Kenneth Payne argues that unconventional, asymmetric and hybrid wars aren’t new, but that Western militaries have evolved away from that such warfare.  The challenges to the Western way of warfare have arisen have done so because of trends in society and changes to the nation-state.   

In particular, Payne argues that the post-modern Western military has arisen from the changing relationship between the citizen, states and soldiers.  So that now, 

western society and western militaries have discovered that they must fight foes who use ‘conventional capabilities, irregular tactics and formations, terrorist acts including indiscriminate violence and coercion, and criminal disorder’. And, being postmodern, their approach will necessarily differ from the colonial and imperial approaches of earlier times.

I wonder if there’s more to it.  If I recall correctly–I haven’t the book or my notes to hand, and so may have to correct myself later–Charles Tilly argued the modern state emerged because it offered the best means, through the concentration of capital and labour, to exert force.  

So perhaps there’s another dynamic at play.  Perhaps it’s possible that through globalisation, technological and societal change, and the ability to exert force in different ways, new stable and sustainable forms of organisation are emerging–have emerged–and are offering alternative, viable means to use force to greatest effect.   After all, there’s no reason why the nation-state should be the end point of evolution in human organisation.  If so, we are entering a time of considerable, and probably bloody, dynamism, as not simply states and non-state groups but organisational forms compete.

Tilly also noted that, confronted with something that didn’t look like a state, Western nations did their best to make sure that the entity became a state, that it was bought into the fold–or destroyed.   Certainly that has reflected conventional approaches.  In the past Western empires and states bought off and eradicated tribes and colonised voraciously.  We now seek to ‘reconstruct’ weak and broken states to look like us.  We seek to eliminate al Qaeda not simply because of the threat it poses to lives, but through its use of force it threatens directly the nation-state as dominant organising principle.  And at least one international relations scholar has suggested that the Caliphate should be restored so that nation-states can deal with an entity they recognise.  But if alternative organisational forms are strengthening, it will become harder to apply ‘conventional’ methods.  

References

Bell, C. (2007). The End of the Vasco de Gama Era: The Next Landscape of World Politics. Lowy Institute Paper. Sydney, Lowy Institute.

Tilly, C. (1990). Coercion, Capital and the European States AD990-1990. Cambridge, MA, Basil Blackwell.

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