Master thesis

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Theory of War

In spite of the fact that examining the causes of interstate wars does not provide an all-encompassing theoretical framework for the situation in Colombia, where an internal conflict continues to have an impact on the development of the country, the general causes of war do reflect on intrastate wars and will, therefore, help create a complete overview of theory relevant to the topic. The following theory explains the various factors that, in certain combinations, cause the initiation of war. As a result, the theory is applicable to the case of internal conflict in Colombia. Theory of War is not widely examined, therefore, the work of Hidemi Suganami will be scrutinized in this theoretical discussion, as he researched the various causes of war extensively.

Historically, war has not always been regarded an issue requiring immediate research with regards to its causes. It was only after World War I that the general image of warfare turned more negative, around the same period of time when the field of IR became an area of academic study. Most nations are commonly not at war, it is, however, “[…] the intensely negative and often long-lasting consequences of war in the contemporary world that sustains our interest in the search for its causes” (Suganami, 2012: 190). In spite of the continuous research into the causes of war, there is not a unified answer to be found. This is due to the fact that resorting to war is based on human decisions, and these decisions differ in different situations. Therefore, war is not believed to have a singular cause, but rather a set of factors that, combined, may or may not cause war. These factors, some more common than others, are known as war’s contributory causes. Furthermore, there is the possibility that one or more of these factors are more than contributory, and are, in fact, essential in order for war to originate. These factors, in case they can be identified, would be known as war’s necessary causes. In spite of these various causes of war, there is one cause that cannot be ruled out under any circumstances, and this is “[…] that given state sovereignty and/or the selfish and aggressive nature of human beings war is bound to happen […]” (ibid).

It is often suggested that any independent sovereign state6 has the right to start a war at any given point in time. However, being an independent state7 and wanting to start a war are two factors not inherently connected – anymore. Historically, the freedom to start a war at will was part of state sovereignty, at least until World War I. Nowadays, the freedom to fight opponents is constrained and depending on both international law and the United Nations (UN). Nevertheless, the general image with regards to sovereign states and their right to warfare remains different from the image of a province and its right to commence a war. “Under what circumstances we consider it to be the sovereign state’s function to resort to force will depend on what theories of international politics we subscribe to” (ibid: 191). Examples of these theories are “[…] Martin Ceadel’s (1987) five types of thinking about peace and war: militarism, crusading, defencism, pacificism and pacifism [and] Martin Wight’s (1991) traditions of international theory – realism, rationalism, revolutionism and inverted revolutionism […]” (ibid), which are similar. Both ‘pacifism’ and ‘inverted revolutionism’ see absolutely no circumstances to justify warfare, while, on the other hand, both ‘militarism’ and extreme ‘realism’ glorify war. Furthermore, both ‘crusading’ and ‘revolutionism’ believe in the justification of war as a way to bring revolutionary transformations to the world. Finally, ‘pacificism’ and ‘defencism’ are similar to ‘rationalism’ and moderate ‘realism’, which see war as a justifiable means of maintaining international order and protecting national interests (ibid). ‘Revolutionism’ and ‘crusading’ can be regarded as the theories explaining the justification of war in the situation of Colombia.

Over the past century, the freedom of states to resort to war has already diminished considerably. Still, the preventive wars initiated by the US after September 11 illustrate that sovereign states are able to instigate war if they wish so, just as sovereign states are not the only violent challenges that exist, which is demonstrated by independent organizations such as the FARC-EP. Furthermore, there are wars within sovereign states, for example the conflicts between rebel groups and the government forces. The characteristic of war is that it is fought between organized groups, it is never a fight between individuals, but a clash of societies8. Yet, “[c]onflict between societies requires an ability and inclination to form social groups, each with a requisite degree of solidarity to make it possible for its members to fight for their respective groups” (ibid: 192). War is not only a matter of fighting, it is also a matter of social groups distinguishing themselves from other groups. War, therefore, derives from the incapability of human beings to live in a society with deep divisions.

Bargaining Theory of War

During past research in the study area of IR with a focus on conflict, such as the Theory of War, scholars attempted to define the factors that caused the government, individuals and systems to start a conflict. A more recent approach, known as the BTW, “[…] explains violence as the product of private information9 with incentives to misrepresent, problems of credible commitment, and issue indivisibilities […]” (Lake: 81). This approach to a theory focusing on conflict results in the belief that a failure in bargaining disputes ultimately leads to both sides of the conflict being worse off than they would have been, had they bargained efficiently. After all, it is always beneficial to both parties to negotiate where possible, as the costs of a conflict and war are excessive. In short, “[t]he bargaining model sees the essence of conflict, violent or otherwise, as disagreement over resource allocation and/or policy choice” (Reiter, 2003: 28).

