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What is distinctive about contemporary conflicts in the developing world? Does the “new wars” label offer a convincing analytical lens to make sense of changes that have taken place since the end of the Cold War?

Dissertation : What is distinctive about contemporary conflicts in the developing world? Does the “new wars” label offer a convincing analytical lens to make sense of changes that have taken place since the end of the Cold War?. Recherche parmi 299 000+ dissertations

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What is distinctive about contemporary conflicts in the developing world? Does the “new wars” label offer a convincing analytical lens to make sense of changes that have taken place since the end of the Cold War?

The 5th of June 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize. As part of his Acceptance Speech, the then President of the Soviet Union made an interesting observation, and prophesied “many obstacles and dangers on the road to a lasting peace” (Gorbachev 2011: 64). Rapidly, new conflicts indeed started to emerge, “especially in Africa and Eastern Europe” (Kaldor 1999: 1). Those conflicts differed substantially from the traditional inter-states conflicts, and were thus theorized through the concept of “new wars”, first mooted by scholar Mary Kaldor at the end of the twentieth century (Kaldor 1999: 1). This concept, which was meant to account for the changing nature of conflicts since the end of the Cold War, however remained extremely controversial.

The aim of this essay is to engage with this evaluation, and to argue against the “new wars” label as an effective analytical tool to report on the current evolution of warfare. Modern conflicts do seem to outline an increasingly changing nature of war but, on the other hand, the “new wars” concept is extremely flawed, and lacks essential clarity to successfully make sense of those changes. The first section of this paper will provide an overview of the “new wars” characteristics and, referring to some of the contemporary conflicts that have arisen in the developing world, will assess the distinctiveness of such kind of conflicts. This essay will then put those features in perspective with a case study, in which we will conduct a comparative analysis of a pre-Cold War conflict - the Spanish civil war, and a post-Cold War conflict – the war in Bosnia. In a final chapter, this work will finally point out towards the low efficiency of the “new wars” label, arguing that this concept does not actually withstand scrutiny and close examination.

Shortly after the end of the Cold War, a new conception of warfare emerged. Ongoing conflicts, in the developing world and in Eastern Europe, started to be depicted as “contemporary” or “modern” conflicts, and were thus opposed to the “earlier” forms of conflicts, that used to unfold in the pre-Cold War era (Newman 2004: 173). Even though many scholars highly scrutinized this changing nature of war, one concept stood out from the others: the concept of “new wars”, first advocated by Mary Kaldor in 1999. This label was originally meant to report on the birth of “a new type of organized violence”, during the last decades of the twentieth century (Kaldor 1999: 1).

The most commonly assumed characteristic of this kind of conflict relates to the type of wars. By contrast with the interstate wars that punctuated the past century (such as both World Wars, for example), “new wars” are described as civil or intra-state conflicts that is, conflicts fought “between national boundaries rather than between nations or states” (Anderson 1999: 11). Alternatively, those new types of conflicts are often referred to as “people’s wars” (Holsti 1996: 28), a label which accounts for the changing type of participants involved in those conflicts. While “old wars” tended to be conducted only by military, “new wars” are distinctive because they involve a wider range of actors, notably “regular armed forces”, but also “private security contractors, mercenaries, jihadists, warlords” or “paramilitaries” (Kaldor 2013: 2). Wars nowadays are fought by people that “have history of living together and share a language, religion, and culture”, and who can be “former friends, neighbours, co-workers, co-worshippers, and sometimes even family members” (Anderson 1999: 11). Those features can especially be found in some of the contemporary conflicts that recently took place in the developing world, such as in Azerbaijan (where paramilitaries, mercenaries or even civilian volunteers were mobilized) or during the war in Afghanistan, which involved, among others, Taliban and private military companies. With regard to the types of actors involved in both those conflicts, the organization of wars undeniably seems to have changed over the past decades.

Moreover, the number of major civil wars is believed to have tripled since the beginning of the twenty-first century, while minor civil wars are also said to have become more and more numerous (Von Einsiedel 2014: 2). Although that figure might sound exaggerated, which will be investigated below, the existing literature would tend to advocate globalization as the primary cause of this explosion. The end of the Cold war is thought to have created an “inherently less stable distribution of power”, characterised by “an erosion of state sovereignty” in the developing world (Melander, Oberg and Hall 2009: 510). The outbreak of such kinds of conflicts indeed often results from the weakness of a country’s structural institutions. This argument would be particularly relevant when focusing on the war in Congo: as soon as the Belgium withdrawal occurred at the beginning of the 1960’s, the country experienced “a breakdown of centralized government and order”, and was engulfed in civil war (Newman 2004: 182).

The purpose of conflicts also appears to have shifted. Wars in the first few decades of the twentieth century used to be fought in the name of ideology, while “new wars” are increasingly dampened by the salience of identity politics (Melander, Oberg and Hall 2009: 511). To many observers, the purpose of old civil wars implied “well defined” and “clearly articulated ideologies of social change” (Kalyvas 2001: 102). The aim of the new civil wars, conversely, would be characterized by a certain “political vacuum” (Messiant and Marchal 2003: 92), perhaps even an entire lack of purpose, as it is currently the case in Myanmar with the genocide of the Rohingyas. As journalist Hans Magnus Enzensberger argued, “what gives today’s civil wars a new and terrifying slant is the fact that they are waged without stakes on either side, that they are wars about nothing at all” (Enzensberger in Kalyvas 2001: 102). Nevertheless, we will see later that this assertion would also greatly benefit from being balanced, as some exceptions exist.

Eventually, the ultimate great change characterizing those new types of conflicts would consider the methods of warfare (Kaldor 2001: 57). Recent conflicts in the developing world borrow from guerrilla warfare and counter-insurgency techniques, and aim at controlling the population in order to get rid of everyone of a differing identity or opinion (Holsti 1996: 38, Kaldor 1999: 9). They are believed to be deadlier than “old wars”, and are distinguished by an extreme violence towards civilians. This violence, consistently portrayed as “horrific” and “senseless”, can be achieved by means of displacement or rape, or can take the form of massacres and genocides, as it has been the case in Rwanda in 1994 (with about 800,000 victims), or in Algeria in 1997 (with 400 civilian casualties in a single night) (Kalyvas 2001: 113, Keen 2000: 6).


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