Wars are one of the most puzzling and destructive of human activities. Millions of lives have been lost throughout history. There are no easy answers for either the causes or how they can be prevented. This is an attempt to present a short time line for the changes that have taken place the last 100 years and with a focus on the development today.
War and conflict is one of the absolutely worst survival scenarios. Direct violence in different forms is a major danger. There is also the possibility of being damaged indirectly from artillery, land mines, unexploded ordinances and air strikes. Other tactics to spread fear and terror are systematic sexual abuse, snipers, mutilation, child soldiers, torture and kidnapping. Modern precision weapons systems mean that vital infrastructure like electrical power; water and communications easily can be targeted. This was the case in 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. Transportation of food and other essentials may also be disrupted. The response in many cases from the population is to escape from the areas where most of the violence takes place to other regions within the same country or other countries. In the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina two thirds of the population was displaced. And after a conflict it can often take long time before the residents can return to their homes. Secondary effects like epidemics and the spread of sexual transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis are also common.
1914-1918 The First World War 15 million died in this conflict. The most deadly battle was the battle of Somme where 1,3 million died. The war introduced a number of new inventions such as machineguns, chemical weapons and artillery. The United States lost just over 100.000 men in the war.
1939-1945 The Second World War is the most devastating conflict that has ever taken place in human history. How many that died in war is a debated question, but estimates vary from around 30 million up to over 50 million. The Holocaust also ended the lives of millions of Jews living in Europe.
1945 After the Second World War ended a new kind of conflict would start: The Cold War. The Cold War never developed to a full scale war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Weapons of mass destruction and especially nuclear weapons was a very important part during this period. Both the US and the Soviet Union supported many states with weapons, training and funding during this period.
1948 Israel declared its independence. The neighboring countries attacked Israel in order to stop the creation of the new state. In total six more wars have followed in 1956, 1967, 1969, 1973, 1982 and last in the summer of 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah. There has also been a long conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians both inside Israel and the Palestinian refugees that live in other countries until today. There have also been internal conflicts between the Palestinians.
1950-1953 The Korea War between the South and North Korea would become a very violent conflict. The US and long number of countries that made up the UN force supported South Korea and the Soviet Union and China supported North Korea. The American loses is debated, but around 30.000-40.000 men is believed to have been killed. There is also information that the US would have lost around 3000 planes and the Soviet around 1000 planes in the struggle for the skies. The War ended with a separation of the two states and this segregation has lasted up until this day. The tensions between North and South Korea have continued and North Korea is a state with nuclear weapons today.
1959-1975 The Vietnam War would cost the lives of tens of thousands of American soldiers. This was a very costly conflict for the US that would last more than two decades. The war ended with US withdrawal.
1960s The conflict between the Nationalists and Unionists in Northern Ireland start. The conflicts have claimed over 3000 lives up until this day. Today many of the strongest groups of former combatants have been disarmed and joined the peace process, but small groups have continued carrying out attacks.
1964 The Civil War in Colombia brakes out. Government forces and the guerilla groups FARC and ELN are the most important actors but private armies like the AUC have also played a big part. The guerilla groups finance their activities through drug trafficking, kidnapping and other illegal activities. FARC still controls big areas of the country.
1975-2002 The civil war in Angola between the communist MPLA and the rebel group UNITA started. During the Cold War South Africa would support UNITA, The Soviet Union and Cuba would support MPLA. After the end of the Cold War UNITA would have to finance the war on their own, this was mainly done through the harvesting of diamonds. After the end of the Cold War the conflict would continue until the leader of UNITA Sivimbi was killed in 2001 and UNITA was disarmed in 2002 bringing an end to the 27 year civil war.
1979-1989 The Soviet Union occupies Afghanistan. The United States together with Saudi Arabia supported the Mujahidin resistance with training, funding, weapons, equipment through the Pakistani Intelligence Agency. After the Soviet Occupation ended the civil war continued and the Taliban would gain the upper hand in most of the country and the northern alliance would control the rest of the country up to the 2001 invasion by US and coalition forces. The Taliban is suppressed today but the civil war continues.