The first common reason for bargaining to fail is parties possessing “[…] private information with incentives to misrepresent” (Lake: 82). If a party has certain knowledge that is not available to other actors, this is known as private information. However, in order for bargaining to fail and the eventual beginning of a war, “[…] an actor10 must also have some incentive not to reveal its private information since doing so would otherwise allow a mutually preferred bargain to be reached and the costs of war to be avoided” (ibid). War plans are common to be misrepresented, especially since they lose their value after being known to the opposing party. Therefore, negotiations are more likely to fail in a case where both actors have little incentive to expose their strategies because they expect a favorable outcome for themselves as a result of their strategy. A second reason for wars to occur is the lack of credibility that one actor has in respect of the other actor fulfilling its terms as discussed in the bargain. When a bargain is reached but parties cannot put faith in the other party’s future behavior with respect to the agreements made, this can result in war. Yet even when bargains are made at a time where both parties are considered credible, these commitments are not assured to last eternally, as uneven growth rates of the actors may result in incredibility. Third, bargaining may not be possible at all, when the issue under dispute is unable to be divided equally or at all between the parties. The indivisibility of an issue may lead to the parties having great difficulties in reaching a solution that is acceptable for both actors. Compromising may be even more difficult for some actors when the issue is strongly related to loyalty to the state (ibid: 83). The BTW has been used as a theoretical framework for various research programs, as the theory proves to be very useful in understanding the causes of war or, in the case of Colombia, internal conflict.

Anarchy11 can be regarded as essentially irrelevant, when looking at the strong similarities between failures in bargaining in different situations, as well as the equal amount of strikes and strategies that take place in both hierarchic states and situations of war and internal conflict. It is often assumed that anarchy influences domestic violence, and when several situations of domestic conflicts occurred during the early 1990s, many IR scholars believed that theories of interstate war were automatically applicable to these internal conflicts. Although there is some truth in this belief, it would be equally true to believe that “[…] the conditions for stability and effective bargaining in divided societies tells us just as much, if not more, about anarchy and international politics […]” (ibid: 84). Furthermore, although some states had to deal with anarchy followed by domestic violence, there are other examples of states that suffer from internal conflicts but are still effective functioning states. Therefore, “[t]here is no simple correlation between failed states12 and domestic violence” (ibid), as anarchy is not a necessity for domestic violence to take place.

Internal violence can be either a cause or a consequence of the breakdown of a state into anarchy, and whether authority unravels or reinforces depends on groups deciding to accept or reject the state’s hierarchy. Anarchy is considered to be endogenous, and although this was overlooked for a long time in IR theory, civil war now forces scholars to see this fact for a new and more complete view on politics and IR theories. Analytically speaking, “[…] the endogenous nature of anarchy implies that the common and often-prized distinction between IR (the realm of anarchy) and comparative politics (the realm of hierarchy) evaporates, at least when we try to understand internal conflict” (ibid: 85). Different groups can, at any given time, reject the hierarchy in a state by means of violence. Therefore, there is no actual difference between hierarchy and anarchy in a state, as a system is only able to exist through support of other parties. Just as hierarchy can be challenged by groups within a state, the existence of these groups is challenged by the state. “[…] [T]he anticipation of its destruction can cause groups to turn to self-defense to protect themselves” and, therefore, “[…] underneath every hierarchical façade [lies] the potential for internal conflict” (ibid).

In the light of this approach to the influence of anarchy, IR theories provide new concepts with regards to the study of internal conflict. An example of this is the security dilemma, which is one of the most important concepts in IR theory in terms of the study of internal conflict. While the security dilemma is usually regarded as “[…] an inherent feature of anarchy in which the efforts of one side to improve its security must necessarily threaten others, who respond in return, precipitating a cycle of escalation and potential violence” (ibid), in the case of internal conflict the security dilemma and its consequences appear prior to the emergence of anarchy, and may even be one of the causes for the state to fail. Instead of the security dilemma being a logical result of anarchy, in the situation of internal conflict combined with the BTW, it turns out that the problem is a result of “[…] a problem of asymmetric information coupled with a problem of credible commitment” (ibid). Each party is concerned about the preferences of the other party and, therefore, collects more arms than necessary in order to be prepared in case the bargaining attempts fail. It can be concluded that “[…] the security dilemma is neither unique to anarchy, since bargaining failures occur in many realms, nor inherent in IR, since there are mechanisms for mitigating bargaining failures even in the absence of a third-party enforcer” (ibid). It is difficult to determine whether the dangerous combination of private information and incredibility arises. As was confirmed that the difference between hierarchy and anarchy is irrelevant to the situation, the conditions from which violence between and within states arises may not vary significantly.

