< < <
Date Index
> > >
new wars and old wars
by Threehegemons
23 September 2002 01:47 UTC
< < <
Thread Index
> > >
I read  this weekend New Wars and Old Wars by Mary Kaldor, recommended on this 
list last week by S K Hurram.  It is very interesting, and well worth reading 
for its exploration of the dynamics of the 'New Wars' (Bosnia, Rwanda)which in 
the authors view are unlike old wars.  They are largely wars of identity 
obsessed networked fighters demanding that only their kind may occupy some 
space ('ethnic cleansing). Necessarilly, they attack not only their ethnic 
opponents, but any local advocates of cosmopolitanism of whatever ethnicity. 
They are fed by members of diasporas far from the upheavals.  They thus cannot 
be easily resolved using old categories like negotiated settlements (which 
empower the particularists) and 'peacekeeping operations'.  She argues for a 
cosmopolitan politics which would involve more militarily active 
internationalist troops, risking their lives for humanity (rather than either 
risking their lives for their nation (old wars) or trying to avoid risking 
their lives (contemporary US military)) while reconstruction work would 
strengthen the hand of local supporters of cosmopolitanism against identity 
politics, and would involve ambitious strengthening of the free media and 
educational institutions to undermine the hateful propaganda which has polluted 
these societies.  This would require a break with neoliberal politics that 
insist the priority of reconstructing societies is to adopt familiar austerity 

The book is rich in description of how the dynamics associated with the 'new 
wars' evolve, and can be read as a salutory critique of the American approach 
to state reconstruction.  But there are real limits to Kaldor's analysis.  
First, she almost exclusively analyzes the new wars as examples  of the 
organized (actually only partly organized) use of violence (hence the contrast 
with 'old wars').
  I can think of two other ways of looking at them in which they might look 
differently.  One is as a subset of 'ethnic transnational networks'.  From this 
view, not all, probably not most ethnic transnational networks actually feed 
new wars.  Many just remit earnings from migrants, or facilitate trade or job 
or investment networks.  Secondly, the new warriors can be seen as a subset of 
'territorial cleansing', in other words the general practice of one group 
driving another out of some space, whether through the use of violence, the 
power of money, or the power of the law, or moral authority (i.e. clear out, we 
need to protect the environment, etc) etc.  Seen from this optic, the new 
warriors seem rather minor and ineffective.  The great territorial cleansers 
rely much more on money and the law--they clear out urban neighborhoods of poor 
people, throw peasants off their land, etc.  They rarely use racial arguments, 
and, indeed, may use ethnic solidarity amongst those they are cleansing as 
proof of their unworthiness. They act through transnational networks lodged in 
the north--corporations, 'core' states, etc.

Symptomatic of these paths not taken are three topics that get only the most 
limited attention in the text--the US, Israel, and East Asia.  The first gets a 
certain amount of attention, but mostly as perhaps the most important member of 
an international community that must address these wars, and the player that is 
frequently advocating the ineffectual or make-things-worse policies.  The 
possibility that the US is pursuing its own agenda, and that it may be 
intervening for self-interested, rather than normative purposes, is not so much 
as raised.   I am not sure how she would explain the current rush for the US to 
invade Iraq, not presently the site of a 'new war'.  

Israel gets virtually no attention (the book was completed in the period when 
Oslo was in effect, although her framework does shed some light on why such a 
plan would fail).  Yet the Jewish diaspora is probably the most powerful and 
wealthiest of all ethnic diasporas that have involved themselves in such a war. 
 Unlike virtually all other combatants in new wars, the Jewish settlers remain 
part of the 'global class', free to travel, participate in the formal world 
economy, and seen as 'important' victims when killed (she notes that for the 
most part, deaths of local combatants are insignificant compared to the 
targeting of international peacekeepers, reporters, aid workers, etc).  Taken 
together, the US and Israel suggest an entanglement between Northern 
ethnicities and the new wars, rather than disengagement.

Finally, East Asia is virtually absent from the text.  If it is part of the 
international community that is going to address these crises, it is very much 
the junior partner.  Yet the core of the 'East Asian miracle'--Japan, South 
Korea, Taiwan, Singapore--are significant in that ethnicity is highly important 
yet nothing much like the new war syndrome is visible (not true of either the 
US or Western Europe).  Their experience suggests that the role of ethnicity 
may be more complicated than Kaldor's repeated denunciations of identity 
politics indicate, just as US/Israeli participation in territorial cleansing 
(not only the Israeli settlers but the US' capitalist allies globally and 
within its own cities and prison complexes) complicates the relationship 
between cosmopolitan ideology and cleansing. Ultimately, Kaldor presumes a 
world which might be guided toward peace by an international community 
(basically the US/EU) with a renewed ideology of cosmopolitanism.  Such a 
viewpoint is most plausible when one averts one's eyes from the self-interests 
being pursued by this 'international community'.

Steven Sherman

< < <
Date Index
> > >
World Systems Network List Archives
at CSF
Subscribe to World Systems Network < < <
Thread Index
> > >