Thursday, August 16, 2012

What is war? What are the trends on war?

War on drugs. War on poverty. War on terrorism. Trade war. Price war. War for your soul. War of ideas. War of words.

War is a loose phrase to many, used metaphorically by journalists and policymakers, but it actually needed a definition when people began to research war with the idea of possibly preventing it rather than simply researching ways to make it more lethal and victorious.
Wikipedia notes that, "In the 1832 treatise On War, Prussian military general and theoretician Carl von Clausewitz defined war as follows: 'War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.'"

That is a bit squiffy. But von Clausewitz wrote before Gandhi was born, so he wasn't familiar with too many examples of using nonviolence to wage struggle and to compel the adversary to do something. And von Clausewitz should have made distinctions between, say, armed robbery and war. An individual sticking a gun in my ribs and taking my life savings of $11.32 is not actually waging a real war, but it is an act of force. How many attackers, defenders and mortalities do we need before we call it a war? We need something more exact.

"War is any conflict in which over 1,000 people are killed" (Shifferd, 2011, p. 15).

Yikes. What about 999 deaths from a violent conflict? What is that? "Low intensity conflict," according to the various being counters who track such things. Since Americans seem to count war dead as Americans only, most of the institutes that study war are in fact not American (with the notable exception of the Correlates to War project), though activists here try to help us think about it. 

What is war right now on Earth? Again, from Wikipedia:

"Conflicts in the following list are currently causing at least 1,000 violent deaths per year, a categorization used by the Uppsala Conflict Data Program[57] and recognised by the United Nations.[58][59] The UN also use the term "low intensity conflict," which can overlap with the 1,000 violent deaths per year categorisation.[60]
Start of conflict War/conflict Location Cumulative fatalities Fatalities in 2010/11
1964 Colombian Armed Conflict  Colombia 150,000–200,000[61] 1,000+[62]
1967 Naxalite-Maoist insurgency  India ~11,200 1,174+[63]
1978 Afghan Civil war  Afghanistan 600,000–2,000,000[citation needed] 10,461+ [64]
1991 Somali Civil War  Somalia 300,000[65]–400,000[66] 2,318+[67]
2004 War in North-West Pakistan  Pakistan 30,452[68] 7,435[69]
2004 Shia Insurgency in Yemen  Yemen and  Saudi Arabia 25,000[70] 8,000
2006 Mexican Drug War  Mexico 39,392+[71] 24,374[72]
2009 Sudanese nomadic conflicts  Sudan 2,000–2,500[73] 708
2011 Sudan–SPLM-N conflict  Sudan 1,500+ 1,500+[citation needed]
2011 2011 Syrian uprising  Syria 3,000+[74] 3,000+"

So, says one of the best sources, the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, we have 10 wars raging right now, which have resulted in the deaths of more than one million human beings.

Disease and accidents are terrible and need our attention. War (and "low intensity conflict"!) need to be transformed to nonviolent struggle if we are to evolve as humans. This is not only possible, it's underway. In 2003 there were 21 such wars raging and during the 1990s there were often more than 30 wars underway.

Are we making progress? Yes, but it's mixed. One trend is that a much higher percent of mortalities are civilian, but another is decrease in interstate war. Clearly, peace research and human ingenuity are beginning to win the ultimate war: War on war. Let's keep pushing. Let's compel that adversary to do our will, which is to learn to wage conflict with nonviolent force. It's like solar power and electric cars--ideas whose time is overdue and arriving.

Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

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