Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Futile Wars | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

French Researcher Pierre Hassner described the new century as “the era of relative strength,” in that the military force is unable to secure the objectives of ensuing political implications, having a huge strategic impact upon the level and composition of balance within the international system. In this description, Hassner resorts to the theoretical model that was developed by British General Sir Rupert Smith (one of the leaders of the 1991 Gulf War) who wrote a distinguished book in 2005 entitled, ‘The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World.’ In the book, Smith concludes that the paradigm of war has fundamentally changed and that it has shifted from the context of industrial wars between countries to the context of war amongst nations.

In the first case, the purpose of the war is to destroy the opponent, either through the occupation of its lands or by usurping its resources. Conversely, the aim of the war in the second case is focused upon controlling the will and the choice of the opponent. Thus nations now play pivotal roles in this new kind of war, whether the matter is related to targeted civilians in the line of fire or the public opinion of the country that is waging the war or even to regional and international public opinion. The objectives of the war here have become less materialistic where psychological aspects and elements of propaganda play a pivotal role owing to the obvious growth of live and direct audiovisual news coverage of events. If regular armies seek to resolve quick and clean wars that protect people from the horrors and pains of confrontation by exploiting their comprehensive supremacy in military, technical and media fields, the strategy of armed resistance networks is the opposite of these technical features. These networks infiltrate the population, hide amongst them, use them as “human shields” and accordingly place them in the line of fire, directing the media weapon towards the tragedies of war and humanitarian crimes. In such instance, traditional distinctions between war and peace diminish whilst conflict becomes the dominant feature of the international strategic status. However, it rarely develops into a state of armed confrontation owing to the growing awareness that the military option proves ineffective in extinguishing existing hotspots. In the aforementioned book, Smith gives the example of the American war on Iraq (2003) as proof of the validity of his theory. He emphasized that Washington has failed in this conflict despite its overwhelming technical superiority and its rapid success in overthrowing the Iraqi regime. He stated that the reason behind such fact is the lack of understanding of the nature and consequences of new wars where the combat zones consist of nations.

Undoubtedly, the recent Israeli war on Lebanon falls in the same context and led to the same results. While some strategist researchers described such conflicts as “unequal wars”, such phrase is only concerned with highlighting the unprecedented relationship between extremism that is based upon religious and national backgrounds on one hand as opposed to cheap and easily-produced weapons of mass destruction on the other. In fact, the transformation that we pointed out with reference to Smith’s book reflects two important strategic orientations that we will look at briefly. The first of those two is the collapse of the deterrence system (namely the nuclear system) which formed the strategic horizon of defense policies of the superpowers from the 1940s.

This collapse is explained through two main factors; one of them is the growing proliferation of weapons of deterrence which have escaped the control framework that was created by international forces dominating the global system. The other factor is the growing dichotomy between the effectiveness of these weapons on the technical level on one hand and their political efficiency on the other hand. American Economist and political thinker Thomas Schelling (winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 2005) in his famous book, ‘The Strategy of Conflict’ published in the early sixties alluded to the futility of the logic of the deterrence system that is based upon a negative balance that leads to motionlessness. It is for this reason that he recommended the amendment of such logic by mixing competition and cooperation by resorting to the strategy of gradual confrontation leading to the exhaustion and conquering of the opponent. It is evident that such a strategy was adopted by Washington during the Cold War from the 1970s under the influence of Schelling himself. However, he admitted in his recent articles that the paradigm of deterrence no longer suits an international status that requires a new theory about incomplete confrontation and partnership. The second strategic orientation was the emergence of strong and growing international powers in the line of contradiction between the South and the West, whereby they simultaneously play the roles of partner, competitor and protector (in the case of Western forces) and the role of an ally, resort and model (in the case of countries of the South). Hassner describes these states as the BRIC 4 consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and which, in the future, will be assigned the greatest share of responsibility in maintaining international peace.