Is there anything that is really ‘new’ about contemporary wars?

Then, and now. Conflicts.

From the end of World War II, to the start of the Cold War; the term “war” has resonated amongst politicians, governments and think-tanks. For the past century, the amount of conflicts around the world had increased significantly. However, the nature of wars has changed within its time and place. The old wars; traditional wars in foci of the last great World War, have evolved into a more internal state affair within the government, much to the extent of a contemporary or ‘new’ war.

Who were the actors? What was the motivation for a major conflict? How did these ‘new’ wars create a façade for the consequential immanence that had to be resolved? Does short-term intervention really aid a conflict affected country? To understand the undermining reason behind the evolution of wars to a contemporary one, we have to look at the past.

Traditional wars, as according to Carl Von Clausewitz , “War is a continuation of politics by other means”.

It takes place between two states, using military force in a direct notion against each other. The ultimate goal is to seize the opponent’s territory, and to completely coerce the opponent’s army render helpless. The Nazi Germany invasion of Poland on 1st September 1940 was such a case that the defeat of Poland within a matter of weeks, but with the help of the Soviet Union. Fallen states and seized territories, the increase of state power; the occupation of Luxembourg, the Netherlands, France and Belgium.

However, the aftermath of World War II spelled the end of traditional wars. The two superpowers which emerged from the Allied victory formed United Nations; an Intergovernmental organisation with 51 member states, to promote international cooperation between countries. This forcefully brought the context of wars into a different view angle. The conflict of war was no longer between states, but rather conflicts within a certain country. The ambiguity of the neoteric which is described as contemporary wars, preceded by traditional wars, is unconventional which its complexity lays in a certain extent.

Some may argue that contemporary wars are not new. The internal conflicts within the Cold War period were examples of weaker wars; the categorisation of socio and economic damage done to afflicted countries were similar to post-Cold War.

“The term ‘new’ is a way to exclude ‘old’ assumptions about the nature of war and to provide the basis for a novel research methodology.” (Kaldor, 2013 In Defence of New Wars, p3).

Contemporary wars are sustained in internal conflicts; government against factions. The main motive was to establish identity politics, much inclined to political benefits, and immediate gains such as a revolution in the context of a civil war. For these establishments to be cemented, territories are captured through political uprisings and the successful shift of control over the civilian population. Identity politics are a form of longing to a certain group of factions, which extensively portray one’s expressive political ideology. The clash of identity politics on a massive scale was projected on the former Yugoslavia.

The same could be applied to the Syrian civilian war. The conflict between the Assad Regime and the rebel forces, of the latter that consists of several sectoral military factions; Al Nusra, Free Syrian Army, the Islamic State and many others. However, the misconception of ‘new’ wars is often vindicated in its complexity of nature and scale. The global war on terrorism preceded by the attacks of September 11 on American soil, raises the question. Are we dealing a new kind of war? Are we garnering on a new kind of warfare? This was the first unprecedented attack on a foreign soil; the hijacking of civilian airplanes which decimated the two World Trade Tower buildings, claiming almost 3000 civilian lives. The forage of this terrorist attack was massive in its kind, carried out by non-state actors which represented a terrorist group. The nature of contemporary wars was retained evidently; but the scale of the calamity and its notion, were played by a new actor, Al Qaeda.

The scale of these contemporary wars, are often measured by war indicators. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), its war index changes incrementally through time.

During the 1990s, SIPRI defined major armed conflicts as: “prolonged combat between the military forces of two or more governments, or of one government and at least one organised armed group, involving the use of weapons and incurring the battle-related deaths of at least 1,000 people during the entire conflict and in which the incompatibility concerns government and/or territory.”

The data collected from these wars were based on the number of fatal casualties, which ultimately determines whether a conflict within a state constitutes a war. However, the nature of the conflict cannot be determined by its statistics, which in this index depends on a key quantitative measurement. It does not consider or explains the intensity or the causal propensity which may lead to a global intervention from neighbouring states.

The complexity and scale of contemporary wars are intricately defined by these indexes and references. However, the nuance of ‘new’ insinuations will be redefined in these markers, which ultimately stresses the use of old assumptions as comparable. There is definitely something ‘new’ about contemporary wars; there are new policies, new actors, new warfare and new long-term resolutions to replace the obsolete to end a contemporary war.


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