Since the 1990s, Eastern European and African nations have experienced many intra-state conflicts, which are introduced as a concern for regional and international security by the international community. However, as the international organisations such as; the UN and NATO have been established according to the principles of international law, response to intra-state conflict is a matter of legal and political concern. In addition to that, last decade has witnessed states’ use of limited violence against each other by employing new methodologies, short of war. In fact, states attempted to further their national interests without triggering an armed conflict and by evading from international pressure. One of the most likely causes of these acts could be associated with globalization and the state’s erosion of legitimate violence. In this article, present challenges against states’ political legitimacy have been associated with the new trends in modern and contemporary warfare. It is concluded that states have developed various concepts of war to secure their monopoly on the use of power such as limited war, political war and hybrid war.

1. Introduction

The globalization of world politics after the end of Cold War has impacted on the behaviour of modern states and their monopoly on violence. State-Centric view of the world politics has been widely discussed by the liberal and critical school of the international relations during that period. Particularly, Kaldor (2012) argued that rising institutionalism and privatisation of violence had degraded state’s monopoly on legitimate use of power. Furthermore, international institutions encumbered additional legal responsibilities for states and had proscribed their use of unilateral violence other than self-defence (Kaldor 2012). Both international regulations and preventive diplomacy have played an important role in the reduced number of inter-state conflicts, particularly from the mid-1970s (Williams 2013). However, according to the Williams (2013), these regulations have not been sufficient to prevent intra-state conflicts, as more than 400 non-state armed conflicts happened globally since the end of the Cold War. Besides, the involvement of “different types of privatized groups” (Wulf 2011, 1) such as warlords, terrorist groups, militias, identity groups, separatists and private security companies into the conflicts contributed to the erosion of state monopoly on power. Nevertheless, contrary to the global tendencies, states seek to secure their position in World politics as legally and politically legitimate actors who hold the necessary means to project power.

Indeed, after enduring two total wars, states have originated various strategies to project power to further their national interests. For the most part, the Cold War period has witnessed various instances during which states employed their means by showing a mutual restraint towards total war. Furthermore, after the end of the Cold War, states have sought new strategies to keep the violence “under the threshold of the conventional justification of war” (Johnson 2018, 142). Accordingly, strategists have developed various concepts of war to redress the balance between global tendencies and power politics during and after the Cold War. One example of this is the concept of limited war, which includes an “important kind and degree of a deliberate restraint” (Brodie 1959, 309) to wage a total war, despite the fact that both sides have enough capacity. Another example could be the concept of political war, which is known as “the employment of all means at a national command, short of war, to achieve a national objective” (Kennan 1948, 1). Hybrid war has also been accepted as a contemporary concept, which could cope with the challenges against the state to project power. Hybrid warfare is the combination of irregular and conventional components in the same battle space in an “operationally integrated and tactically fused” manner (Hoffman 2007, 8). Duyvesteyn (2018, 23) further conceptualised the hybrid war as the “the strategic manifestation of the operational ideas of hybrid warfare”.

Recent research has revealed that despite rising institutionalism and privatization of violence, states have sought to employ various concepts of war in order to secure their political legitimacy and monopoly on power. Therefore, the key challenges against states’ political legitimacy during the era of globalisation will be examined in section 2. Furthermore, the alternate methodologies that states have utilized in order to secure their monopoly on power will be analysed in section 3 through a mix of case studies.

2. Challenges against states’ political legitimacy

a. Institutional Constraints

Realist thought of international relations defines the international system as anarchic, self-help, and accepts endless succession of wars as a norm (Elman and Jensen 2013). Contrary to the realist view, due to the scale and destructiveness of two great wars in the 20th century, strategists, politicians and practitioners have sought ways to prevent war and secure international order. Robert Keohane (1984) and Robert Axelrod (1984) defined this approach as neoliberal institutionalism, which highlights the importance of international institutions, such as the UN, and the global norms to prevent war. Navari (2013) argued that institutions can influence state preferences and they can change the character of the international structure. Furthermore, according to this view, the institutionalisation of cooperation is necessary to promote collective interests and also to achieve international stability. However, the main weakness of the neoliberal institutionalism is that, it cannot explain how the state-centric international structure could be transformed into a polycentric structure, in which multinational corporation is prevalent (Archibugi 2010).

Broadly speaking, neo-liberal institutionalism has been subjected to criticism by various scholars from liberal and realist school of thought.

