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'New Wars': the Sierra Leone Case
Unformatted Document Text:  Nationalism is frequently cited as a main motivation at the group-level explanation, as well as the political ideology (i.e. the democratic peace theory), both focusing on general war. Ethnic and religious conflicts are more directly associated with civil wars. Yet, given our theoretical prioritization of states as the central players in international relations, civil wars are viewed as a kind of domestic violence incident might be—we aren’t convinced that it constitutes a “real” war. Analysis of war at the state level is clearly relevant to the category of general war. In short, the traditional theoretical approach to understanding war perpetuates the belief that general war is the world’s primary concern. II. How does this differ from today’s global reality? A quick glance at contemporary conflicts in the world clearly shows that general wars are not a primary concern. The organization Global Security lists 42 current conflicts in the world. 3 Only six—Israel and Lebanon, Turkey and Kurdistan (Iraq), the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and U.S. involvement in Djibouti and the Philippines involve more than one state and none of these can be classified as general war. The end of the Cold War is frequently cited as a point of reference after which there was a drastic increase in ethnic and nationalist violence (Brubaker and Laitin 1998). The occurrence of civil wars has also increased dramatically; between 1816 and WWI there were 50 civil wars and in the 1990s alone there were 195 civil wars (Mingst 2004). Using a three pronged definition of civil war (fighting between state and nonstate agents, at least 1,000 killed, at least 100 killed on both sides) Fearon and Laitin (2003) find that the duration of civil wars also increased—from two years in 1947 to 15 years in 1999. Researchers have tried to explain why the end of the Cold War resulted in a rise in civil conflict rather than the expected spread of peace. Brubaker and Laitin (1998, 424) identify two acting forces that have contributed to the rise of civil conflict: the “decay of the Webarian state” and the dissolution of the “left-right ideological axis that has defined the grand lines of much political conflict—and many civil wars—since the French Revolution.” Fearon and Laitin (2003) argue that an increased prevalence in civil wars should not be associated with the end of the Cold War. Their research finds that there has not been an increase in ethnic or religiously driven wars, but an increase in conditions that favor insurgency, “a technique of military conflict characterized by small, lightly armed bands practicing guerilla warfare from rural base areas” (75). They suggest that weak government increase the propensity for insurgency. In other words, globalization pressures have reduced the capacity of weak states to govern effectively and at the same time made it possible for disgruntled minorities to cause major political disruption. As globalization reduces the ability for already ineffective governments to maintain control, increased access to global markets has made it possible for any size group to acquire weapons, to self-finance their activities through (oftentimes) illegal goods markets, and to seek financial and moral backing from abroad. As Berdal (2003) summarizes, “this claim to newness rests, in part, on the assertion that changes in the nature and workings of the global economy, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, are impacting uniquely on the patterns and character of intrastate and/or region-wide conflict 3 Available at: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/index.html 3

Authors: Parker, Sara.
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Nationalism is frequently cited as a main motivation at the group-level
explanation, as well as the political ideology (i.e. the democratic peace theory), both
focusing on general war. Ethnic and religious conflicts are more directly associated with
civil wars. Yet, given our theoretical prioritization of states as the central players in
international relations, civil wars are viewed as a kind of domestic violence incident
might be—we aren’t convinced that it constitutes a “real” war. Analysis of war at the
state level is clearly relevant to the category of general war. In short, the traditional
theoretical approach to understanding war perpetuates the belief that general war is the
world’s primary concern.
II. How does this differ from today’s global reality?
A quick glance at contemporary conflicts in the world clearly shows that general wars are
not a primary concern. The organization Global Security lists 42 current conflicts in the
world.
Only six—Israel and Lebanon, Turkey and Kurdistan (Iraq), the U.S. wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq, and U.S. involvement in Djibouti and the Philippines involve more
than one state and none of these can be classified as general war.
The end of the Cold War is frequently cited as a point of reference after which
there was a drastic increase in ethnic and nationalist violence (Brubaker and Laitin 1998).
The occurrence of civil wars has also increased dramatically; between 1816 and WWI
there were 50 civil wars and in the 1990s alone there were 195 civil wars (Mingst 2004).
Using a three pronged definition of civil war (fighting between state and nonstate agents,
at least 1,000 killed, at least 100 killed on both sides) Fearon and Laitin (2003) find that
the duration of civil wars also increased—from two years in 1947 to 15 years in 1999.
Researchers have tried to explain why the end of the Cold War resulted in a rise in
civil conflict rather than the expected spread of peace. Brubaker and Laitin (1998, 424)
identify two acting forces that have contributed to the rise of civil conflict: the “decay of
the Webarian state” and the dissolution of the “left-right ideological axis that has defined
the grand lines of much political conflict—and many civil wars—since the French
Revolution.” Fearon and Laitin (2003) argue that an increased prevalence in civil wars
should not be associated with the end of the Cold War. Their research finds that there has
not been an increase in ethnic or religiously driven wars, but an increase in conditions
that favor insurgency, “a technique of military conflict characterized by small, lightly
armed bands practicing guerilla warfare from rural base areas” (75). They suggest that
weak government increase the propensity for insurgency. In other words, globalization
pressures have reduced the capacity of weak states to govern effectively and at the same
time made it possible for disgruntled minorities to cause major political disruption.
As globalization reduces the ability for already ineffective governments to
maintain control, increased access to global markets has made it possible for any size
group to acquire weapons, to self-finance their activities through (oftentimes) illegal
goods markets, and to seek financial and moral backing from abroad. As Berdal (2003)
summarizes, “this claim to newness rests, in part, on the assertion that changes in the
nature and workings of the global economy, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, are
impacting uniquely on the patterns and character of intrastate and/or region-wide conflict
3
Available at:
3


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