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The First Word War

A few comments on the term “internationalised armed conflicts”


Translated by  Christine Lewis Carroll and edited by Machetera

Piracy on the Somali coasts, armed violence in the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the explosive situation in Darfur, and the harmful impact all these matters have on neighbouring countries fill the news headlines. But the media merely describe the phenomena without analysing the real causes.

One of the most misleading terms used by the media, and which can also be found in certain academic publications, is that of “armed conflict”. It is even alternated with the term “war”. However, when referring to conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa, the media use adjectives such as “ethnic conflict”, “civil war”, etc. But where military operations take place in other places and the United States of America is an actor, such as Afghanistan or Iraq, the term “war” is used.

So where is the difference? Aside from the technological, military or legal aspects, the difference lies in the ideological assumptions which try to justify the presence of the Empire in Afghanistan and Iraq. By doing this, these media make legitimate the consequences of the aggressive speech delivered by the then president George W. Bush at the West Point Military Academy on September 20th 2001, later legislated as U.S.A. National Security Strategy in 2002, where it was clearly declared that the country had initiated a war. The evasion is, that beyond the fight against terrorism, the aggressions carried out by the United States hide its hegemonic interest in controlling the natural resources of a vast area including the whole African continent and part of Asia. Plus, there is the favourable geographical situation of the latter and the fact that the achievement of the Empire’s objectives will provide an advantage to the United States over its main allies and the countries considered by it to be competitors.

Defining the causes of the aggressions against Afghanistan and Iraq is not the object of this article, but rather the identification of common occurrences in the wars affecting Sub-Saharan Africa. We must insist that economic interest - the reason behind the invasion of these countries by the United States - is also at the heart of the conflicts which have been draining Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo for decades.

It is our opinion that the term “civil war” used by the media to describe the military operations developed in these three African countries should be reviewed because in all three cases, there is a significant presence of international actors, both as instigators as well as direct and/or indirect participants; these international actors even plan through these wars, to redistribute amongst themselves the areas containing important quantities of natural resources.

The presence of international actors, the flow of displaced people and refugees as a result of military proceedings, and the problems suffered by host countries or safer areas within the same country have obliged experts in International Humanitarian Law to redefine the concept of civil war. In reports carried out by the International Red Cross, when they analyse conflicts such as those affecting the afore-mentioned African countries, the term “internationalised armed conflict” is used.

In this line of analysis there is an article titled “Towards a unique definition of armed conflict in humanitarian international law: A criticism of internationalised armed conflicts” by James G. Stewart, qualified in humanitarian international law, lawyer and attorney of the Supreme Court of New Zealand . Whilst this author refers to the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an internationalised armed conflict, the ex-Yugoslavia is most representative of this kind of conflict.

This line of analysis, i.e. studying internationalised armed conflicts in all their dimensions, can also be found in the work of Cuban experts, belonging to the Study Centre for Africa and the Middle East, concerning Sub-Saharan Africa. The results of their studies have been published in the magazine RAMO and the digital bulletin CEAMONITOR, and describe the concept they have elaborated of interconnected armed conflict with a view to understanding the complexity of the wars affecting the region.

This concept stems from a holistic approach to the causes of war and acknowledges that whilst the interference of external actors can be analysed as a catalyst to internal conflicts, for these to come about, they need the existence of a whole set of objective conditions ranging from the uneven distribution of power, economic interests associated with post-independence states and an uneven appropriation of natural resources. For this reason, in their conceptual assessments, the investigators of CEAMO shun the terms “coltan war” for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or “diamond war” for Sierra Leone. They do, however, acknowledge the control of resources as one of the factors which have stimulated the destabilising presence of external actors.

At the present time, and bearing in mind the international interconnection of actors present in the conflicts of Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, there is also an interconnection of international agendas to resolve them. However, these agendas do not address the essence of the problem, only its external manifestations; they simply advocate pacification, disarmament of the belligerent elements and their subsequent political normalisation. The real causes of these wars, which lie in the underdevelopment of large majorities, find no solution in these complicated post-conflict agendas, which do however contemplate the overpowering presence of foreign troops, which in lieu of reconstructing these war zones become a new destabilising factor.

The true solution to the current conflicts should be the end of inequality and the adoption of an international order where cooperation towards development prevails , rather than wars of conquest and militarization.

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Source: CEAMOnitor Vol. 6 Nº 6 -Breves comentarios sobre la denominación de “conflictos armados internacionalizados”

Original article published on 14 October 2009

About the author

Christine Lewis Carroll is a member of Rebelión. Machetera is a member  of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, translator and editor are cited.

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