Specifically, according to constructivist institutionalism, (March and Olsen 1989) institutions are not more than a collection of norms, which could only be followed in the absence of self-interests. In contrary to liberal thinking, which states form institutions to maximize shared interest, realists (Navari 2013) see institutions as a mean to secure the domination. As well as that, a leading realist thinker, John Mearsheimer (1994/95, 13) argues that, “The most powerful states in the system create and shape institutions, so that they can maintain their share of world power, or even increase it”. Furthermore, under the security dilemma, the establishment of security regimes, which demands mutual restraint against unilateral use of force, has been seen unattractive to the states (Jervis 1982). Besides, according to the Navari (2013) the institutional cooperation between states could mostly be achievable in low politics, such as economic, social, and environmental cooperation; not in high politics such as: military and security cooperation. A serious weakness with this argument however is that, despite the absence of a common threat after the 1990s, NATO persisted and transformed into a collective security organization.

In fact, the evolution and the efficacy of international norms, and international law in particular, should not be overlooked. In contrary to the common perception that the international law has not much effect on state policies, Morris (2016) has argued that states usually obey the international law and the military conflict is an exception. In support of this argument, states’ attitude towards international cooperation and global norms has been further analysed by Hurd. Hurd’s findings (1999, 105) indicate that, while the legal systems, which count on “coercion, calculations and self-interest” is ineffective and comparatively short-lived, legal regulations that depend primarily on “widespread shared perception of legitimacy” are more effective and sustainable. Therefore, shared belief and interest in international cooperation and global norms require and promote legitimate use of force. In fact, the principle of the legitimate use of force is commonly acknowledged by the states as an overarching principle that regulates international relations. For instance, this principle is reflected on the Charter of the United Nations (UN) as “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state” (UN Charter). Consequently, despite criticisms, institutions and norms play a key role in mitigating conflict and in diminishing states’ monopoly on force.

b. Globalization and Privatization of Violence

The modern state has been built on the premise that, it can provide security for its citizens and can project violence against external threats or towards national objectives. However, several scholars (Wulf 2011, Kaldor 2012) have argued that states’ monopoly on force has been eroded during the era of globalization and the period of trans-nationalization. During that era, states’ position as an actor in the global world economy and international politics is contracted due to the presence of international and non-state actors. According to the Wulf (2011), the involvement of various types of privatized groups into the conflicts has diminished states’ monopoly on force. However, Wulf’s argument (2011) relies heavily on low-capacity states whose control on force is eroded in post-conflict situations.

In support of this argument, Kaldor (2012) argued that states’ monopoly on force had been eroded due the changing character of the conflict from the ‘old wars’ into the ‘new wars’. For Kaldor, “new wars involve a blurring distinction between war, organize crime and large scale of human rights violations” (Kaldor 2012, 2). By analysing the War in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Kaldor (2012, 6) explained how “violence is increasingly privatized and political legitimacy of the state is disappeared as a result of growing organized crime and the emergence of paramilitary groups”. Furthermore, according to the Kaldor (2012), the presence of a various type of privatized groups made it more difficult for states to maintain their political legitimacy and secure their monopoly, due to groups’ guerrilla warfare tactics, highly-decentralized but network-like structures and utilization of advanced and light technological weapons. In fact, globalization has offered a suitable environment for various types of privatized groups to create and maintain a war economy. For instance, in new wars, (Kaldor 2012) mostly privatized groups finance themselves through external assistance or by criminal means as a result of the globalized and de-centralized war economy. Foreign support given to rebel and paramilitary groups, such as Russian support to separatists in Ukraine since 2014 or Turkey’s support to Free Syrian Army during the Syrian civil war, further aggravated states’ ability to cope with privatized groups. One question that needs to be asked, however is, whether different types of privatized groups are capable to project force or finance a war economy without any foreign support? Consequently, despite shortcomings, privatization of violence could be considered as an important factor in the transformation of conflict.

3. How states secure monopoly on force; Implications on concepts of war

Despite institutionalization and privatization of violence, states have sought to secure their monopoly on power, even via war, when their interest is at stake, or they felt threatened. Although the war is not desired, global norms regulate and govern it via the law of armed conflict, should it happen. Literally, the law of armed conflict has two broad functions and is described as the “vanishing point of international law” (Lauterpracht 1952, 381). According to Morris (2016), the just ad bellum (the law towards the war) regulated international relations by limiting the use of violence, and the jus in bello (the law in the war) governs the hostilities, when it happens. Despite the global regulations, the presence of the jus in bello does not promote the use of force, as war leads to costs imposed by international law and power politics. Therefore, states have sought to achieve their political objectives with reasonable or limited costs (Morris 2016). This dilemma has been the subject of strategy since the beginning of the Cold War and leads to the emergence of new concepts of warfare.

