The Dartmouth Observer
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
The Changing Dimensions of Warfare
News24 had an interesting article triumphantly entitled: "World a Safer Place." While it would be wrong for me to compare this proclamation to Neville Chamberlain's ill-fated proclamation that the would of the 1930s would have "peace in [their] time" as he showcased the infamous Munich peace agreement with the German government, I believe that the conclusions of the news article may be unwarranted.
The article begins by stating "a study issued on Monday paints a surprising picture of war and peace in the 21st century: Armed conflicts have declined by more than 40% since 1992, and genocide and human rights abuses have plummeted around the world. The only form of political violence that appears to be getting worse is international terrorism - a serious threat that nonetheless kills extraordinarily few people per year compared to wars, it said." Naturally, this is good news because "there has been a shift away from the huge wars of the 1950s, '60s and '70s where million-strong armies faced each other with conventional weapons. "The average war today tends to be a very small, low intensity conflict, fought with ill-trained troops, small arms and light weapons, often very brutal, with lots of civilians killed - but the absolute numbers of people being killed are ... much, much smaller than they were before," he said."
The article continued: "The number of international crises, often harbingers of war, fell by more than 70% between 1981 and 2001, the report said. Notwithstanding the genocides in Rwanda in 1994 and the Bosnian city of Srebrenica in 1995, mass killings because of religion, ethnicity or political beliefs plummeted by 80% between the 1988 high point and 2001, it said." (emphasis mine)
This article, in summarizing the report, gets a few key details absolutely correct. First, major power war--where two or more major powers fight each other on the battle field--has decreased by 100% since 1945. For various reasons debated by scholars, no one expects any of the European states to start a major, nor, do any other states seem particlarly inclined to militarily threaten any European, former Soviet, or American state with annihilation. War between democracies and major industrialized countries (with the possible execption of India and Pakistan) today seems so improbable as to be impossible. Second, convential war between most of the non-great power states also seems to be relatively decline. I can agree with that: very few states seem posed to attack each other with convential national forces. Third, international crises between states also seems to have decreased.
The report, however, obscures the major sources of instability in the international system today.
One, most the factors that cause wars are not viewed as international, but rather as either regional or domestic. For instance, if an underdeveloped state moves into a period of economic insolvency, civil war, or violent political conflict, the factors that cause these conflicts are seen as endongeous to the state or region and not as international. International organizations, sometimes at the behest of their most powerful sponsors and sometimes on their intiatives, use their leverage and limited means of pressure to force internal change within these emerging states. Since the relative coercive power of non-state international actors are highest due times of crises in these states, these actors attach strings to their aid and assistance. Two examples will help toward illustrating my point. The first example is of the tatics available to international financial institutions. The second involves the corrosive effects of changing prices on the international market for countries that have one main export.
There have been many examples of postcolonial states weakening due to economic "shock therapy" as a part of the structural adjustment programs as applied by international financial organizations such as the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. John Rapley, in Understanding Development: Theory and Practice in the Third World, denotes that the idea of structural adjustment, a theory of economic development, “embodies the goals of neoclassical [capitalism]: it places the market at the center stage, assigns the state a secondary role in development, and puts it faith in the potential of unfettered individual initiative, creativity, and ingenuity.” Structural adjustment programs, he continues, attempt to remove obstacles to efficient markets and include as remedial policies: “fiscal austerity and disinflationary policies, the privatization of state-owned enterprises, trade liberalization, currency devaluation, and the general deregulation of the economy, including financial and labor-market deregulation.” (66)
The structural adjustment programs often have four features. The first concerns currency devaluation. The second aspect is economic and coroparate privatization. Oftentimes the government owns many of the companies in these countries, especially the companies that deal with natural resources. The aspect of structural adjustment programes usually involve the removal of industry subsidies and a trimming of the workforce, creating more unemployments. Finally, the last aspect of these programme are the international withholding of monies granted to the regime from more developed country until some sort of political instutional change occurs under the banner of democratization
International financial institutions, like the IMF and the World Bank, only offer their assistance when a state is finacially bankrupt. A bankrupt state, in not being able to pay back its loans, demostrates its fundamental weakness: it does not have sufficent instutitonal strenght to extract resources from its territory and pay its bills. The neoclassist insistence on further weakening the state- to its influence from the market- with the often correlated policy of forcing institutional redesign puts developing states in a fragile position in two ways. The first is that when insitutionally weak governments who have a difficult time paying their bills retreat from the economy, the government has less ability to raise money to continue to function, even if the businesses and privatized sectors of the economy become more liberal. The second source of fragility is that oppositonal political groups attempt to capitalize on the sitting governments bad situation and make a bid for power. (This bid needn't necessarily be violent.) The sitting regime, in watching its opposition make a bid for power and by having its national markets removed from its purview, begins more and more to calculate strategies for holding onto political power, even if that involves an extralegal attempt to snuff out the opposition through poltical and military crackdowns on the opposition and their civilian sources of support. This changing calcus and deteriorating political-economic situation, given that it did not result from an invasion or some great power international crises, does not factor into the report's description of warfare, or, is classified, mistakenly, as a civil war when in fact the conditions for the war stem from the international system.
