Jan 26, 2011

The Great War of the 21st Century: Its Nature and Consequences

Will Durant, the author of The Story of Civilization (in ten volumes), notes that out of more than 3000 years of recorded human history ONLY 268 were without war

It is difficult to decide whether this fact mocks human rationality or justifies war as a necessary trait of human progress. But without doubt it provides an important clue to the overpowering human instinct: to fight other fellow men. 

Thus, each century bears evidence to this instinctive adventure by its share of great wars: the 20th century has World War I and II, 19th century has Napoleonic wars and American Civil war, 18th century has French Revolutionary War and so on. This century excels previous ones as it has seen almost 10 out of its 11 years as war. So this war is longest in the last 200 years and thus can be and must be called Great War of 21st century. This article is an attempt to see the future of this war by comparing it to the theoretical concept of war. 

At a theoretical level war is defined as an “act of force to compel our adversaries to do our will.”[2] Two points are notable in this definition: First, the existence of the action that involves force, and second, the objective behind using force. The objective of the use of force is to create such conditions for the opponent that it has to comply with our will. 

But what level of force is necessary and/or sufficient to surrender our opponent? No one can determine this level. Because it depends on both qualitative and quantitative factors. Thus, the quantitative factors may include the availability of ammunition and other paraphernalia associated with the action of war, while the qualitative factors involve will, ability, and other subjective factors. The other subjective factors may include the various traditional and religious-social factors. If the level of force that is necessary for a desirable outcome is uncertain then both the players are compelled to use the maximum possible level of force. This >>law of maximum force<< is the direct outcome of the uncertainty that players have of each others capability. The use of atomic bomb on Japan is in fact the application of this principle. 

In reality the war is different from theory. The players are not entirely ignorant of each other’s ability and military strength. But it is also not always possible to use or employ the maximum possible forces in war. This would be the case due to many reasons. For example, the geographical realities may constrain the use of maximum force; or the use of maximum force may risk involving other countries. Moreover, the war, in reality, may not confine to a point of time. Thus the use of maximum force over a continuous period of time, if required, may not be possible for the players. These realities make the actual war different from its theoretical concept.

The war that is the focus of this article is one that has been started in Afghanistan in 2001. The allied forces and the forces of United Nations are fighting against Taliban and Al-quaida. As a matter of fact alone, this is quite surprising that a group or groupes of tribes men have been fighting against most sophisticated military powers for nine years! But more astonishing are the implications of this conflict. Most painful as well as shameful being that it is the first war of the 21st century.

One implication of this war is the rebirth of oldest human problems in this most advanced age. What were those problems? Those problems were the issues of fear, security, and peace. It is true that these problems had manifested very intensely at several different occasions, for example, in the last century. But at those times the security and peace were globally challenged and it was feared that the human race may eliminate its own existence. For example, the risk of nuclear war between two superpowers during cold war era was a threat at a global level. The fear in the 21st century is of different nature. This is the fear of man from man. The fear that other person may explode, or that a vehicle, plane, or moving object may crash in the building. These fears have practical manifestations as well: cameras and sophisticated arm detectors at the entrances of public places, humiliating strip-searches at the airports have become common practice, not to mention the distrust that it engenders among different cultures and societies.

All this compels one to think why all this? What are the causes of this regression in global state of civilization? Can we go back to the future?

To answer above questions let us compare this war with the theory of war. Initially the allied armies have managed to occupy the Afghanistan, but they never able to comply the Taliban and Al-Qaida to follow their will. They just temporarily halt their operations. They were overpowered but not beaten. Allied forces has the country under their occupation but they could not dictate their will to their enemies. 

>>Therefore, the actual victory of allied forces in Afghanistan is far from the theoretical concept of victory in a war.<<

Areas of Active Insurgeny
After the occupation of Afghanistan, the Taliban and al-qaida started guerilla war. Because they have both the will and means for that war. The allied forces had overpowered them physically but not in terms of their will and non-physical ammunition. Thus, with each passing year the resistance go on increasing and 2010 is proved to be the deadliest year for allied forces in Afghanistan.

Unlike theoretical concept of war, the war in reality affects surrounding areas and countries. This war also did. By far the most affected country is Pakistan. Its civilians are suffering from histories’ deadliest terrorist attacks. While these attack not only sabotage the economic prospects of a country that has enormous potential in terms of human resources. But also they create rifts and schisms in the institutional set up of an already politically unstable country. There are full fledged occupations of Pakistani cities by Taliban (e.g. Swat ) which has been released only after months of heavy military operations. Moreover, Taliban are winning sympathies from various under privileged segments of northern and south western provinces of Pakistan and help instigating separatist movements which will make the region all the more chaotic and far from stable. To the extent that Taliban and Al-Qaida are successful in giving this war a color of holy religious war they are successful in recruiting novice youth of tribal areas of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

>>As the people of these areas have been involved in the business of ammunition and weaponry for decades, they are half soldier by their traditions. A little training and the toughness that they inherit from their geographical surroundings allow them to become lethal soldiers for a bad cause.<< 

At a regional level, this war has increased the importance of military in both Pakistan and India. Given the fact that these countries comprise around half of world’s poor, the escalating military expenditures never deem good. These same resources can be used to get these poor people out of poverty and hunger.

One may ask: Is there an end to this war? By the use of force this war is not going to end. Because it is NOT possible to kill mosquitoes with Kalashnikovs. One possibility is to involve the warring groups in dialogue, create peace with them on reasonable grounds and once peace has been established, the modern educational and economic opportunities will provided to the people of both Afghanistan and Pakistan’s northern areas. It is necessary to prove to them that they are part of this world; that this world can be made as good as heaven if they drop the guns and pick up pens. It is a tall order but have not the other options exhausted already?


[1]The Lessons of History (Chapter 11), by Will and Auriel Durant (Simon and Schuster, NewYork, 1968).
[2] What is War? By Karl Von Clausewitz in Gateway to the Great Books, Vol 7. Humanity and Society, (Enclyclopedia Britannica Inc, Chicago, 1990). 

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