Modern warfare is characterized typically by the deliberate targeting of civilian non-combatants, the massive destruction of infrastructure, schools, hospitals, and residential buildings, and the ‘weaponization’ of torture, rape, and forced migration. We are witnessing these in the war in the Ukraine now.
Many “post-cold war” wars are what Mary Kaldor calls “New” wars, in contrast to the kind of battles that were typical of the two World Wars, which she calls “conventional.” Such New Wars mainly occur in badly governed states such as Yemen, Syria, and Bosnia. Their four main traits are:
a) They are fought by a combination of state and non-state groups — militias, warlords, smuggling gangs, etc. (Kaldor met soldiers in the Yugoslav wars who wore sneakers and sunglasses and who went home each night after their day in battle.)
b) They are about “identity” politics instead of ideology.
c) They attempt to control the population more through terror than governing.
d) Much of the financing comes from criminal and predatory sources instead of government funds. Since the belligerents benefit from their illegal rackets, they may intentionally prolong conflicts into “forever wars.“ Kaldor has argued that the “new wars” last endlessly because it is in the mutual interest of the opposing belligerents to continue rather than settle them.
To state the obvious, wars — whether of “New” or “conventional” type — are profoundly reprehensible and can never be ethically justified. They intentionally inflict untold suffering on those affected by political violence. There are reverberating negative consequences for all involved, and the effects continue eternally.
Given these plain facts about modern warfare, it is astounding that there has been little, if any, progress in eradicating them, especially with the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
Some 27 wars are taking place in the world today — the highest number since the end of the Second World War. The number of persons killed in wars averages about 100,000 per year. According to the Institute of Economics and Peace, the global cost of conflict and violence is more than $14 trillion each year — about equal to $5.00 a day for each person on the planet. The number of persons forcibly displaced, principally as a result of wars and protracted armed conflicts, has reached about 100 million people since the war in the Ukraine entered its second alarming stage on February 24, 2022.
Remarkably, by the end of 2020, more than two-thirds of the world’s forcibly displaced persons came from only five countries: Syrian Arab Republic (6.7 million); Venezuela (4.0 million); Afghanistan (2.6 million); South Sudan (2.2 million); and Myanmar (2.1 million).
All of these countries have been wracked by protracted armed conflict for decades except Venezuela, which has faced economic and political insecurity and food shortages that have precipitated mass forced displacement. Within the first three months, the war in Ukraine has produced 14 million forcibly displaced persons, of whom 7.3 million people have left the country, with the balance internally displaced. Ukraine now is leading all countries in the number of forcibly displaced persons by a wide margin. Refugees and other forced migrants are products of war, and the war in Ukraine is likely to continue for some considerable time, given that it commenced with Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea in 2014.
The Ukraine war of the “new” variety first involved only the Donbas and Crimea. But the launch of tanks and battleships on Feb 24 was a turning point back into what looked like World War II — which is why it is so shocking. Clearly this is a war waged by two states seeking to gain control of territory and population. And, despite its conventional aspects, it may become one of the “endless” wars.
All modern warfare is a pernicious cycle of perpetual war, producing, as noted above, the “atrocity crimes” — the most serious international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes. These fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and UN ad hoc criminal tribunals for the prosecution and judgement of those indited for the commission of such heinous criminality in war. The jurisdiction of the ICC also includes the crime of aggression. National courts also have the responsibility to bring to trial those who are responsible for the commission of these serious international crimes.
Wars and protracted armed conflicts result inevitably in casualties, forced migration, and displacement. Typically, those who are fleeing their country of nationality or former habitual residence do so unwillingly because they are forced to leave grave and precarious living conditions. Often, people who are fleeing a war zone must rely on human smugglers to escape. Those belligerents who are opposed to those controlling their government have to rely on clandestine sources for supplies of weapons to fight against their State’s armed forces and paramilitary and police forces. To raise the enormous sums required to purchase these weapons, rebel forces may get involved into the illicit drug trade. The three principal international crime networks include trafficking in drugs, guns, and people. Hence, international criminal networks sustain the cycle of perpetual war. They rely on the massive flows of forcibly displaced people for their human smuggling and trafficking clandestine operations. Wars and armed conflicts also maintain the demand for international criminal networks in the illicit trade in weapons.
What is required to achieve a sustainable peace is more than global will or even a consensus to end wars, but also a determined effort to tackle international criminal networks that profit off organized political violence. Eradicating “endless wars” will require a strategy that deals with a multiplicity of complex factors simultaneously. Understanding how wars are linked to international criminal organizations will assist in developing an international strategy for eliminating these “endless wars.” Absolutely key to doing so is believing that eradicating war is a real possibility and not merely a pipe dream.
Professor James C. Simeon is Head of McLaughlin College and Associate Professor, School of Public Policy and Administration, York University, Toronto. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org