A future of small brutal wars
The following analysis is reprinted with permission from RIA Novosti, Moscow.
A future of small brutal wars
© RIA Novosti
By Ilya Kramnik
January 9, 2011
It is said that the world has been war-free since World War II. That is only partially true. There have been no all-out wars between great powers since 1945 only because, in a nuclear world, annihilation would inevitably ensue.
Some say wars have become more humane. Again, this is only partially true. After the horrors of WWII, the great powers have done their utmost to prevent any repetition of the atrocities committed against POWs and civilians in German and Japanese occupied territories. Moreover, planning, preparing, initiating, or waging a war of aggression have all been declared crimes.
Unfortunately, only great powers respect this rule and have learned to negotiate compromises more energetically and effectively.
Many small wars instead of one big war
The world is not limited to great powers and their closest allies. Unwilling to test their luck in a nuclear war, the leading countries never miss a chance to test their opponents in localized wars and have provoked many a small regional conflict. They use these conflicts to strengthen or protect their positions in key regions. As more colonial countries gained independence (only to end in neo-colonial dependence), the great powers are now more likely to engage in combat while not actually waging war.
These small, brutal wars are hellish for everyone caught up in them, because numerous “national liberation” fronts and armies and other “liberation” movements as a rule disregard all rules of war and norms of behavior.
Worse still, European and U.S. troops themselves commit crimes against humanity in wars they wage far away from prying eyes back home. Some do become public. Take the My Lai massacre in 1968, which saw a U.S. Army unit exterminate unarmed people in a South Vietnamese village, all the victims were civilians and a majority of them were women, children (including babies) and the elderly. But many more such crimes remain hidden.
And lastly, mercenaries have reappeared on the stage en masse. Although denounced by international law, mercenaries are routinely hired by Private Military Companies (also known as contractors or PMCs), which have become a fact of war in the modern world.
PMCs do not provide troops for inter-state wars, as mercenaries are not deemed combatants and hence would be considered common criminals if caught armed on the battlefield. Under the laws of war, they may be shot on the spot. PMCs hire mercenaries for conflicts such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the adversary is not a state but the armed groups that cannot be defined formally as a warring side.
The wars in the former Yugoslavia (Croatia 1991-1995, Bosnia and Herzegovina 1992-1995, Kosovo and Metohija 1998-1999, and southern Serbia and western Macedonia 2000-2001) were the first large-scale operations to involve mercenaries. PMCs play a variety of roles, from offering officer-training support for local armies to providing security guards as well as logistics and mine-clearing specialists.
Private wars: An alarming prospect
PMCs earned their fame in Iraq, where tens of thousands of mercenaries fought in military operations and guarded transport convoys in militant-controlled areas. This is also their role in Afghanistan.
How these PMCs behave in the theatre of conflict is, to a great extent, a consequence of their undefined status. Their recruits could be seen as either respectable security guards or armed criminals, and while some mercenary units comply with generally accepted rules, others let themselves go, and there have been instances of the indiscriminate killing of civilians by PMC personnel.
Despite these excesses, PMCs are on the rise. Great powers are very wary of high body counts and long drawn out, expensive military conflicts because of the adverse response they increasingly elicit from society. Hence, to an extent, PMCs controlled by the security services or defense departments have replaced the “liberation” fronts and movements of the 1960s and the 1980s. But only to an extent, those “liberation” fronts have vanished from the scene.
Hellish localized wars not only continue to take place, but have become almost uncontrollable, and PMCs will be used ever more frequently because doing so allows the larger players to interfere in a conflict without becoming directly involved.
Moreover, commercial structures also use PMCs. We may soon see commercial wars waged by large companies through PMCs, for example over the right to mineral deposits.
Ilya Kramnik is RIA Novosti’s military commentator. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.