Thursday, August 10, 2006

The new way of war

After the announcement of terror attacks on airplanes being intercepted today, I've been thinking about the status of civilians in a war without borders.

Mitch Prothero had an interesting piece a couple of weeks ago for Salon.com where he reported that Hezbollah fighters do NOT hide among civilians. They avoid them.
[Hezbollah] has a clear policy of keeping its fighters away from civilians as much as possible. This is not for humanitarian reasons... but for military ones.

"You can be a member of Hezbollah your entire life and never see a military wing fighter with a weapon," a Lebanese military intelligence official, now retired, once told me. "They do not come out with their masks off and never operate around people if they can avoid it. They're completely afraid of collaborators. They know this is what breaks the Palestinians -- no discipline and too much showing off."

Unlike the fighters in the half dozen other countries where I have covered insurgencies, Hezbollah fighters do not like to show off for the cameras...The Hezbollah guys... know that letting their fighters near outsiders of any kind -- journalists or Lebanese, even Hezbollah supporters -- is stupid. |Salon| (ad-based day pass required)
Thus the Israelis are certainly inflicting collective punishment and the bombing in the cities is punishing Hezbollah supporters, not the fighters.

An op-ed piece in the Guardian explores the role of civilians in supporting terrorists (and insurgents generally).
These non-state actors [or terrorists] are fighting among the people not only in order to hide, literally and figuratively, beneath the radar screen of the conventional army, but because their main objective in fighting is the will of these people: they are seeking to win them over, or at least to achieve their tacit support, knowing that if [the terrorists] have the people on their side they will eventually attain their political goals - of removing the conventional political and military forces attacking them in the name of states and order, and then instating their alternative.

The political implications of this new reality are deep and disturbing - though once again, they should be no surprise - reflecting that despite declarations of "war on terror" and the like, war is no longer an option to get out of a political problem - at least not for as long as our militaries are still structured to fight an industrial battle against a nonexistent Soviet enemy, and the political-military way of thinking about using force is still based on [outmoded] models of industrial war.

Moreover, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Lebanon are showing that... even if there is a willingness to unleash the full might of the conventional army...and cause massive death and destruction, it simply does not work....

[W]e need to start thinking completely differently about both, and demand that our politicians and military leaders do the same. Industrial war is dead, and we the people need to be defended from war amongst the people.|Guardian|


In a recent post about war atrocities I asked if we could leave the civilians out of the combat, but upon further reflection, I think the very question was naïve.

War is no longer about armies facing off on fields of battle, but about anything that threatens the current political order. The war on terrorism is a war on all sub-state actors, in other words, a war on anyone who wishes to change the current political reality.

Governments are increasingly using tactics of surveillance, eavesdropping, and intimidation against political enemies. This new face of war encompasses all conflicts along a spectrum from civil disobedience and economic warfare to organized crime and indiscriminate bombing. Civilians are part and parcel with this new type of conflict.

There may still be wars, but it seems likely that nations will use proxies in the future more than their own armies. (Indeed, if the US had used a proxy to invade Iraq, we wouldn't be tied down in a quagmire with most of our combat units in small area where they could easily be wiped out by a nuclear weapon.... but that's a discussion for another day.)

I'm glad that this new type of conflict hasn't touched me yet, but I don't think my immunity will last forever.

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