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SEASON OF WITHER Conflicts after the Arab Spring

posted Oct 1, 2012, 7:32 AM by Plural CentroStudiEuropeo

Interview with Raffaele Crocco, creator and director of the Atlas of wars and Conflicts in the World

By Caterina Michelini

The Word is at war; of the 193 States member of United Nations one out of five is at war in this moment. The 90% of victims are civilians, in particular children and women; in addition to this data, also the artistic heritage and the environment suffered incalculable damages. The problem is precisely the forgetfulness of these conflicts. The Atlas of the Conflicts, nowadays at his third edition was created in order to fill the void of indifference: its aim is to recount the actual status of wars in the world. This important yearbook was created by the journalist, writer and documentarist Raffaele Crocco through the 46th Parallel Association, and the prestigious collaboration with the Ilaria Alpi Prize with the support of the New World Florence's editions. Talking about the possibility of a forthcoming cooperation about a new edition of the Atlas, we met Mr. Crocco nearby our offices in Florence.


In 1818 the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz, Napoleon’s enemy on the battlefield, but his supporter and admirer in the field of theoretical speculation on war, wrote his most famous work, the manual of military strategy On War, in which he claimed the theoretical  priority of politics on war, by defining war as the continuation of politics by other means. In particular, he stated: “Ordinarily you think that the war is to end the political intercourse, and that a state of things completely different takes over, governed only by its own laws. We maintain, on the contrary: that war is nothing but a continuation of political intercourse, with a mixture of other means. We say, mixed with other means, in order thereby to maintain at the same time that this political intercourse does not cease by the war itself, is not changed into something quite different, but that, in its essence, it continues to exist, whatever may be the form of the means which it uses”. And again “It is politics that has created war: politics is the guiding intelligence, while war is merely the instrument”. Do you think that the idea of politics as the intelligence of war and then the idea of war as a process in which politics does not cease, but rather it is maximally present also with different means, are outdated today or, on the contrary, these ideas still provide, after two centuries, a lucid analysis of the nature of the conflict and, by extension, of the war? Also in the case of the recent events in the southern shore of Mediterranean, do you think that politics stands as the intelligence of war, and if so, how?

 I think it is important to begin with an assumption: the world of von Clausewitz was completely different from the world today. And the immediate consequence thereof, is that the war is completely different as well. The Prussian general had been struck by the parable of Napoleon – even if he had fought against him – and he was a child of his times. He saw the war as a political expression of non-democratic states, which fought in order to conquer new territories and impose supremacy. To accomplish these objectives they used, for the first time, large masses of people, forced to follow the will of monarchies. This state of things has somehow gone on until the 1950s.
In that situation, with that premise, the continuation between the foreign politics of a state and war was almost natural, and, without doubt, the conflict came at the end of a "political" and of a “diplomatic” path. All this because the war was, essentially and exclusively, a matter between States. Today, this is no longer the case. The majority of conflicts is within the individual States, between factions contending the power. The clash between different countries, with large armies on the move, is extremely rare.
 Military units are often small and frequently they are just militias, not regular armies. In this logic, politics and war become non-prosecution, but only one thing, without differences. The exceptions are in the – quite numerous – conflicts that have seen as protagonists, on the one hand, large coalitions of countries, and on the other, individual States. I’m talking about the two Gulf Wars against Iraq, Afghanistan and Serbia in 1999. In these cases, a political principle has been established, in order to support and justify the intervention: the one of "humanitarian war". This is a new figure from the doctrinal point of view, a figure born at the beginning of the '90s and developed mainly by the great leaders of democratic countries, such as Clinton and Blair.


 The case of the Mediterranean uprisings is different: it was, after a long time, a movement from below, and without an ideological construction. To move millions of people in North Africa and the Arab World has been the desire to a better life, the search for a greater area of ​​freedom, the wish
to put an end to the privileges and wealth of a few. In this respect, it was something very similar to what happened in France in 1789.
 A moment of rupture. The question is what will happen now: revolutions have the need to create new leaders, and things do not always go as people want them to.


