Conflict, War and Terror


Main elements of "Clash of Civilizations" thesis

Intro - The clash of civilizations thesis was proposed by political scientist Samuel P. Huntington in 1993. The basic premise of the thesis is that people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world

1st - Huntington argues that conflict will have a civilisation basis rather than ideological (identity wars) and that this will provide the basis for the great divisions of the future. Huntington identifies the central civilisations as well as identifying so called ‘cleft’ countries, such as India, which contain very large groups of people identifying with separate civilisations. 

2nd - The thesis also suggests that conflicts are particularly likely between Muslims and non-Muslims and between Islam and Christianity (influencing Western civilisation)  as both Islam and Christianity are missionary religions, seeking conversion of  others and "all-or-nothing" religions, in the sense that it is believed by both sides that only their faith is the correct one. He also highlights what is termed an ‘Islamic Resurgence’ and a clash with the values of Western universalism.

3rd - Huntington elaborates further on the causes of civilisational conflict as well as introducing concepts such as ‘fault line’ and ‘core state’ conflicts, i.e. clashes will occur along fault lines.

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How/why control of nuclear proliferation

Intro - Nuclear proliferation is the spread of nuclear weapons, either by acquisition by more states (horizontal), or by their accumulation by states (vertical). The proliferation of nuclear weapons continues despite attempts to stop this and the end of the bipolar balance based on M.A.D adds concern. May lead to temporary imbalances/arms race/conflict.

1st - Attempts to control: Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT)/UN sanctioning North Korea. Pressure from internation communiting e.g. Israel destroyed the experimental Iraqi Osirak reactor in 1981 and a similar facility in Syria in 2007.

2nd - Concern has increased because of the nature of those states or actors trying to acquire nuclear weapons. This includes terrorist groups and states with what are perceived to be dictatorial governments involved in regional rivalries. Nuclear weapons use nuclear fission or fusion to destroy targets on a massive scale through the effect of blast, heat and radiation. Also expensive - US will spend at least $179 billion over the nine fiscal years of 2010-2018 on its nuclear arsenal

3rd - The potential huge destructive power of nuclear weapons leads to an obvious concern in global politics and the chances of nuclear weapons being used increases as more states have them. Accidental use or miscalculation in power politics adds to this concern

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What is the "war on terror"?

Intro - The ‘war on terror’ is the attempt by the USA to destroy a number of terrorist groups. The 9/11 attacks served as a catalyst for this war. Although the opening acts were reminiscent of traditional warfare with the assault on Afghanistan in 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, these actions gave way to a different kind of conflict.

1st - A traditional war tended to be fought against a distinct state and against a uniformed and organised body of men. The ‘war on terror’ is often seen as a ‘new’ war in that it has taken many forms including asymmetrical conflicts and the utlisation of more technologically advanced weaponry e.g.UAVs and Smart Bombs

2nd - "War on terror" seeks to tackle non-state actors and terror groups. So called ‘rogue’ states are also a concern and a desire to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction is also a central theme i.e. sanctions on N.K. For some, the war on terror seems to be almost exclusively directed at militant or radicalised Islam and can be linked to a clash of civilisations in which = West vs. Islam

3rd - The "war on terror" utilises torture tactics. During Iraq war 2003, Bush administration tortured potential terrorists in Abu Ghraib, which included physical and sexual abuse by guards on detainees. Contravenes Geneva convention, markedly different from traditional wars

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Significance of religion as a cause of conflict

Intro - Religion is often considered one of the main causes for conflict and even terrorism on the global stage. Huntington predicted civilizations would clash...

1st - Huntington's clash of civilizations suggests conflict will occur between civilizations. This has been particularly true of West vs. Islam, e.g. ISIS attacks in the West e.g. Manchester bombing in May 2017 (22 dead, injured 116). Attacks also carried out by Christians e.g. mass shooting in planned parenthood clinic in Colorado by Christan terrorist (Nov. 2015)

2nd - Religion may not be sole reason for conflict. The KKK, for example, were a group of alt-right, anti-black white Christians who sought to overthrow African-American leaders in the 60s and maintain segregation during the Civil Rights Movement. They used similar tactics as religious terroists i.e. bombing, but religious motives were not the sole cause.

3rd - There are several examples of different groups of people with different religious backgrounds peacefully co-existing, i.e. in the UK people of all religions be it Muslim, Christian, Catholic, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, Buddhist coexist. However, conflict still occurs, e.g. June 2017, a van was driven into pedestrians by a Islamic Mosque in London, injuring at least eight people. It was alleged that the perpetrator, Darren Osbourne, had contact with far-right group Britain First, and deputy leader Jayda Fransen.

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Main reasons why acquire nuclear weapons

Intro - Nuclear weapons use nuclear fission or fusion to destroy targets on a massive scale through the effect of blast, heat and radiation. There are numerous reasons why states seek to acquire nuclear weapons.

1st - Realists argue it is a deterrant and natural tendency of anarchic world order for states who wish to strengthen their hard power and influence. Due to M.A.D. equilibrium arises between states. Israel is considered a nuclear state and has avoided significant conventional war since acquiring a nuclear weapons capability although nuclear weapons have failed to provide a defence against less conventional threats.

2nd - The vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons is often linked to fear of other states acquiring them. The Soviet Union may have developed weapons due to a fear of US weapons. Pakistan may have acquired nuclear weapons as a response to the development of Indian weapons and in order to strengthen its position regarding the dispute over Kashmir. North Korea developed them due to fear of the US. 

