Reaction to Stathis Kalyvas’ War’s Evolution

Development Policy,Peace & Security30 May 2008The Broker

I agree that the end of the Second World War marked the decline and indeed obsolescence of inter-state war. Modern military technology had become to destructive to use in wars between equally well-armed opponents. And for many countries, the terrible slaughter of two world wars resulted in a taboo on fighting wars – a taboo enshrined in the UN Charter. However I disagree with the characterisation of the Cold War as the ‘long peace.’ In Europe, it was an ‘imaginary war’ with a massive accumulation of military stockpiles, hostile rhetoric, mutual fear, espionage and counter-espionage and with real violence in East Germany (1953), Hungary (1956) and Czechoslavia (1968) and widespread repression. And outside Europe, the Cold War was expressed in so-called proxy wars (or what Kalyvas calls civil wars, guerrilla wars or ‘low-intensity’ wars) in which 5 million or so people died every decade of the Cold War period.

I also agree that the number of conflicts has declined and that contemporary conflicts are, on the whole, less deadly since the beginning of the twenty first century. But I am less optimistic about our ability to manage contemporary security problems than Kalyvas. First, the reason I prefer the term ‘new war’ to ‘civil war’ is because of the blurring of what is inside and what is outside the state in the context of globalisation. Not only are there many transnational actors involved in contemporary conflicts (Diasporas, transnational criminal groups, neighbouring states. mercenaries, mujahadeen, international agencies, NGOs, etc) but such conflicts are rarely contained within the nation-state. Not only do they tend to spread in regions, they can also have impacts through crime, terrorism or through minorities in the cities of advanced industrial North. Secondly, there are differences in political ideology and, how the wars are fought. Contemporary wars, as Kalyvas points out, are usually about identity rather than socialism as was the case in the Cold War. Most importantly, the main victims of contemporary wars are civilians. This is because military technology is too destructive to be used against similarly armed opponents; even though some groups so attack conventional military forces as in Iraq or Afghanistan, they still end up killing civilians because those so forces are so well protected. The strategy is political control through fear and hate rather than mobilising support behind an ideology as I explain in my article.

I think it is important to draw out these differences because of their implications for policy. The new found enthusiasm for counter-insurgency in the United States is based on the assumption that these conflicts are not very different from the insurgencies of the Cold War period. But actually what is needed is not only state building and poverty reduction as Kalyvas points out, but the very difficult task of countering conflicts and violence rather than countering insurgency.