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THE NEW WARS
by Herfried Münkler
288 pages –
BOOK REVIEW BY CATHRINE HOLST
WAR is mere continuation of policy by other means, wrote military strategist Carl von Clausewitz in 1832. Those were the days.
The occupation of Iraq is up for Grabs, P2s “Sunday paper” reported recently. USA is leaving the administration and building up of Iraq to private companies after the sale where millions and billions worth contracts are at risk.
SEVERAL PRIVATE AGENCIES, blurred distinctions between war and commerce – this is typical of the new wars, claims German political scientist Herbert Münkler in his latest book. In these new wars, the state has lost its monopoly on war violence, he claims. Monopoly is undermined partially from within: The states themselves take the initiative to deregulate wars, like USA in Iraq. Undermining from the outside comes from private agencies, from the local warlords and guerrilla groups, the global terrorist networks and professional security companies (such as Executive Outcomes, Control Risks Groups and Groups and Defence Systems Ltd.) which offer trained military personnel, air planes, helicopters and personalised security concepts to those who can afford them.
MANY OF THOSE AGENCIES can, Münkler claims, be interpreted as war entrepreneurs: They are in war for their own benefit, and they are constantly in search of new profits. They are supported financially by rich private persons, states or groups of emigrants, they sell priority and prospect rights in the areas they control, distribute drugs and promote human trafficking, collect protection fees and rob help material from the international organisations through the control of refugee camps. In this way the hunting fro profits which can finance the war becomes part of the war itself, the distinction between the military and civilians, war and peace disappears. He new wars are self-driven low intensity without a clear beginning or end.
IN THE WARS that took place in the beginning of the 20th century 90% of the dead were military personnel. In the new wars at the end of the 20th century situation is the opposite. Around 80% of the dead and injured are civilians: The violence is no longer directed towards the enemy’s weapons, but towards the enemy civilians. At the same time there is loosening of discipline among the soldiers and sexualization of war violence. “War of course always had a sexual dimension”, Münkler writes, but “rape orgies barbarism” belongs to the new wars, and so does the explosive growth in the number of children soldiers, which according to FN has risen to the level of 300 000.
HUNGER AND DISEASES are also results of the new wars. The Wars in Europe from the end of 17th century rarely led to hunger crises and epidemics. Today’s wars result in them almost without exception and they are not going on in Europe any longer, at least not Western Europe. The new wars take place at the edge of the old empires: in the Balkans, in the Caucasus, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Indonesia, Somalia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, etc., and they are specific for what Münkler calls “asymmetric war strategies” partisans, terrorism and intifada. Nobody can challenge the world hegemony of the US by symmetrical war between the states.
MÜNKLER’S BOOK is thought provoking. One question that arises is whether it is correct to call today’s wars new. Isn’t a lot of the new in those new wars actually old news? Münkler does not deny that one can draw a line backwards in history. One of the book’s most interesting chapters shows similarities between the new wars and The Thirty Years’ War between 1618 and 1648. That there are close connections between war and profiting is no news either, but simple explanations of ‘imperialism’ as a course of war are certainly not sufficient for explanation of the new wars’ complex political economy.
THE FACT THAT STATES no longer have a monopoly on war violence has to be understood as a deciding turn point in history of war: this alone, if nothing else, justifies Münkler’s talk about the new wars versus the old. The new wars are both a result and a cause of ‘failed states’ in the third world, as well as in the first and second world’s periphery. The contrast to the European and North-American state-founding wars cannot be bigger. Undermining of the state’s war violence monopoly is fatal because the base of the International Laws is that the state has such a monopoly. As Münkler expresses it: «Sanctions and restrictions in The Hague Convention and The Geneva Convention are not respected in the new wars. This results from the fact that states, the International Law’s traditional addressees have a limited influence on the course of events of the new wars.»
THE NORWEGIAN PHILOSOPHER Truls Wyller has recently in his challenging pamphlet “To die for a state” concentrated his analysis on weakness of international law: It allows, he claims, too many wars between the states. I agree with him. International law forbids however several wars between the states and regulates the wars that appear. The main problem today is that a lot of wars are not between states and therefore are not regulated by International Law or whatever else. How to civilise such wars when they appear? How to prevent those wars from appearing? How to submit the new wars to political control? In a democracy questions concerning war and peace are the affairs of the citizens. It is about time that we demand our right.
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