Postmodern Wars (I): New actors in a postmodern world

Postmodern Wars take place in a world where nation states are no longer the only relevant actor in the international stage. Nation states share the stage with other kind of actors now. For example, supranational organizations deploy forces under their own flag. Uruguayan blue helmets serve in Congo under the United Nations flag, as Spanish blue helmets do in Lebanon and Philippine blue helmets do in Haiti. We also find regional organizations like the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that deploy forces in international missions. The matter is that we find that soldiers serve and occasionally kill or die in the name of organizations that are not their Motherland.

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The spread of regional organizations are not only the symptom but often the cause of an increasing interdependence among countries that attenuate conflicts. Just think about the European Union, whose monetary union brings together the very same handful of countries that were responsible for the wars that devastated Europe from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. Or let’s think about UNASUR: Argentina and Chile were on the verge of war in 1978, but today they keep ready a binational brigade for peace missions. The result is that the number of interstate conflicts has been decreasing since the end of the Second World War.

Nation states not only share the international stage with supranational organizations, but also with non-state actors, such as big companies, NGOs and local governments. All of them have today international projection due to their economical power, their ability to set the agenda and push international legislation. It is not difficult to find megacities with more population and megacorporations with more wealth than many countries. But, beyond these new comers, the novelty is finding organizations that have no nationality but have a transnational character. Of special relevance for the concept of Postmodern Wars is that, among transnational non-state actors, we find armed, terrorist and criminal groups.

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I think the best description of the spirit of the age was made by the Argentinian writer and politician Fernando A. Iglesias in his book Twin Towers. According to him, during the 9/11 events we witnessed

“the frightening inability of the most powerful nation in Earth to fulfill the most elemental function, protecting its citizens’ life, and the enormous destructive power held against it by a small network organized in a unanchored and deterritorialized way in a global world determined by state-of-the-art technology”

The rise of non-state actors is the result of globalization and the information society, with the intensification of connectivity and the democratization of technology. Organizations, movements and companies can coordinate the action of many people located in dispersed far away places. Nowadays a hunter or a hiker hold in their hands as much technology as a special operations soldier did 25 years ago. Thuraya satellite phones, night-vision goggles and GPS navigation devices can be easily bought online.

While some regions of the world go beyond the nation state as main international actor, others suffer from the catastrophic collapse of the nation state. The European colonial expansion in the Americas, Asia and Oceania left a legacy of nation states imitating their former colonial rulers. The break up of European empires left behind nation states with their flags, national anthems and armed forces. But the nation state was born in Europe as the result of a long singular historical process (economical, political and social) that can not always be reproduced successfully. As soon as many African state stopped being geopoliticallly relevant after the end of the Cold War and the transfer of resources from Washington or Moscow ceased, they collapsed ravaged by civil wars. The civil wars after the Arab Spring showed the fragility of the state structure in places like Libya, Syria and Iraq.