State on State wars are back as marked by major conflict trends today. Within two decades the trajectory of international security which was defined by global terrorism post 9/11, is now increasingly denoting a move towards state-on-state wars post Russian invasion of Ukraine in February last year. The War between Israel and Hamas is a grim reminder of barbarity of violence perpetrated by non-state and state actors alike. There have been smaller wars that happened which engaged attention of security watchers across the globe be it in the South Caucasus between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the civil war in Sudan and violent turmoil in some other parts of Africa including Ethiopia and Libya. The smaller wars were regional in nature thus had a local impact even though the civil war in Sudan led to evacuation of thousands of foreign citizens but did not have extraneous effect as the war in Ukraine and Israel-Hamas. These can be seen as defining conflicts of this decade so far due to escalation horizontally engulfing their neighbours and rest of the World and vertically in terms of level of violence, weapons of war employed and purpose for which waged.
A defining feature of contemporary wars is civilians considered as legitimate targets by the warring parties Russia, Hamas and Israel- though Ukraine so far is an outlier to some extent. Civilians are seen as rightful targets of the war in warped justification that suits the perpetrators. Russian air and missile strikes on Ukrainian cities and denial of power infrastructure has been a notable feature of the Ukraine War, while the Hamas brutally killed Israeli civilians in terrorist raids on October 07. Sadly, Israel in the quest to target the Hamas has been unmindful of the casualties to innocent Palestinian citizens in Gaza justifying the same on the grounds that the Gazan entity has been using these as human shield a despicable habit of their ilk no doubt but one which needed a more sophisticated response from an armed force which prides itself on technology innovation. There is an element of endemic ethnic and religious hatred that is entailed therein as death to one of the other community is seen justified howsoever innocent or uninvolved the individual may be in the acts of war. [India too has recently seen such ethnically directed hatred in Manipur].
Given that Israel’s operations are seen as a retributive war to seek justice for the innocent civilians killed in the Hamas terrorist attack a no holds barred approach has been adopted. This despite a UN General Assembly resolution that has called for a humanitarian cease fire. Meanwhile Russia claims that it was forced upon the war in Ukraine given the failure of diplomacy through the Minsk agreements in resolving issues such as eastern expansion of NATO and the European Union towards Ukraine amongst others. Ironically unleashing of the war may have resulted in accelerating these interventions by NATO and EU. A common factor in the wars is authoritarian leaders that have launched these wars – be it President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or with respect to the South Caucausus, Turkish President Recep Erdogan.
Wars continue to be fought by coalitions. Powerful allies and partners provide the catalyst for sustaining hostilities. While the United States and Europe rallied behind Ukraine providing billions of dollars of arms and munitions and accepting thousands of refugees from that country, ironically Russia has turned to Iran and North Korea – pariah states for seeking cheaper arms such as Shahed suicide drones from the former in large numbers. Israel too has the support of the United States if not other Western partners. Importantly Hamas is seen by many as a prop of Iran whose Shia Crescent of allies geographically extends from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iraq extending on to Yemen. Iranian supply of cheap rockets, missiles and UAVs have bolstered this so called Crescent. The legitimacy of a state arming such non state militia is of course a lost cause for the international peace and human rights activists.
One common principle of war which has been evident in the recent wars has been surprise and deception. Hamas achieved complete surprise over Israel by employing tactics which were possibly not envisaged by Tel Aviv or for that matter other armed forces across the World. Ukraine surprised in a different way by affording the stoutest resistance to the Russian armed forces who Mr Putin proclaimed will be in Kiev in three days in February last year, though now it is claimed that this was a move to create surprise easing the way for launching operations that swept southwards. Many lessons will no doubt be drawn from these operations in the future but the next time around novel tactics will be employed for achieving surprise yet another time by an adversary which will take advantage of the somnolence of a state and its soldiers.
Modern wars have passed through many iterations as though the nature of war is constant the character changes. From the Air Land Battle to the Integrated Battle to Multi Domain operations synergy in application of forces with greater information component today is sought for. Chinese People’s Liberation Army has given its own names to these from mechanization, to informatization, and intelligentization today. The superiority of defence over attack remains constant, maneouvre remains superior to firepower thus denying tactical movement has become the essence as is seen during the Ukraine counter offensive this summer.
Nations which had presumed that wars were passe and inter state disputes will be resolved through diplomacy or by adopting a ‘war by thousand,’ cuts strategy as by Pakistan visa a vis India are going back to the study of war. Surprisingly the texts of ancient sage such as Kautilya even though he had written and spoken more about statecraft and not wars is back with the Indian Army and USI of India launching Project Udbhav for study of ancient tradition of wars in India. China’s Xiangshan Forum held in Beijing in the last week of October had a special session on Sun Tzu and his Art of War.
It appears that in blindly following Clausewitz’s dictum that war is politics by other means, modern states have forgotten Sun Tzu’s minions of “Winning Without Fighting”. More over advances in human values as enshrined in the United Nations Charter have also been given the short shrift. War is too serious a business to be left to regimes led by authoritarian leaders wedded to application of force to resolve interstate disputes.