Since the end of the Cold War, a profound restructuring of armed forces has taken place. During the Cold War period, armed forces tended to resemble each other all over the world. They were disciplined, hierarchical, and technology intensive. There were, of course, guerrilla and/or terrorist groups but they were considered marginal and their demand for weapons was small in relation to the overall demand for weapons.
The Cold War could be described as the final stage of what has come to be known as modernity, or to use Anthony Giddens’ terminology, the final stages of the first phase of modernity. By modernity, I mean that period of human development that began somewhere between the fifteenth and the eighteenth centuries, characterised by the development of science and technology, the nation state, modern industry, and, I would argue, Clausewitzean or modern war. By modern war, I mean war between states, fought by armed forces, for state interest; the type of war that was theorised so brilliantly by Clausewitz. The development of modern war cannot be disentangled from the development of modern states. It was in war that European states, which were to provide the model for other states, established their monopoly of organised violence within the territorial confines of the state; they eliminated competitors, centralised administration, increased taxation and forms of borrowing, and, above all, created an idea of the state as the organisation responsible for protection of borders against other states and for upholding a rule of law within the state. The sharp distinctions between the military and civilians, public and private, internal and external, are a product of these developments. As Charles Tilly put it in a famous phrase: ‘States made war and war made the state’.
After 1945, the whole world was parcelled up into individual states, each with their own currency and their own armed forces. Each state was a member of a bloc (West, East and non-aligned) and within each bloc, there were transfers of weapons and other types of military assistance according to a very similar model of warfare. The idea of war and of preparations for war was bound up with the ways in which states established their political legitimacy.
Since the end of the Cold War, military spending by governments has fallen substantially. But what we have witnessed is less a contraction of military forces than a restructuring and increased diversity of types of military forces. There is a parallel with the pre-modern period, which was also characterised by a diversity of military forces – feudal levies, citizens militias, mercenaries, pirates, for example – and by a corresponding variety of types of warfare.
Two inter-linked developments have been critical, in my view, in bringing about these changes. One is the sheer destructiveness of modern warfare. As all types of weapons have become more lethal and/or more accurate, decisive military victory has become more and more difficult. The scale of destruction in World War II (some 50 million dead) is almost unbearable to contemplate. The Cold War could be understood as a way of evading or psychologically suppressing the implications of that destructiveness. Through the system of deterrence, the idea of modern war was kept alive in the imagination and helped to sustain the legitimacy and discipline of modern states. The military planners and scenario builders imagined wars, even more destructive than World War II, and developed competitive new technologies that, in theory, would be used in such wars. There were, of course, real wars and some 5 million people have died in wars in every decade since 1945 but, among the dominant powers, these were regarded as ‘not-war’ or marginal to the main contingency – a global inter-state clash. With the end of the Cold War, we have to come to terms with the impossibility of wars of the modern type.
The second development is the process known as globalisation. By globalisation, I mean increasing interconnectedness, the shrinking of distance and time, as a result of the combination of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and air travel. A central issue for theorists of globalisation has to do with the implications for the modern state (See Held). Some argue that the state has become an anachronism and that we are moving towards a single world community. Some take the opposite view, that globalisation is an invention of the state and can easily be reversed. Yet others insist that globalisation does not mean the end of the state but rather its transformation. I share the last position but I would argue that there is no single method of transformation. States are changing in a variety of ways and, moreover, these changes, I shall argue, are bound up with changes in the types of armed forces and the forms of warfare.
The terms ‘militarism’, ‘arms races’ and ‘arms control’ are expressions drawn from the Cold War era and before. Militarism refers to excessive levels of military spending by the state and excessive influence of armed forces over civilian life. ‘Arms races’ refer to the competition between similar types of military forces. ‘Arms control’ refers to the process of treaty making between states based on the assumption that stability can best be preserved through a ‘balance of power (or terror)’ between states.
In this essay, I shall distinguish between the different types of armed forces that are emerging in the post-Cold War world, only some of which can be characterised in terms of militarism and arms races, and discuss how they are loosely associated with different modes of state transformation and different forms of warfare. I have identified four different types of armed forces. They could be described as Weberian idealtypes. They are probably not comprehensive and no single example exactly fits a particular type. There is also a lot of overlap. The point is to provide a schematic account of what is happening in the field of warfare so as to be able to offer some new ways of thinking about the possibilities for controlling or limiting the means of warfare and why we need a new terminology beyond militarism, arms races and arms control. I shall suggest that the emphasis that has been increasingly accorded to international law, particularly humanitarian law, offers a possible way forward.
Netforce: Informal or Privatised Armed Forces
A typical new phenomenon is armed networks of non-state and state actors. They include: para-military groups organised around a charismatic leader, warlords who control particular areas, terrorist cells, fanatic volunteers like the Mujahadeen, organised criminal groups, units of regular forces or other security services, as well as mercenaries and private military companies.
