"There is an ominous feeling, almost like in the 1930 century, of a terrible, worldwide tragedy taking place." This is how Professor Mary Kaldor of Global Governance, London School of Economics, starts the book Global Security Cultures. The book is a result of her five-year research project on war and conflict, and is likely to be read by both parts of the military establishment and various security analysts. It should also be read by our own politicians, especially given that Norway is deeply involved in international operations.
Why, 16 years after the terrorist ropes in the United States, military tools are still being used to fight terrorists, when the terror phenomenon has only increased, the author asks. Why do politicians think war is the answer, when the wars – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Mali, Somalia – have only made the situation worse? And why does the conflict in Syria and DR Congo never end? Yes, Kaldor argues: because new conflict cultures have grown strong, making it rational for the actors to continue. This new culture of conflict creates meaningful narratives, good careers, material incentives and political power.
The use of military equipment has changed due to technological changes. Today's military technology has greater destructive power and accuracy than before. At the same time, the differences between the warring parties have diminished, the author claims. Thus, military capacity becomes a less interesting instrument for imposing order (through coercion). Just look at the world's largest military power in the United States, Kaldor writes: What have they managed to force through in order in Af-ghanistan and Iraq? Conventional war has no clear winners today, the author writes. Groznyj in Chechnya, Fallujah in Iraq and Vukovar in Croatia were all shot in pieces at one time, but rebel groups popped up again when the fighting was over. Apparently everything was easier during the Cold War, where we mainly had one global security culture.
Conflict culture creates good careers, material incentives and political power.
The author identifies four main categories she believes draw a realistic picture of today's security cultures. The first is the old model, which she calls "geopolitical". The second is "new wars", which are characterized by a network of states and non-state actors. A smooth transition between geopolitics and new wars leads to hybrid wars, as in Ukraine. Such conflicts are often about access to resources, more than regime change. In Ukraine, these are attacks on civil society, more than regular attacks. The goal is for Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs to maintain their power and privileges. In Syria, the war is first and foremost an attack on democracy supporters: A false conflict has been created between Sunnis and Shia, a conflict that hardly existed before.
The third category is the "Liberal Peace", with its peacekeeping troops and many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating under the wings of the UN, the EU or the African Union (AU). The interface between "new warrior" and "liberal peace" leads to some form of hybrid peace, with uncertain and unstable peace solutions, where belligerent factions remain dominant political and economic actors.
The fourth and final category is the "war on terror", which involves security services, special forces, private security actors, mass surveillance and drones. This culture of security has its roots in the idea-historical landscape commonly called American exceptionalism: the idea that the United States is a country unlike any other country in the world, with better democracy and more freedom. In practical policy, this means that the country has more responsibility and a greater right to assert itself and its opinions and methods than other countries.
Kaldor dedicates a separate chapter to three specific countries' conflicts: Bosnia, Afghanistan and Syria. The former is an example of what she calls hybrid peace; the combination of a new culture of war and liberal peace. Afghanistan represents the combination of new wars, liberal peace and the war on terror. Syria has become the laboratory for the worst aspects of the new wars, geopolitics and the war on terror, and marginalizes liberal peace. This chapter is worth the whole book. It is instructive, in all its horror, and a useful reminder of how complex this field has become. The chapter should be read by all Norwegian politicians in the Storting, the representatives in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in particular.
The conflicts are maintained because the actors profit from it.
The author's closing chapter asks what we can do to save what she calls "a civilized behavior." Still, "islands of civilization" exist in modern war zones. This civilization consists of the work carried out by civil society institutions; municipalities that have managed to negotiate local ceasefires, save cultural heritage and create safe zones where normal economic activity takes place. The "new war" security culture does not lead to any real wins or losses, nor does it provide the tools to create a post-war order. Therefore, these "islands of civilization" should be linked to legitimate forms of political authority – at the local, national, regional and global levels. Power depends more than before on legitimacy rather than on coercion. This legitimacy is tied up in the security culture – therefore, the liberal peace, which is closely linked to a form of global cooperation and governance, is very important.
Power depends on legitimacy, rather than on coercion.
The new wars make the war economy on the ground an "economy of the economy", and it is taxed by various warlords. For example, aid organizations sometimes have to contract local actors linked to armed groups in order to do their job. Humanitarian efforts thus enrich the same groupings that create and prolong suffering. War is a lucrative business for many of the parties involved. The road to peace must therefore be a multidimensional process, Kaldor writes. A functioning civil society is essential for a lasting conflict resolution, and for establishing legitimate forms and for political authority at all levels. Peace mediation cannot be done only at the state level. "The new wars" and "the war on terror" must be debated by international actors, but also by the regional and local parties, more or less simultaneously. And impunity must be countered. In the long term, the guilty must be held accountable.
Much needed debate
It is not always easy to follow the author in her attempt to grasp reality, but it still makes sense to try. The categories she sets are not waterproof – on the contrary. The reality out there is complex, and we must all make an effort to understand both it and its sliding transitions. The book also omits analyzes of both South America, where armed gangs and cartels are part of the "new war", and Asia, where wars in Xinjiang and Tibet can be placed in a similar category. This is perceived as perfectly fine; one cannot reach anywhere on just under 200 pages.
Today's dominant security cultures flourish economically and politically in areas of disorder and chaos. Liberal peace, on the other hand, is experiencing cuts in budgets. Our general morality is undermined by the anti-international rhetoric of the time. This is done through processes like Brexit, and authoritarian politicians like Trump, Putin and Narendra Modi – as well as populist movements.
Kaldor is not an optimist, but a realist. Still, she has a message we need to debate.