As is the case for most disciplines, analysts take pride in the ability to foresee future trends and subsequent events. Inevitably, the research community is predominantly judged based upon their success of predicting new developments or static continuity. Since policy is preferably enacted to alter potential dilemmas rather than in a desperate, reactionary manner, the global community—perhaps even subconsciously at times—collectively flourishes or struggles in direct correlation to the readiness of policy that is dictated by research. For instance, the League of Nations was created as a reaction to World War I, but never garnered the support of the strongest states at the time. In retrospect, policy makers would have ideally foreseen the potential devastation of World War I—thereby taking measures to prevent global conflict prior to its onset. In contemporary times, one proposed theory that is promoted by many scholars with the intentions of aiding how the international community comprehends and approaches conflict is the ‘new wars’ thesis. Contrary to the neorealist prediction that the end of the Cold War would lead to history repeating itself in the form of conflict between great powers, and in contrast to the optimistic liberal prediction that the democratization of many states after the Cold War would lead to a peaceful world, the ‘new wars’ thesis acknowledges that neither of the aforementioned predictions are remotely existent (Mearsheimer 1990: 27, Fukuyama 1989: 9). While there is not a single definition of the ‘new wars’ thesis, the fundamental tenets of the thesis include that there has been a gradual shift from interstate to intrastate conflict, conflict results from economic and political factors rather than based on ideology, and the distinctions between combatant and civilian and state and non-state have been severely blurred (Kaldor 2009: 1). Accordingly, the process of identifying all facets of conflict is becoming increasingly difficult in comparison to the conflict that preceded the Cold War where conflict was clearly initiated by the state for geopolitical purposes.
‘New wars’ have drastically changed the ways in which conflict should be approached by all branches of the international community. Therefore, although it is argued by scholars such as Edward Newman that “factors that characterise new wars have been present, to varying degrees, throughout the last 100 years,” it is the way in which policy has been forced to adapt to conflict that exists outside of the state that makes the ‘new wars’ thesis persuasive (Newman 2004: 185). For instance, skeptics will argue that, “…warring parties already pursued economic motives and funded warfare through criminal activities during the Cold War [in Afghanistan and Colombia],” though it can be argued that ideological motives—capitalism versus communism—was the primary driving factor (Heupel & Zangl 2010: 26). Regardless, the ‘new wars’ thesis does not have to claim that intrastate conflict due to economic motives is an entirely new concept to be persuasive. In fact, by noting that the concept has simply intensified as opposed to occurring in response to the Cold War, the international community could learn from past policy mistakes in order to develop more effective practices. Furthermore, numerous case studies, most notably in Africa and the Middle East, prove that traditional state-enforced military intervention and trade restriction needs to be reassessed since such policies are easily circumvented by state and non-state actors alike. David Keen’s assertion that capitalism has created “a fertile climate for the world’s most genuinely aggressive entrepreneurs” actually serves as a sufficient way to characterize the global system in its entirety: in a world encompassed by self-interest, it is hardly surprising that the state of ‘new wars’ is characterized by a greedy sense of anarchical exploitation (Keen 2000: 4). Since the state no longer solely controls the means of violence coupled with the increasing privatization of the financial markets, enacting outdated policy influenced by outdated theory will only hinder productive action. Summarily, the ‘new wars’ thesis is persuasive because contemporary conflict must be approached with different policy than was implemented in response to past conflict.
Perhaps the most persuasive reason why the ‘new wars’ thesis should not be overlooked by the international community lies in its progressive understanding of the correlation between “black market” economics and violence. While capitalism does promote a free trade mentality that appeals to the individualistic Western notion that one can go from ‘rags to riches’ through hard work and intelligent investment, the downsides include the intensification of greed that takes on a Darwinian, scathing mentality—unsurprisingly turning violent in unstable territories. In contrast to state-centric trade agreements such as NAFTA and MERCOSUR that appear to only be beneficial for the international community, William Reno argues that the growing greed and the intensification of international trade dually motivates the lower classes to pursue enterprise while disregarding human decency (Reno 1998: 26). Prior to the emergence of globalization, the problem was not as prevalent because big corporations steered clear of trading with suspicious groups in untrustworthy areas of the world; of course, this is no longer the case.
The cohesiveness between corporation and local, rebellious traders is a relatively new phenomenon, and Indra de Soysa attributes the smug relationship to the “resource curse” (De Soysa 2000: 114). Essentially, due to having resources located in their territory that other state and non-state actors do not have access to, parties that would have been isolated in the past become global players. In turn, internal competition results—often times between the state and its own citizens; unfortunately, when a selfish brand of capitalism is welcomed to territories that are already politically unstable, violence ensues. One such example is the profiting from oil theft in Afghanistan. Even moderately developed states are affected—as evidenced by the drug cartel in Mexico. Similarly, Keen emphasizes the frightening consequences of when illegal trade manifests the government and its citizens to the extent of being a leading contributor to civil war. In Sierra Leone, “the diamond economy has mutated into … conflict – the official government forces have become involved in illegal diamond trade by dressing as insurgents, acting as insurgents, selling weapons to insurgents and coordinating the collection of diamonds alongside with insurgents in order to maximise their gains” (Keen 2000: 4). Undeniably, when the state becomes involved in illegal trade that directly contributes to social unrest in the form of violence, the skeptics of state sovereignty have a legitimate argument to counter traditional state autonomy when states openly limit the attainability of basic human rights. Overall, as opposed to the World Wars and the Cold War which were predominantly initiated by ideological and territorial disputes, in a ‘new wars’ era, the fears of imperialism or the spreading of ideology to proxy states and beyond are no longer primary concerns. And while other forms of violence certainly do occur—ethnic cleansings in the likes of Bosnia and Rwanda, terrorist attacks by religious extremists, and insurgencies that do indeed emulate traditional ‘old war’ tactics which includes the U.S. invasion of Iraq—to name a few, the interconnectivity between trade profits and violence is certainly one of the greatest concerns for the contemporary international community. By identifying this intensifying relationship, the ‘new wars’ thesis is persuasive in altering perspectives that conveniently ignore that the greed of all parties involved is detrimental to many peoples’ basic human rights.