The form of warfare that is waged by these networks is what I call ‘new war’ (Kaldor 1999). New wars, which take place in the Balkans, Africa, Central Asia and other places, are sometimes called internal or civil wars to distinguish them from intra-state or Clausewitzean war. I think this terminology is inappropriate for a number of reasons. First, the networks cross borders. One of the typical features of the ‘new wars’ is the key role played by Diaspora groups either far away (Sudanese or Palestinian workers in the Gulf states, former Yugoslav workers in Western Europe, immigrant groups in the new ‘melting pot’ nations like North America or Oceania) or in neighbouring states (Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia, Tutsis in Burundi or the DRC). Secondly, the wars involve an array of global actors – foreign mercenaries and volunteers, Diaspora supporters, neighbouring states, not to mention the humanitarian actors such as aid agencies, NGOs or reporters.
And thirdly, and most importantly, the ‘new wars’ tend to be concentrated in areas where the modern state is unravelling and where the distinctions between internal and external, public and private, no longer have the same meaning. Such areas are characterised by what are called frail or failing states, quasi or shadow states. These are states, formally recognised by the outside world, with some of the trappings of statehood – an incomplete administrative apparatus, a flag, sometimes a currency – but where those trappings do not express control over territory and where access to the state apparatus is about private gain not public policy. In particular these are states where the monopoly of legitimate organised violence is eroding.
In many of the areas where new wars take place, it is possible to observe a process that is almost the reverse of the process through which modern states were constructed. Taxes fall because of declining investment and production, increased corruption and clientilism, or declining legitimacy. The declining tax revenue leads to growing dependence both on external sources and on private sources, through, for example, rent seeking or criminal activities. Reductions in public expenditure as a result of the shrinking fiscal base as well as pressures from external donors for macro-economic stabilisation and liberalisation (which also may reduce export revenues) further erode legitimacy. A growing informal economy associated with increased inequalities, unemployment and rural-urban migration, combined with the loss of legitimacy, weakens the rule of law and may lead to the re-emergence of privatised forms of violence: organised crime and the substitution of ‘protection’ for taxation; vigilantes; private security guards protecting economic facilities, especially international companies; or para-military groups associated with particular political factions. In particular, reductions in security expenditure, often encouraged by external donors for the best of motives, may lead to break away groups of redundant soldiers and policemen seeking alternative employment.
Of course, the networks that engage in new wars are not all to be found in these failing states. They include nodes in advanced industrial countries and, in the inner cities of the West, it is possible to observe gang warfare that has many of the characteristics of ‘new wars’. Nevertheless, this type of state provides a fertile environment for these types of network.
There are three main characteristics of the ‘new wars’. First of all, I use the term ‘war’ to emphasise the political character of the new wars, even though they could also be described as organised crime (illegal or private violence) or as massive violations of human rights (violence against civilians). Because networks are loose horizontal coalitions, unlike vertical disciplined armies of the past, a shared narrative, often based on a common identity, ethnic or religious, is an important organising mechanism. In the case of the netforce, the networks engaged in the new wars, what holds them together is a generally an extreme political ideology based on the exclusive claim to state power on the basis of identity – ethnic chauvinism or religious communalism. I stress access to state power because these ideologies are not about substantive grievances, such as language rights or religious rights, although these may be indirectly important; rather they are about control of power and resources for an exclusively defined group of people.
I take the view that these ideologies are politically constituted. Even though they are based on pre-existing cleavages of tribe, nation and religion, and even though they may make use of memories and experiences of past injustices, they are constructed or accentuated for the purpose of political mobilisation.
Modern communications are important for the new networks both as a way of organising the network and as a form of mobilisation. Constructions of the past are developed and disseminated through radio, videos and television. Thus hate radio was of key importance in Rwanda. In Serbia, television was effectively used to remind people of the injustices of the past – the defeat of the Serbs by the Turks in 1389 and the fascist Croat treatment of Serbs during World War II. In the Middle East, videocassettes of Bin Laden’s speeches circulate widely. The effect of television and radio in speeding up mobilisation especially in the countryside or among newly arrived urban migrants, who do not have the reading habit, should not be underestimated. There is an important contrast here with nineteenth century ‘imagined communities’ which were propagated through the print media and involved the intellectual classes. The more populist electronic media are designed to appeal primarily to the least educated members of the public. In general, it is states that control the radio and television. But non-state groups can make use of other forms of media: Diaspora broadcasts through satellite television, which were important in Kosovo; the circulation of videos; or local radio in areas under political control.
