How War and Conflict Harm Societies and Prevent Development

While immediate violent death or injury in battle are two of the more obvious direct consequences of war and conflict, there are many other direct immediate and indirect, longer term negative consequences that can drastically add to people’s misery and retard any kind of positive development happing in a country for several years after a conflict ends.

The direct effects of conflict include:Indirect, longer term effects of conflict
Death and injury psychological traumadisplacement.  The destruction of physical infrastructure (unsafe living conditions) The destruction to work/ economic infrastructure/ employment opportunities The disruption of schooling and health care servicesThe disruption to family lifeLonger term physical health and mental health problems Environmental decline

NB – the distinction between direct/ indirect or immediate/ long term isn’t a hard and fast one, they can easily merge together, especially when a conflict drags on for several years – and the breakdown of social infrastructure (usually categorised as a long term, indirect consequence of war) kind of becomes more immediate and direct!)

The distinction is really just an analytical tool, the important thing it highlights is that immediate violent death and injury are usually just the start of the negative consequences of warfare – the consequences are much longer term!

The Immediate effects of War and Conflict

There have been over 10 Million Conflict Deaths in the last 30 years

There have been 15 conflicts since the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 with death tolls of more than 25 000 people, of which 9 are currently ongoing (in March 2021). The total number of deaths in these conflicts stands at just over 10 million people (upper estimate), but this doesn’t include the people dying in the many smaller conflicts which have taken place in the last 30 years in which fewer than 25 000 people died.

I picked the Rwandan Genocide as a starting point because it is very well-known and relevant to Crime and Deviance as an example of a state crime. It also stands out as one of the few examples of a country that has gone on to see a reasonable level of development since the conflict. (Also, going back 30 years is a pretty standard period for analysis in A-level Sociology!)

The conflicts with highest death tolls in the last 30 years were:

  • The Rwandan Genocide needs a mention – there were an estimated 800 000 deaths, but within a very rapid time frame, and much of this done with hand-weapons like machetes, and it was ethnic cleansing, all in all making it particularly horrific.
  • The Second Congo War – in central Africa with an upper estimate of 5 million deaths (NB given the relatively small geographical area this was kind of like World War Two in the middle of Africa)
  • The War on Terror – 2001 to the present day – with over 1 million deaths
  • The War on Iraq – 2003-2007, but which spilled over into a civil war, 2014-2017 – and a total of around 500 000 deaths between the two
  • The Syrian Civil War – ongoing and an upper estimate of almost 600 000 deaths.

Thankfully the numbers seem to be coming down. According to one estimate, the total death toll for the 17 most deadly conflicts in the world stood at around 300 000 in 2016, but this had reduced to 100 000 deaths by 2020.

Physical Trauma and Injury

While it is possible to get death tolls statistics for conflicts, these are usually estimated, and estimates can range widely – the Syrian Civil War has a death toll range of between around 400 000 to 600 000 for example.

Given the problems with estimating death tolls in war, it should be unsurprising that it’s very difficult to find estimates for the number of people injured in war and conflict – either through serving on the front line, or civilians being brutalised by ‘soldiers.

In situations of war, when law and order are determined by violence, there must be several cases of violent assault which simply go unreported and unnoticed.

One particularly horrific aspect of physical injury and trauma in conflict zones is through the use of rape as a weapon of war – it’s estimated that 48 women are raped every hour in the DRC for example, a legacy of conflict in that country.

Rape can also be used against boys and men as a way of asserting authority over them.

This report by ReliefWeb provides an overview of the extent of rape as a weapon of war.

Displacement

A rational response to conflict in a region is to flee to another region or country, and many people do. The United Nations reports that there are currently 80 million refugees, or displaced people.

Most refugees come from Syria (5 million) and Turkey hosts the most (3 million). 80% of refugees are hosted in developing countries.

While Displacement is an immediate problem caused by conflict, and results in immediate problems related to living in temporary accommodation (tents), with possible poor sanitation and food shortages, there are also longer-term problems related to lack of status, children being out of education and so on.

Longer Term effects of War and Conflict

Conflicts can drag on for several years, even decades in some countries, with devastating longer-term consequences….

The destruction of physical infrastructure – such as buildings and roads mean that civilians who remain may be living in unsafe buildings with no running water, sewage or electricity – basically a war zone can turn a previously developed neighbourhood into a slum. Power stations and roads may also be damaged in conflicts, and these can be expensive to repair post-conflict, taking up a lot of money that might otherwise be spent on social development.

War also results in the destruction to the economic infrastructure – in a war-torn country business slows down or stops because it is unsafe – with a corresponding downturn in employment and income. Foreign companies may also leave the country, and imports may dry up as it is too risky to do business there. All of this means the cost of goods and the cost-of-living increases.

