H enciclopedia 
es administrada por
Sandra López Desivo

© 1999 - 2013
Amir Hamed
ISSN 1688-1672



The changing face of war*

World Guide

While analysts were theorizing about the new type of war, the US army began to privatize, subcontracting out many of its military operations. This practice, known as outsourcing by its proponents, is described by its critics as the hiring of mercenaries

Modern war is rarely a classic confrontation between the armed forces of two or more states. The huge
imbalances in political and economic power and military might have led to the development of new forms of waging conflict that challenge the conventional view of war.

Armed conflicts

The Cold War marked a change from the way war was conducted during World War I and II. The United States and the Soviet Union prepared their arsenals and armies less for combat than to ensure that the other side would be annihilated in the event of a military confrontation. The deadlock led to 'low intensity' conflicts in the nations of the South, in which the superpowers acted as hidden agents, arming, training and financing the adversary, such as occurred in Vietnam, where the USSR supported the Vietcong, and in Afghanistan, where the United States supported the efforts of the mujahidin against the Red Army. Most of the conflicts since 1945 have been civil wars, and many of them involved guerrilla warfare, on a reduced scale, which diminished the strategic advantage that, a priori, the large national armies would enjoy.

The advent of asymmetric war

In the 1990s, the concept of 'asymmetric conflicts' began to gain favor among military analysts, who asserted that, when forces in confrontation do not possess the same level of military power, they adopt dissimilar tactics. In such cases, the military objectives are no longer the systematic pulverization of enemy lines but rather, in many cases, the erosion of popular support for the war within the society of the enemy. For analysts at the Pentagon, for example, the dividing line between governments and citizens, armies and civilians, public and private has dissipated.

war is basically a concept of conflict that eludes the rules of the international pact that entered into force with the League of Nations first, and then with the United Nations (UN). It is as old as war itself, because it is about a confrontation between the powerful and the weak. Since the Cold War, say analysts, examples of asymmetric war have included the struggles of the separatist Chechens against the Russian army and the Palestinians against the Israeli army, but also the use of terrorism. Today, they say, non-national and transnational groups, motivated by ideology, religion, cultural beliefs or 'illicit' economic activities, have pushed 'a large portion of the world into anarchy'.

According to asymmetric
war theorists, the use and management of publicity is usually part of the strategy of the David confronting the Goliath or the armed giant of the moment. For the theorists, in the asymmetric conflict not only can television news programs be turned into an operative weapon that is more powerful than the armed divisions, but also through them the distinction between war and peace begins to blur and the battlefields and frontlines become indefinable. At the same time, while terrorist tactics are perceived as crimes under international law, these are an almost privileged form of asymmetric war.

Marwan Bishara, professor of international relations at the American University of Paris, believes that the threat posed by terrorists has its departure point in the 'incredible quantitative difference in power and wealth between the North and South'. When people feel so militarily and economically inferior, he adds, they adopt asymmetric, not conventional, means to achieve their objective. There is agreement among Pentagon strategists that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was the last to have the 'poor judgment' to engage a military superpower in non-asymmetric conflict, the 1991 Gulf War where the US deployed 'smart' technologies- but in many ways it was a conventional war with tanks and soldiers.

Privatization of war

While analysts were theorizing about the new type of war, the US army began to privatize, subcontracting out many of its military operations. This practice, known as outsourcing by its proponents, is described by its critics as the hiring of mercenaries. As a result of this privatization, the scale of US military intervention in other countries is often underestimated. Increasingly it is private citizens who carry out military actions, traveling internationally as if they were simply business executives or tourists. Democrat Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky said that this process, in which military contractors are not held accountable, 'uses taxpayers' money to fund secret wars that could suck us into a Vietnam-like conflict'.

Currently, there are several private US firms that conduct Washington's military anti-drug policy in South America. DynCorp, a company based in Reston, Virginia, manages much of the air component of the anti-drug activities in the Andes, including spraying herbicides onto alleged
plantations of coca and marijuana. According to Corporate Watch, DynCorp, with more than 20,000 employees and 550 offices worldwide, is the private company receiving by far the most money from the Pentagon, though it also gets funding from the FBI, CIA, the US departments of Justice and State, the Internal Revenue Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and others. In addition DynCorp assisted the UN forces in Angola. In 1999 it won a contract from the State Department to monitor the ceasefire in Kosovo, all the while training police forces in Panama, Somalia, El Salvador, Bosnia and Haiti.
The privatization of an army is, in itself, an asymmetrical practice that confuses the individual with the

Rewriting the rules

Within the current context, in which the US as the only true superpower categorizes other states as 'rogue' or 'criminal', denying them the sovereignty that defines the international pact embodied in the creation of the United Nations after World War II, it should come as no surprise that wars can be treated as abstractions -as occurred with the 'War on Terror' declared by US President George W Bush in 2001, following the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. In effect, one can discern a declaration of the end of symmetric and international wars given that, by denying other states their sovereignty, the transnationalization - or globalization- of conflict prevails in the political-military practice of the US and its close allies.

In declaring other states 'rogues' or 'criminals', the US and its ally the United Kingdom have unilaterally taken on the policing role. They have made the sovereign state an individual, in many cases a criminal, and tried to convert themselves into the agents of an intangible, or at least non-judicial, order. Even that concept has been overtaken, however. If the US and the UK earlier attempted to turn themselves into the world's police force, through NATO and the bombings of former
Yugoslavia, hiding behind an international tribunal, then the war on terror has transformed them into vigilantes who serve no law. The last rupture of the international pact was President Bush's branding terrorist Osama bin Laden a criminal with a price on his head. Any regulatory or legal framework -the true counterweight to asymmetric war- was abandoned. The US superpower certified the end of the international pact: there could be no trial, only an extra-judicial settling of accounts between private parties.

*Published in The World Guide





H enciclopedia