A second characteristic of the ‘new wars’ is that war itself is a form of political mobilisation. In what I have called wars between states, the aim of war was, to quote Clausewitz, ‘to compel an opponent to fulfil our will’. In general this was achieved through the military capture of territory and victory in battle. People were mobilised to participate in the war effort – to join the army or to produce weapons and uniforms. In the new wars, mobilising people is the aim of the war effort; the point of the violence is not so much directed against the enemy; rather the aim is to expand the networks of extremism. Generally the strategy is to control territory through political means and military means are used to kill, expel or silence those who might challenge control. This is why the warring parties use techniques of terror, ethnic cleansing or genocide as deliberate war strategies. In the new wars, battles are rare and violence is directed against civilians. Violations of humanitarian and human rights law are not a side effect of war but the central methodology of new wars. Over 90% of the casualties in the new wars are civilian and the number of refugees and displaced persons per conflict has risen steadily.
The strategy is to gain political power through sowing fear and hatred, to create a climate of terror, to eliminate moderate voices and to defeat tolerance. The political ideologies of exclusive nationalism or religious communalism are generated through violence. It is generally assumed that extreme ideologies, based on exclusive identities – Serb nationalism, for example, or fundamentalist Islam – are the cause of war. Rather, the spread and strengthening of these ideologies are the consequence of war. ‘The war had to be so bloody’, Bosnians will tell you, ‘because we did not hate each other; we had to be taught to hate each other.’
A third characteristic of the new wars is the type of economy they generate. Because these networks flourish in states where systems of taxation have collapsed and where little new wealth is being created, and where the wars destroy physical infrastructure, cut off trade and create a climate of insecurity that prohibits investment, they have to seek alternative, exploitative forms of financing. They raise money through loot and plunder, through illegal trading in drugs, illegal immigrants, cigarettes and alcohol, through “taxing” humanitarian assistance, through support from sympathetic states and through remittances from members of the networks. All of these types of economic activity are predatory and depend on an atmosphere of insecurity. Indeed, the new wars can be described as a central source of the globalised informal economy – the transnational criminal and semi-legal economy that represents the underside of globalisation.
The logical conclusion that can be drawn from these three characteristics is that the new wars are very difficult to contain and very difficult to end. They spread through refugees and displaced persons, through criminal networks, and through the extremist viruses they nurture. We can observe growing clusters of warfare in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia or the Caucasus. The wars represent a defeat for democratic politics, and each bout of warfare strengthens those networks with a vested political and economic interest in continued violence. There are no clear victories or defeats because the warring parties are sustained both politically and economically by continuing violence. The wars speed up the process of state unravelling; they destroy what remains of productive activities, they undermine legitimacy, and they foster criminality. The areas where conflicts have lasted longest have generated cultures of violence, as in the jihad culture taught in religious schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan or among the Tamils of Sri Lanka, where young children are taught to be martyrs and where killing is understood as an offering to God. In the instructions found in the car of the hijackers in Boston’s Logan Airport, it is written: ‘If God grants any one of you a slaughter, you should perform it as an offering on behalf of your father and mother, for they are owed by you. If you slaughter, you should plunder those you slaughter, for that is a sanctioned custom of the Prophet’s.’
It should be noted that there are other private or informal forces that do not correspond to this analysis. For example, in many of the new wars, villages or municipalities establish citizens’ militias to defend local people – this was the case in among some groups in Rwanda and also in Tuzla and Zenica during the Bosnian war. There are also more traditional guerrilla groups, whose strategy is to gain political control through winning hearts and minds rather than through sowing fear and hatred; hence they attack agents of the state and not civilians, at least in theory. Finally, there are numerous private security companies, often established to protect multinational companies in difficult places, and mercenaries, who fight for money; tactics and forms of warfare, in these cases, depend largely on the paymasters.
The New American Militarism
It could be argued that if September 11 had not happened, the American military-industrial complex might have had to invent it. Indeed, what happened on September 11 could have come out of what seemed to be the wild fantasies of ‘asymmetric threats’ that were developed by American strategic analysts as they sought a new military role for the United States after the end of the Cold War. A reporter for the London Observer claimed to have found in one of the headquarters for terrorist training in Afghanistan, a photocopy of the ‘terrorist cookbook’ which circulates among the American fundamentalist right.
World military spending declined by one third in the decade after 1989. America military spending also declined but by less than the global average and began to rise again after 1998. As of the year 2000, American military spending in real terms is equivalent to its spending in 1980, just before the Reagan military build-up. More importantly, what took place during the 1990s was a radical shift in the structure of US military expenditure. Spending on military research and development declined less than overall military spending and has increased faster since 1998. As of 2000, US military R&D spending is 47% higher in real terms than in 1980 (SIPRI 2001). Instead of ushering in a period of downsizing, disarmament and conversion (although some of that did take place at local levels in the US), the end of the Cold War led to a feverish technological effort to apply information technology to military purposes, known as the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA).
