Critical Analysis of “New Wars” Thesis

Critical Analysis of “New Wars” Thesis

World War II ended in 1945 and the battlefield shifted from West i.e., Europe to the third world countries. Third world countries are referred as the Global South and West is denoted as the Global North. Objective nature of war hasn’t changed but subjective nature has somehow changed. Most of wars taking place in the contemporary world are Intra-state. Battlefield has shifted to third world countries; conflicts are extra-state and even sub-state. There is also shift of goals in new wars. Intensity of war is also a factor which distinguish new wars from old wars. Today, intensity of armed conflict has declined. In contemporary times, ethnic and religion based wars are taking place instead of ideology. On this basis, wars in the contemporary world are termed as “New Wars”. On the basis of several arguments, it is argued that most of the techniques which distinguish new wars from old wars, were already used in the past so new wars cannot be termed as new.

New war thesis suggests that line between combatants and the civilians has become blur which means that deaths of non-combatants are more than those of combatants in new wars and overall number of deaths have decreased today. New wars are protracted due to which displacement of some population is inevitable and number of refugees’ increase which affects other countries in negative way. In case of Afghan war, people were displaced and many came to Pakistan which created multiple problems for Pakistan. Non state actors gather finances from different low life means which include kidnapping, smuggling, drug trade etc. Also, finances are decentralized as non-state actors are funded by like-minded people, diaspora and even other states. Today, women and men are raped and it is considered as a weapon of war. This is used as a weapon and is used as a tool to humiliate the enemy. This is considered as part of the psychological warfare. This act is extensive in contemporary conflict zones. Rape of men and women affect victims physically, psychologically and in societal context e.g., the case of the Bosnian war.

Children are being used for terrorism and are recruited by the violent organizations as combatants. Children are an easy target for non-state actors as they can easily be influenced. In most of the suicide bombings, children are used after brainwashing. Population is deliberately hit by armed organizations because the objective of combatants is to prolong the war which can be done by hitting civilians and to create fear in hearts and minds of people. Also, the economies of states are collapsing due to intra-state conflicts. State’s monopoly over violence is being challenged by non-state actors. In inter-state wars, one state’s objectives were achieved but today the same objectives are not necessarily pursued in such wars. Belligerents use religious and ethnic causes to get support of specific people which creates a long-term problem in the society. Once these issues are rooted in the society then it becomes difficult to eradicate them.

Most of the above-mentioned techniques were used in the past. There is nothing new in “new wars” as many scholars suggest that all of the above violent techniques are being used in wars for very long. Civil wars existed many centuries ago. The displacement of population has happened in almost every war, e.g., even in World War II, millions were displaced from Eastern Germany. Many scholars argue that causalities in contemporary wars have decreased but the fact is, the statistics of casualties in new wars only include combatant deaths and deaths of non-combatants are not included which gives an idea that number of overall casualties have decreased but most of casualties are of the civilians in conflict between state and non-state actors.

In old wars around ninety percent of casualties were of combatants but in new wars around ninety percent deaths are of the civilians. Indirect deaths of the civilians during war or after the war also take place which include deaths due to diseases, shortage of food, malnutrition, unclean water, deliberate destruction of hospitals etc., which suggest that number of casualties haven’t decreased. In this globalized world, inter-state wars have reduced because of invention of nuclear weapons and advancement of conventional weapons. Lethality of conventional and nuclear weapons are the main reasons for reduction of inter-state wars.

Another critic on new wars thesis is that mercenaries and private militias were present in the old wars including the colonial wars. Scholars argue that the Prussian strategist Clausewitz is not applicable in the contemporary wars, but the primary trinity of Clausewitz is still relevant in new wars. Primary trinity includes firstly, primordial violence, enmity, hatred; secondly, play of chance and probability; and lastly, rational purpose or political objective. In every war whether it is new or old, there is play of chance and probability, a rational objective is the main reason which derives state or non-state actor for the war. The war takes place and is fought because of hatred and enmity too. The concept of protracted war is also not new as in the past many wars were fought for long period of time. Even there are number of wars which were fought for more than 100 years.

Rape was also seen as socially acceptable and was considered within rules of warfare e.g., ancient people considered their legitimate right on women in the areas conquered by them. Children were recruited as soldiers in old wars and are also used in new wars for terrorism etc.

In a nutshell, the term new war is used for wars in contemporary world but the tactics used in contemporary era are not new as they existed long ago. In contemporary times, these tactics are used excessively but most of the techniques which are claimed to be different in new wars are proven to be used in old wars as well.


About Ahmad Ali 2 Articles
Ahmad Ali is a third year undergraduate student of Strategic Studies at National Defence University, Islamabad.

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