What Syria Reveals About the Future of War

What Syria Reveals About the Future of War
Turkish troops secure the Bursayah hill, which separates the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin from the Turkey-controlled town of Azaz, Syria, Jan. 28, 2018 (AP photo).

Week by week, month by month, the horrific war in Syria grinds on, killing combatants from many countries and, most tragic of all, Syrian civilians—the unintended or, in many cases, intended victims of the warring parties. As Liz Sly and Loveday Morris wrote recently in The Washington Post, “A war that began with peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad is rapidly descending into a global scramble for control over what remains of the broken country of Syria, risking a wider conflict. Under skies crowded by the warplanes of half a dozen countries, an assortment of factions backed by rival powers are battling one another in a dizzying array of combinations.”

It’s easy to look at the Syrian war as uniquely horrible, the catastrophic result of geography, Assad’s craven brutality, the spread of jihadism and its malignant ideology, and foreign intervention. But in reality Syria is emblematic, a frightening window into the future of war.

Security experts have worked for years to understand the changing character of war, recognizing that only by understanding it can the world find solutions, or at least ways to mitigate violence. Inspired by the complex conflicts in the Balkans that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, British academic Mary Kaldor, for instance, described what she called the “new wars” that she believed would dominate the post-Cold War security environment. These conflicts, Kaldor argued, would be fought by shifting combinations of states and nonstate actors. They would be based on identity factors like ethnicity or religion, rather than political ideology. The combatants would use fear and terror to control the population. And the combatants would finance their efforts through predation and crime, leading to “war economies” that give the combatants a vested interest in keeping the violence going.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article as well as three free articles per month. You'll also receive our free email newsletter to stay up to date on all our coverage:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having your own personal researcher and analyst for news and events around the globe. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of 15,000+ articles
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday
  • Weekly in-depth reports on important issues and countries
  • Daily links to must-read news, analysis, and opinion from top sources around the globe, curated by our keen-eyed team of editors
  • Your choice of weekly region-specific newsletters, delivered to your inbox.
  • Smartphone- and tablet-friendly website.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review