1980-1988 The Iraq and Iran War was one of the most destructive Wars between states during the cold war. The conflict would last for many years and Weapons of Mass destruction was used by both parties. The US gave covert assistance to Iraq, and Israel gave covert assistance Iran during the conflict.
1982 Margaret Thatcher also known as “The Iron Lady” leads Great Britain to war against Argentina in The Falklands War. The war was a result of an Invasion against the Islands by Argentina. The conflict ended with the withdrawal of Argentinean forces from the Islands, just under 1000 persons died in the conflict.
1983 American Marines intervenes in theon going civil war in Lebanon. The coalition forces have a hard time to maintain their neutrality and on the 23rd of October a suicide attack with a truck bomb hit the compound where the American Marines were located. This was the most powerful non nuclear explosion since the Second World War. 241 Americans died in the attack and the US withdraws from Lebanon. It’s believed that the attack is connected to those how latter form the group Hezbollah. The civil war continued and Hezbollah can almost be described as a state within the state of Lebanon today.
1989 the Soviet Union collapsed and the cold war ended during 40 years the world had been slip between the two super powers the United States and the Soviet Union. This was a turn in history that very few anticipated. The world as we know it has changed fundamentally ever since. The United States is the only remaining super power in the world today.
1991 The First Gulf War "Operation Desert Storm" between Iraq and the American collation took place after Iraq invaded the neighboring state Kuwait. There was large fear that Iraq would employ weapons of mass destruction, this had been the case a few years earlier during the War between Iran and Iraq. This war was a major victory for the US. After this war sanctions would follow up until 2003 when the US coalition invaded Iraq and removed the regime of Saddam Hussein.
1991 The Conflict in Sierra Leone started when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) starts taking control over the diamond fields. This is another example of a conflict where the lines between different parties become unclear. Many of the soldiers fighting for the government forces also fought as rebels, these soldier where often referred to as Sobels. This conflict was extremely brutal with systematic amputation and sexual violence, the use of child soldiers and torture. Sierra Leone is still one of the poorest countries in the world this day.
1991 the Conflict on the Balkans started. The conflict would lead to the independence of many regions. The conflict was extremely complex, government forces, militias, none state actors, mercenaries, private security companies and peacekeeping state forces from other countries all became involved. This is the most extreme collapse of states in the Western world. In Bosnia-Herzegovina the peacekeeping forces haven’t been able to leave the area until this very day.
1993 America intervene in the Somalia Civil War. During an operation in the capital Mogadishu American forces lost two Black Hawk Helicopters and 19 men. The event is often referred to as “Black Hawk Down”. The event got a lot of attention in the Media and the US withdrew from Somalia. The country has not to this day recovered from the civil war and pirates from the country have been a large problem for the transports outside the coast of Somalia.
1994 The Genocide in Rwanda started the 6th of April after the presidents plane was shot down. Around 800.000, mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutu was killed in the Genocide. I recommend the memoirs of Romeo Daillere “Shake hands with the devil” for anyone how wants to learn more about the event. There have also been made a movie about with the same name. “Hotel Rwanda” is another movie based on the actual events.
2001 After the terrorist attacks on 9/11 2001 Afghanistan was invaded by the American coalition in "Operation Enduring Freedom". The American coalition assisted the Northern Alliance how fast gained a upper hand in the civil war and forced the Taliban from the capital Kabul. The Taliban’s influence in the country has been reduced but the civil war has continued up until this day. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have become a part of what is known as “The War on terror”.
2003 Iraq was invaded by the American coalition in "Operation Iraqi Freedom". The conflict started as conflict between two countries, but the conflict would turn into a civil war where different groups have been fighting each other and the foreign troops. The Iraqi conflict has often been described as a religious or ethnic conflict. But there are many groups from the different groups and in some cases they even fight each other.
2006 War breaks out between Israel and the non state group Hezbollah in Lebanon.
2008 War broke out between Russia and Georgia. Russia won the conflict and recognized two small territories: South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states after the conflict.
