The Fourth World War

A woman drinks a cup of tea amid a destroyed building. The photo is black and white.
A woman drinks a cup of tea amid a destroyed building
Marcela Paz

When talking about militarism or demilitarisation, people immediately think of men in uniform, so when I say that I am anti-militarist, instinctively many people say: "but you’re a woman and you don’t have to do compulsory military service." True, but militarism is much more than military institutions or people in uniform. The military sphere has to do with the lifestyles that people adopt, their way of seeing the world, of understanding social relationships or how effective a society can be.

We assimilate military language in everyday life from many different quarters: through the commemoration of symbolic dates and the names of streets, squares, schools, etc. In short, militarism cuts across many aspects of life including those that could be thought of as being impervious to the military.1

Militarism has changed the way it acts to include areas that have not previously been considered military. Military institutions have responded to changes in society – including processes of individualisation, the "gender issue", job insecurity, economic and social vulnerability – increasing links with civil society, wage earners and the family.

This explains some of the reasons for women beginning to be integrated into the army, or into certain areas of power; each “step” taken generates lots of publicity in the press, on the radio and on television, expounding the idea that having women in the ranks makes the institution more democratic and modern, apparently in touch with society as a whole. But essentially, the intention of the military is for women to be integrated into organisations of power, perpetuating an authoritarian, hierarchical, xenophobic, misogynist and uniformed logic.

This militarisation could be labelled social, it is "social militarisation" because beyond the "modernising" changes made by Chile’s armed forces, the intention is to update the way militarism is described as a powerful presence, a way for the military to dominate and intimidate society, thus consolidating a new relationship between civil and military order.

Militarism has made war the basic organising principle of society, and politics is simply in one of its means or pretexts. We could think of ourselves as living through a Fourth World War, which can be triggered anywhere, at any time, in any circumstance and with the whole world at stake, and which becomes permanent. Civil peace only means the end of one form of war and the beginning of another, the Fourth World War.2.

We can trace the development of the phases of war as follows:

  • Initial phase: The First World War (1914-1918) centred in Europe, which, after a tumultuous interlude, led directly to the Second World War.
  • Phase two: The Second World War, with the German Army taking a major role in the world conflict of 1939-1945.
  • Phase three: The Cold War or the Third World War "which depended on the way the Americans perceived the intentions and politics of the USSR, and vice versa ... instead of undoing the war effort and dismantling the machinery of war, sadly the process of pursuing, encouraging and increasing preparation for war continued: instead of disarming, peace was sought through rearmament."3.

This rearmament gave way to a new type of global warfare that "introduced new elements, and was fought in numerous low intensity conflicts, simultaneously on different fronts around the planet"4, and began a transformation of defence, giving rise to our current state of civil war, leading to what we call "The Fourth World War".

Looking at this timeframe we can say that the First and Second World Wars, characterised by moving large numbers of people on the battlefields and powerful artillery exchanges, are confrontations of one power against another.

With the advent of the Cold War it is clear that "even a legal ceasefire"5, can’t mean the end of war, rather it only changes its form temporarily. This war found expression in East-West confrontation, then with the demise of the Soviet Union, "the break-up of the communist regimes of Eastern Europe and the subsequent territorial changes break the bipolar scenario on which the Cold War was built." 6.

In contrast, this Fourth World War does not take place in a specific scenario, rather there are many battlefronts with material elements, "war develops in connected scenarios, without apparent order and without visible lines of combat."7.

War is increasingly depersonalised, while it is unbelievably more devastating and dehumanising, it considers everything that prevents a human being from becoming a machine to produce and buy as an enemy.

Humankind itself has become the enemy, "a biopower in the most negative and most horrible sense of the word, a power that has death directly at its disposal: not only the death of the individual or of the group, but of humanity itself and perhaps the death of all living beings."8.

Within the new active and constitutive nature of war, it is increasingly hard to make a distinction between military and police activity. "In this way, war seems to have two opposing meanings simultaneously: on the one hand, it is reduced to police action; on the other, it rises to an absolute, ontological level through the technologies of global destruction."9.

