Murphy's Law: Some Wars Are Not What They Used To Be

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November 16, 2016: The end of the Cold War in 1991 brought with it a new era of “little wars”. Unlike in the past, when similar periods saw lots of peacekeeping type operations, the difference today is that there is instant (or nearly so), worldwide media and that has changed attitudes towards little wars. With the constant media spotlight these little wars and aid operations are under a lot of pressure (from the nations and donors providing the troops and money) to get acceptable results quickly and get out. This often backfires. Actually it backfires a lot.

This can be seen with the efforts to regularly use weapons embargoes to prevent more weapons from getting into the conflict zone. These bans hurt the more scrupulous groups in a war zone because arms smuggling is a well-established tradition in many parts of the world and its easy to get whatever you want if you can pay. The criminal gangs look forward to such international arms embargoes because its means more business and the ability to charge higher prices. It’s not just illegal weapons that are a problem. Free food and other aid has long been known to cause more damage than its sponsors like to admit. The food and other supplies are often stolen by criminals or government officials and the availability of all that free (or at least cheap once the gangsters resell it) makes it difficult for local farmers to survive as farmers.

Then there is there is the growing popularity of economic sanctions and ceasefires. Neither of these tactics work as advertised. The sanctions do little to deter a tyrant and the ceasefires are almost always followed by periods of more intense combat. For that reason many nations dealing with rebellions, civil wars or other forms of civil disorder now refuse to bend to international pressure to employ a ceasefire. That’s because too often the weaker side will simply use the break to prepare for more fighting, not negotiate a permanent peace.

Another problem with media driven little wars is that there are more groups involved, and not all of them are armed. Since World War II there has been an explosion in the formation of new NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Thousands have appeared, driven by a more generous public, and a growing number of idealistic men and women willing to work, in dangerous places, to do whatever tasks the NGO dedicated itself to. Over the last few decades, governments realized that it was more efficient to have NGOs handle disaster relief, and foreign aid in general, rather than having government employees do it. But there is a catch, there always is.

Increasingly, the NGO employees are becoming like the civil servants they have replaced. Part of it is the passage of time. While many NGO employees are idealistic young people who do it for a few years, others have made a career of it. The NGOs have become more bureaucratic, and political. These days, most NGOs tend to have a foreign policy, and they often group together to pressure governments to do things the NGOs feel comfortable with. This has increasingly brought NGOs into conflict with the governments and donors who supply the money, and locals who are supposed to be benefiting from it.

Little Wars are not what they used to be (something you only heard about after they were over).

 


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