The most considerable weakness in the BTW is the role of “bad men”, for example the leaders that do not fear, and sometimes even desire, war. In the case of a conflict between two parties of which one is not afraid to run an elevated risk of commencing a war, the conditions for warfare as mentioned in the BTW are not sufficient to explain violence. The violent conflicts deriving from such a desire for war are difficult to reconcile by means of bargaining. The influence of these leaders is paralleled by “[…] the problem of “extremists”13 in internal conflicts who often appear to desire violence for its own sake or who possess aspirations that cannot be satisfied through bargaining, and, therefore, resort to violence” (ibid: 86). Although the influence of these war loving leaders is undoubtedly trivial, they are not solely able to lead an entire nation to war. They do not possess full control over the state. Ultimately, they have to be supported by a group or society, which allows them to take part in a costly conflict and use violence in the pursuit of their goals. Extremist leaders often seem to use violence towards other states and any opponents of their regime, however, at first this violence is only meant “[…] to alter the perceptions of moderates and shift their support to the extremists” (ibid) while the group is still bargaining for their demands.

Extremists have political preferences that are not commonly shared with the general public, therefore, they usually do not start their mission with a great support system. They are separated from the majority, and as a result from their alienation and political weakness their strategy is to provoke foreign threats, seeking to expand their support system by “[…] [heightening] fears within their own communities and thereby [driving] moderates into their arms for protection” (ibid). The following quote illustrates the aim of extremists with respect to violence:

“Extremists use violence not so much against the other side – although that may be a not undesired consequence – but to mobilize political power for their own purposes. Their ambition is to shift the balance of power in their favor and, over time, to shift the bargaining range closer to their ideals. By running a greater risk of war or even fighting a war, extremists seek to build support for their cause. Just as leaders facing a difficult election or domestic crisis can resort to violence abroad, extremist leaders who lack broad domestic support can provoke ethnic violence and exacerbate threats to build group solidarity” (ibid: 87).

Of course, the success of such a strategy depends solely on the response of both opponents and moderates. Firstly, a strong defensive reaction of the opponents would confirm the suggested hostility of the other, which could lead moderates to tend towards believing the extremists. On the other hand, “[a] modest or moderate response from the target may well reveal the extremist as a demagogue or provocateur” (ibid). However, during critical times, even the slightest change in the beliefs of moderates can cause them to follow the extremist into war. When in doubt about the true intentions of the opponent, the moderates could feel that supporting the extremist is ultimately in their best interest, as this group promises to protect them. Moderates do not want to feel vulnerable, and “[b]y playing on these fears, war lovers who lack broad support may threaten or use violence to drive frightened moderates into their arms and thereby create new supporters” (ibid). Furthermore, violence can be used by extremists to obtain more power at a later point in time, by creating a wider range of bargaining space for the future.

Ultimately, it can be concluded that IR theories and the study of internal conflict can add to each other’s research, as insights into the matter of domestic violence in a country are found at the interstice between the two areas of study. The BTW can be related to other theories of war, as “[…] the bargaining model is not necessarily a competitor with many leading theories, but rather these theories can be connected with the bargaining model” (Reiter: 33). Furthermore, the BTW can be related to a situation of internal conflict such as the one in Colombia, as although “[…] differences between interstate and intrastate war may be found and recognized as important” (Lake: 88), different types of violence ultimately are not profoundly distinct from each other. The theories presented in this chapter supplement each other with respect to the topic, thereby providing a useful and compatible combination building a strong theoretical framework for this thesis. Each theory provides a useful insight into the situation in Colombia, whereas the combination of theories sheds light on the complex nature of the internal conflict.

This chapter presents an overview of the historical development of economic policies in Colombia, mainly during the 1990s, in order to provide relevant background information which allows for a deeper understanding of the arguments put forward in the analysis. Furthermore, the existing situation and current developments with regards to the Colombian economic progress will be discussed. Moreover, a summary of the origins and development of the FARC-EP, as well as an overview of relevant current developments related to the insurgency, is presented in order to be able to fully grasp the situation in Colombia and understand the way the country and its socio-economic development are affected by the largest guerilla movement in Latin America. The information presented in this chapter provides a solid basis for the further analysis of the topic in this thesis.