Clausewitz continues: “The conduct of war, in its great features, is therefore policy itself, which takes up the sword in place of the pen, but does not on that account cease to think according to its own laws”. In war, therefore, politics draws the sword, but the laws governing the conduct of war remain the laws of politics. In your Atlas of Wars and Conflicts in the World you underline the limits of the United Nations, defined helpless, maybe old, but to be defended, both in its tools and in its logic of intervention. In the Nineties, for example, both at operational level through the Blue Helmets, and at political level, the United Nations have become protagonists in a series of relevant failures. Do you think that, once again, the Clausewitzian image of the war as the politics with the sword, that acts according to its own laws is useful to explain, at least in part, these failures? Are these failures perhaps motivated by the need to preserve a system of alliances and economic and political balance among the most influential States, at least some, of the United Nations?

 The failure of the United Nations lies in the very nature of that organization. The Plenary Assembly, for example, is composed of 193 countries. Many of these are ruled by dictators who have little or nothing to do with respect for the inalienable human rights. It’s hard to imagine that the representatives of those governments can make decisions in line with the ideals of democracy and respect for individuals rights. A second problem is given by the Security Council, with its five permanent members - USA, Russia, China, France and England – that have the power to block any decision by putting a veto on it. These five countries have specific objectives, weave global alliances to safeguard their commercial interests, and are often in conflict between themselves. The result is a paralysis. A mechanism, therefore, that makes it impossible to act, and that sometimes also renders unnecessary the presence on the field of contingents of “blue helmets”, subject to shocking rules of engagement . However, the UN remain the best attempt that the international community has set up in its history to attempt to stop the wars, and to seek a better balance to the injustices. And at the basis of all this, there is an extraordinary document, the Declaration of Human Rights. You must always start from here in order to look for  answers to the conflicts on the planet.


 The Clausewitzian idea of politics as the logic of war can also be useful to explain a different type of conflict, the conflict linked to the environment. According to a report of Legambiente in 2007 there were about 80 million refugees did so as a result of desertification, floods, the effects of the global warming etc., and the UNHCR estimates that they will rise to 200-250 million by 2050. This kind of conflict appears to be a wear without weapons and without one of the two duelists. Who do you think is the ‘hidden’ player and what are its responsibility? Do you think that, once again, they are the political logic and the economic interests of some national players, of big corporations and of lobbies to produce this king of ‘atypical’ conflict? Do you think that the whole Mediterranean basin, northern and southern shores,  is and will be affected in the future by the ‘eco-refugees’ phenomenon? If so, how and what will be the long-term consequences?

Environment and climate issues are linked to conflicts, because those problems have the same nature. Whole chunks of Africa are currently being purchased by foreign governments - including Italy - or corporations that want to have arable land at their disposal. Last year, African farmers have lost the area equivalent to France, paid a trivial amount of money, moreover: less than one euro per hectare. The goal is that of meeting the growing demand for food in an impoverished planet for what concerns land - we lose an acre of arable land per minute due to the climate - and more and more populated. This means that the imbalance in the distribution of global resources and wealth, which will be always more concentrated, will increase,. The food, the land, will be the future, new reasons for war, along with the water supplies control. Actors are certainly the multinationals, but also the governments, and we are talking about absolutely democratic governments, elected by their peoples. A serious reflection about this topic should really be carried out.


 In this context, the Mediterranean has been for years a conflict and rupture zone. This is demonstrated by the phenomenon of migrations, with millions of people fleeing from Africa, because they have no land and food. Refugees waiting or traveling along the Mediterranean sea have become a reason of political conflict within countries, they have been exploited for election campaigns, they have become valuable goods – see the cases of Gaddafi’s Libya and Ben Ali’s Tunisia in their relations with Italy – to obtain foreign investments or weapons. Since at least two decades, we are being affected by this phenomenon, and the Mediterranean is changing its face and its balances also under the weight of this mass movement of desperate people, and of the governments’ political choices.