• Traditional definitions of warfare refer to open, armed and often prolonged conflict involving organized violence between nations, states, or parties for political motives.

  • Recent definitions, sensitive to pluralization of actors and displacement of violence, refer to an act of force by a nation-state crime organization, terror group, drug cartel, revolutionary group, or coalition of states to compel an enemy to do one's will, accept a specific ideology, or prevent or allow unfettered criminal activity.

  • The legitimization of violence in newer wars is less state-centric, effected in part by the blurring boundaries between inter- and intra-state relations, pre-emptive and preventive warfare, mass murder and genocide, humanitarian intervention and global policing, guerilla warfare and terrorism, military combatant and civilian.

  • Causes of warfare have also increasingly shifted from geo-political expansion, militaristic nationalism, and ideological concerns to conflicts over identity and resources.

WARFARE: Most traditional definitions of warfare refer to open, armed and often prolonged conflict involving organized violence between nations, states, or parties for political motives. However, these definitions neglect contemporary changes effected by globalization, terrorism, and advances in military and communications technology that lead to a pluralization of combatants, a displacement of violence, and an increased targeting of civilians.

The pluralization of actors is evident in Major Michael Forsyth's definition ( Military Review, July/Aug 2004 ) as "an act of force by a nation-state crime organization, terror group, drug cartel, revolutionary group, or coalition of states to compel an enemy to do one's will, accept a specific ideology, or prevent or allow unfettered criminal activity." The displacement of violence can be noted in the identification of conflicts rooted in ideas, images and language that are being waged as part of America 's "war on global terror."

Most striking has been the inversion - some might say perversion - of the traditional definitions of modern war provided by Carl von Clauswitz ( On War, 1873) as "an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will," and as "not a mere act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means." The French social critic Michel Foucault uses archival and other neglected texts to reassert the older thesis that politics has been, and continues to be, war by other means. Mary Kaldor similarly traces the return of theological and religious legitimations of war as a repudiation of Clausewitz's efforts to secularize and rationalize warfare as an instrument of state policy. This new critical reinterpretation of warfare provide new insights for understanding late modern conflicts between blocs, (failed) states, networked transnational organizations and other deterritorialized networks of political and economic power.

The traditional state-centric definition of war is focused primarily on the political, emphasizing an increasing need for rational organization and scientific doctrine to manage these large conglomerations of force while neglecting social components, the importance of which grows in proportion with wartime civilian casualty rates. Clausewitz' experience in the Napoleonic Wars taught him that the social level of war was manifested in the mobilization and organization of individual men for the purposes of inflicting physical violence. His second and third levels of war, (second: army and generals, third: the people) were strictly divided in logic and function. Over a century later, historian and war exponent Michael Howard would blur the distinction between army and people characterizing war with "violence: organized, armed violence on the part of large groups of people." However, despite this newfound ambiguity, the legitimization of wartime violence remained state-centric.

The 19th and 20th centuries brought a new cyclical logic of legitimization. Standing armies comprised of personnel licensed and controlled by the sovereign state served to further monopolize legitimate violence. The state acquired a monopoly on war, argues Kaldor. State interest became a legitimate justification for war, supplanting concepts of justice inherent in jus ad bellum in the sense that once it had become the dominant legitimization of war, claims of just cause by non-state actors could no longer be pursued through violent means. It was arguably not until 1977, when the additional protocol II to the Geneva Conventions set out to expand the provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions to non-international conflicts, that violence on the part of armed forces and dissident armed forces or other organized armed groups was legitimized. However despite these extensions of international law, today there exists no international legislation sanctioning violence by international non-state groups allowing, for example, for attackers of military targets in Iraq to be treated as terrorists rather than prisoners of war.

Just war theory today is further complicated by the blurring boundaries between inter- and intra-state relations, pre-emptive and preventive warfare, mass murder and genocide, humanitarian intervention and global policing, guerilla warfare and terrorism, military combatant and civilian. Despite these confusing signatures of so-called postmodern warfare, organized non-nuclear war remains a socially and politically acceptable instrument of state policy.

The causes of warfare have also increasingly shifted from geo-political expansion, militaristic nationalism, and ideological concerns to conflicts over identity and resources. Identity politics, in the form of voluntary or involuntary pretensions to label others - based on historical distortions and dehumanizing pseudo-biological claims - are commonly regarded as causes of wars in Bosnia , Rwanda and Sudan . Resource conflicts, usually over water, oil, diamonds, timbre, or various agricultural products are considered to be responsible for the public uprising over water prices in Bolivia , turf wars between rival gangs over oil theft operations in Nigeria and mounting social tensions in water-stressed regions in North China and Africa .

Since 1945, few wars have been fought between sovereign states. The few examples including India and Pakistan , Greece and Turkey , Israel and the Arab states (but excluding the Iran-Iraq war) were generally restrained by superpower intervention. In fact, the majority of late 20th century wars have either involved blocs of nation states (Cold War) or nations and groups fighting for self-determination (British-Malaya War, French-Algerian War, Russia-Chechnya, Israel-Palestine), genocides or civil wars fought between ethnic (Central Asia), racial and tribal (Africa), or religious (Middle East or South Asia) groups-indicating an erosion of state control over centralized military or militaristic force. The emergence of new transnational actors in 21st century warfare demonstrates the pluralization of powers that may fight order to acquire, enhance or preserve their capacity to function as independent actors in the international system.