Overview of the historical economic development of Colombia

The Colombian government has always supported export in its policies, due to the historically high influence of the coffee sector. Coffee was the reason the Colombian economy was able to enter the world market, and due to the popularity of the product in the US, Colombia was able to finance its infrastructural improvements. Over time, Colombia was able to diversify its economy, which decreased the relative importance of coffee to the country’s total export. During La Violencia14, the Colombian economy suffered from high inflation rates and moderate economic growth. Similarly, the government implemented import-substitution policies as well as a fixed exchange rate during this time. With the emergence of the FARC-EP, occurring around the same period of time, the Colombian socio-economic development started to be impacted by the actions and demands of the insurgency, as it continued to expand its support from the Colombian people. An explanation for the Colombian people supporting an insurgency such as the FARC-EP can be found in Marxist economic theory, describing the fact that inequality in society can lead to a revolutionary struggle.

A few decades later, the liberalization program apertura that was introduced by the Colombian government in 1990 entailed not only tariff related policies, but also financial liberalization in the form of allowing free foreign exchange. The neo-liberal economic policies were against the Marxist economic ideology as put forward by the FARC-EP. Although the political and economic goals of the FARC-EP are not entirely clear, “[t]he FARC’s stated aim is to overthrow the Colombian state and replace it with a Marxist-style government” (Coha). The economic changes for Colombia that are advocated by the leaders of the FARC-EP include the reform of land combined with other measures aimed to benefit the poor. Other demands consist of “[…] an opening of the political process, the halt of neoliberal reforms that hurt the poor, and an end to U.S. intervention in Colombian affairs” (ibid). However, the Colombian government chose to follow neo-liberal economic policies, and in order “[t]o make Colombia more attractive to foreign investment, restrictions on direct foreign investment were reduced, and labor laws were rewritten to provide for increased flexibility in hiring and firing” (Holmes, Gutiérrez de Piñeres & Curtin: 42). In spite of continuous economic growth, Colombia still suffered an economic slowdown. Therefore, the apertura program was implemented during the 1990s. The program consisted of a range of political and economic reforms, aimed to liberalize the economy and thereby expand economic growth.

Apertura was set up according to the neo-liberal economic guidelines and included the promotion of export as well as the reducing of import tariffs in order to force the local industry to become more competitive. The plan was set in place to be executed over a period of four to five years, however, “[…] imports fell and foreign capital inflows increased faster than expected […]” (ibid: 43), which resulted in an acceleration of the process in order to control inflation. Ultimately, the rising inflation and capital inflows led to a trade deficit caused by the strong growth in import, not followed by a matching growth in export. The influence of the economic policies that were implemented during this time was still noticeable years later, however, they also continue to add to economic problems Colombia currently faces. Deriving from the apertura policies, there was a strong increase of capital inflow, partly due to the possibilities provided to repatriate illegal profits through Law 915. Therefore, illegal revenues could be brought into the legal economy easily, leading to enormous inflows of money into the Colombian central bank. In order to reduce the influence of this large amount of capital entering the economy and to prevent strong inflation, the central bank decided to implement sterilization policies. The Colombian peso appreciated by more than 20 percent between 1992 and 1998, which severely hurt both export and the industries in import substitution sectors. Products became much cheaper due to the appreciated peso, and because the Colombian industry experienced difficulties in dealing with the influence of globalization, the economy was affected. Ultimately, this fact caused greater inequality in the Colombian society, thereby allowing the FARC-EP to continue its struggle.

The political reforms that were implemented around the same period in time brought success to Colombia in terms of international credibility and peace negotiations, however, their influence caused problems for the Colombian economy in the long term. This is due to the fact that the government, during its reforms, made promises of providing social services without regarding the implementation or funding for these services. Ultimately, large parts of the population continued to suffer from poor socio-economic circumstances, mostly as a result of the internal conflict. Furthermore, the new policies aimed at liberalization of trade, as is explained through the implementation of neo-liberalism. This resulted in an industry that focused more on capital than on labor, and many people became unemployed. The industry was not able to cope with changes in the Colombian and global political and economic environment and an economic crisis occurred in 1998. The turning point for the Colombian economy came in 1999, when “[…] unemployment was at its highest, while per capita GDP and the growth rate of GDP were at their lowest” (ibid: 44). Rising unemployment rates were partly caused by the relatively expensive labor in Colombia, as a result of wages being above the state equilibrium. Instead of overpaying employees, the industry then tends to bring in more capital instead of labor. However, in order to lower the unemployment rates, lowering salaries should be accompanied by adaptations to the complex rules of labor legislation. While the government attempted to change the labor-market legislation by making hiring and firing more flexible, other factors influenced the industry and, therefore, unemployment did not decrease. The political reforms of the early 1990s initiated a shift in the Colombian economy to a capital-intensive industry, with less focus on labor participation.

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