3rd - Nuclear weapons appear to enhance the prestige, status and significance of states. North Korea is taken more seriously since it developed a nuclear capability. There is a view that French and British nuclear weapons help to sustain the delusion that they are both still significant powers worthy of P5 Security Council positions.

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Criticisms of "Clash of Civilizations" thesis

Intro - The ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis suggests that twenty-first century global order will be characterised by growing tension and conflict, but this conflict will be cultural in character, rather than ideological, political or economic. However, it has been criticised.

1st - The thesis is based on a model of culture and civilisation that is simplistic at best. In reality, civilisations are complex and fragmented, overlapping with one another at a variety of points. The idea of clear ‘fault-lines’ between civilisations is therefore highly questionable. 

2nd - There is at least as much evidence of harmony and peaceful coexistence between civilisations as there is of suspicion and rivalry. The idea of inherent misunderstanding and inevitable conflict between civilisations is therefore difficult to sustain. E.g. = highly multicultural/houses various civilizations.

3rd - Instead of a trend towards cultural polarisation, there has been a more towards cultural homogenisation, not least through the impact of globalisation, a widening acceptance of human rights and the gradual expansion of democratic rule.

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Why is the term "terrorism" controversial?

Intro - Terrorism is the unlawful use of violence in order to intimidate or coerce non-combatants for political, social, economic or relgious aims. Its meaning has been contested for several reasons:

1st - It carries deeply pejorative implications, meaning that the term tends to be used as a political weapon, implying that the group or action to which it is attached is immoral and illegitimate (one person’s terrorist can therefore be another’s freedom fighter, e.g. Hamas to Israelis)

2nd - As terrorism is often portrayed as an anti-government activity, carried out by non-state groups, critical theorists have argued that the term has been used to systematically de-legitimise such groups and their motives, thereby upholding the existing power structure at a national or global level. Chomsky viewed states as the biggest terrorism groups, particularly US and "war on terror" (terrorism in itself)

3rd - Terrorism is a term created by the West in order to "put a face" to the problem, which is usually an Islamic man (West vs. Islam). The West define the status quo of world order and therefore decide who our enemies are. Thus when someone stands up to them, they are considered a terorist. But the Britsh Empire would not have considered themselves terrorists...

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Why are asymmetrical wars difficult to win?

Intro - Asymmetrical wars are wars fought between radically unequal parties. This certainly applies in relation to the party’s level of economic and technological development, but also applies in relation to their relative military capabilities. Examples include the Vietnam War, the Iraq War and war in Afghanistan.

1st - Developed states are often prevented by diplomatic pressures and global public opinion from using some of the more devastating weapons in their armoury. This particularly applies to ‘unusable’ nuclear weapons. E.g. pressure from ICAN on UN to cease proliferation of nuclear weapons.

2nd - Relatively weak states and forces have developed strategies that are appropriate to their limited resources and are very difficult for developed powers to counter. These include guerrilla tactics, the use of popular insurrection and various forms of terrorism.

3rd - Insurrectionary wars are particularly difficult to resolve because the mass of the population often support, explicitly or implicitly, insurrectionary forces. Victory can therefore only be achieved by winning ‘hearts and minds’, not by military means alone.

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How did 9/11 redefine the nature of terror?

Intro - Terrorism, in its broad sense, refers to the use of terror for furthering political ends, by seeking to create a climate of fear, apprehension and uncertainty. However, events such as the 9/11 attacks on the USA and groups such as al-Qaeda threaten to redefine the phenomenon of terrorism.

1st - 9/11 has often been seen as illustrating the fact that terrorism has become a transnational, if not global, phenomenon, whereas earlier forms of terrorism were often carried out by nationalist groups and were confined to a particular state. Al-Qaeda and the wider Islamist movement, are certainly transnational in terms of their organisation, goals and activities. The 9/11 attacks marked the advent of terrorism with a global reach, dramatically transforming the significance of terrorism.

2nd - This form of terrorism is motivated by a broad and radical ideology, in the form of Islamism rather than by narrower and more specific political goals. Islamist terrorism aims to inflict damage and humiliation on the USA and transform the global relationship between Islam and the west. 

3rd - The sheer scope and scale of the 9/11 attacks was historically unprecedented, creating the phenomenon of ‘catastrophic terrorism’, and that the combined use of suicide attacks and coordinated attacks against several targets suggest the advent of new terrorist tactics. 

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Modern wars classified as ‘new’ wars?

Intro - The category of ‘new wars’ has been applied to conflicts particularly since the mid 1980s (Kaldor). These wars differ from traditional, inter-state wars in a number of respects.

1st - Armed conflict increasingly takes place within states rather than between them. New wars are therefore civil wars, often related to the disintegration and collapse of states, sometimes linked to the pressures generated by globalisation.

2nd -  Second, these wars are often associated with questions of identity and culture, a major cause of wars since 1990 being the demand of various groups for national self-determination (Clash of Civilizations)

3rd - New wars are characterised by the use of guerrilla or insurrectionary tactics, often involving the use of informal fighters and serving to blur the distinction between the ‘soldier’ and the ‘civilian’ in terms of both military personnel and military targets. Such wars are also very difficult to end, even when one of the participants is economically much more advanced than the other. They rely heavily on the use of modern technology and ‘smart’ weapons, greatly reduce the casualties from warfare (hence the idea of casualty-free or virtual wars), and often take place between combatants with very different levels of development (asymmetric warfare). 

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