Indeed, it can be argued that the cuts of the early 1990s are equivalent to the reductions that can be expected in the normal post-1945 US military procurement cycle. The high points in the procurement cycle were in the early 1950s, late 1960s and early 1970s, and the early 1980s. During the downturns, military R&D is always sustained, designing and developing the systems to be procured in the next upturn. As new systems reach the more expensive development and procurement phases, this has always coincided with renewed preoccupations with threats of various kinds. The North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950, for example, occurred at a moment when pressure to increase military spending was mounting as a result of over-capacity in the arms industry, especially the aircraft industry, and of fears about the return of mass unemployment after the end of the post-war consumer boom. NSC 68, the famous report, which recommended an increase in military spending to meet the Soviet threat, was published just before the Korean invasion. A parallel can be drawn with the current situation since the systems developed under the rubric of the RMA are reaching the development and production phase and there is over-capacity in the aerospace industry.
During the 1990’s, great efforts were expended in ‘imagining’ new ‘worst-case scenarios’ and new post-Soviet threats. With the collapse of the Soviet military-industrial complex, strategic planners have come up with all sorts of inventive new ways of attacking America, through spreading viruses, poisoning water systems, causing the collapse of the banking system, disrupting air traffic control or power transmission. Of particular importance has been the idea of state-sponsored terrorism and the notion of ‘rogue states’ who sponsor terrorism and acquire long range missiles as well as WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction). These new threats emanating from a collapsing Russia or from Islamic fundamentalism are known as ‘asymmetric’ threats as weaker states or groups develop WMD or other horrific techniques to attack US vulnerabilities to compensate for conventional inferiority. Hence what happened on September 11, and the subsequent anthrax scare, seems like a confirmation of these anticipations of horror.
RMA consists of the interaction between various systems for information collection, analysis and transmission and weapons systems – the so-called ‘system of systems’. It has spawned a suitably Sci fi jargon – ‘battlespace’ to replace ‘battlefield’ connoting the three dimensional character of contemporary battle; ‘dominant battlespace knowledge'; ‘precision violence'; ‘near-perfect mission assignment'; C4I/BM (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, and battle management); ‘co-operative engagement capability’ (Navy); ‘digitalized ground forces’ (Army); and (one of my favourites) ‘just-in-time warfare’ (referring to reduced logistical requirements) (Freedman, 1998).
The cruise missile, the target of peace movement campaigns in the 1980s, can be described as the ‘paradigmatic’ weapon of RMA. It is a ‘system that can be delivered by a variety of platforms (i.e., all three services can use it) and strike in a precise manner and with low collateral damage’ (Freedman, 1998: 70). It was the cruise missile that was used in the summer of 1998 against terrorist camps in Afghanistan and an alleged chemical weapons factory in Sudan after the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Uganda.
Enthusiasts for RMA suggest the introduction of information technology is akin to the introduction of the stirrup or gunpowder in its implications for warfare. Unlike these earlier innovations, however, RMA takes place within the traditional force structures inherited from the past. Earlier innovations were only adopted when force structures changed in such a way as to be capable of assimilating the new technologies. Thus the introduction of the stirrup depended on the evolution of feudal relations and the emergence of knights, while gunpowder was only applied to warfare after capitalist development made possible the use of mercenaries.
The origins of the RMA can be traced to the 1970s when the effect of growing accuracy and lethality of munitions was observed in the wars in Vietnam and the Middle East. The so-called military reformers suggested that this implied an historic shift to the defence. The offensive manoeuvres characteristic of World War II and planned in Europe for World War III were no longer possible since tanks and aircraft were almost as vulnerable as troops had been in World War I. In particular, it was argued that this historic shift lessened the need for nuclear weapons to compensate for Soviet conventional superiority since this could be nullified by improvements in conventional defence. The opponents of this view argued that the offence was even more important in the context of information technology because it made possible unmanned guided offensive weapons and because of the importance of area destruction munitions, which could destroy widely scattered defensive forces. It was the latter view that prevailed, perhaps because it left force structures undisturbed and sustained defence companies, retaining an emphasis on offensive manoeuvres and delivery platforms in a more or less linear extension from the strategic bombing missions of World War II.
The consequence was what became known as ‘emerging technologies’ in the 1980s. These were long-range strike weapons using conventional munitions that were nearly as lethal as nuclear weapons. Terms such as ‘deep strike’, ‘airland battle’, and the ‘maritime strategy’ became the buzzwords of the 1980s. The idea was that the West would meet any Soviet attack by striking deep into Soviet territory. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 and the Pentagon was asked to present the military options, they were able to roll out a plan that had been prepared in the event of a southward Soviet thrust.