Disruption to education – schools may be forced to shut down, and refugee children may not be able to get an education. If children spend a year, or two, or more, out of formal education, they will struggle to catch up.

The disruption to health care services – health services have to focus on dealing with battle related injuries – dealing with immediate problems, which means there are fewer resources to go towards other health issues – such as dealing with vaccinations and maternity related health issues.

Longer term health issues – the trauma of war can be felt for decades – as witnessed in the high suicide rates of war Veterans, something which is probably mirrored in people who suffered rape and/ or torture as part of war.

Longer term economic problems – the Global Peace Index notes that the Economic impact of Global Violence in 2019 was over $40 trillion – an almost incomprehensibly high number, and certainly enough money to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.

Basically, every social development indicator is negatively affected by war and conflict in a country!

Sources – find out More

The Role of Developed Countries in War and Conflict

Developed countries spend a lot more on their armed forces than developing countries, and the USA spends more than the next nine biggest spenders combined.

Many developed countries have full time standing armies, navies and air forces and some have nuclear arsenals, all of which need paying and equipping, which in turn means research and development budgets into the latest military technologies.

This high level of military expenditure is typically justified on the basis that it is necessary to ensure ‘Peace and Security’ both at home and abroad, and since the end of World War II developed countries have frequently intervened in poorer countries abroad by arguing that force is sometimes necessary to bring about a more orderly or stable society.

The recent full-scale wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were justified as necessary to root out the terrorist forces responsible for the 11 September 2001 ‘terrorist’ attacks on the United States, and today the ‘War On Terror’ continues, having largely shifted to now take the form of a ‘Drone War’ against suspected terrorists, which is occurring in numerous developing countries, but most notably Pakistan. 

The USA and its allies continue to justify a high level of military expenditure and the continued use of force on the basis that it is necessary to ensure peace and security both at home and abroad. 

There are, however, a number of radical theorists that argue this is a lie. Below we look at three academics associated with Dependency Theory tradition who argue that the West actually uses military force abroad in order to get rid of peaceful put anti-American governments, to secure oil resources (Americans do like their cars!) and to make money: there’s nothing like a war to generate a profit!

Noam Chomsky: The USA as Rogue State

According to Noam Chomsky (2004) the USA has used military force or funded the use of military force in over 50 countries since the end of World War Two.   The USA has over 1000 military bases worldwide, and is far the biggest aggressor of the last half a century.

Sometimes it has even used its military power to overthrow democratically elected governments that do not support American Interests.   Chomsky points out that if America really wanted to support freedom and democracy around the globe, then it would, by now, have tackled the oppressive communist regime in North Korea, and it probably wouldn’t do business with countries such as Saudi Arabia and China which have dubious records where human rights are concerned.  

Noam Chomsky’s view is backed up by John Pilger’s documentary ‘The War Against Democracy’ in which he points out that the use of military force against foreign governments that do not support American interests has formed the backbone of America’s foreign policy since the end of world war two.   Afghanistan and Iraq are just the last two in a very long list of countries that the United States has used organised state violence against.  

List of Countries Bombed by the USA since WW II   China 1945-46Korea 1950-53China 1950-53Guatemala 1954Indonesia 1958Cuba 1959-60Guatemala 1960Belgian Congo 1964Guatemala 1964Dominican Republic 1965Peru 1965Laos 1964-73Vietnam 1961-73Cambodia 1969-70Guatemala 1967-69Lebanon 1982-84Grenada 1983-84Libya 1986El Salvador 1981-92Nicaragua 1981-90Iran 1987-88Libya 1989Panama 1989-90Iraq 1991Kuwait 1991Somalia 1992-94Bosnia 1995Iran 1998Sudan 1998Afghanistan 1998Yugoslavia – Serbia 1999Afghanistan 2001Libya 2011

Video – Noam Chomsky : The United States is the World’s Biggest Terrorist

David Harvey: The War on Iraq was ‘All about Oil’

The contemporary Marxist Geographer David Harvey (2005) has taken the above even further. Harvey argues that the Iraq War was really ‘all about oil’. He points out that the continued global economic and military superiority of the USA is dependent on securing for the future a reliable supply of oil, most of which lies in the Middle East. According to Harvey, there is documented evidence that members of George Bushes’ cabinet expressed a desire to increase US influence in the Middle East for precisely this reason. In this context, 9/11 and the linking of Iraq with the threat of terrorism provided a legitimate reason for the USA to secure its interests in that region.

Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine

Naomi Klein goes even further arguing in‘The Shock Doctrine’ (2008) that the American government uses war to destroy infrastructure in developing nations so that American companies can make a profit out of rebuilding that infrastructure. To support this Klein points out that Dick Cheney, vice president of the United States when the US went to war with Iraq, was also CEO of a Corporation called Halliburton, a company which won $2 billion in contracts to rebuild Iraq after the war.

Sources/ Find out more…

Just so you’ve got the proper academic links to the books:

Noam Chomsky: Hegemony or Survival

Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine

David Harvey: The New Imperialism

Ongoing Wars and Conflicts in the World Today

It is sad to say, but there are currently ongoing wars or minor conflicts in around three dozen countries, most of them in the Middle East, North West Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, and a major ongoing drug-war in Mexico.

Wikipedia lists around 40 ongoing wars and conflicts with over 100 combat deaths in 2020 or 2021. NB Wikipedia is a useful starting point for this topic as it provides us with a statistical and historical overview which is relatively easy to understand, but keep in mind that you’ll need to verify sources and check up on how valid the data is!.

Map of Conflicts in the world today

See (1) below for source

Wiki categorises ongoing conflicts as follows:

  • Major wars, with over 10 000 direct conflict deaths in the current or previous year – there are three of these: in Afghanistan, Yemen and the Tigray conflict in Sudan/ Ethiopia.
  • Minor wars, with 1000 to 9999 deaths in the current or past year – there are around 12 of these.
  • Minor Conflicts, with 100 to 999 deaths in the current or past year – around a further two dozen fall into this category.
  • They also list ‘minor skirmishes’ which have resulted in 1 to 99 deaths.

A point of note is that the Mexican Drug War actually had the highest death toll in 2020 – with over 50 000 deaths, but it’s not classified as a ‘major war’ because most of those deaths are murders rather than as a result of direct armed conflict between the drugs gangs and the Mexican armed forces.

Examples of recent and ongoing conflicts (list taken from Wiki)

ConflictDeath TollYearsCombatantsCountries
Rwandan genocide800,000April–July 1994Hutu people vs. Tutsi RebelsRwanda
First Congo War250,000–800,0001996–1997Zaire and allies vs. AFDL and alliesCongo
Second Congo War2,500,000–5,400,0001998–2003See Second Congo WarCentral Africa
Ituri conflict60,000+1999–2003Lendu Tribe vs. Hemu Tribe and alliesCongo
War on Terror272,000–1,260,0002001–presentAnti-Terrorist Forces vs. Terrorist groupsWorldwide
War in Afghanistan47,000–62,0002001–presentsee War in Afghanistan (2001–present)Afghanistan
Iraq War405,000–654,9652003–2011See Iraq WarIraq
War in Darfur300,000+2003–presentSRF and allies vs. Sudan and allies vs. UNAMIDSudan
Kivu Conflict100,000+2004–presentsee Kivu ConflictCongo
War in North-West Pakistan45,900–79,0002004–2017Pakistan, USA, and UK vs. Terrorist groupsPakistan
Mexican Drug War150,000–250,0002006–presentMexico vs. Drug cartelsMexico
Boko Haram insurgency51,567+2009–presentMultinational Joint Task Force vs. Boko HaramNigeria
Syrian Civil War387,000–593,000+2011–presentSyrian Arab Republic vs. Republic of Syria vs. ISIL vs. Syrian Democratic ForcesSyria
Rojava-Islamist conflict50,000+2013-presentSyrian Democratico Forces vs. Islamic States of Iraq and Levant vs. al-Nusra FrontSyria
Iraqi Civil War (2014–2017)195,000–200,000+2014–2017Iraq and allies vs. ISILIraq
Yemeni Civil War233,000+2014–presentYemen’s Supreme Political Council vs. Hadi Government and Saudi-led CoalitionYemen

It would be worth spending some time exploring some of these conflicts to get a feel for their differences and similarities.

But even if you don’t do any ‘deeper digging’ just a quick skim through Wiki’s list of ongoing conflicts can be informative – it shows you that MOST contemporary high death toll conflicts occur in developing countries, mostly in the middle east and Sub-Saharan Africa, and it also shows you just you that some countries have suffered ongoing or successive conflicts for several years – we see this in the Congo, and in Iraq and Syria.

Wikipedia also looks at conflict deaths by country from 2016 to 2020 – Mexico tops the list in 2020, and this along with Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Nigeria have had particularly high levels of conflict deaths over the past 5 years.

Sources/ find out more

(1) Nice info map graphic – By Futuretrillionaire, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22118731

America’s New Space Force

Despite being a third world country, as  judged many and varied social indicators of development, America is set to spend $8 billion on a new ‘space force‘ over the next 5 years.

