The ‘New Wars’ Debate: A Historical Perspective Is Needed

TitleThe ‘New Wars’ Debate: A Historical Perspective Is Needed
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsNewman, Edward
JournalSecurity Dialogue
Date Published06/2004

In recent years, a number of analysts have argued that qualitative changes have occurred in the nature of violent conflict and that it is now possible to think in terms of "new wars" that are distinct in significant ways from earlier forms of conflict. This article summarizes the different arguments of the "new wars" thesis and argues that the distinction between "contemporary" forms of conflict and wars of earlier times is exaggerated and in some instances does not stand up to scrutiny, especially when drawing upon historical material. In particular, the article questions the extent to which contemporary forms of organized violence reflect new patterns in terms of actors, objectives, spatial context, human impact, and the political economy and social structure of conflict. Moreover, the article argues that the tendency in the new wars scholarship to identify common patterns in "contemporary" civil conflicts ignores important differences among them. In conclusion, the article considers the importance of recent scholarship on conflict for the security discourse and state sovereignty.

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