The Gulf war provided a model for what can be described as casualty-free war – that is to say the use of high technology either directly to attack an enemy or to support a proxy, say the KLA in Kosovo or the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. The idea now is that this high-tech warfare can be used against ‘rogue states’ sponsoring terrorists. The same techniques were used against Iraq in December 1998, in Yugoslavia in 1999 and now in Afghanistan. They satisfy a confluence of interests. They fulfil the needs of the scientists, engineers and companies that provide an infrastructure for the American military effort. They allow for a continuation of the imaginary war of the Cold War period from the point of view of Americans. They do not involve American casualties, and they can be watched on television and demonstrate the determination and power of the United States government – the ‘spectacles’ as Der Derian has put it, that ‘serve to deny imperial decline’. It is this imaginary character from an American perspective that explains Jean Baudrillard’s famous remark that the Gulf War did not happen.
The programme for national missile defence has to be understood in the same vein. Even if the system cannot work, it provides imaginary protection for the United States, allowing the United States to engage in casualty-free war without fear of retaliation. This notion is evident from the way in which Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, talks about how NMD will enhance deterrence through a combination of defensive and offensive measures. The weakness of deterrence was always the problem of credibility; a problem that leads to more and more useable nuclear weapons. With casualty-free war, the credibility of US action is more convincing; after all, it is said, that the attack on the World Trade Towers was equivalent to the use of a sub-strategic nuclear weapon. NMD, at least psychologically, extends the possibilities for casualty-free war.
However, from the point of view of the victims, these wars are very real and not so different from new wars. However precise the strikes, it is impossible to avoid ‘mistakes’ or ‘collateral damage’. It does not make civilian casualties any more palatable to be told they were not intended. Moreover, the destruction of physical infrastructure and the support for one side in the conflict, as in the case of proxies, results in many more indirect casualties. In the case of the Gulf War, direct Iraqi casualties can probably be numbered in the tens of thousands but the destruction of physical infrastructure and the ensuing wars with the Kurds and the Shiites caused hundreds of thousands of further casualties and seem to have entrenched the vicious and dangerous rule of Saddam Hussein. In the current war in Afghanistan, there have probably been thousands of casualties, both civilian and military as well as thousands of people fleeing their homes and a humanitarian disaster because aid agencies have not been able to enter the country. The help provided to the hated Northern Alliance reduces the prospects of a broad-based Afghan government that might begin a process of stabilisation. Far from extending support for democratic values, casualty-free war shows that American lives are privileged over the lives of others and contributes to a perception of the United States as a global bully.
Terms like imperialism are, however, misleading. The United States is best characterised not as an imperial power but as the ‘last nation state’. It is the only state, in this globalised world, that still has the capacity to act unilaterally. Its behaviour is determined less by imperial considerations than by concerns about its own domestic public opinion. Casualty-free war is also in a sense a form of political mobilisation. It is about satisfying various domestic constituencies, not about influencing the rest of the world, even though such actions have a profound impact on the rest of the world.
Neo-modern militarism refers to the evolution of classical military forces in large transition states. These are states that are undergoing a transition from a centralised economy to a more internationally open market-oriented system and, yet, which are large enough to retain a sizeable state sector. Typical examples are Russia, India and China. They are not large enough to challenge the US and they are constrained by many of the imperatives of globalisation, subject to many of the pressures that are experienced by frail or failing states. They tend to adopt extreme ideologies that resemble the ideologies of the ‘new wars’ – Russian or Hindu chauvinism, for example. And there are often direct links to and even co-operation with the shadier networks, especially in Russia. Israel should probably also be included in this category, although its capacity to retain a sizeable military sector is due less to its size than to its dependence on the United States.
These states have retained their military forces, including nuclear weapons. In the case of India, there has been a significant increase in military spending throughout the 1990s and it could be argued that the term ‘arms race’ could be applied to India and Pakistan, especially after the 1998 nuclear tests. Pakistan, however, could be said to be closer to the networks of the new wars with its links to militants in Kashmir and Afghanistan; in other words somewhere between netforce and neo-modern militarism. In the case of Russia, there was a dramatic contraction of military spending after the break-up of the Soviet Union and a deep crisis in the military-industrial complex. But pressure to increase military spending has increased and the demands of the war in Chechnya is leading to a reassessment of the relative importance of conventional versus nuclear weapons. The proposed cuts in nuclear weapons discussed between Putin and Bush will release funds for conventional improvements. China is also engaged in military expansion especially since 1998, when the military were prohibited from engaging in commercial activities. Given the reductions in Russian nuclear capabilities and the new generation of Chinese systems, China will come to look more like a competitor to Russia, especially in the nuclear field.