China and Russia are currently competitors for military advantage in space, and it seems this has got America worried. In 2007 China successfully shot down one of its old weather satellites, orbiting 500 miles above the planet. In 2015, Russia launched a successful test of an anti-satellite missile.

Approximately 1800 active satellites currently orbit earth, half of them sent up by America, are vital to many of our day to day activities. We rely on satellites for the following:

  • Anything using GPS positioning for navigation – which includes various civil and military organisations
  • Financial markets depend on them for super-sensitive time-synchronisation
  • Weather forecasting
  • Traffic lights
  • Various mobile phone applications.
  • Some television and video conferencing.

It would seem that satellites have somehow become the ‘foundation’ of our daily postmodern, globally networked lives.

What might space war look like…

Besides firing missiles into space, there are other options: lasers could be used to blind or dazzle satellites in order to disrupt their functionality, or cyber attacks could be ‘launched’ to hack into them.

As with most things warfare, it seems that the USA is already years ahead of its competitors. The USA first launched a successful strike against an obsolete satellite in the mid 1980s, and they are already ‘hardening’ existing satellites against attack – by positioning redundant satellites to act as back ups, for example, and they are looking into giving them their own defensive capabilities.

What are the possible consequences of Space War?

If there was an all-out space war, it could create a debris-cloud which would render space unusable for future generations, however, if global relations deteriorated to this point, we’d probably be more worried about the radiation sickness from the previously deployed nukes!

Relevance of this to A-level sociology…

Quite a useful example of the continued power of the Nation State in a global age…. seriously, how many nations have the power to shoot down satellites…. really just a handful, and no other body besides them!

Sources/ Find out More

The Week, 25 August 2018.

Comparing Military Blogs and Civil War Letters

This post outlines an interesting comparative research study of secondary documents (‘private’ letters and a more public blog) which could be used to get students thinking about the usefulness of such sources in social research.

I’ve taken the summary below straight from Bryman (2016) Social Research Methods:

It is tempting to think that the century and a half that separates a solider writing a military blogs and the letters and diary of a solider in the American civil war will be far apart in tone and content.

Shapiro and Humphreys (2013) compare the military blog of ‘Dadmanly’, who was in the US army for just over four years beginning in August 2004 and who served in Iraq for 18 months, with the letters and diaries of ‘Charlie Mac’, who joined the Union army in 1862, whose writings continued until 1865.

Dadmanly’s blog is looking like a bit of a historical artefact already. with its last update in 2012, but he did make some contributions to the more recent ‘blog of war’ book, which brings together different bloggers from the front-line of war.

There are clear differences between them:

  • Dadmanly wrote for a general audience the vast majority of whom he would never know
  • Charlie Mac wrote primarily for his large family, although he seems to have anticipated that that they would passed around to others, as they have a tone which implies they will have a more general readership than just his close family.

However, there are also various common elements:

  • Both writers show a desire to reassure family and friends about their safety and well-being.
  • Both expressed opinions about the progress of the war, and offered political commentary on them;
  • both wrote in large part to maintain contact with their families during the wars,
  • and the writing was therapeutic for both of them.

Shapiro and Humphries conclude that this comparison is significant because it shows that changes in communications technologies do not necessarily result in changes in the nature of the content of communication.

one question you might like to consider is whether Dadmanly’s blog is any less valid as a source of information about war than Charlie Mac’s letters?

 (Source: Bryman (2016) Social Research Methods)

America’s War in Yemen

Given the correlation between Peacefulness and economic and social development, I’d say there’s a strong argument that the level of peacefulness in a country is one of the most valid indicators of that country’s level of development; it’s also important for the potential of other countries to develop further, given that violence in one country can so often retard development in other countries.

Unfortunately for America, it doesn’t do well on measures of peacefulness. According to the 2017 Global Peace Index (GPI), it ranks a dismal 114th out of 163 countries, down 8 places from the previous year, and bucking the general trend which is for more wealthier countries to be more peaceful (Scandinavia + Canada are towards the top!)

The Global Peace Index includes several indicators to establish its rankings, and so there are many reasons for America’s low peacefulness (and high violence) ranking – the high homicide rate being linked to the national addiction to guns, and neither does its high military and nuclear expenditure, or its involvement in drone-killings abroad.

One recent event, which won’t have been included in the 2017 GPI data, is America’s enhanced role in Saudi Arabia’s current war in Yemen – Following Donald Trump’s recent state visit to Saudi Arabia, The United States is set to become more complicit in this war. Saudi Arabia ranks 132nd on the GPI, Yemen 4th from bottom at 159th.

