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Why and how are civil and interstate wars increasingly difficult to distinguish ?

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Par   •  10 Août 2020  •  Dissertation  •  1 536 Mots (7 Pages)  •  295 Vues

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Security practices and Political Violence - Essay

 « Why and how are civil and interstate wars increasingly difficult to distinguish ? »

« Throughout History, we have witnessed many forms of short and long-term conflicts. In the collective mind, the most lethal were the two World Wars before they were gradually replaced by the emergence of civil wars, which were thought to be more and more numerous over the years. Beyond the debate on the reasons for the emergence and growing number of these wars, what are the elements that distinguish a civil from an interstate war? From the point of view of domestic turmoils, this essay aims to highlight the difficulty of differentiating civil from interstate war in the name of objectives pursued by both internal and external actors involved in these conflicts.

Generally speaking, an armed conflict concerns the use of violence by at least two different actors in a totally mutual and reciprocal way towards each other. Nevertheless, many authors have endeavored to create a typology of these different wars according to their natures, organizations, strategies, military and technological means used. Therefore, Holsti distinguished three types of interstate wars and Balcells & Kalyvas typified four types of civil wars. At first, as opposed to an interstate war, a civil war would appear to be « an armed struggle taking place within the limits of a recognized sovereign entity between parties subject to a common authority at the outbreak of hostilities. » (Kalyvas, 2006) Considered as non or partially institutionalized, it turned out that the denomination of civil wars is also granted on the basis of whether or not a country is recognized as a State. Focusing on actors, Kalyvas compared organized crime to civil wars to describe the latter waged by cohesive groups with strong bonds and networks linked to transnational movements. (Ibidem) The same observation is made in Parkinson's text by her theorization of the mobilization of primary group associations inspired by Granovetter's concept of structural balance. (2013)

It is true that many armed conflicts facing internal tensions have sometimes been internationalized, either aided by actors and organizations depending on the objectives and interests of each, or through proxy wars, thus creating a blurred separation between interstate and civil wars. Indeed, even if non-state actors fight against the incumbent government within a sovereign country, their organizations may become globalized by having international networks to support them. Actually, some groups, although created due to internal violence within a country, can bring together people across borders by sharing same convictions and beliefs. This is particularly the case with religious and ideological struggles. In his thesis, Huntington has gathered people together according to their civilizational belonging. (1996) That’s the reason why he described the Bosnian war as an armed conflict between Islam, Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Moreover, in her work, Toft uses Jack Snyder’s model of nationalist outbidding and transpose it to create the process of religious outbidding. (2007) Although one of her hypotheses concerns only Islamic elites, we can more widely admit that religious bids can both strengthen local support and, above all, attract foreign support. Therefore, religious narrative is a good mean to mobilize people in a much broader way and then to involve external actors in domestic tensions. As Kaldor and Bauman assert, these movements have caused the erosion of the nation state and its territoriality as a determinant of identity. The so-called liquid modernity is thus linked to extraterritoriality as a result of the loss of its political significance. This has led to the emergence of globalizing wars with the aim of opening up the State to the international economy, as well as globalization induced wars by the weakening of central authorities and the enhancement of struggles due to economic liberalization.

Foreign actors can intervene in different ways in conflicts. For example, during the Cold War, the Third World was particularly affected by proxy wars led by the two superpowers. According to Barkawi, the great powers have tried to shape and rule south countries to gain influence over them and to use it against the other. (2011) So they have interfered in internal conflicts such as the Vietnam War. This one is considered as the epitome of both civil and interstate war because of the intervention and strategies used by US and USSR forces.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, external actors and international organizations (IOs) reviewed their ways of getting involved in contemporary internal conflicts. The failure of the UNOSOM II contributed greatly to the search for other actors who might be willing to engage in military operations for various interests. From a strategic point of view, C. Olsson, in his work on the Afghan case, highlighted the proportional increase between the supply of services provided by Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) and the demand of international actors to achieve certain objectives. (2016) Some consequences of these external findings are the militarizations of Taliban to fight against the Afghan government thus leading to an economically internationalized conflict. Furthermore, it turns out that PMCs are usually very tightly linked to the government of the State from which they emerge. Indeed, they can only sell their services to foreign governments if the Department of State and the Department of Trade have given their permission. PMCs are thus seen as the outgrowth of national armies. When the Russian Wagner Group fought in eastern Ukraine against his government, it’s been proven that many of them were actual Russian soldiers. Nonetheless, they didn’t fight in their Russian military uniforms and the interstate war hasn’t been recognized as such. As we can see, the separation between internal and interstate war is very thin and sometimes depends on a few subjective details. The same pattern can be seen in former President Clinton's intervention in Colombia using private contractors to reduce cocaine production in 1996.


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