Wednesday, 8 December 2010

War and peace

 The concepts of war and peace, and the prevalence of armed conflict, has been a subject for discussion amongst various people on Twitter lately (See also, Thinking Strategically for an alternative view). One of my cousins has been following some of these discussions, and has this to add: (he refuses to get a Twitter account for fear of losing his thesis - a sensible move, I think!).

I would contend that you and your Twitter friends are too focussed on war. This is a video contending that it is the least violent time ever, as defined by a man dying at the hands of another man, whether that be in a war, a drive by shooting or a fight over the village goat. Which would seem to me to be as objective a measure as we can reach!

 I would like to take this further. These are issues that are not new, and I will probably be raising more questions than answers, as ever is the case when attempting to define 'war'. But I think it is important to bear these in mind, and chew on them as food for thought.

 David Keen has raised the of the difficulty in distinguishing between war and peace in his article 'War and Peace: What's the difference?' in volume 7 of the International Peacekeeping journal (also partially available on Google Books). In the article he explains the similarities in intra-state conflicts between the time of 'war' and the time of 'peace.'

 Part of our discussion on Twitter covered the concept of whether WikiLeaks and (al-Qa'ida) fall under the jurisdiction of war or peace. Do we treat WikiLeaks as an enemy organisation, with its members as enemy combatants? This is dodgy ground. War-time is often treated as an exceptional situation, with exceptional circumstances that will include the introduction of 'temporary' powers and legislation. This is acceptable in inter-state wars when there are clear-cut declarations of war, and subsequent surrenders.

But in conflicts where the combatants are 'irregular' - whether guerilla fighters such as the IRA or the Taliban, or individuals who are members of a transnational organisation such as al-Qa'ida and WikiLeaks - there is no clear-cut beginning or cessation of hostilities. Indeed, with the case of al-Qa'ida and WikiLeaks, I think it's wise to see them as part of the scenery - they are symptoms of our changing world and are here to stay (indeed, WikiLeaks is not the first whistle-blower organisation, just the loudest, see Cryptome). Laura Donohue completed a study of temporary powers in the United Kingdom between 1922 and 2000, in which she found that 'terminology notwithstanding, there is nothing temporary about temporary emergency legislation.' (Page 85, fn. page 102)

 Since the 1980s the definition of security has been expanding beyond 'military' security to include political, economic, societal and environmental security. Some have criticised this concept of security due to the militarised connotations of 'security'. However, a quick glance at the national security strategies of the United Kingdom (I assume that if the UK is doing it, the US did it first) in the past two decades demonstrate the broad interpretation of security. The 'military' aspects of security aside, considering WikiLeaks and al-Qa'ida with the same attitude one might have toward rising sea levels or an ageing population encourages a calmer long-term, low-key strategic outlook.

 As we embark on the second decade of the twenty-first century, clearly defined wars are becoming less and less common. Conflicts can seem to be very common (due to greater media coverage) and more protracted (to our impatient Western concepts of time). We could interpret this in a Fukuyaman or Kaplanite sense, in which we over-react and declare that the world is now anarchic and without order.

 Alternatively, I think we should see the evolution of security and threats to our security as a good thing, because life is gradually becoming more peaceable (for some more than others, admittedly). If we treat WikiLeaks and al-Qa'ida as part of the fabric of the current age - one dominated by 'peace' - rather than an exceptional circumstance, our response to these threats is likely to be less exaggerated, not over-reactive, and thus less damaging to our everyday lives.

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