Amnesty International calls the conflict in Yemen the ‘forgotten war’ – it’s basically a conflict involving one group of Yemenis known as the Huthis who support the former Yemeni president, and a second group who, along with the Saudis, support the existing president. The conflict has been going on since 2015, with civilians caught in the middle.

Amnesty cites the following human toll of the conflict so far:

  • 4 600 Civilians have been killed, 8000 injured
  • 3 Million people have been displaced
  • 18.8 million people currently rely on humanitarian assistance

According to Time, Donald Trump recently agreed $110 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia:

‘The weapons sale was one of the largest in history, totalling close to $110 billion worth of tanks, artillery, radar systems, armoured personnel carriers, Blackhawk helicopters, ships, …Patriot missiles”

The $110 billion figure is almost certainly exaggerated, as it includes the renewal of some existing deals with are ongoing (so no new money changing hands), and some potential, yet to be agreed, future arms-deals, but whatever the exact figure there is sufficient evidence of closer war-links between America and Saudi Arabia:

According to Al-Jazeera, what we do know is that Trump is ramping up arms-sales to the Saudis:

‘Trump is green-lighting sales of precision-guided, air-to-ground missiles that Obama had withheld because of concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and civilian casualties. In addition, Trump is moving forward to replenish and expand the Saudi supply of battle tanks and armoured vehicles, replacing equipment damaged in the Yemen conflict. Separately, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon both announced major sales in connection with Trump’s trip but this seems more in the nature of a promise than a finished deal.”

Somewhat worryingly, is the rather blase attitude displayed to all this by the American politicians involved:

According to Time:

Policy advisor Jared Kushner high-fived National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster as he entered the room where they held talks with Saudi officials. Aide Gary Cohn told pool reporters the deals represented “a lot of money. Big dollars. Big dollars.”

According to Al Jazeera:

“The Saudis are in a war in Yemen and they need weapons. You want to win, you need weapons,” Senator John McCain, a Republican, told Al Jazeera. “We are in a war.”

More worringly still, according to the Ron Paul Liberty Report, the U.S. military is also directly involved in the Saudi – Yemen conflict through advising the Saudi’s on identifying and picking targets to bomb in Yemen and through fuelling Saudi war planes, (first few minutes in the clip below…)

Of course not everyone in America believes that the United States should be involved in the Saudi’s war against Yemen, so I’d hate to tar all Americans with the same violence-brush, but unfortunately for the rational peace lovers, the neoliberals in power are using the machinery of the America state (ironically for neoliberals) to escalate violence in the Middle East.

SO if  we are to include peacefulness in our assessment of how developed a country is, then on the most recent evidence of the Saudi arms deal, we’d have to conclude that the United States has regressed even further than the Global Peace Index suggests.

 

 

 

 

 

The Global Peace Index – What is it and How Useful Is It?

The Global Peace Index uses 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators to measure the state of peace using three thematic domains:

  • the level of Societal Safety and Security;
  • the extent of Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict;
  • the degree of Militarisation.

The data is collated by the Institute for Economics and Peace – a think tank which develops metrics to analyse peace and to quantify its economic value. It does this by developing global and national indices of ‘peacefulness’, analysing country level risk, and calculating the economic cost of violence, and the positive benefits of peace.

Some of they key findings from the latest 2020 report include:

  • The average level of global peacefulness fell 0.34 per cent on the 2020
    GPI. This is the ninth time in the last 12 years that global peacefulness has fallen.
  • Trends are polarising – around 80 countries got less peaceful, but 80 countries got more peaceful.
  • The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region remained the world’s least peaceful region.
  • Europe remains the most peaceful region in the world, although it recorded a slight deterioration in peacefulness.
    registering any change over the past year.

The Institute for Economics and Peace says its aim is to ‘create a paradigm shift in the way the world thinks about peace. We use data driven research to show that peace is a positive, tangible and achievable measure of human well-being and development.’

You can explore the Global Peace Index and download the full 2017 report for free on the Institute for Economics and Peace’s dedicated website – Vision of Humanity

Selected Key Findings of the 2017 Global Peace Index

Trends in peacefulness in 2020

There has been a divergence in peacefulness in the last decade – with the least peaceful countries getting less peaceful and the most peaceful countries getting more peaceful.

If you look at the breakdown by indicator, it is mainly refugees and internal conflicts driving the drift towards less peacefulness.

The economic costs of violence 

  • The economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2020 was around $14 trillion in purchasing power parity (PPP),
  • This is equivalent to 12 per cent of the world’s economic activity (gross world product), or $2000 for every person.

NB – What’s above is just an overview – I strongly recommend you explore the data further at Vision of Humanity!

How Useful is the Global Peace Index in helping us to understand development?

