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'New Wars': the Sierra Leone Case
Unformatted Document Text:  “New Wars”: The Case of Sierra Leone By Sara Parker 1 Introduction This idea for this paper grew out of my experience teaching international relations courses that either focused directly on issues of war and peace and international security or addressed these issues in some capacity. Despite a number of excellent textbooks available to instructors who address these topics, the vast majority of texts focus on interstate wars—frequently called “conventional” or “general” wars. The main actors in these wars are states, the primary combatants uniformed armies, and the primary motivation for fighting usually has something to do with the acquisition of power (political control, land, money, etc.). This paper begins by describing what might be considered a traditional approach to teaching about war. In the second section I discuss how this description differs from today’s global reality. In the third section I describe this reality using the term “new wars.” In the fourth section I introduce the idea of using Sierra Leone as a case study to teach about contemporary conflicts. Teaching about new wars allows instructors to incorporate a host of interesting and contemporary topics into their curriculum—topics that would most likely not be covered if war is studied in a more conventional way. Therefore, in the fifth and final section of the paper, I provide a brief student- friendly background to the Sierra Leone conflict and three lesson plans on issues that are highly relevant to the study of contemporary conflicts. I chose to include lessons on humanitarian intervention, the use of private militia forces, and the issue of transitional justice. I incorporate the Sierra Leone case into each lesson. There are a host of additional topics that could also be covered, but I do not have space to address, such as war-profiteering (for example, blood diamonds), the capacity/incapacity of the United Nations to deal with contemporary conflicts, or the use of child soldiers, to name only a few. I. What is the traditional approach to teaching about War? A definition is a common starting point for teaching about a new concept. Defining war can be challenging. When I ask students to describe war, they usually reference military uniforms, war-making equipment such as tanks and guns, and describe the presence of some kind of motivation. The war they are describing is one that matches the first definition for war in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary: “a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations.” Their familiarity with the U.S. military as an organized and highly trained force and America’s role in major international wars (particularly WWII) translates into a very specific understanding of war—an understanding that is frequently referred to as “conventional” or “general” war. 1 Paper prepared for presentation at the APSA Teaching and Learning Conference, San Jose, CA, February 22-24, 2008. 1

Authors: Parker, Sara.
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“New Wars”: The Case of Sierra Leone
By Sara Parker
Introduction
This idea for this paper grew out of my experience teaching international relations
courses that either focused directly on issues of war and peace and international security
or addressed these issues in some capacity. Despite a number of excellent textbooks
available to instructors who address these topics, the vast majority of texts focus on
interstate wars—frequently called “conventional” or “general” wars. The main actors in
these wars are states, the primary combatants uniformed armies, and the primary
motivation for fighting usually has something to do with the acquisition of power
(political control, land, money, etc.).
This paper begins by describing what might be considered a traditional approach
to teaching about war. In the second section I discuss how this description differs from
today’s global reality. In the third section I describe this reality using the term “new
wars.” In the fourth section I introduce the idea of using Sierra Leone as a case study to
teach about contemporary conflicts. Teaching about new wars allows instructors to
incorporate a host of interesting and contemporary topics into their curriculum—topics
that would most likely not be covered if war is studied in a more conventional way.
Therefore, in the fifth and final section of the paper, I provide a brief student-
friendly background to the Sierra Leone conflict and three lesson plans on issues that are
highly relevant to the study of contemporary conflicts. I chose to include lessons on
humanitarian intervention, the use of private militia forces, and the issue of transitional
justice. I incorporate the Sierra Leone case into each lesson. There are a host of
additional topics that could also be covered, but I do not have space to address, such as
war-profiteering (for example, blood diamonds), the capacity/incapacity of the United
Nations to deal with contemporary conflicts, or the use of child soldiers, to name only a
few.
I. What is the traditional approach to teaching about War?
A definition is a common starting point for teaching about a new concept. Defining war
can be challenging. When I ask students to describe war, they usually reference military
uniforms, war-making equipment such as tanks and guns, and describe the presence of
some kind of motivation. The war they are describing is one that matches the first
definition for war in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary: “a state of usually open and
declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations.” Their familiarity with the U.S.
military as an organized and highly trained force and America’s role in major
international wars (particularly WWII) translates into a very specific understanding of
war—an understanding that is frequently referred to as “conventional” or “general” war.
1
Paper prepared for presentation at the APSA Teaching and Learning Conference, San Jose, CA, February
22-24, 2008.
1


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