Page 2 of 2 SPEAKING FREELY The re-politicization of violent conflict
By Andreas Herberg-Rothe
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
Even al-Qaeda has its leaders, fighters and popular base. How could one not call the process of leading and motivating the fighters and building and appealing to a support base, political? And the same applies, certainly with hindsight, to the wars in the former Yugoslavia, which inspired Mary Kaldor and so many other adherents of the "barbarization of war" thesis.
Who could disagree now with the current claims to statehood in Kosovo that the "Yugoslav war of dissolution" involved, at its root, competing state-building projects. Even such an egregious act of
violence as the Srebrenica genocide possessed a politico-strategic meaning that did not require a non-Clausewitzian explanation.
As long as communities can be mobilized and organized to use violence, there will be war. For communities to fight and sustain conflict, requires organization. This, in turn, requires purpose and meaning. Politics negotiates that gap between meaning (whether it is ultimately religious, existential, Nietszchean or whatever) and organization by assigning purpose or, to use a different expression, by creating policy.
In war, communities "stand against" each other - war doesn't deal at all with a fight of individuals, however great their number might be. Clausewitz stressed that combat in war "is not a fight [Kampf] of individuals" against individuals, but rather of armed forces, "that is [an] armed people"; "Everything that occurs in war results from the existence of armed forces".
Due to the special disposition of weapons as instruments for killing other human beings, "armed forces" must have a minimum of organizing structures and principles, in order to distinguish between "friend and foe" (Carl Schmitt) and therefore by themselves they create or belong to a community, which is "superior" to the armed forces themselves. These fighting communities can exist in various forms: religious, ethnic or cultural units, clans, heterogeneous communities under warlords, or states.
Affiliation to one of these communities decides not only the fight's goal and purpose, but also the way and means of warfare. Thomas Hobbes' famous reference to a "war of all against all" is in actual fact not really war, but rather the rule of naked, pure violence. Thus politics may not be controlled by the state as organizer and "policy-maker", but that does not make the wars any less political.
The re-politicization of war and globalization
Since the end of the East-West conflict terms like risk society, reflexive modernization, and globalization have been used in both academic and more general debates as part of an intensifying debate about how the accelerating transformation of social and national identities are affecting societies. Social, political, and economic developments devalue knowledge that has been handed down and traditional models of interpretation, and give rise to a need for new orientations.
Cultural and religious conceptions of order, in their special historical and contemporary contexts, were re-actualized for providing orientation for people in a dramatically changing world. As processes of change and transformations of their life-worlds affect people, they reconstruct these conceptions of order and organize them in a new way, in order to be able to comprehend and explain the world. In the way the people are building communities in order to defend and promote these different kinds of order against other orders, these aspirations become automatically politically in essence.
In a globalized world these communities are increasingly becoming political, regardless of whether they exist for a long or short time or whether they seem to be determined by religion, culture, national aspirations or a tribal background. What is of sole importance is that they are defending their identity and spreading their order and values as a community against or together with others.
With these propositions I don't want to draw into doubt some tendencies to a privatization of war and violence neither in general (because they are appropriate for particular cases), but that current developments in the strategic environment display fundamentally conflicting tendencies: between globalization and struggles over identities, locational advantages, and interests and between high-tech wars and combat with "knives and machetes" or suicide bombers; between symmetrical and asymmetrical warfare.
The conflict is also between the privatization of war and violence and their re-politicization and re-ideologization as well as wars over "world order"; between the formation of new regional power centers and the imperial-hegemonic dominance of the only superpower; between international organized crime and the institutionalization of regional and global institutions and communities and between increasing violations of international law and human rights on one side and their expansion on the other.
Liberal progress even produces illiberal counter-reactions, and strong political forces are pursuing a liberal order with elements, which could be regarded as essentially illiberal. But the main distinction is, whether we fight disorder and privatized violence or whether different kinds of order are in a conflicting competition.