a. The concept of limited war

Limited war could be considered as one of the examples of the strategy to achieve political objectives with moderate cost. Indeed, according to the Brodie (1959), the destructiveness of the thermo-nuclear weapons during the Cold War created the conditions that make a total war irrational and unthinkable. Furthermore, as the US efforts to prevent wars were not deemed to be successful during that period, limited war was seen as an alternate to total wars (Brodie, 1959). Brodie further suggests that (1959, 309) the concept of limited war involves an “important kind and degree of a deliberate restraint” to wage a total war, despite the fact that both sides have enough capacity. Another prominent Cold War strategist L.Freedman posits that (2014, 8) although the limited wars require common agreed limitations between conflicting parties; the purpose of this strategy aimed not to expand the conflict in “space and time”. Despite the broad definition of the limited war, it was widely argued whether states would keep their means or aims limited? According to Brodie, (1959, 313) although limited wars could be defined as “a war fought to achieve a limited objective”, the restraint necessary to keep the wars limited is related with the means, not the ends.

As regards to states’ perception, the origins of the concept of the limited war could be attributed to the states’ calculation of their self-interests. However, although it could be associated with self-interests, the idea to prevent a total war is to the benefit of states and the international community. Besides, contemporary examples of the concept of limited war have also indicated that it is related with to keep the war below the threshold of the conventional justification of war. The Soviet bloodless revolution that took place in Czechoslovakia in 1948 and Russian approach to war in Ukraine in 2014 could be seen as the examples when a state utilized limited war in order not to escalate violence into a total war.

Contemporary academic studies have indicated that the Russian approach to war in Ukraine could be explained by the concept of limited war.

According to Freedman, (2014, 7), the conflict in Ukraine is explained as “less of an externally sponsored insurgency and more of a limited war between Ukraine and Russia”. Indeed, both Russia and Ukraine kept the war within limits by not starting a total war, by holding the capabilities in reserve and by continuing diplomatic communications (Freedman 2014). Besides, none of the parties declared war against each other and Ukraine Armed Forces conducted a counter-insurgency operation in Eastern Ukraine instead of total war. Moreover, to conduct a limited war against Ukraine has provided Russia to keep the level of violence under the threshold of war to maintain plausible deniability and to evade from Western pressure. However, at the later phases of the war, Russian direct conventional military involvement to the war in Ukraine became “progressively implausible” but still within limits (Freedman 2014, 23). While Russia deployed irregular forces at the beginning of the crisis to control administrative buildings and to annex Crimea, during the following phases of the conflict, limited conventional forces were deployed to control the territory and to support the separatists. Consequently, as seen in the contemporary examples, employment of limited war provides states with the ability to secure their monopoly on force and pursue their self-interest via limited violence.

b. The concept of political war

According to the Cold War strategists (Kennan 1948 and Ikle 1989), the political war has become one of the important elements of the US and Soviet foreign policy since the beginning of the Cold War. During that period, the Soviet Union gave support to separatists, insurgencies and covert military units, in the name of active measures, to destabilize and defeat its adversaries (Lord and Barnett 1989). Due to the conditions of the Cold War, in which superpowers have equal conventional and nuclear capabilities to destroy each other, superpowers have sought ways to project power without waging total war. Therefore, the great powers of the Cold War developed the concept of political war to achieve their national objectives without suffering casualties, wasting resources and maintaining their public confidence.

Political war was conceptualised at the beginning of the Cold War by G.F.Kennan (1948, 1) as “the employment of all means at a national command, short of war, to achieve a national objective”. The concept was further conceptualised during the Cold War by Codevilla (1989) as a type of war, which aims to reach political goals by using non-military means such as propaganda, backing foreign groups and influencing like-minded actors (agents of influence). Moreover, Lord (1989) argued that the political war involves the spectrum of overt and covert activities, which are planned to support national political-military objectives. From another point of view, Codevilla (1989, 77) focused particularly on foreign groups and defined political war as “the marshalling of human support, or opposition, to achieve victory in war or un-bloody conflicts”. He also claimed that (1989,78) the concept of political war, perceives politics as not part of the conflict but the “organizing principle of the whole”. Finally, the concept of political war could not be solely limited to the means, as they should function as the parts of an overall national policy to achieve objectives together with economic and military activities. Therefore, political war strategy is based on the premise that “international politics is the continuation of war by other means” (Ikle 1989, 3).

During the Cold War, the US government waged political war by providing financial and logistical supports to dissidents in Soviet-dominated areas (Bot and Doran 2013). Contemporary conflicts have also shown that Russia has created its own concept as a “whole of government approach” which resembles political war and aimed to weaken NATO and undermine European Unity (Chivvis 2017, 317). According to Chivvis (2017), Main characteristics of Russian political war doctrine are population-centrism, persistency and economy in use of kinetic force. Russian military exercises along the NATO’s Eastern border and Russian covert operations in Ukraine are also introduced as being the tools of the “political war” which aims to intimidate and shape the opinion of Europe (Chivvis 2017, 317).