Civil Wars - New Wars
So what has changed? Wars between states s no longer the most common form of human conflict. Internal conflicts within countries or civil wars is now the most common form of conflict. Civil Wars has taken place in these locations after the second World War among others: Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Chechnya, Colombia, Congo, Croatia, Egypt, Georgia, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Palestine / Israel, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Northern Ireland, Moldova, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Turkey.
Mary Kaldor has made one the best descriptions about what separates the conflicts of today from the Wars in the past in her book “New and Old Wars”. I strongly recommend the book for everyone how wants to learn more. Two of the factors that Kaldor identifies are Conflict economies and Excluding Identity Politics. The actors in today’s conflicts have to finance the wars them self’s. An illegal economy always comes in to play on a large level after a civil war breaks out. Kidnapping, extortion, smuggling, trafficking with drugs and people, forced prostitution, harvesting of all recourses and natural recourses like gold, silver, metals, gems, oil and timber. These resources are often gathered with the use of slave labor. Children often get used as soldiers and they often get forced to kill their family as they are forced into to service of Non State Actors. This is also a very important part because the conflict economies keep this kind of wars going, the actors are gaining something from the conflict situation and in case of peace they may find them self’s being charged for the crimes they committed and losing the economical advantages that they had during the conflict. Another common problem in many parts of the world is when the elites of the countries start to use the resources of the states as their own and don’t serve the population of the country. These states are often referred to as “shadow states”.
Excluding Identity Politics
Identity politics also becomes a important part in a civil war: To make a difference between the parties. This is often done form “ethnicity”, religions, family or clans. Most countries have a population where different groups are interconnected through marriage and other means. In a conflict where identities become a important part these groups often become targeted as well.
Non State Actors and Civilians
The lines between civilians and combatants blur and Non state actors had become the major actors in these conflicts in addition to government forced from the country where a collapse has taken place and other countries. Terrorist Groups, Insurgents, Criminal networks, Guerilla Groups and other violent groups in addition to Non Governmental Organizations (NGO:s). One example of an NGO is the Red Cross that is the world largest NGO. Mercenaries and more recent Private Military Companies and Private Security Companies give services in protection for installations, personnel and convoys, logistics, weapons systems, intelligence and more ordinary activities like running bases, doing laundry and driving trucks. The Non State Actors in today’s contemporary world has the capacity to challenge the state authority and can often take on government forces. Some examples of powerful Non State Groups are the Taliban in Afghanistan, Serbian forces on the Balkans, FARC and ELN in Colombia, UNITA in Angola and RUF in Sierra Leone.
In today’s civil wars it’s not military groups that suffer the greatest loses, it’s the civilian population. They civilians get hurt in direct attacks or as collateral damage from airstrikes and artillery. But most often the civilian groups get systematic attacked with mutilation, forced castration, amputations, systematic sexual violations, killings, land mines, snipers, concentration camps and torture. This high level of terror helps explain the high number of people that become refuges during a civil war. In the war in Bosnia Herzegovina two third of the entire population was displaced.
AnalysisIt’s impossible to say what the future will hold for human conflict. Conflicts have changed from conflict between states to conflicts within states. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq has not resembled the classic wars that have been seen between states both more like state building missions with the attempt to build new states with institutions, police forces, new armies and democracy. However these kinds of missions are extremely costly and haven’t presented a possibility for an exit. This is the case in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. This is subject that will be addressed as the last part of Human Conflict, Wars and Survival: The new kind of peace building/peacekeeping missions.
The history is changing all the time. I believe that some trends return in some conflicts, but I believe it’s a severe mistake to believe that the next conflicts will follow the exact logic that present conflicts have followed. When a civil war breaks out the consequences are extreme and the way back for any country is often very long. These kinds of wars have mainly taken place in poor countries but in Europe Northern Ireland and the Balkans are two examples where these kinds of conflicts have occurred. Terrorism is another current trend of human conflict; this trend might be covered in upcoming posts.