'New wars'

June 5, 1998

Conflict is dead, long live the capitalist. Mary Kaldor tells Kate Worsley a new type of war is emerging

Mary Kaldor, Jean Monnet reader in contemporary European studies at Sussex University, was just putting the finishing touches to her book on new wars when a new war broke out. Or at least that is what dozens of anxious telephone callers to her Brighton home wanted confirmed or denied. The news had come in at 4am that Serbian police had opened fire on Albanian civilians in Kosovo, the Albanian-dominated province of former Yugoslavia. The Balkan bloodbath looked set for a repeat.

Time, then, to quickly update her book? (provisionally titled Organised Violence in a Global Era). "No, no what's happening in Kosovo is exactly what I'm on about," she grins. "The official view on Kosovo is that it's problematic because it's an internal matter and we can't intervene," she explains. "But that's an 'old war' way of looking at it. I think it's fatal if there is no intervention."

"Old war" - the armies of two states fighting over land and ideology - is over, she says. In its place is a far more shadowy form of war, as exemplified by the often baffling Balkan conflicts. According to Kaldor, it is globalisation that has broken down old war, from above and below. As cold war ideologies dissolved and nation-states emerged, what we think of as politics changed.

Identity politics, boosted by electronic media, has become the badge of a new nationalism. It has been fed too by the new diasporas; large, relatively rich groups of emigres, often with access to power in their host countries. "The most interesting are the Greek and Macedonian communities in Australia, who are dropping bombs on each other over the issue of what to call their homeland - the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - thousands of miles away." According to Kaldor, wars are now fought by poorly disciplined forces who are well-coordinated by cell phone and the like. They use both guerrilla and counter-insurgency tactics, destabilising techniques that make such conflicts extremely difficult to stamp out. Most of the violence is directed towards civilians, as a deliberate way of gaining territory by creating a homogenous population. "This is something politicians don't understand. Genocide and ethnic cleansing are not a side effect of war, they're the object.

"These wars are political but they also become a socio-economic phenomenon," she argues, "which depends on continued violence.'' This war economy has a tendency to spread, through refugees, and criminal links, and then neighbouring states become extremely vulnerable. "Albania has collapsed economically but luckily there has been no identity politics to exploit that collapse yet. But now it's started in Kosovo you can imagine the Albanians saying: 'we have to support our neighbours'. Macedonia may dissolve, Greece may get involved."

It all sounds very alarming. "New wars are alarming," she admits, "but we should be very happy that the old wars are over. Two hundred thousand people have been killed in Bosnia; in Dresden and Tokyo you had the same number killed in one night".

Kaldor looks to Ireland as a model for the future. "Because we think war is the business of states, we don't take grass-roots people seriously, when they're the people you need to build up." Attitudes have changed in Ireland. Now it's part of the European Union "Irishness" has become less important, the economy is going well, the difference between Catholics and Protestants is eroding, people are getting fed up with the IRA. All this has helped boost what she calls "islands of civility". This sort of cosmopolitanism she sees as the way ahead. "Nationalism only offers you hatred, not a job or a house." Bosnia was a turning point, she thinks. "We have to get outside intervention to work. An international protectorate was rejected in Bosnia but Kosovo may turn out to be a rerun of Bosnia, and it will be the only solution there too."

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