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'New Wars': the Sierra Leone Case
Unformatted Document Text:  around the world.” The realization that contemporary wars differ from past wars, both in frequency and in conduct, has sparked interest and evaluation of “new wars.” III. What are “New Wars”? If today’s conflicts are not general wars, what kind of wars are they? The most severe wars fall under the category of civil war. Yet, the characteristics of today’s civil wars make them different from either the general or limited civil wars that Mingst describes. 4 “New wars” is the term (it would appear for lack of a better one) that has been applied to a number of contemporary wars. 5 As with general civil wars, the explanations for the causes of contemporary civil wars or “new wars” are varied—from economic scarcity, to ethnic, racial, or religious, strife, to demands for political autonomy, national independence, to express grievances against the central government or controlling authority, among others. Kalyvas (2001) identifies three distinctions that are commonly made between old and new civil wars. First, in terms of causes and motivation, it has been suggested that old civil wars were caused by collective grievances whereas new civil wars are motivated by private loot. Secondly, in terms of support, old civil wars were characterized by broad popular support while new civil wars lack popular support. Thirdly, violence was controlled in old civil wars, but is gratuitous in new civil wars. In general, violence at the beginning of the 21 st century “involves a blurring of the distinctions between war and crime, and is based on and serves to foment divisive identity politics” (Kaldor 2007, ix). New wars are frequently characterized by at least several of the following components: 1. Brutality against non-combatant or civilian populations. Kaldor (2007, viii) writes: “Civilians continue to be the main victims, because violence is deliberately inflicted on civilians, because civilians do not have the same protection as military forces, and because it is often difficult to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.” According to Global Security, civilians made up fewer than 5 percent of all casualties in WWI. Today, 75 percent or more of those killed or wounded in wars are non-combatants. 2. Fighting forces. “In contrast to the vertically organized hierarchical units that were typical of ‘old wars,’ among the units that fight these wars are a disparate range of different types of groups such as paramilitary units, local warlords, criminal gangs, police forces, mercenary groups, and also regular armies, including breakaway units from regular armies” (Kaldor 2007, 9). When the choice is between defending oneself or face death, civilians may be forced to become combatants. A high percentage of young males and children participate in fighting. In some cases children comprise the majority of fighters in new wars. There are several reasons for why this may be the case: 1) lack of income, inability to get an income in a struggling economy, 2) societies are divided into 4 This suggestion has been contested in the literature and I do address the claims that contemporary civil wars are not fundamentally different from prior civil wars. Regardless, the drastic increase in civil wars makes evaluation and analysis of them as distinct from general wars extremely important. 5 “Post-modern wars”, “privatized wars”, and “informal wars” are also terms that have been used (Kaldar 2007). 4

Authors: Parker, Sara.
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around the world.” The realization that contemporary wars differ from past wars, both in
frequency and in conduct, has sparked interest and evaluation of “new wars.”
III. What are “New Wars”?
If today’s conflicts are not general wars, what kind of wars are they? The most severe
wars fall under the category of civil war. Yet, the characteristics of today’s civil wars
make them different from either the general or limited civil wars that Mingst describes.
“New wars” is the term (it would appear for lack of a better one) that has been applied to
a number of contemporary wars.
As with general civil wars, the explanations for the
causes of contemporary civil wars or “new wars” are varied—from economic scarcity, to
ethnic, racial, or religious, strife, to demands for political autonomy, national
independence, to express grievances against the central government or controlling
authority, among others.
Kalyvas (2001) identifies three distinctions that are commonly made between old
and new civil wars. First, in terms of causes and motivation, it has been suggested that
old civil wars were caused by collective grievances whereas new civil wars are motivated
by private loot. Secondly, in terms of support, old civil wars were characterized by broad
popular support while new civil wars lack popular support. Thirdly, violence was
controlled in old civil wars, but is gratuitous in new civil wars. In general, violence at the
beginning of the 21
st
century “involves a blurring of the distinctions between war and
crime, and is based on and serves to foment divisive identity politics” (Kaldor 2007, ix).
New wars are frequently characterized by at least several of the following components:
1. Brutality against non-combatant or civilian populations. Kaldor (2007, viii)
writes: “Civilians continue to be the main victims, because violence is
deliberately inflicted on civilians, because civilians do not have the same
protection as military forces, and because it is often difficult to distinguish
between combatants and non-combatants.” According to Global Security,
civilians made up fewer than 5 percent of all casualties in WWI. Today, 75
percent or more of those killed or wounded in wars are non-combatants.
2. Fighting forces. “In contrast to the vertically organized hierarchical units that
were typical of ‘old wars,’ among the units that fight these wars are a disparate
range of different types of groups such as paramilitary units, local warlords,
criminal gangs, police forces, mercenary groups, and also regular armies,
including breakaway units from regular armies” (Kaldor 2007, 9). When the
choice is between defending oneself or face death, civilians may be forced to
become combatants. A high percentage of young males and children participate
in fighting. In some cases children comprise the majority of fighters in new wars.
There are several reasons for why this may be the case: 1) lack of income,
inability to get an income in a struggling economy, 2) societies are divided into
4
This suggestion has been contested in the literature and I do address the claims that contemporary civil
wars are not fundamentally different from prior civil wars. Regardless, the drastic increase in civil wars
makes evaluation and analysis of them as distinct from general wars extremely important.
5
“Post-modern wars”, “privatized wars”, and “informal wars” are also terms that have been used (Kaldar
2007).
4


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