Strengths

On the plus side, the data seems to be non-partisan, in the sense that there doesn’t seem to be undue influence in the data selection process from developed countries – there is a heavy peace-score penalty which some of the most developed countries pay for high levels of military expenditure – most notably the United States.

Also, if we can trust the data and the number-crunching, then there is a clear correlation between sustained peacefulness in a country and that country’s level of development, and so monitoring levels of peacefulness and violence seems to be one of the most important goals in global development.

The Global Peace Index covers a lot of indicators – and the reports break them down to look at individual indicators, so you get a certain level of insight into the levels of peacefulness and violence.

I do like the focus on ‘positive peace’ and the fact that the report recognizes high levels of military expenditure as retarding investment in more positive aspects of development.

Limitations 

On the downside, I’m not convinced that all of the data is 100% valid – there has to be a lot of differences in the way data is recorded from country to country, especially in war-zones, so lots of missing conflict-deaths no doubt. This means making comparisons is difficult.

Also, I’m not sure they’ve included a broad enough range of indicators – the fact that Qatar creeps in at number 30 makes me suspicious, also – is violence against women included?

Also, I’m not clear about how the data is weighted – there’s lots of talk in the report about ‘multiplying factors’, and I don’t know enough about the maths behind the indices to evaluate how valid these calculations are.

The US bombing of Afghanistan – A $16 million distraction from the harms of neoliberal policies at home?

America’s two latest attacks on Syria and Afghanisatan have been headline news in the last fortnight – in case you missed either of them…

In Syria – the US launched 59 Tomahawk missiles to damage and air base in response to the claimed use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces against civilians.

In Afghanistan they deployed the biggest ever non-nuclear bomb, at a cost of $16 million, to take out an ISIS stronghold.

The US claims the Syrian attack was because Assad crossed a line in using chemical weapons, and much of the news has focused on the declining relations with Russia (who support Assad), and they claimed the scale of second attack was to get into the underground bunkers used by ISIS, and here the news has focused on the message this sends to North Korea.

But why is the Trump administration playing ‘global policeman’ when just 6 months ago they campaigned on a ticket of focusing on domestic policy and making life better for ordinary America?

Noam Chomsky offers an interesting perspective and answer…

Noam Chomsky recently claimed that the Trump administration would need some kind of scapegoat or distraction to disguise the fact that their neoliberal policies are clearly in favour of big business and against the interests of the ordinary working class American, whose side Trump claimed to be on during the election campaign.

One good example of a recent neo-liberal policy which will make life worse for especially poorer working class Americans is the abolition of Obama’s anti wage-theft legislation this required a company to publish details of any violations of minimum wage or health and safety law that they’d made. The regulation forced businesses to disclose each time they broke a law in the past three years, including violations relating to civil rights, health and safety, and minimum wage and overtime violations.

There was also Trump’s recent attempt to repeal ‘Obamacare’ – which would have left 20 million more (poor) Americans without health insurance, but that was defeated, however, the defeat is an embarrassment which fuels the need for a distraction according to Chomsky.

So maybe there is some truth in this? Maybe now the real Trump is showing his colours and enacting policies which support big business and make life worse for the working man, what’s needed is a distraction – and what better than to bomb a few people, which will obviously just generate more problems abroad and more terrorist attacks on US citizens, possibly all ending up in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you like this sort of Chomskian analysis, you might also want to check out Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’, what’s going on here seems to be an evolution of what she argues too.

War, Conflict and Development – Key Terms

War and Conflict, Definitions of Key Concepts

War – organized, armed, and often a ‘prolonged conflict’ that is carried on between states, nations, or other parties. It is intentional and widespread armed conflict between political communities

Civil War – a war where the forces in conflict belong to the same nation or political entity and are vying for control of or independence from that nation or political entity

Terrorism – “The use or threat of action designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public, or a section of the public; made for the purposes of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause

Old Wars – e.g. WII – based around an alliance of Nation States involving the whole might of the nation in producing heavy scale military machinery (tanks/ fighter jets) and hundreds of thousands of troops.

New Wars – typical conflicts today which tend to be civil wars and are  much smaller scale than ‘old wars’ and involve small arms (guns), often fuelled by ethnic differences and funded by ‘shadow economies’

The global shadow economy – refers to the illegal trade in the trafficking or arms, drugs and diamonds.

War, Conflict and Development – Key Case Studies 

The Rwandan Genocide (1990s) Where Hutus massacred 800 000 Tutsis – a good example of ethnic tension resulting in mass murder

The Sierra-Leone and Liberian Civil Wars (late 1990s-2000s)– mainly explained through Paul Collier’s theory of the resource curse – very much fueled by the global shadow economy (‘blood diamonds)

The U.S. War on Iraq (2003) demonstrates how the West continue to use war to secure resources, just like in Colonial times according to Dependency Theory.

