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What Does It Mean When A Country Is In A State Of War?

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War is defined as a state of armed conflict between different countries or different groups within a  country. It can also mean a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations. It is a  situation in which there is strong competition between opposing sides or a great fight against something harmful. Our ancestors never had the luxury of going into the theoretical aspects of war and study it to plan well. But today we can do that owing to the huge amount of literature available to use over these years.

In this article, I try to theorise the subject and study one aspect of it i.e. ‘Types of war’. This is not a scholarly write-up but a sincere attempt to analyse & understand 1 aspect of the war in its entirety and develop the idea further. Thus, when we seek to categorise wars we make a distinction between ‘total’ wars and  ‘limited’ wars. The basis of this categorisation is the position of the two super-powers: the USA and the USSR in the 20th century.

A total war involves attacks on the homelands of the two superpowers. It was total because there was no limitation placed on either the objectives of war or the means used to conduct it. A limited war on the other hand was a conflict in which the two superpowers were not involved directly in the conflict. The war was limited both in the objectives of the war and the means used to fight it.

War is defined as a state of armed conflict between different countries or different groups within a  country. Representational image only.

The second level of the discussion focuses on an entirely new pattern of warfare that has emerged after the 1970s. This warfare is within the broad ambit of ‘internal security’ and covers such types of wars like revolutionary wars, civil wars, insurgency, and the modern era asymmetric warfare of and on terrorism. Herein   I discuss the  5 most well-known types of wars:-

What are the types of wars?

1)Absolute War

Clausewitz ( a famous theorist )says, that war is a natural part of human life, but he begins to digress from reality into a state of fantasy, which considers the existence of absolute, or ideal, warfare.’  In terms of absolute war, Clausewitz discusses three characteristics that make it unique. First, the utmost use of force is necessary. Second, the aim is to disarm the enemy. Lastly, absolute war calls for the utmost exertion of powers. However, absolute war only exists in the abstract. Reality prohibits an entirely absolute war from happening because the political will always enter the realm of war, even in its conclusion.

Real war differs from absolute war because of what Clausewitz calls ‘friction’ or sometimes a ‘resistant’ or ‘non‐conducting medium’:- it slows down war due to – lack of intelligence, poor logistics,  indiscipline, difficult terrain, bad luck etc. Clausewitz says that the most important characteristic of a commander is a ‘heroic decision based on reason’.  Most new wars are un-heroic since they attack civilians and/or often involve long-distance use of artillery or airstrikes. And as I believe, they are indecisive and unreasonable (though not necessarily irrational).

2)Total War

“Limited war” is often defined in relation to  “total war” and its various dysfunctional brethren such as “general war” and “major war.” First, all the wars in which the United States has been involved since  1945 have been branded limited wars — regardless of whether or not the term accurately depicts the nature of the conflict. In Vietnam, the United States fought for a limited political objective, but the North Vietnamese pursued an unlimited political objective against South Vietnam.

In the Gulf War, the United States pursued a limited objective but wavered on this at the end with calls for regime change. In Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 the United States pursued regime change and thus unlimited political objectives. But once new governments were formed, the United States fought to preserve these and thus its political objectives became limited in these respective nations. One of the most important characteristics of the USA’s limited war was the factor of surprise since its achievement could make a material difference to the outcome of the war.

Representative image only.

To brand these conflicts as “limited wars” is simplistic. Second, the problem of not understanding the nature of the war is directly related to how we currently define — or more accurately — fail to define limited war. Third, writers on limited war, as well as on the experience of the Cold War itself, taught in modern liberal states that victory should not be pursued because its achievement was actually bad.

To purposefully fight a war one must — at a minimum — know why one is fighting, what they hope to achieve, understand the enemy, know what victory looks like, and chart a sensible path for getting there. Interestingly soldiers sent to fight wars are the ones least interested in it. They have no stakes involved and keep fighting on orders of their politicians. If this factor is considered before waging wars I hope that then-new all-inclusive definitions of the term limited war can then be created.

3) Unconventional Wars

The character of war has changed. Technological advancements and operational approaches have changed the face of warfare. Conventionally, Western militaries have created a sufficient deterrence built on their overwhelming advantages in firepower, technology, tactics, and effective training. However, unconventional warfare has become the method of choice to mitigate the technological military advantages of the United States and its allies. After World War II, a nuclear standoff constrained the use of conventional warfare by major powers.

They propped up weak regimes and empowered rebel groups to act as proxies conducting irregular warfare on behalf of the patron state. This involved training, equipping and funding non-state actors to overthrow or undermine governments. In rare cases, the major powers inserted specially trained soldiers to assist insurgent operations. This state-sponsored insurgency came to be known as unconventional warfare.

In response, the opposing polar power countered with training, equipping, and funding of counterinsurgency operations. The Cold War was only cold in the sense that the two major powers managed to avoid open and nuclear warfare. In future, traditional warfare methods will be limited where the aggressor has an extreme combat advantage and the probability of a major power intervention is low.

