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Decoding Perpetual War

Modern-day armed conflicts are characterised by relentless conflict and the sheer amount of resources demanded by both parties. What Immanuel Kant refers to as the ‘barbaric’ nature of conflict plays out in real life through these long-drawn wars. The lack of a clear objective or a path to peace is one of the primary reasons why wars stretch for so long.

An Illustration on Decoding Perpetual War

Illustration by The Geostrata

Prussian military general Carl Von Cluasewitz characterised war as ‘an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will . . . and there is no logical limit to the application of that force’.

Historically, the duration of civil wars has only increased with The Reconquista, spanning 781 years from 711 to 1492. In contemporary times, various factors like increased spending on military and defence sustains conflict through an unending supply of arms. 

There exists a variety of reasons that explain this tendency to prolong warfare, the first being the lack of political will. From World War 1 to the Russia-Ukraine war, headstrong political will to end a war is lacking. History has shown that it takes tremendous sacrifices to end the war. Lack of political will also accompanies improper communication channels. Some wars get prolonged due to a lack of direct dialogue.

Non-state actors and terrorist groups cannot establish direct communication with other states, which, in most cases, complicates the resolution process, as evident from the wars occuring after World War 1 to the recent Russia-Ukraine war.

Overall, when two states are engaged in a proxy war, direct dialogue is absent, making it difficult to create a clear resolution. Even in the Cold War the danger of miscommunications and misunderstandings led to the establishment of the Hot Line Agreement on June 20, 1963, shortly after the lack of communication in the Cuban Missile Crisis which almost led to an all out nuclear war.

A second reason for this inertia in wars is the transformation of wars into battles of attrition. Using sheer power and exploiting disparities in conventional military power, one party in the war may extend the duration of the war to ultimately weaken the enemy politically and economically to the point of defeat. The war lasts longer now because of deep links between countries and economic interests. 

Large countries with heavy military spending supply weapons to belligerent actors, further extending the conflict. This process of attrition is known to be long-drawn as both sides attempt to exploit comparative advantages within military platforms. Wars of attrition at the end of the war-fighting period end with complete humiliation of the other, making it an extremely lengthy task. The most recent example is the Israel-Palestine war.

Israel has declared it a zero-sum game, with no scope for resolution without a clear victor. Palestine's Heavy dependence on resources from Israeli supply chains exacerbates the issue, allowing Israel to stretch the war for as long as needed, even without direct military force. 

A possible third reason is the desire to gain territory. It is clear from the example of the Russia-Ukraine war that the urge to endlessly conquer and re-establish territory takes supremacy over bringing war to a timely end. On the outside, both sides face imminent existential economic threats in this case, but territorial claims reign supreme. The conflicting claims over Donetsk illustrate this prolonging of war to support territorial claims. 

From an economic lens, wars are inextricably interlinked with the military industrial complex (MIC), where the forces of demand and supply have a hand in influencing the military's relations with equipment and technology suppliers. Former US President and Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in World War 2, Dwight Eisenhower’s concept of the military industrial complex emphasises the important relation between a country's armed forces, and the defence sector producing military weapons and technologies.

Wars are often prolonged by interests of the MIC, with powerful non-military actors subtly influencing supply chains to restrict, control and exert pressure on warzones, often to pursue economic ends. 

Another alternative reason for unending war, in the realm of semantics, is the definition of what constitutes the start and end of war. Do we consider a war to be at its end when the killing stops? Or when both sides resolve? Both these approaches suffer from short-sightedness and an inability to look at the bigger picture. 

What needs to be accounted for is the aftermath of the war. The widespread destruction of property, protests, forced migration, economic recession, and deterioration of public health all continue after the ‘end’ too. 

For most short-lived wars, none of the above factors come into play. A significant military advantage is usually enough to topple an empire. However, as modern warfare evolves and new tactics take shape, the duration of war is increasing significantly. The intricate political and economic linkages between states further complicate conflicts.

Additionally, actors outside the direct sphere of the war may affect the outcome. The media can shape narratives and control the truth, making it a heavy task to decipher credible words from all the lies. 

In conclusion, various reasons lead to the phenomenon of perpetual war. It is apparent that modern warfare has steadily become a complicated affair, with interlinking interests and alliances. 

While there isn’t a sure-shot antidote to combat endless suffering, proper communication and strong political will can provide some relief to either side in the prolonged war. The growing trend of wars stretching in duration may continue as long as complex industrial relations, defence interests and international alliances remain deeply embedded at the heart of war.





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