One of the most prominent changes in the world order post-Cold War has been the in the context of war and warfare. Wars conventional definition of war can be defined as an armed conflict between two or more states and this concept has been widely accepted due to the Westphalian state-system.
Wars were waged as a instrument of state policy and ‘laws of wars’ were developed. However, in the 21st century, armed conflict between states is no longer the sole choice to settle disputes. Gorbachave’s speech in the United Nations in 1988, laid down the foundation for greater cooperation between states and war is not considered as a legitimate in International affairs. ‘New Wars’ are the wars of the era of globalisation. Usually, they take place in areas where authoritarian states have been greatly weakened as a consequence of opening up to the rest of the world, corruption or bad governance. In such situations, the distinction between state and non-state, external and internal, economic and political, public and private and even war and peace are breaking down.
The break down of these binary distinctions is both a cause and a consequence of violence. Kaldor defines new wars as having the basic three characteristics. firstly, they are based on claiming identity, not territory. Secondly, Guerrilla and terror tactics used. And lastly, International crime impacts how such wars are funded. Other characteristics of new wars are that majority of the targeted victims are non-uniformed civilians rather than uniformed combatants. Ethnic divisions are perpetuated and the disintegration of the state is exacerbated.Mary Kaldor has summarised the difference between new wars and old wards in actors, methods, goals and the financing.
Firstly, talking about the actors involved, it can be said that New wars are fought by varying combinations of networks of state and non-state actors – regular armed forces, private security contractors, mercenaries, jihadists, warlords, paramilitaries, etc. Old wars were fought between the armies of the state. Secondly, when talking about the methods that are employed, we see that territories are rarely usd and war is waged through political means and the displacement of the population. These people flee the country for safetly and end up being refugees. Violence is largely targeted towards civilians as a way of controlling the state territory rather than against the enemy’s standing army. In old wars, the main method of waging war comprised of capturing the territory through the use of military forces.
Thirdly, the New wars are fought in the name of identity which can be religious, territorial or tribal. Identity politics has a different logic and basis from ideology or geo-politics. The rise of identity politics is directly associated with new communications technologies, with migration both from the towns and villages to the country and across the world (state to state), and the eradication of more inclusive political ideologies like nationalism and socialism. Perhaps most importantly, identity politics is constructed through war.
Old wars were mainly fought for ideology or geo-political gains. Lastly, new wars are a part of the globalised world which comprise open decentralised economies. In the weaker states, tax revenue is declining and new wars are motivated by economic gains.
Old wars were largely financed by states. According to Andrew Heywood, the ‘new wars’ tend to exhibit some similar features. These include more civil wars than inter-state wars, more asymmetrical warfare and identity wars. The rise in civil wars and decline in inter-state war has been a marked feature of the post-cold war era. Recently, the world has witnessed a civil armed conflict in countries such as Yemen, Somail, Iraq and Libya. This is mainly due to the poor governance and weak institutions in these countries. However, there have been exceptions, such as the Iraq-Iran war.
Asymmetric warfare is fought between two states who have unequal levels of military and economic power. The weaker state indulges in guerrilla warfare and suicide attacks to counter the better resourced army. Modern wars are often portrayed as identity wars. Earlier, wars were motivated for geopolitical reasons or ideological goals. However, modern wars often arise from cultural discord. The primary motivation for the conflict is the demand by the people for their collective identity to be publicly and politically recognised. Weapons of mass destruction are the primary reason for the emergence of ‘new wars’.
As the world has become nuclear, no country blatantly attacks another just for territorial expansion. This is no longer acceptable in world politics and may result in harsh criticism from the other states and the imposing of sanctions which is both economically and diplomatically harmful for a state. Attacking another major world power for more global authority is also no longer a viable option due to the nuclear weapons.
All prominenant global players (the states) in the arena now possess nuclear capability. The concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD) has become very popular in state politics. However, in the 21st century, wars are not waged for military strength but rather for economic purposes and for relative benefits. Resources and power play a central role in new wars and many new wars are fought over or sustained by the presence and control of the natural resources. President Xi Jinping’s new vision of one belt, one road (OBOR) has changed the dynamics of the world order.
This new era of greater connectivity, which is often termed as globalisation 2.0, has led to greater influence of China in world politics. China was already dominating the world with its products and had penetrated the markets of all the major states. China’s rapid upward economic trajectory, especially since the end of cold war, has created a possibility that it could easily overtake the economies of the North American and West European states.
If this happens, then China would be in a position to challenge the economic and the possible political leadership, particularly within regional organisations and international regimes. In the 21st century, war is not fought by conventional methods but through economic means. An example of this could be the United States’ presence in the South China Sea in order to contain China, which has been seeking security through economic expansion and is a direct threat to US hegemony.
‘The Asia Pivot’ is widely perceived as a US strategy to revert to the pre- 9/11 strategy focused on China. Although the Obama administration rejected the notion that the policy of ‘the Asia Pivot’ was directed towards containing China, most of the US policies since then have been focused on limiting China’s role and influence in the region. However, international influence or involvement in a new war need not be of an aggressive or negative nature.
The way we most commonly and transparently see international actors becoming involved in local conflicts is through global humanitarian efforts and government interventions. The concept of ‘new wars’ is often criticised. It is argued that new wars are not new and are infact the low intensity wars which has previously been overshadowed by the cold war.
This is partially true. Many of the features of new wars can be found in earlier wars but the main new elements have to do with globalisation and technology which have changed the model of war. Whereas old wars were concerned with state building, the new wars are associated with dismantling a state.