The Syrian Civil War (2010s) the latest civil war, mainly caused by political oppression, illustrates how civil wars can break out even in relatively developed countries

War, Conflict and Development – Key Theories

Paul Collier – 5 Main causes of civil war: primary product exporters, Diasporas, high male unemployment, ethnic conflict, dispersed populations (mountains/ desserts)

Paul Collier – Bottom Billion Theory – ethnic conflict, corruption, the resource curse – all linked with underdevelopment and conflict – e.g. Liberia/ Democratic Republic of Congo.

Noam Chomsky – The United States is the ‘world’s biggest terrorist’, based on its mostly illegal interventions in 50 countries since WWII – e.g. practically every Latin and South American country.

Naomi Klein – The Shock Doctrine – The United States uses war and its aftermath to advance neoliberal policies when people are in shock – e.g. Chile (1973) and Iraq (2003)

David Harvey – The war on Iraq was all about securing oil for the benefit of American consumers.

Modernisation Theory – there is less conflict in wealthy countries – people have more to lose, thus tend to sort out differences peacefully.

Dependency Theory – developed nations mainly drive war and conflict in conjunction with arms companies such as BAE systems.

Feminism – most wars are fueled by male aggression: governments, arms companies, and armies are predominantly male institutions.

Direct effects of war – include immediate effects such as higher death rates and the destruction of infrastructure.

Indirect effects of war – include the longer term effects such as displacement of people (refugees), and the destruction of the social fabric, and poverty.

Ending conflict as the primary development goal – conflict costs the global economy $13 trillion a year. It can send every other aspect of development (health/ education etc.) into reverse.

The Global Peace Index – measures the level of peacefulness in over 100 countries using over 20 indicators including number of battle deaths, number of terrorist incidents, arms expenditure and so on.

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War, Conflict and Development – Test Yourself on Quizlet!

The United States Military: Some Recent Examples of Their War Crimes

This material is relevant to the topic of ‘State Crime’ and ‘War and Conflict’ as an aspect of development. The point of it is to illustrate that the United States is pretty much the biggest military aggressor in recent world history, and thus a good candidate for the country which commits the worst state-crimes.  

The United States military is responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in The Middle East, South West Asia, and North Africa, as Part of the United States Government’s Ongoing War on Terror. Civilians are protected under International Humanitarian Law, which means that every single civilian death is potentially an example of a State Crime committed by the USA.

Civilian Deaths and the United States’ ‘War on Terror’

The United States uses cutting edge military hardware to kill what it believes to be terrorists. Most of the killing the U.S. army and air force do these days is remote, typically involving missiles released from drones many miles away from their targets, with the drones themselves being piloted by people even further away.

Increasingly, the weapons of choice, used throughout the Middle East, are Predator and Reaper drones, but the US Air force also still operates F16s, Apache attack helicopters and AC-130 gunships, in Afghanistan for example.

Reaper Drone.JPG
The Reaper Drone

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism tracks drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia and estimates the total number of civilians killed by drone strikes and other covert operations in the above four countries to be approximately 700-1400. The latest data is available here.

Deaths US Drone Strikes.jpg

Whether you go with the lower or higher estimate of deaths, the percentage of civilians killed in the War on Terror is somewhere in the region of 20-25% of the total (what the US would call ‘collateral damage’).

The U.S. claims that a combination of painstakingly gathered intelligence and precision-targeted missiles have enabled it to make sure that the people it’s targeting are actually enemy combatants and to minimise the number of civilian casualties, but nonetheless thousands of civilians have also been taken out by the United States in this process over the last decade and a half.

The United Nations has questioned the legality of drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan, with which the United States isn’t actually at war, and has further criticised the U.S. government for not releasing its own data on the numbers of casualties due its drone war – hence the need to rely on investigative journalism.

So it seems that at least  20-25% of these drone attacks are state-crimes in the sense that this is the proportion which take out innocent civilians; then there’s the possibility that the entire drone-campaign itself is illegal, given that the United States isn’t technically at war with most of the countries it’s operating its drones in.

The Destruction of the Kunduz Trauma Centre

On 3 October 2015, a United States Air Force AC-130U gunship attacked the Kunduz Trauma Centre operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), in the city of Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan. At least 42 people were killed and over 30 were injured. This appears to be a pretty unambiguous example of a war crime committed by the U.S. military. 

