cold war (Bacevich, 2005). McCrisken builds on this point, arguing that since the Gulf War in 1991, the American Public have received an increasingly sanitised interpretation of war (McCrisken, 2013, p. 110). The prospect and preparation for war has become so normalised in society and is generally accepted to the point that there is a complete voidance of ethnical discussion (Healey, 2011). With the advent of drone warfare this problem is only exacerbated and the operational effectiveness of drones needs consideration. For every target eradicated another takes its place leading to a never-ending cycle; many, including Kaldor argue that unpopular opinion of drones in targeted countries feeds the recruiting process of many militant groups (Kaldor, 2010). Thus, the ideals behind war do not seem to have changes as there has been no radical shift in thinking about the purpose of conflict, only an extension of the same, existing beliefs.
Given the diminution of inter-state conflict furthered by the onslaught of globalisation, the conduct of war has evolved into to be a complex, multi-dimensional phenomenon. Kaldor affirms that war can no longer be defined within the sphere of territorial battles, instead driven by political ideologies. Contemporary war cannot be characterised as a discrete event and as discussed previously, tends to fall under the bracket of guerrilla warfare or paramilitary fighting. Research conducted into modern warfare has found that most are inclined to descend into a vicious cycle of violence interspersed with periods of relative peace. Almost all the 39 countries that have seen civil war in the 21st century experienced another in the previous three decades (Unknown, 2011). The lack of structure in modern war is echoed by Frank Hoffman, who argues in his hybrid war thesis that modern warfare has become multifaceted and can no longer be defined distinctly. Hoffman’s definition can be used to extend Kaldor’s argument as contemporary war can be fought through economic or network-based mediums to aggrandize wealth, not solely through criminal tactics. According to Hoffman, the features of contemporary war are not black or white and multiple tactics can be employed simultaneously, both conventional, irregular or terrorist in nature (Hoffman, 2007, p. 7). However, due to the high proportion of paramilitary conflicts, it would be a fallacy to describe contemporary wars in conventional terms. Instead, state interest is offered in the form of clandestine support, for example external funding or through third party assistance. Whilst wars fought on different fronts are not a unique historical phenomenon, modern hybrid wars are different in that either side utilises a full spectrum of methods into the same battle-zone within the same operational force (Hoffman, 2009, p. 36).
In conclusion, the new war theory has played a pivotal role in understanding and interpreting the evolving character of warfare. As with all concepts, there are limitations and Kaldor’s formulaic approach does not reflect the complexities underpinning every contemporary conflict. The ‘new war’ theory disregards asymmetric conflict and overplays the position of civilians as the rational targets contemporary warfare. Moreover, few of these aspects are radically ‘new’. However, Kaldor captures the essence behind the phenomena of globalised wars; the ‘red herring’ goals in the name of identity labels, the failed-state losing its monopoly on violence paving the way for private fighting bodies and the shift towards intra-state warfare causing an upwards trend in the global proportion displaced. By rightfully contextualising drone warfare within the frame of ‘old-war’ methods, Kaldor helps to understand why killing mechanisms cause more problems than those resolved. Through this perspective, the failure of various contemporary wars like Iraq and Afghanistan can be better understood, due to a lack of planning for the aftermath and failure to establish a legitimate governing body. This analysis incurs the possibility for a new humanitarian method of intervention that considers the structural causes of war and can consequently account for the fragmented society within a failed state.
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