I’ve been writing quite a bit recently about war and its unwinnability. I’ve been thinking a lot more about this, and I want to clarify that in those writings I was referring primarily to wars being won or not won in the traditional military sense of “winning”– that is, that the victorious country is able to either destroy or defeat (that is an important distinction, right there) the armed forces of the opposing side and thereby to impose its own political will on the defeated country.
It is that “thereby” that seems increasingly– or perhaps in some cases, completely– unattainable these days.
Destruction– yes, that has certainly occurred. In Iraq in 2003, the Saddam-era armed forces were first defeated and then completely disbanded. In Lebanon in 2006, the Israelis were never able to destroy Hizbullah– but they were able to sow massive amounts of destruction on the country’s vital infrastructure, including on an entire, quite sizeable chunk of the South Beirut Dahiya.
But despite* that level of destruction, Israel was unable to defeat Hizbullah– which it had sought to achieve by imposing its will on the government of Lebanon, and forcing Beirut to crack down on Hizbullah.
And in Iraq in and since 2003, even though the US was able to defeat and enitrely disband the Saddam-era armies it has still been incapable of imposing its will on the Baghdad government.
So traditional, military kinds of victory have not been attainable in these two cases.
That’s why I want to shift the policy discussion to a different, much richer and more human-centered definition of “victory”. This is one that would flow quite naturally from the principles of human security, which include, crucially, the two principles that:
- 1. True security in the modern age is people-centered, rather than addressing the needs/desires of nation states to defend their territory against aggression from outside (or from competing national claims to the same terrain,) and
2. The human security of all the peoples of the world is interdependent: increasing the human security of any one group of people increases the human security of all others; and decreasing the human security of any one group decreases the security of all others. That is, unlike in the traditional, “nation-state” model of security, human security is a matter of win-win synergies, rather than a zero-sum game.
Therefore, to “win” in human-security terms in Iraq or Afghanistan would involve looking primarily at the human security situation of the Iraqi and Afghan peoples, and certainly not at the narrow national interests of any outsiders. And if the human security situation of the peoples of those two countries can be significantly and durably improved, then that helps increase the true security of everyone else, from close neighbors to people in distant countries like Europe or the United States.
- (By the way, I wanted to provide a link here to the 2003 final report of the UN’s “Commission on Human Security.” But it looks as though someone forgot to renew the Commission’s domain name, http://www.humansecurity-chs.org/, so you can’t find it there any more. Can anyone tell me where else this report might be lodged and thus available to the web-prowling public?… Update August 1: Thanks to commenter Charles Cameron who told us that the text has been archived here. It’s a pretty large PDF file. Ch. 1 strikes me as particularly crucial, since it lays out the theoretical approach of HS.)
* Although I wrote “despite” that level of destruction, it also seems clear to me that, in the case of Lebanon 2006, it was precisely because of the level of destruction that the IDF sowed throughout Lebanon that Israel was unable to impose its political goals on Beirut. In other words, the “Shock and Awe” aspects of Israel’s attack proved actively counter-productive…