The West has obtained a credible conventional deterrent that only an idiot will challenge.  Adversaries will avoid traditional conflict. While each country has its own approach to unconventional warfare, they share several common characteristics. They leverage loopholes in traditional notions of warfare to gain advantages. They give primacy to psychological effects over physical destruction and combine military and non-military instruments.  Strategic communication takes a more dominant role, while military force takes a supporting role.

The preoccupation of Western militaries with creating advantages in conventional weapons succeeded in deterring the conventional use of force but leaves them under-prepared to deal with unconventional warfare strategies. An inability to counter U.S. military superiority has led China, Russia, Pakistan and major regional powers to employ unconventional warfare to achieve their national security objectives. Technological developments improved its reach and potential effectiveness. Within the limitations of a democratic system, countering unconventional warfare is going to be very problematic.

4) Civil war

There’s no perfect definition of this one. Even with a good abstract definition of civil war, the process of classifying which countries have experienced civil wars inevitably involves judgments based on a close reading of their history with large-scale violence. Not all countries share all dimensions in the definition of civil war. We define a civil war as a politically organized, large-scale, sustained, physically violent conflict that occurs within a country principally among large/numerically important groups of its inhabitants or citizens over the monopoly of physical force within the country.

Civil wars usually have incumbent governments that control the state and have a monopoly of force before the civil war starts and challengers initiate the outbreak of the civil war. The challengers may begin as a small group, but for the episode to rise to the level of a civil war, they must become numerically important. They replace the incumbents in control of the monopoly of force within the extant territory of the state, or they may seek the secession of part of the original territory. The achievement of their goals must be plausible.

Representative image only.

Civil wars must entail large-scale and sustained internal political violence to distinguish them from intense but limited episodes of political violence that contest the monopoly of force, such as political assassinations, mutinies, or coups. Civil war violence may involve external actors, but the violence occurs within the boundaries of a country and predominantly involves internal actors.

This last characteristic of my definition is perhaps the most problematic because almost all violence that is called a civil war has some external dimension.  So I always prefer a narrow definition and a broad analysis. A few famous examples are The American Civil War, The Spanish Civil War, The Russian Civil War, The Chinese Civil War and The Vietnam War.

5) Guerilla War

Guerrilla combat often involves surprise attacks such as ambushes and raids, or sabotage of a vulnerable target. Many times, guerrilla warriors are fighting in their homeland or they have the support of the local population. Therefore, guerrillas are usually familiar with the terrain and landscape, and they use this to their advantage in their attacks: the enemy has no idea what’s happening until the guerilla attack is underway. As they are usually fighting against a larger, more fortified but less mobile military or police unit, guerrillas move in quickly and keep their battles short. By surprising their enemy and then retreating almost immediately, they keep their foes from adequately defending themselves or staging a counter-attack.  The word guerrilla means “little war” in Spanish.  Surprisingly modern military forces also use this concept.


For eg the elite 10 PARA SF regiment of the Indian Army is a specialist in guerrilla warfare. It is inspired by the legendary Chhatrapati Shivaji’s mode of warfare that used small agile troops who moved swiftly in a covert manner and surprised the enemy inflicting heavy casualties.

Shivaji  Maharaj is also known as the “father of guerilla warfare in India”.  In 1645, Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj used this Guerrilla tactic. When 30000 Mughal soldiers were marching towards the Maratha kingdom, Shivaji with his 2000 army defeated the Mughals using the Guerrilla tactic. Soldiers were hidden all around the kingdom and targeted the Mughal soldiers who were in groups. Some killed soldiers, some of them destroyed weapons. This is how a small group of army won on a vast army.

Another unit called Special Frontier Force (SFF) is not only involved in repelling Chinese incursions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), but was also deployed during the Bangladesh Liberation War and Kargil War, and in anti-terror operations in Kashmir and Punjab, under different names. This covert unit, comprising Tibetan refugees led by Indian officers, came known to the public only recently after one of its commandos was martyred in a landmine explosion near flashpoint Pangong Tso. This type of war is increasingly becoming popular in militaries of powerful nations.


Human history has witnessed more than 2,500 wars in which millions of human beings have perished.  Interests today are hidden behind motives that are religious, geopolitical, in “defence” of human rights, etc.  At the same time, technological progress is leading to the production of increasingly devastating weapons that target the civil population more and more, justifying it as “collateral damage”.

In contemporary society, there are powerful social forces interested in wars, including the military-industrial complex, racist groups, radical nationalists and fundamentalists, organized crime, etc.  The arms trade continues to be one of the most lucrative export businesses for many countries, principally the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.  Everything has gone into crisis, except the arms trade which is permanently increasing year-on-year.

Despite attempts by various international bodies  (the UN among them), war and violence continue to be justified as part of a supposed “human nature”.  After discussing war and its types I finally conclude and sincerely hope that none of them actually ever occur and let this world be a peaceful place to live in for us and our future generations.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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