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.
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?
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).
“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.
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.
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.