The type of warfare that is associated with neo-modern militarism is either limited inter-state warfare or counter-insurgency. These states envisage wars on the classic Clausewitzean model. They engage in counter-insurgency in order to defeat extremist networks as in Chechnya or Kashmir. Or they prepare for the defence of borders against other states, as in the case of the Kargil war between India and Pakistan in 1998. Unlike the United States, these states are prepared to risk casualties and, in the case of the Chechen war, Russian casualties have been extremely high. The typical tactics used against the networks are shelling from tanks, helicopters or artillery, as well as population displacement to ‘clean’ areas of extremists or ‘terrorists’. The impact on civilians is thus very similar to the impact of the ‘new wars’. Yet precisely because of the growing destructiveness of all types of weapons and the consequent difficulty of overcoming defensive positions, military victory against an armed opponent is very hard to achieve. Grozny has virtually been reduced to rubble. Yet still resistance persists.
The networks have understood that they cannot take territory militarily, only through political means, and the point of the violence is to contribute to those political means. The states engaged in neo-modern militarism are still under the illusion that they can win militarily. The consequence is either self-imposed limits, as in the case of inter-state war, or exacerbation of ‘new wars’ as in the case of Kashmir, Chechnya or Palestine, where counter-insurgency merely contributes to the political polarising process of fear and hate. In other words, the utility of modern military force, the ability to ‘compel an opponent to fulfil our will’ is open to question nowadays.
An important trend in the last decade has been the increase in peacekeeping operations. At the start of the decade, there were only eight United Nations peacekeeping operations; they involved some 10,000 troops. As of the end of 2000, there were 15 United Nations operations involving some 38,000 military troops (Global Civil Society 2001). In addition, a number of regional organisations were engaged in peace-keeping: NATO in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia; the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), mainly Russia, in Tajikistan, Transdinestr, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia; the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Peacekeeping has not only increased in scale; there have been important changes in the tasks peacekeepers are asked to perform and in the way we think about peacekeeping. During the Cold war period, peacekeeping was based on the assumption that wars were of the Clausewitzean type. The job of peacekeepers was to separate the warring parties and to monitor cease-fires on the basis of agreements. Peacekeeping was sharply distinguished from peace enforcement, which was equated with war fighting, i.e. intervening in a war on one side, authorised under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter.
In terms of organisation, peacekeeping has more in common with the networks than with classic military forces. Peacekeeping forces are generally loose transnational coalitions. Although they usually have a clearly defined multinational command system, peacekeepers are also subject to national commands, which erodes the vertical character of the command system. Because they are often far away from the decision-makers and because of the nature of their tasks, individual initiative is often more important than unquestioning obedience. Moreover, peacekeepers have to work together with a range of other agencies, international organisations like UNHCR or UNDP and also NGOs involved in humanitarian assistance or conflict resolution. A shared normative narrative based on humanitarian principles is critical in holding the networks together.
The new tasks for peace-keepers include the protection of safe havens, where civilians can find refuge, the protection of convoys delivering humanitarian assistance, disarmament and demobilisation, providing a secure environment for elections or for the return of refugees and displaced persons, or capturing war criminals. These tasks reflect the changes in the nature of the warfare. New terms like ‘second-generation peace-keeping’, ‘wider peace-keeping’ or ‘robust’ peacekeeping have been used to describe these new roles. Peacekeepers nowadays operate in the context of continuing wars or insecure post-conflict situations, and they are more likely to risk casualties than were traditional peacekeepers.
A number of recent reports have emphasised that the new role of peace-keeping is, first and foremost, the protection of civilians since they are the main targets of the new wars (Brahimi). The new peacekeeping is indeed somewhere between traditional peacekeeping (separating sides) and peace enforcement (taking sides). I have argued that outright military victory is very very difficult nowadays, at least if we are unwilling to contemplate mass destruction. The job of the new protectionforce is not to defeat an enemy but to protect civilians and stabilise war situations so that non-extremist tolerant politics has space to develop. The task is thus more like policing than warfighting although it involves the use of military forces. Techniques like safe havens or humanitarian corridors are ways of protecting civilians and also increasing the international presence on the ground so as to influence political outcomes.
In practice, peacekeeping has not lived up to this description. Partly this is due to lack of resources. Not nearly enough has been invested in peacekeeping and in providing appropriate training and equipment. More importantly, international lives are still privileged over the lives of the civilians they are supposed to protect. OSCE monitors left Kosovo hurriedly when the bombing of Yugoslavia began, leaving behind a terrified population who had believed rightly or wrongly that the orange vans of the OSCE monitors were some protection; the local OSCE staff left behind were all killed. Likewise, Dutch peacekeepers handed over the 8000 men and boys of Srebrenica to Serb forces in July 1995 and they were all massacred. In Rwanda, UN forces were withdrawn just as the genocide of 800,000 Tutsis began, despite the impassioned plea of the Canadian UN Commander, General Dallaire, to establish safe havens. There are, of course, also moments of heroism, like the Ukranian peacekeepers in Zepa or the British in Goradze, or the UN staff in East Timor who refused to evacuate their headquarters unless the people who had sought refuge there were also saved. But, as yet, these moments are insufficient to be seen to justify the commitment in resources and will that would be necessary for a serious and sustained use of peacekeeping.
