By Feroz Khan
The face of war, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, has undergone a significant change. The continuing evolution of war, as the most complex, the least understood, and extremely unpredictable of all human endeavors, has been influenced by a paradigm change in the politics of international relations. The study of international relations, and within it the hierarchy of sovereign power, has been steadily shifting, though scarcely noticed, from the confrontational assumptions of the Cold War to the euphoria of globalization to the dystopian nature of trans-internationalism. In all of this, the nuanced definition of sovereign political power has also gradually changed within a traditionalist view of political power itself. The traditional definition of political power has been understood as the ability to make others accept what they normally would not accept, but this definition differs from the idea of sovereign power, which has been historically defined as the complete authority of a state to regulate and control its affairs within its own territorial jurisdiction.
The end result of these differing understandings of political power and sovereign power, in international relations, is an implicit sense of conflict as the ideas of political power and sovereign power actually exist as an anti-thesis to each other. The hallmark of political power, in the international relations, is aggressive and the overarching aim of political power is to create a situation that continually favors and increases the options of a particular state. Whereas, the idea of sovereign power is to maintain a status-quo that ensures that a state has the option to resist unreasonable demands that might limit its own abilities to exercise authority within its own territory. It is this reality of the international relations, with its constant proclivity towards an inherent conflict that gives it the enduring image of a Hobbesian state of nature. However, despite its Hobbesian nature and the idea of every state against every state, there is a caveat, which limits this conflict and tries to manage it effectively and this caveat is known as war and diplomacy which not only regulates the dynamics of international relations but also influences it.
The role of diplomacy is crucial in understanding international relations, because without the limitations of diplomacy, there would be perpetual conflict in the world. Realistically speaking, no nation-state has the ability to wage infinite war and the main idea behind a nation’s diplomacy is to attain its political aims without the recourse to war. It is only when diplomacy fails to achieve a political aim; of advancing a nation-state’s interests that war becomes a necessity to force one nation’s political demands on another nation and to make it stop resisting the demands being forced upon it. Therefore, wars are fought, and should be only fought, in pursuant to clearly defined and achievable political aims. The most important consideration in the execution of successful wars is the political reason for which a war is being fought and once that political reason or aim is attained, the war should be ended and diplomacy should be used in formalizing the political status-quo that was created as a result of a war.
Therefore, the logic of a war is rooted in the political reasons for which it is being fought and furthermore, the nature of war will always be determined by the political clarity, which frames the parameters of a particular conflict, but more importantly establishes the political criteria which ends a particular war. It is in this realm that the nature of warfare has changed because the international system has moved away from the traditional ideas of conflict between nation-states to the idea of conflict influenced by the politics of non-state groups, such as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and their non-state political aims. The future wars will not be determined by the politics of the state but rather by the inability of the state to effectively exercise its sovereign power over the non-state actors that use its territory as a geographic base to proliferate their political and military designs. This is where the most fundamental change has occurred in the nature of wars, because the politics which have guided origins of wars for the last five hundred years have changed.
The traditional politics of war were based on the Westphalia model that saw the nation-state as the most important factor in international relations, but in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, wars have been increasingly dominated by the trans-internationalism of non-state actors and their politics. This is not to suggest that the traditional conflicts between the states, such as between Russia and Georgia, will end, because those conflicts will remain but they will be shadowed by the conflicts between the state and the non-state actors. In this sense, non-state actors can be judged and defined as all those centers of political power that effectively challenge the sovereign power of the state and they can be, thus, identified as the Pakistani Taliban, Al-Qaeda, militant sectarian groups and even citizen political advocacy groups such as the Red Shirts in Thailand.
The potential problem, in all of this, will be the murky nature of wars and the inability of such wars to have clearly defined political aims for their effective conduct. The lack of political clarity, to a large part, stems from the inability of the international law to define the act of aggressive culpability and in the process, to legitimately sanction an armed response against it. The most interesting question in all of this is the threshold of the state’s guilt itself and whether a state can be politically held responsible for the actions of non-state actors that operate from within its territory. As mentioned earlier, wars are determined by their political origins and it is the politics, which articulate the military response and in this instance, the politics of trans-internationalism will increasingly see the politics of non-state actors as a threat to global peace. In such a case, the new evolving doctrine of military response is based on the idea of first using (political and economic) diplomacy to convince a nation not to allow its territory to be used by non-state actors and if that nation fails to control the non-state actors within its borders, then an unilateral military response will deemed justified.
The defining litmus-test of such a military response will be whether a nation has the political will or the political capacity to ensure that its territory is not used by non-state actors against the neighboring countries or allow the use of its territory to plan and launch an attack globally against any nation. In simple terms, any nation that seems incapable of acting conclusively against the spread of cross-border terrorism or tacitly and overtly promotes terrorism will be considered to have forfeited its right to sovereignty and any subsequent military actions undertaken on its territory will be considered as a legitimate military response.
Therefore, for nations to protect their sovereign power from being intruded upon, as in the example of Pakistan, it will have to make sure that it fulfills the requirements of sovereign power and has complete authority and control over its territory and does not allow its power to be challenged or undermined in any tangible way or form.
Hence, the origins of future wars will determined by the politics of a nation-state, within its own territorial limits and not in any extra-territorial terms. The failure of a nation-state to exercise sovereign power would imply that non-state actors or groups will influence its options and may well decide whether such nation-state goes to war or not. Again, Pakistan is a very instructive case in this sense, because it has been the political failure of Pakistan to effectively maintain its sovereign power that has seen its sovereignty being ignored in the form of continuous United States drone attacks on its territory.
For Pakistan to re-establish any notions of sovereign power, it will have to deal effectively and divisively against all non-state actors/groups, which challenge its sovereign power. More importantly, Pakistan must understand and realize the failure to control, disband and destroy all the non-state groups that operate from within its territory will rob it of the prime consideration of sovereignty; the right to make war and peace. As the example of Mumbai attacks of November 26, 2008 showed, India and Pakistan nearly went to war over the actions of a militant group based in Pakistan which the Pakistani government failed to control and which used Pakistani territory to attack India and if Pakistan cannot even control the decision to go war, then in terms of international law it ceases to exist as a sovereign power.
Therefore, the future wars will be determined by the politics of how effectively a nation-state controls its own territory and prevents that territory from being used against other nations and not necessarily by the political intentions of a nation-state towards its neighbors. In such a scenario, the greatest threat to international peace is not the size of the armies and national hostilities, but weak and failing governments and nations that have abdicated their sovereign power to the political power of non-state groups, which seek to create a new hierarchy of power, within the international relations, but are not accountable to the principles of international law.
Consequently, the future politics and diplomacy of the future wars will be guided by the notions of a collective international security and any nation that undermines such a collective security will find itself as a pariah in international relations and risk its own national sovereign power.