The ‘new wars’ thesis may reveal an understanding of the correlation between greed and the rise of intrastate conflict, but a thesis is hardly persuasive if it merely exemplifies the ability to accurately observe its surroundings. Therefore, advocates of the ‘new wars’ thesis must propose some applicable policy initiatives. In particular, proponents of the ‘new wars’ thesis highlight the need for the international community to reform “the state-centric framework within which … countries and international organisations, especially the UN and its agencies, necessarily operate” (Berdal & Malone 2000: 10). In an era of intense privatization, the state has been unable to control and protect its citizens—physically and financially. An example of such a case is evidenced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where warring factions resorted to civilian brutality in direct defiance of internal and external state-centric orders (Kaldor 2006: 34). Therefore, rather than operating in an ineffective state-centric manner, it is vital that the local and international community resorts to policing areas that are war-torn or have the potential to be so. However, those who are skeptical of the ‘new wars’ thesis will conveniently note that the international community already claims to police unstable areas and fails to do so on a consistent basis. As Dietrich Jung notes, “mafia-style economies and protracted internal warfare are often the result of international intervention” (Jung 2003: 12). Inevitably, proponents of the ‘new wars’ thesis need to provide a distinction between state-centric policing and ‘stronger’ policing.
Unsurprisingly, the solution lies in confronting the one facet that instigates the majority of contemporary intrastate conflict: money. As evidenced in Mozambique in the early 1990’s, violent movements struggle to finance themselves and gain support if they are restricted from profiting (Le Billon 2005: 43). Accordingly, as opposed to traditional humanitarian interventionist strategies that actually help aid violent groups financially through war taxes and other alternative means, restricting profitability deters conflict. So instead of negotiation between ineffective states, Kumar Rupesinghe and Sanam Naraghi Anderlini suggest that policy makers take initiatives such as, “freezing the bank accounts and seizing the assets of those suspected of involvement” (Anderlini & Rupesinghe 1998: 140). If regulation is enhanced to ensure that businesses are unable to negotiate with sources that contribute to violence, then paramilitary groups lose support and lose funding connections. The task is extremely difficult since there are numerous loopholes in the international political economy, but it does seem plausible that limiting illegal funding can gradually lessen intrastate conflict. The ‘new wars’ thesis acknowledges mainly economic factors dictate contemporary violence; in turn, legally stabilizing the international political economy through effective public and privatized regulation can lessen conflict—thus ratifying that the ‘new wars’ thesis is persuasive in accurately highlighting the potential for improved policy.
In conclusion, although proponents of the ‘new wars’ thesis slightly overlook that economic factors have contributed to conflict prior to the end of the Cold War, the thesis still remains persuasive since economic factors have undoubtedly become the key contributors to contemporary conflict. For while there are still ideological disagreements amongst all of the states, states no longer solely control the means of violence—and actually appear to usually be on the defensive against the growing role of non-state actors in the economy and on the battlefield. As state autonomy lessens, policy that hinders illegal trading and conflict must consequently be enacted. Again, the ‘new wars’ thesis provides the framework for this to occur. By engaging in enhanced regulation of suspicious financial activity, illegal activities can be deterred and the general welfare of populations can improve. If one were to dispute the ‘new wars’ thesis in its entirety, then the international community would be obliged to negotiate in a state-centric system. But if state autonomy is weakening, negotiation between states who are unable to monitor the free market is counterintuitive. Critics of the ‘new wars’ thesis could point to the U.S. invasion of Iraq to claim that interstate war is still prevalent, but in reality, the invasion highlights the limitations of the state. According to the established precedence, state negotiation is irrelevant because states can declare war without international consent, but states have not legitimately adapted to the kind of globalization that the ‘new wars’ thesis entails. State-initiated intelligence was fallacious, and the U.S. underestimated how sub-state economic funding in Iraq would result in an unwinnable war. Ultimately, greed breeds conflict in present-day society, and previously isolated populations are being infected by the unfortunate side effects of an inhumane variation of capitalism. The ‘new wars’ thesis brings this problem to the table, and policy makers would be wise to take notice. Unquestionably, the causes of war have changed drastically in the postmodernist age; the ‘new wars’ thesis may not be perfect, but it is a welcomed and viable substitute for outdated theory that is insufficient in assessing the current international system.
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