Peace-keeping/peace enforcement is associated with states that could be described as post-modern (Cooper) or globalising (Clarke). These are states that have come to terms with the erosion of their autonomy (their ability to retain control over what happens in their territory), in the context of growing interconnectedness. They have thus adopted a deliberate strategy of multilateralism, of trying to influence the formation of global rules and participating actively in the enforcement of those rules. The British Prime Minister Tony Blair attempted to articulate this position in his speech on the ‘Doctrine of the International Community’ during the Kosovo war. ‘We are all internationalists now whether we like it or not ‘ he told an audience in Chicago. ‘We cannot refuse to participate in global markets if we want to prosper. We cannot ignore new political ideas in other countries if we want to innovate. We cannot turn our backs on conflicts and the violation of human rights in other countries if we still want to be secure’ (Blair 1999).
The states that fit this category include most European states, Canada, South Africa, Japan, as well as a number of others. Of course, most states, including the United States and Russia, engage in this type of peace operation. But it is not viewed as the main contingency for which they prepare. The new globalising states are reorienting their military doctrines along these lines. The wars in the Balkans have had a profound impact in Europe, where concern about Balkan stability and experience in the region is shaping military thinking.
During the Cold War period, the main concern was how to prevent a war of global annihilation. Arms control was seen as one of the most important methods of prevention; it was a way of stabilising the perception of a balance of power. A true balance of power is a war that no side can win. Because armed forces were roughly similar during the Cold War period, it was possible to estimate a surrogate balance of power based on quantitative estimates of military forces, which could be codified in arms control treaties. This surrogate balance of power was seen as a way of preventing perceptions of imbalance, which might have tempted one or other side to start a war. In practice, of course, numbers are irrelevant since any nuclear war is likely to lead to global annihilation but the exercise of measuring a balance of power shored up the notion of an imaginary war that could not be won.
The danger of a war of global annihilation has, thankfully, receded since the end of the Cold War. What we are now witnessing, however, is a series of real wars that cannot be won. There are no surrogate balances, except perhaps between the neo-modern military forces. The US no longer has what is known in the jargon as a ‘peer competitor’ and other types of armed forces are too varied to be compared. What I have tried to argue is that the first three types of armed forces (the networks, the new American military forces, and the neo-modern military forces) all engage in real wars with very similar consequences – indiscriminate suffering for civilians (even though the Americans claim that their greater precision and discriminateness minimises such suffering). Nowadays, therefore, the emphasis of those who are concerned about such suffering has to be directly with the ways to control war. Limitations on weapons may be part of that wider goal but have to be viewed from a different perspective than in the Cold War period.
Perhaps the most hopeful approach to the contemporary problem of controlling war, nowadays, is not through arms control but through the extension and application of international humanitarian law (the ‘laws of war’) and human rights law. During the 1990s, much greater importance was accorded to humanitarian norms – the notion that the international community has a duty to prevent genocide, violations of humanitarian law (war crimes) and massive violations of human rights (crimes against humanity). The idea of overriding state sovereignty in the case of humanitarian crises became much more widely accepted. The establishment of the Yugoslav and Rwanda Tribunals paved the way for the establishment of an International Criminal Court. The Pinochet and Ariel Sharon cases removed the principle of sovereign immunity.
Humanitarian law is not, of course, new. Its origins lie in the codification of ‘laws of war’, especially under the auspices of the International Red Cross, in the late nineteenth century. The aim was to limit what we now call ‘collateral damage’ or the side effects of war, above all, to prevent the indiscriminate suffering of civilians, and to ensure humane treatment for the wounded and for prisoners of war. These laws codified rules in Europe, which dated back to the Middle Ages and underlay a notion of ‘civilised’ warfare, which was important in order to define the role of the soldier as the legitimate agent of the state, as a hero not a criminal. (Of course, these rules were not applied outside Europe against ‘barbarians’ or the ‘rude nations’).
Humanitarian law was greatly extended after World War II. The Nuremberg and Tokyo trials marked the first enforcement of war crimes and, indeed, crimes against humanity. The Genocide Convention of 1948 as well as further extension of the Geneva Conventions, and, the newly developing human rights law, all represented further strengthening of humanitarian law, albeit marginalised by the dominant Cold War confrontation.
What has changed in the last decades is the change in the nature of warfare, even though some aspects were presaged in the holocaust and the bombing of civilians in the Second World War. As argued above, violations of humanitarian law and human rights law are no longer ‘side effects’ of war, they represent the core of the new warfare. Therefore taking seriously humanitarian law is one way of controlling the new warfare.
