Conflict and Security in the Post-Cold War Global System

Conflict and Security in the Post-Cold War Global System

Old and New Wars

In discussing the difference between “old” wars and “new” wars in his essay “The Transformation of War,” Martin Van Creveld describes the “Clausewitzian” as the essential characteristic of the “old” view of war. (Van Creveld, 1991, p.ix) This view portrays “old” wars as characterized by WWI and WWII, where the entire globe was considered the battlefield for imperial powers, entire societies were industrialized for military production, the greatest advances in mass-production, science, and rationalization were used to create the most violent weapons of mass destruction the world had ever known. The nation-states drafted or enlisted vast segments of the population base to build huge armies, navies, air forces, and nuclear weaponry, and the military command of each nation used this force with unrestrained power, even against civilian populations. The “old” war pattern led to hundreds of millions of individual deaths across the world during the course of the 20th Century.

In a different interpretation focusing on media, Heidi Schaefer writes in “Old Wars New Wars:

The famous photograph of a man being executed by a shot to the head by South Vietnam Lt. Colonel Ngyen Ngoc Loan, Saigon Chief of Police… taken by Eddie Adams, in 1968, on a side street in Saigon and later won him… a Pulitzer prize. In Adams’ obituary, the Washington Post wrote on this defining image of the violence of war in the first half of the twentieth century: ‘It was war in its purest, most personal form.’” (Schaefer, 2009)

Thus, in evaluating the definition of “old” wars, it can be stated that on the global or international level, “old” wars operate on the Clausewitzian model of “total war” and mass-mobilization of societies that cause immense amounts of social and economic destruction. On the local level, “old” wars operate as in the Eddie Adam’s photo, the brutality of a man shot in the head, the passion of the scene, the emotions, and desperation are all caught on camera and recorded as a “total history”. In using this understanding to build a conception of “new” wars, these can be seen as “conflicts” that operate on a limited or isolated basis globally, generally in failed States or in surgical military operations led by the hegemonic powers. Where “total war” characterized the old paradigm, “contained war” is symbolic of the new. This may also include increased systematization, de-personalization, and abstraction of violence so as to understand that State violence becomes more “stylized” in the operation of “new” war, as in a “cosmopolitan” police action. Additionally, there is a greater tendency to covert action, marginalized conflicts, lack of media coverage of non-central States, and disappearance of history that suggest in the local operation of “new” war, there is an inherent secrecy or hidden aspect that relates to containment, and can be seen as contrary to the Eddie Adams model. This means the media may not be centrally present in the “new” wars; the violence may not be recorded and broadcast in graphic imagery, but rather masked and stylized by the State in Hollywood manner in order to continue status quo operations with violence contained to the destruction of media-driven stereotypes of “foreign enemies” and “terror”.

Conflict and Security in the Post-Cold War Global System