The use of political war strategy in support of or as an alternate to conventional justifications of war could be related with Hurd’s principles (1999) of calculations of self-interest. However, the employment of political war by democratic countries could also aim for democratisation and could take place in the form of the support given to the will of the foreigners who need democracy (Ikle 1989). Therefore, it could be argued that the political war is related to the perception of legitimacy, as the political actions depend on the belief that the democratic values should be spread. One weakness of this argument is that the actions related to the political war could be perceived as the violation of the domestic and international law. Consequently, as seen in the early and the contemporary examples, to wage a political war offer states to project violence, short of war, to achieve their national objectives.

c. The concept of hybrid war

In February 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, where the majority of the population have Russian ethnic origin, by using heavily irregular and limited conventional forces. Following this, another heavy Russian territory of Ukraine (Luhansk and Donetsk regions) was destabilized by Russia with the employment of roughly the same strategy, which succeeded in the emergence of two Russian backed self-proclaimed entities.

Military practitioners and academicians have attributed Russian approach to war in Ukraine to hybrid war; a concept, which was developed during the early 2000s.

In fact, hybrid war was conceptualized by Hoffman in 2007 (2007, 29) as a doctrine which incorporates a range of different modes of warfare including conventional capabilities, irregular tactics and formations; terrorist acts including indiscriminate violence, coercion and criminal disorder. Although his analysis focused heavily non-state actors’ employment of hybrid war, such as the Hezbollah’s war against Israel in 2006, Hoffman (2007, 29) saw the possibility that hybrid war could also be conducted by states. While the concept of hybrid war has fed the scholarly argument (Rinelli and Duyvesteyn 2017) on changing characteristic of the conflict during the era of globalisation, it has been criticized due to the shortcomings and epistemological weaknesses.

The use of violence in Ukraine in an unusual manner has commenced the academic arguments whether it is a war in breach of international norms? In fact, the Russian 2014 military strategy involved use of political, military, informational and non-military instruments to achieve strategic objectives (Kilinskas, 2016). However, the achievement of war objectives in the covert form, taking advantage of target countries’ vulnerabilities and without military clashes could not be grasped by Western strategic thinkers, who define the violence either regular or conventional. Indeed, contemporary academic studies define the hybrid war as an operational concept that “deliberately skirts around international laws and norms through ambiguous use of force” (Rinelli and Duyvesteyn 2017, 23). It could be a part of a strategy to evade from international pressures by keeping violence under the level of the conventional justifications of war. Therefore, hybrid war could also be acknowledged as a concept, which offers states to project violence without violating international norms.

3. Conclusion

International relations since the end of the Cold War has been characterized more by cooperation on international norms than conflict and wars (Morris 2016). In that era, states are induced to obey the international norms through coercion, calculations of self-interest and legitimization (Hurd 1999). While ‘coercion’ and ‘calculations of self-interests’ could best be explained by the realist understanding of international relations; ‘legitimization’ is more associated with the widespread perception to obey international norms. At the same time, the state’s monopoly on force has also been contracted, while the different types of privatized groups have participated in wars. Despite the rising institutionalism and privatization of violence, states seek to use violence in support of their self-interests. However, states’ desire to secure their monopoly on force cause some costs, which comes into existence as measures by the international community or as challenges against the legitimacy of the state by different types of privatized groups. Therefore, to moderate these costs, states have developed various concepts of war to secure their monopoly on the use of power such as: limited war, political war and hybrid war.

The employment of these strategies could allow states to reach their political objectives by addressing the normative limitations against their monopoly on the use of force. In particular, while the concept of limited war based on the calculation to prevent total war, it allows states to employ limited means to achieve political objectives. Although it is seemed to be associated with the calculations of self-interests, the idea to prevent a total war is both to the benefit of states and to the international community. On the other hand, despite realist considerations, the concept of political war is also seen as an alternate strategy to pursue self-interests without violating international law. Furthermore, the Western countries could justify the political war as long as they employ political means to spread the democratic values. Lastly, the use of hybrid war means could allow states to benefit from reaching political objectives by skirting around international law. One weakness of this argument is that the actions related to all of these concepts could weaken the legitimacy of international law and could promote states’ desire to pursue their self-interests. In addition to that, to wage war by these concepts would stretch international norms and could lower the credibility of international regulations. Therefore, the international community should develop adaptive strategies to secure the credibility of international norms.




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