When examining how the nature of war has changed since the end of the cold war, we evidently must discuss the topic of old wars versus new wars and why war has been separated into these two categories. In this discussion, we will look at the primary features of old wars and new wars, such as the goals, method of warfare and how these wars are/were funded and examine examples of wars which show these differentiating features. We will also look at the decline of interstate wars and the rise of intrastate wars. To understand the ways in which the nature of war has changed, we must also understand what has not changed. We will look at the importance of understanding the changing nature of war and predictions for the future of war.
War must be distinguished into two groups because in my opinion the traditional idea of war no longer applies to modern war. The idea of two armies fighting one another in a battlefield, both sides trying to conquer power and territory cannot describe the wars of today. Old wars only involved armies, whereas today groups of people wage war against one another for many reasons, such as political or religious. Different methods of warfare began to appear and advances in technology were creating new forms of weapons after the Cold war, so academics started to discuss a new theory of modern war. New terms were created but the most well-known term of ‘new wars’ was conceptualized by Mary Kaldor. She uses these terms to describe the revolution of war after the Cold war era. She defines ‘New war’ as a ”mixture of war, organized crime and large-scale violations of human rights” (Kaldor, 2006). Many academics argue with Kaldor’s theory, suggesting that it does not apply to modern wars and simply describes civil wars. In my assignment, I will be discussing her theory and providing evidence that I believe supports it.
Old wars had geo-political or ideological goals, however, the goal of new wars is about identity politics. States in old wars would use their power to enable their ideologies whereas groups in new wars gain power from identity groups (Kaldor, 2013) New wars are about separating identities and eliminating groups of people that are different. Kaldor also explains that the goal of identity politics of new wars comes from globalisation. Globalisation has connected many people together but it has also created a separate global class of people which can promote exclusivity of identities. Due to the advances of technology, communication has reached a global scale, so a small conflict between two identity groups can gather the support and attention from people all over the world (Kaldor,2006). The difference between old and new wars is that you can end an old war by defeating the enemy, winning, or by comprise. Contrarily, the parties involved in a new war gain power by continuing to fight. The goal of an old war was to win, and it was a war that was an extension of politics.
The second feature that differentiates old wars from new wars is the method of warfare. As previously mentioned, the traditional way of war was through battles. Old wars created a clear military/civilian divide in which only state armies were involved. These wars were usually symmetrical and were conducted under internationally agreed rules – for example, the Geneva conventions in which prisoners of war are treated humanely. Battles were planned, and the acquisition of territory was gained by military means. In new wars, battles are scarce and territory is captured through the political control of the population. Control is obtained by instilling terror and eradicating groups of different identities. Guerilla and insurgency tactics are used. New wars attempt to gain political rather than physical control of the population. It is difficult to distinguish between civilians and the military as the war is conducted by state and non-state actors. A war of terror is directed at the civilian population (Kaldor,2006). For this reason, there are more civilian deaths in new wars. Kaldor explains that ”at the turn of the twentieth century, the ratio of military to civilian casualties in wars was 8:1. Today, this has been almost exactly reversed; in the wars of the 1990s, the ratio of military to civilian casualties is approximately 1:8”. In 2015, Boko Haram killed more than 6000 civilians in an attack (Uhrmacher and Sheridan, 2016). These wars are often asymmetrical- for example, the post invasion violence in Afghanistan/Iraq.
The third feature that Kaldor discusses is the financing of old and new wars. In old wars, money was raised through taxation for the armed forces and so the war was funded by the state. Kaldor states that ” New war economies are decentralized. Participation in the war is low and unemployment is high” and therefore the economies of new wars rely on external sources. Conflict is financed through criminal activity: pillaging, sale of drugs, precious mineral, extortion of civilians. New wars create an interest in the enterprise of wars. They also permit behaviors that would be viewed as illegal during more harmonious times. This can also promote the continuation of war as external sources profit from the furtherance of conflict.
The new war theory is applicable in many examples such as Bosnia, Afghanistan, Mexico etc. For example, countries like Afghanistan and Mexico have valuable resources and poor economies, they are ruled by weak states and fueled by corruption, which makes them liable to violence. Criminals fund the war in these countries and profit from the ability to easily smuggle goods to and from these countries because of the ongoing wars occurring there. The new war theory offers an understanding of how a weak state, a war economy and raw materials can lead to continuing conflict in a country. The Bosnian war is an example of how civilians are primarily terrorised in new wars and the goal is to remove the threat of differentiation and cleanse an ethnicity. Bosnian Serbs wanted to remove all non-Serbs (Bosnian Muslims and Croatians). Crimes against civilians were used to separate families and instill terror. All residents that were against a ‘Greater Serbia’ were denied access to food, water and were not allowed to communicate.
To examine the changing nature of war, one must look at what has changed and what has not changed. Although Kaldor gives insightful opinions of modern wars and provides a theory of ‘new war’, there are faults to her theory. Clausewitz explains that “war, though conditioned by the particular characteristics of states and their armed forces, must contain some more general—indeed a universal element with which every theorist ought above all to be concerned.” He also explains how war has two natures, ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’. The subjective nature of war will always change but the objective nature will not. One can argue that his theory of the nature of war will always describe future armed conflicts. It can also be argued that the goal of identity has always been a feature of war, not just new war. Edward Newman argues that athough there are wars which fit the description of new wars perfectly, such as the war in Bosnia, there are also modern wars which have features that are not new. In his opinion, he believes these ‘new war’ features have appeared in history before but that now “academics, policy analysts, and politicians are focusing on these factors more than before”. One can also argue that perhaps what Kaldor has described as a ‘new war theory’ may just be a trend which will fade.
Although there are faults to Kaldor’s theory, one cannot overlook the necessity of the point she is making. There are features of old and new wars that are similar, but the understanding of the changing nature of war today is crucial when trying to find solutions to modern wars. Kaldor admits that modern wars may not be entirely ‘new’ but she uses the word to try and change one’s idea of ‘traditional war’. It is this traditional ideology that prevents policy makers from making the right decisions when handling the sensitive issue of modern wars today. One must understand that in new wars, civilians are not protected. They are the biggest victims of wars today and need the most external help because they cannot get support from their weak governing states. It is also important to understand that a lot of wars today are issues of identities and there is not always an easy solution to this. The fighters in these wars follow no rules and are not trained army forces, which can make them harder to deal with. It is also important to understand that what may have begun as a peaceful protest from civilians looking for change, can turn into a full-blown war, fueled by people who profit from the ongoing conflict. For example, the Syrian war began 7 years by a peaceful uprising against their President.
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