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The Kunduz Medical Centre after its destruction by the U.S. Military in 2015

The video below (5.20 – 7.00 minutes) will give you an idea of the capability of an AC-130 Gunship, basically  a very large plane which houses various different types of guns and missile and bomb launchers along with LOTS AND LOTS of ammunition. (NB these gunships cost somewhere between $130-190 million, depending on the model, at 2001 prices).

Médecins Sans Frontières condemned the incident, saying that the airstrike was a breach of international humanitarian law and a war crime. Cockpit recordings showed that the AC-130 crew questioned the strike’s legality.

On 7 October 2015, President Barack Obama issued a rare apology and announced the United States would be making condolence payments to the families of those killed in the airstrike.

Background to the Attack

On 28 September 2015, Taliban militants seized the city of Kunduz, driving government forces out of the city. After the reinforcements arrived, the Afghan army, backed by U.S. airstrikes, began an offensive operation to regain control of the city; after several days of fighting, Afghan forces claimed to have retaken the city. However, fighting continued, and on 3 October, a US-led airstrike struck and badly damaged Kunduz Trauma Centre operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), killing doctors, staff members and patients.

Médecins Sans Frontières reported that on the night of 3 October, the organization’s Kunduz hospital was struck by “a series of aerial bombing raids” and that the building was “partially destroyed”. It further said the hospital had been “repeatedly & precisely hit” and that the attack had continued for 30 minutes after MSF staff contacted U.S. and Afghan officials during the strike.

MSF had informed all warring parties of the location of its hospital complex. MSF personnel had contacted U.S. military officials as recently as 29 September to reconfirm the precise location of the hospital. Two days prior to the attack Carter Malkasian, adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emailed MSF asking if the facility had Taliban militants “holed up” inside.

Legality

Attacks on medical facilities are forbidden under international humanitarian law unless the facilities “are being used, outside their humanitarian function, to commit acts harmful to the enemy”. Even if enemy combatants are inappropriately using the facility for shelter, the rule of proportionality usually forbids such attacks because of the high potential for civilian casualties. Human Rights Watch said the laws of war require the attacking force to issue a warning, and wait a reasonable time for a response, before attacking a medical unit being misused by combatants

At the time of the airstrikes, MSF was treating women and children and wounded combatants from both sides of the conflict. MSF estimates that of the 105 patients at the time of the attack, between 3 and 4 of the patients were wounded government combatants, while approximately 20 patients were wounded Taliban. MSF general director Christopher Stokes said, “Some public reports are circulating that the attack on our hospital could be justified because we were treating Taliban. Wounded combatants are patients under international law, and must be free from attack and treated without discrimination. Medical staff should never be punished or attacked for providing treatment to wounded combatants.”

It’s difficult to put a positive spin on this, but I guess you could say it’s better than when the United States unnecessarily nuked Hiroshima in 1945 where the civilian to combatant ratio must have been significantly higher – so while the US clearly isn’t respecting International Humanitarian Law by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, at least they’re doing better than in the past.

Postscript: International Humanitarian Law

What enables us to determine that the above acts by the United States military and government are in fact state-crimes is the existence of International Humanitarian Law.

According to Amnesty International ‘International law prohibits arbitrary killing and limits the lawful use of intentional lethal force to exceptional situations. In armed conflict, only combatants and people directly participating in hostilities may be directly targeted. Outside armed conflict, intentional lethal force is lawful only when strictly unavoidable to protect against an imminent threat to life. In some circumstances arbitrary killing can amount to a war crime or extrajudicial executions, which are crimes under international law’

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross

International humanitarian law is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. A major part of international humanitarian law is contained in the four Geneva Conventions (1864 -1949).

The basic principles of International Humanitarian Law include:

  1. Those who are not taking part in hostilities (e.g. civilians) shall be protected in all circumstances. Parties to a conflict shall at all times distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. Attacks shall be directed against legitimate military targets.
  2. The wounded and the sick shall be cared for and protected by the party to the conflict which has them in its power. The emblem of the “Red Cross,” or of the “Red Crescent,” shall be required to be respected as the sign of protection.
  3. Captured persons must be protected against acts of violence and reprisals. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
  4. Parties to a conflict do not have an unlimited choice of methods and means of warfare. Humanitarian law has banned the use of many weapons, including exploding bullets, chemical and biological weapons, blinding laser weapons and anti-personnel mines.

Once conflict has ended, anyone breaching any of the rules laid down by International Humanitarian Law can be tried through an international tribunal. However, it’s unlikely that any U.S. personnel will ever see justice for their part in killing innocent civilians.

Finally, just a quick reminder of the point of this post –  it’s not just Islamic Fundamentalists killing in the name of ideology, America does it too, and by the objective (ish) standards of International Humanitarian Law, many of these killings are state crimes.