This conflict becomes most apparent not only in the way in which we ourselves conceive the concept of victory, but even more important, in which ways for example the low-tech enemies define victory and defeat. That is an exercise, that requires cultural and historical knowledge about their political order much more than it does gee-whiz technology.
Robert Kaplan argued that the rules of war could only be applied against enemies with which we share a similar cultural background or at least a similar concept of rationality, but that in the jungle of the new wars the rules of the jungle must be applied to survive.
This is fundamentally wrong because outside the "developed world" there is not one single jungle but different areas in which the Hobbesian war of all against all is the predominantly kind of conflict (this has to be acknowledged). However, there are also extensive areas of the world in which a violent conflict about political, cultural, social and even religious order is emerging. I think in the long run that these kinds of conflict will be prevalent.
Conflicts about different kinds of order
After the collapse of the global system of order known as the Cold War, most conflicts initially revolved around the contrast between order and disorder (as symbolized by concepts such as privatized violence, low intensity conflict, failed states). Since 1996, when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, though, different conceptions of order were at stake.
The German sociologist Max Weber emphasized that an order that is maintained for goal-oriented reasons is much less stable than one, which is respected "as a matter of custom arising from a settled behavioral orientation". This kind of order, however, is much less stable than "one which enjoys the prestige that follows from being seen as exemplary or binding; let us call this 'legitimacy'".
It is very nearly possible to synchronize Max Weber's classification of the different levels of stability of different orders, resting on interests, custom or legitimacy, with the previous developments in warfare, starting with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Immediately after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, wars related to private enrichment and the pursuit of interests were most visible.
These were then gradually replaced by conflicts involving ethnic groups, the formation of small states, and national minorities. These then were replaced by concepts of "world order" such as Islamism, which doesn't pay contribute to individual interests or ethic rivalries.
Huntington's emphasis on cultural and civilizational conflicts between different conceptions of order captured one important aspect of ongoing developments, but he treated these conflicts too mechanically as taking place between civilizations, when in fact they are just as prevalent within civilizations, if not more so. But he was right in assuming that the future conflicts are shaped by those conflicts concerning local, regional or even world order, regardless of whether this particular kind of order is more related to culture or religion or "civilization".
These processes of disintegration and reconstruction of order within communities are in conflict with those of a lot of other communities (very often very violently), as well as with the overall tendencies which are grounded in geopolitics and globalization. The decisive problem here is not the value we attach to our own conception of order, but the fact that the conflict dynamic obeys rules which differ from those operating in a paradigm where conceptions of order and anarchy confront each other directly.
It is clear that globalization is intensifying conflicts over world order, which leads to the return of geopolitics of different great and even global powers.
The main task therefore is to avoid a new arms race between the old and the new global powers (most of them are old empires, striving for their renewed recognition as world powers, which they have lost in the process of colonization), to avoid an arms race which could eventually lead to new traditional wars taking into account the unstable situation most reasonable in states like Pakistan and Iran, but possibly also in the former empires like India, China and Russia.
Politics must not be reduced to power politics within or between states. The negative effect of one-sided power politics could be observed in the Israel-Palestinian conflict as well as in conflicts in failed states, Syria and Egypt.
Although the relation of policy and war, as Clausewitz described it, did not change substantially, a globalized world does need a concept of policy and politics, which is adequate to the ongoing process of globalization. Clausewitz wrote: "It can be taken as agreed that the aim of policy is to unify and reconcile all aspects of internal administration as well as of spiritual values, and whatever else the moral philosopher may care to add. Policy, of course, is nothing in itself; it is simply the trustee for all these interests" - not against other states, as Clausewitz wrote in his time but against the worldwide expansion of war and violent action within and between states.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Andreas Herberg-Rothe, Dr phil habil, is a permanent lecturer at the faculty of social and cultural studies at the University of Applied Sciences, Fulda, and was a private lecturer of Political Science at the Institute for Social Sciences, Humboldt-University Berlin. He is the author of Clausewitz's puzzle. The political theory of war.