Although Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man has been countered many times, at the end of the Cold War many international actors perceived that something had changed in the nature of conflicts. Mary Kaldor introduces in her book New and Old Wars, which was first published in 1999, the concept of New Wars. Although people disagree about how exactly to define it and to what extent it is true, Kaldor argues that the nature of conflicts has changed. Increasingly, wars are not fought between two countries but between a state and a non-state actor (like the War or Terror) or even two non-state actors. Moreover, conflicts are no longer relatively short wars but instead, long intractable conflicts. Generally, these conflicts are low in intensity but with sudden spikes in aggression. The war in Syria is a prime example of such conflict.
As mentioned, not everyone agrees with Kaldor’s distinction but most recognize a key contribution that she has made; the idea that the proliferation of the new, or irregular, wars is connected to the weakening position of the state as the legitimate source of norms. This has a direct impact on what are understood to be justified reasons to wage war, known as the Just War Theory.
Since conflicts can create such devastation and large numbers of casualties, the international community generally requires a justified reason to join a conflict and has agreed on several conventions to conduct war in a more morally acceptable way.
Since the nature of conflicts is changing (e.g., the role of non-state actors and long, but low-intensity conflicts), there are calls to re-evaluate such standards for a justified war or conflict.
An example of one such standard for a just war is that there needs to be a good chance of coming out victorious. For this, one demand is that the party is fighting a demarcated enemy.
When the U.S. started the War on Terror, there was much criticism because fighting all terror in the world appears impossible since countries will always manage to find new actors to label terrorists. The difficulty of pulling international troops out of Afghanistan in August 2021 appears to reaffirm this. After so many years of conflict, the party labeled a “terrorist organization” took over the country in a matter of days.
One can thus question how justified the international intervention was. However, since the nature of conflicts is changing, it becomes increasingly more difficult to wage war following the traditional perceptions included in Just War Theory.
Additionally, the emergence of new technologies raises questions about the nature of conflicts. The use of drones allows one party to intervene without risking any soldiers, completely changing casualty-risk considerations.
Moreover, 3D printers make weapons much more readily available and much more difficult to regulate in regard to who has access to weapons.
Thus, such new technologies will also influence the future of warfare and the way governments approach security challenges.
However, the emergence of the New Wars does not mean that Old Wars are no longer waged. A non-elderly citizen of North America, Europe, or some parts of Oceania is likely to never have experienced war within their territory. When their countries were at war, it was waged thousands of kilometers from their national borders. The conflicts that these countries partook in were multilateral interventions, not territorial wars between two individual countries; think of the war in Iraq, the mission in Mali, or the war in Afghanistan.
That is not a universally shared human experience. Although New Wars are often intrastate or against non-state actors, there are still Old Wars occurring in the world. Despite the fact, war accounts for only 1% of global deaths in the early 21st century instead of the 15% in ancient agricultural societies,
wars are still waged over the acquisition of land, resources, and strategic locations.
Think, for example, of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict,
the Russo-Ukrainian war,
or the war in Georgia.
An important aspect to note here is that wars over territory don’t revolve around the land in every case. For example, the annexation of Crimea had the added reason for large amounts of oil and gas found in the Black Sea. By capturing the Crimean peninsula, Russia secured the territorial sea and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) surrounding it, meaning they now have access to large amounts of fossil fuels.
Israeli historian Harari wrote in 2015 that it makes no sense to invade America to capture Silicon Valley, as they don’t produce silicon. Instead, its value lies in knowledge, which cannot easily be captured.
Whilst information may become the most valued asset in the world; there is still conflict over scarce resources used for energy, production, and subsistence.
Instead, new forms of warfare (i.e. non-state actors playing a larger role in conflicts, cyber warfare, and modern warfare technologies) created a mixture of both Old Wars and New Wars: Hybrid War.
This form of warfare combines soft power with hard power to exhaust the enemy’s resources and resolve.
An example of this can be found in China’s treatment of Taiwan. China flies hundreds of jets over Taiwanese airspace (which did not lead to open confrontation), extracts resources from small islands around Taiwan, isolates Taiwan from its allies, as well as forces private companies to recognize Taiwan as part of China by threatening to lose access to mainland China.
Another aspect of today’s warfare (and future warfare) is the deployment of armed UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). These armed drones used to be the domain of superpowers such as Russia, China, and the United States. But they are rapidly becoming more accessible, leading to smaller nations and even non-state actors having access to this deadly vehicle for war.
Every era has a dominating technology or technique in warfare, from the war chariots of ancient times to the English longbow archers of the Middle Ages and the tanks of the Second World War.
Low-cost drones can be produced in large quantities, and Anti-Air weaponry is not yet prepared to counter a mass drone attack.
Almost every nation that uses drones claims to have ‘protocols’ in place to prevent civilian casualties, but these are not verified.
An example of armed drones in action is the deployment of drones by the Turkish government in Iraq.
Whilst the Turks claim that warfare becomes more ‘precise’ and ‘humane’ through the use of armed UAVs, the citizens of Northern Iraq feel that they are constantly being held at gunpoint.
Lastly, drones change our legal understanding of self-defense. In a ‘boots on the ground’ situation, soldiers repel an identified attack, but with drones, self-defense becomes ‘individualized’, where the target poses a constant imminent threat.
This changed idea of self-defense means that proportionality as a principle changes with it. Instead of the complexity of soldiers versus soldiers, drones may reduce the discussion to the simple question: ‘is this person an enemy’. There is a difference between Old Wars and New Wars, but the existence of hybrid warfare blurs the lines between the two, and new methods of warfare do not negate the fact that wars are still initiated over ‘old’ motives such as land, sea, and resources.