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'New Wars': the Sierra Leone Case
Unformatted Document Text:  There are many classification schemes for categorizing war. Karen Mingst takes a common approach to categorizing war in her Essentials of International Relations textbook (2004). She defines four categories of war as follows: 1. General War: involves many participants, multiple major powers, and has the goal of conquering and occupying enemy territory. Conventional weapons of the time are used and both the military and civilians are targeted. The Thirty Years War, WWI, and WWII are examples of general wars. 2. Limited War: is distinguishable from general war by the goals pursued—with narrower rather than broader goals; by the types of weapons used—not all weapons are deployed; and by the targets attacked—which are strategically/geographically limited. Examples include the Korean and Vietnamese wars, as well as the 1991 Gulf War and 2001 war in Afghanistan. 3. Civil War: occurs between factions within a state either for territorial or political control. “Civil wars themselves can be general, as the American Civil War and the Russian Civil War, or they can be limited” (210). Civil wars may be fought between ethnic or religious factions, or by secessionist movements. 4. Asymmetric Warfare: warfare conducted between two parties of unequal strength in which “unconventional” tactics such as guerilla warfare or terrorism 2 are used to equal the playing field. Terrorism involves premeditation to commit an act to instill fear in others, is motivated by a cause, frequently targets noncombatants, and is characterized by secretiveness. Such tactics have been employed by the Algerians against the French, the North Vietnamese against the United States, and the mujahideen in Afghanistan. Though this classification scheme does capture what we might consider both “traditional” and “non-traditional” types of war, once we move past classifying wars and on to attempts to understand and explain war, there is a strong frequency to only address the first category of war—general war. Because traditional international relations theory concentrates on states as the primary actors in the international system, so too do our evaluations of war. Traditional theory concentrates either on state survival in an anarchical or self-help system, or on overcoming anarchy through cooperation and economic interdependence. In Barash and Webel’s (2002) textbook, Peace and Conflict Studies, the authors examine “The Reasons for Wars” by looking at individual, group, and state level causes of war. At each level, the explanations serve to show why states go to war. Even at the individual level, for example, where a discussion on the emotional attractions of violence should not in and of themselves imply a link to general war any more than civil or asymmetric war, this reference to state vs. state war exists. Barash and Webel cite soldiers who fought in WWI and WWII, references to armed militaries and soldiers, and the romanticizing of battles. 2 Mingst includes terrorism as a distinct fifth category of war despite describing it as “a particular kind of asymmetric warfare” (212). 2

Authors: Parker, Sara.
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background image
There are many classification schemes for categorizing war. Karen Mingst takes
a common approach to categorizing war in her Essentials of International Relations
textbook (2004). She defines four categories of war as follows:
1. General War: involves many participants, multiple major powers, and has the goal of
conquering and occupying enemy territory. Conventional weapons of the time are used
and both the military and civilians are targeted. The Thirty Years War, WWI, and WWII
are examples of general wars.
2. Limited War: is distinguishable from general war by the goals pursued—with
narrower rather than broader goals; by the types of weapons used—not all weapons are
deployed; and by the targets attacked—which are strategically/geographically limited.
Examples include the Korean and Vietnamese wars, as well as the 1991 Gulf War and
2001 war in Afghanistan.
3. Civil War: occurs between factions within a state either for territorial or political
control. “Civil wars themselves can be general, as the American Civil War and the
Russian Civil War, or they can be limited” (210). Civil wars may be fought between
ethnic or religious factions, or by secessionist movements.
4. Asymmetric Warfare: warfare conducted between two parties of unequal strength in
which “unconventional” tactics such as guerilla warfare or terrorism
are used to equal
the playing field. Terrorism involves premeditation to commit an act to instill fear in
others, is motivated by a cause, frequently targets noncombatants, and is characterized by
secretiveness. Such tactics have been employed by the Algerians against the French, the
North Vietnamese against the United States, and the mujahideen in Afghanistan.
Though this classification scheme does capture what we might consider both “traditional”
and “non-traditional” types of war, once we move past classifying wars and on to
attempts to understand and explain war, there is a strong frequency to only address the
first category of war—general war. Because traditional international relations theory
concentrates on states as the primary actors in the international system, so too do our
evaluations of war. Traditional theory concentrates either on state survival in an
anarchical or self-help system, or on overcoming anarchy through cooperation and
economic interdependence.
In Barash and Webel’s (2002) textbook, Peace and Conflict Studies, the authors
examine “The Reasons for Wars” by looking at individual, group, and state level causes
of war. At each level, the explanations serve to show why states go to war. Even at the
individual level, for example, where a discussion on the emotional attractions of violence
should not in and of themselves imply a link to general war any more than civil or
asymmetric war, this reference to state vs. state war exists. Barash and Webel cite
soldiers who fought in WWI and WWII, references to armed militaries and soldiers, and
the romanticizing of battles.
2
Mingst includes terrorism as a distinct fifth category of war despite describing it as “a particular kind of
asymmetric warfare” (212).
2


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