So the big difference between defence and national security lies in the way the world sees and thinks about it. Defence used to refer to protecting a country's own borders, a more limited and isolated view, which was neither broad nor deep enough to include everything that was needed to protect ourselves, something bigger was required, on a par with the great effort and the victory of war. So the idea of ​​national security was thought of at a world level rather than a strictly national one, with a tendency to extend the subjective security borders outwards, to more places, encompassing more geographical territory. This idea of ​​national security also requires the country to be militarily prepared, in a state of constant alert. Therefore the idea seems to be that an actively configured world is a safe world, in fact, this active and constitutive character of security was already implicit in the various transformations of war we have analysed.

If war is no longer an exceptional situation, if it is part of the normal order of things, meaning we are already in a permanent state of war; undoubtedly war does not threaten existing power structure, nor is it a destabilising force, rather on the contrary it constantly creates and reinforces the current world order.

One of the tendencies that have marked the evolution of war in recent decades is that preparation for war and the right to wage war have tended to focus on national security, emphasising the idea of the enemy within.

The nation’s interests and responsibilities, as well as threats and battle-fronts, have no limits and are global. “Those who talk about defence, talk about a protective barrier against external threats; in contrast, those who talk about security, justify constant activity both at a national and an international level.”10.

Therefore “The nation and national defence must be in a state of permanent military preparation: war is no longer a military fact in itself, but it is a constantly developing phenomenon”,11,

it is taken for granted that a country’s security level is directly related to the numbers of weapons it has. The more weapons and weapon systems you have, the greater your security in a world which harbours potential aggressors. This assumption is highly dangerous and paradoxical.

“Firstly because it defines security only in quantitative terms of the capacity to inflict harm and defend oneself militarily. Secondly because the devastating capabilities of current weapon systems make defence and security impossible. Nobody can resist nuclear weapons. The only defence which current systems foresee is to take revenge. It is called mutually assured destruction. That means that if one power attacks with its nuclear weapons, the other is not able to ensure its own defence and survival, rather it can wreak reciprocal destruction on the first. Our security is this: knowing that if a nuclear bomb is dropped on us, the other will suffer the same fate. In other words, security is non-existent. We have to state categorically the falsity of these terms and hypotheses. What do words such as defence and security mean today? We have to expose its poverty as a concept based on the current system, and moreover show that the complete opposite is true. Thanks to our defence and security systems, we are living with insecurity as never before. That is to say that with ever more highly developed and more dangerous weapons, and with their ever increasing quality and quantity, the security level is going down, not up. Moreover: production itself, development and storage of weapons are counter-productive for security. Today, the existence of more nuclear weapons can only lead to less security.”12.

Faced with this disheartening scenario, there is continuing resistance. Domination can never be complete however many dimensions it may encompass; as long as there are anti-militarists who dare to challenge the established order, there will always be resistance, dismantling the processes of militarisation which keeps us in check, dominated and disciplined.

The invitation is to act, do, create, both reflecting and developing critical thinking with transformative goals that, if we put them into practice, can challenge the establishment, including what keeps us as we are now.

1 An example of this are the many examples from culture and consumerism, I’m referring to fashion trends, which sometimes show a military influence (Prussian, Soviet, etc.).

2 Talk given by Subcomandante Marcos to the International Civil Commission on Human Rights in November 1999.

3 LEDERACH, John. El abecé de la paz y los conflictos. Madrid. Catarata. 2000. 120p.

4 HARDT, M. NEGRI, A. Multitud: Guerra y democracia en la era del Imperio. Argentina. Debate. 2004. 46p.

5 HARDT, M. NEGRI, A. Multitud: Guerra y democracia en la era del Imperio. Argentina. Debate. 2004. 62p.

6 SAEZ, Pedro. Guerra y paz en el comienzo del siglo XXI. 2º Edición. Madrid. Centro de investigación para la paz. 2002. 63p.

7 i.b.

8 HARDT, M. NEGRI, A. Multitud: Guerra y democracia en la era del Imperio. Argentina. Debate. 2004. 40p.

9 Op. Cit 41p.

10 HARDT, M. NEGRI, A. Multitud: Guerra y democracia en la era del Imperio. Argentina. Debate. 2004. 43p.

11 LEDERACH, John. El abecé de la paz y los conflictos. Madrid. Catarata. 2000. 119p.

12 Op.Cit 133p.

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Police militarisation theme

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