Useful Enemies

Useful Enemies: When Waging Wars Is More Important Than Winning Them

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Useful Enemies
    Book Description:

    There are currently between twenty and thirty civil wars worldwide, while at a global level the Cold War has been succeeded by a "war on drugs" and a "war on terror" that continues to rage a decade after 9/11. Why is this, when we know how destructive war is in both human and economic terms? Why do the efforts of aid organizations and international diplomats founder so often?

    In this important book David Keen investigates why conflicts are so prevalent and so intractable, even when one side has much greater military resources. Could it be that endemic disorder and a "state of emergency" are more useful than bringing conflict to a close? Keen asks who benefits from wars--whether economically, politically, or psychologically-and argues that in order to bring them successfully to an end we need to understand the complex vested interests on all sides.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18371-9
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In 1995, at one of the peaks in Sierra Leone’s civil war, a young man from Kailahun district in eastern Sierra Leone told me what had happened when five armed rebels entered his village:

    My younger brother was wearing a shoe boot, so they said he was a soldier. I denied it. So the armed men said we were trying to hide the government troops. I told them my brother was not a soldier. So they said I was covering for a government soldier, and in due course they will kill me. But I begged for mercy, so they never...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Resource Wars
    (pp. 11-32)

    It was the summer of 1995 and, in a rather unaccustomed act of semi-bravery, I had decided to take a small propeller plane from the capital Freetown to Sierra Leone’s second city of Bo, which was itself relatively secure but was also surrounded by ferocious fighters. We soared over the leonine mountains from which Sierra Leone takes its name, and I looked down at the forests and roads below. Although nervous of flying, I find that the prospect of roadblocks ‘manned’ by drugged-out and machine-gun wielding children makes for excellent therapy.

    Soon the young man next to me was introducing...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Aiding Resource Wars?
    (pp. 33-44)

    We can see, then, that economic goals have been important in many wars. In some ways, this might seem to accord with Paul Collier’s emphasis on ‘rebel greed’ as the key driver of civil wars. But what has routinely been ignored within the international community (and in Collier’s influential work) is the role of greed within the counterinsurgency.¹ The dangers in fuelling regime abuse through inappropriate aid policies (including those aimed at ‘winning hearts and minds’) have been similarly downplayed. A further blind spot centres on the continuing importance of grievances — not least in fuelling the greed of rebels...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Vietnam: Useful Enemies and Useless Allies
    (pp. 45-63)

    I recently came across a book published in 1968 and now largely forgotten. The author noted:

    After twenty years of fighting, war has become a way of life for the leadership of the ARVN [South Vietnamese army]. They are in no hurry to pursue the enemy, for from their point of view the goal is not to defeat the enemy, but to maintain their position, receive promotions, and enhance their personal fortunes. Combat, at best, is an extra-curricular activity to be engaged in as a last resort.¹

    It sounds like the work of a radical researcher or journalist. ButThe...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Afghanistan
    (pp. 64-91)

    The defeat of the Taliban was announced in 2001. But as British administrator and ethnographer Sir Olaf Caroe warned, back in 1958, ‘Afghan wars become serious only when they are over.’¹ After the Taliban government was ousted, the Russian general staff lost no time in pointing out (from their own bitter experience in the 1980s) that entry should not be confused with victory.² Yet gaining control of major cities in 2001 was repeatedly, and mistakenly, equated with winning the war — a ‘victory’ that left international forces in control of Kabul and surrounding areas, but had most of the ‘defeated’...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Political Functions of War
    (pp. 92-115)

    The model of ‘war as a contest’ tends to blind us not just to the economic functions of war, but also to its political functions. These political functions have been important — and often overlooked — in countless wars, whether they directly involve Western powers or not. While there are frequently significant reasons to want to win a war (for example, idealism, self-defence, prestige, promotions, electoral pay-offs), very often it is war itself — rather than winning — that is most useful. A state of war may be helpful for building a political constituency and for suppressing dissent.

    Within the...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Wars within Wars
    (pp. 116-137)

    While war is generally seen as a contest between two sides, it may sometimes more usefully be seen as an ‘enabling environment’ for diverse local conflicts. This applies to both civil wars and ‘global wars’, like the Cold War and the ‘war on terror’.

    Well before Sierra Leone’s civil war, there had been a long-running dispute between ruling families in Kailahun district in the east, a dispute that centred on chieftaincy positions.¹ A Methodist minister who was working in Kailahun at the time of the rebel incursion told me that chiefs appointed by the ruling party became a particular target...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Politics of Permanent Emergency¹
    (pp. 138-170)

    Vavuniya, northern Sri Lanka, April 2009: At a camp for Tamils who had just endured horrific violence further north, government soldiers were very reluctant to let us talk to the new arrivals. If any of our group of visitors showed any sign of departing from the official ‘tour’, a soldier would immediately peel off to accompany him or her, effectively deterring any contact with the displaced people. In these constrained circumstances, one option was to talk to the soldiers themselves. While that, too, was discouraged, I did have a short but interesting conversation with a young government soldier.

    ‘Now that...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Case Study of a Permanent Emergency: The United States
    (pp. 171-194)

    For those in the academic field of ‘development studies’ (like myself), the search for ‘case studies’ normally takes us to Africa, Asia or Latin America – and several examples of ‘permanent emergencies’ on these continents have been noted. At the same time, the reassuring ‘otherness’ of these ‘faraway’ crises can easily reinforce some potentially damaging blind spots closer to home. The current chapter tries to avoid this pitfall by looking at a different case study of ‘permanent emergency’: the United States.

    We are invited to believe that the machinery of war is a mere instrument, to be deployed selectively when...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Shame and the Psychological Functions of Violence
    (pp. 195-234)

    We have seen how the economic and political functions of war produce powerful interests in the continuation of war. These functions help to explain the prevalence of militarily counterproductive tactics. And they help to explain why post-war violence is so common. But several puzzles remain.

    For one thing, the extremity of violence in conflicts – and the evident anger – is not easily explained by some kind of calm and rational calculation of self-interest. Secondly, many of the participants in war and in post-war violence derive remarkably little benefit from it (as we saw in Sierra Leone) – another problem...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 235-247)

    What is war? What functions does it serve? Who benefits? This book has tried to challenge the traditional and ‘common sense’ model of war as a contest between two (or more) ‘sides’ aiming to win. It has examined the variety of functions (economic, political, psychological) that are served by wartime strategies that have very little to do with winning (and very often make victory less likely). And it has looked at the functions of exactly this idea that warisa contest to win, an image of war that has all too often lent spurious legitimacy to some very murky...

  15. Endnotes
    (pp. 248-275)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 276-298)
  17. Index
    (pp. 299-312)