Another example of the international system incentivizing and creating a climate of war and violent political conflict is the changing price of certain goods on the international markets that form the majority of a particular country's exports. For instance, if a state in Asia or Africa heavily relies on one export, like say sugar or coffee, and the international market drives the price of coffee way down, then the country may find itself in dire financial straights. This may fundamentally deprive the regime of its main source of funding, effectively crippling the power of the state to continue to admininister control over its territory. The financial crisis and political crisis that the state may later find itself in is likely to be viewed as a factor internal to that state and not as emmanating from the international market sytem.
Two, the lack of convential warfare means that civilians, and not soldiers, are more likely to be the target of military and political action. The article noted: "The average war today tends to be a very small, low intensity conflict, fought with ill-trained troops, small arms and light weapons, often very brutal, with lots of civilians killed - but the absolute numbers of people being killed are ... much, much smaller than they were before," he said." When larger states, regional actors, and local governments attempt to end low-intensity conflicts, like terrorism and insurgencies, these powers often find themselves targeting civilians in an effort to deter civilians from supporting and harboring the irregulars who fight these assymetric wars by making contined civilain support of these belligerents costly. Sometimes these wars have a welfare component of winning hearts and minds, but oftentimes the more powerful side targets the civilian base of support to "drain the sea" of support for the insurgents and terrorists. American military strategy in Vietnam and the Phillipines are excellent historical examples of this. Since the article predicts that more wars in the future will have this assymetric componet, we are going to see more wars where civilians are targeted as part of the war aims.
Political actions, like economic sanctions, also are a form of politics that chooses civilians as its principle aim, but do not count as warfare or international conflict. Sanctions are often seen as low-cost, easy methods of coercion. However, the cost of civilian life is often high. Jay Gordon, in an article entitled "When Intent Makes All the Difference in the World: Economic Sanctions on Iraq and the Accusation of Genocide" in the Yale Journal of Human Rights and Development, wrote of the high civilian death rate under the sanctions in Iraq.
Prior to the Persian Gulf War, Iraq had one of the highest standards of living in the Arab world. The Iraqi government had invested heavily in social and economic development, both before and during the Iran-Iraq war. Prior to the Gulf War, Iraq had made impressive strides in health, education, and development of the infrastructure. In 1980, the Iraqi government initiated a program to reduce infant and child mortality rates by more than half within ten years. The result was a rapid and steady decline in childhood mortality. Prior to the Gulf War, there was good vaccination coverage; the majority of women received some assistance from trained health professionals during delivery; the majority of the adult population was literate; there was nearly universal access to primary school education; the vast majority of households had access to safe water and electricity; and there was a marked decline in infant mortality rate, and in the under-five mortality rate. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ninety percent of the population had access to safe water.Jay Gordon then offers that the Defense Intelligence Agency, tasked with denoting the likely effects of a given policy, predicted the catastrophic effect of the sanctions regimes.
In the fall of 1999, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) memorandum entitled, “Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities” was declassified. The January 18, 1991 document focused on how the impending air war would undermine Iraq’s infrastructure:What we saw, Gordon concludes, is the DIA willingly supported a policy designed to kill massive numbers of civilians as a direct cosequence, rather than an incidental effect of, said policy. We are going to see more policies similar to sanctions and counterinsurgency tactics become the main methods of detering states and containing threats as the 21st century unfolds. Though we are unlikely to see great power conflict, that doesn't mean there won't be wars against enemy populations going on without our knowledge in places like Colombia, Iraq, the Phillipines, and Afghanistan.
Three, and finally, even though the study would not report them as such, "regional" and "internal" conflicts are still international. The increasing incentives that international organizations have to coerce and weaken states, and the increasing incentives of international actors--from large states to international terrorist organizations like Al Qaida-- to target civilians means that our triumphalist tone concerning conflict in the international system is premature and should be more discreet.