This is the context in which the limitation of armaments should also be understood. Recent efforts to limit or eliminate categories of weapons, like the Land Mines Convention or the protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention, or the efforts to control small arms are not based on the assumption of a balance between states. Rather they are the outcome of pressure by global civil society to uphold humanitarian norms and prevent indiscriminate harm to civilians. The 1996 International Court of Justice decision about nuclear weapons, as well as several recent cases in Scotland, is based on the same line of thinking.
Taken seriously, a humanitarian approach would outlaw netforce and would restructure legitimate, i.e. state, military forces from classic war fighting tasks to a new and extended form of protectionforce. It would outlaw WMD as well as weapons like land mines that cause indiscriminate harm. Peace keeping and peace enforcement could be reconceptualised as humanitarian law enforcement, with appropriate equipment and training.
Such an approach would be consistent with the transformation of states along the lines of the post-modern or globalising states. It would imply a strengthening of global rules and greater participation in the enforcement of rules. All three of the other types of warfare I have described are based on particularist assumptions about the need to protect particular communities, networks or states, and to privilege their lives over others. There is no reason why growing interconnectedness cannot be combined with particularism and fragmentation; indeed that is the characteristic of the contemporary world. But it is no longer possible to insulate particular communities or states; even the United States is now vulnerable to transnational networks. If we are to find ways to cope with the uneven impact of globalisation and to deal with the criminal and violent underside of globalisation, then the main task is to construct some form of legitimate set of global rules. This is not the same as a global state; rather it is about establishing a set of global regimes underpinned by states, international institutions and global civil society. The humanitarian regime would be at the heart of such a set of rules because of the legitimacy that derives from the assumption of human equality.
If the legitimacy of modern states derived from their ability to protect borders against external enemies and to uphold the law domestically, then the legitimacy of global governance is likely to be greatly enhanced by a humanitarian regime that takes ultimate responsibility for the protection of individuals and for upholding international law. I am not implying a single world security organisation. Rather I am talking about a collective commitment by states, international organisations and civil society to act when individual states fail to sustain these norms and to do so within a framework of international law.
How would this approach have changed the reaction to the events of September 11? What happened on September 11 was a crime against humanity. It was interpreted, however, in the US as an attack on the US and a parallel has been repeatedly drawn with Pearl Harbour. Bush talks about a ‘war on terrorism’ and has said that ‘you are either with us or with the terrorists’. The approach of casualty-free war had been adopted, using high tech strikes and a proxy, the Northern Alliance, to destroy the state sponsoring terrorism, the Taliban, and to destroy the Al-Qaeda network. (At the time of writing, some US Special Forces and Marines have been deployed on the ground). We do not know how many people have died as a result of the strikes or have fled their homes but it undoubtedly numbers in hundreds if not thousands. The chances of stabilising Afghanistan exist but are reduced by the dominant role played by the Northern Alliance. Most importantly, perhaps, the approach contributes to a political polarisation between the West and the rest, both because of the privileging of American lives and the language in which the war is conducted. While the Taliban has been overthrown and, hopefully, bin Laden may be caught, there is unlikely to be any clear military victory. As I have argued, the political narrative, in this case of jihad against America, is central to the functioning of the network. Casualty-free war confirms the political narrative and sets up exactly the kind of war envisaged by the Al-Qaeda network.
A humanitarian approach would have defined September 11 as a crime against humanity. It would have sought United Nations authorisation for any action and it would have adopted tactics aimed at increasing trust and confidence on the ground, for example through the establishment of safe havens in the North as well humanitarian corridors. It would have established an International Court to try terrorists. It would have adopted some of the means already adopted to put pressure on terrorist networks through squeezing financial assets, for example, as well as efforts to catch the criminals. Such an approach would also have to eschew double standards. Catching Mladic and Karadic, the perpetrators of the Srebrenica massacre, is just as important as catching bin Laden. Human rights violations in Palestine and Chechnya are no less serious than in Kosovo or Afghanistan.
A humanitarian approach, of course, has to be part of a wider political approach. In wars, in which no military victory is possible, political approaches are key. An alternative political narrative, based on the idea of global justice, is the only way to minimise the exclusive political appeal of the networks. What this involves is, no doubt, being discussed in other sessions of this symposium.
I am aware that all this sounds impossibly utopian. Unfortunately, the humanitarian approach may be seen in retrospect as a brief expression of the interregnum between the end of the Cold War and September 11, 2001. We are, I fear, on the brink of a global new war, something like the wars in the Balkans or the Israel-Palestine war, on a global scale with no outsiders to constrain its course. Sooner or later, the impossibility of winning such a war must become evident and that is why we need to keep the humanitarian approach alive. Even if it cannot solve these conflicts, it can offer some hope to those caught in the middle.
This essay was prepared for the Nobel Peace Prize Centennial Symposium, December 6-8, 2001.
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