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The Era of the Never Ending War 



This century was meant to be different. After the protracted and traumatic experiences of the two world wars the epoch of long and devastating wars was supposed to have passed. 

Moral failures from the West in the face of brutal regimes have removed this prospect. After withering criticism over the war on Iraq, America developed a phobia of interventionism. 


This played into the hands of Bashar Al-Assad. The Syrian dictator, whose security forces fired on peaceful protestors oversaw a regime that frequently used chemical weapons against rebel areas. President Obama said Assad using chemical weapons would be a red line but always left the fight against Assad to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others. 

The result? A decade after the start of the civil war in 2011, Assad controls around 70% of a ruined Syria. In the early stages of the war the rebels made major advances, including claiming the major city of Aleppo. This was an opportune time for America to deliver the knockout blow to Assad’s regime. However, Obama's timidity gave Russia - an ally of Syria - an open run to roll back the rebels whilst the advance of ISIS distracted the West from Assad's crimes as he perversely became a partner in the fight against terrorism. This was also encouraged by Assad releasing ISIS militants from prison.


Yemen’s civil war appears impossible to resolve. The conflict began in September 2014 when the Houthis, a fundamentalist Islamic group, seized control of the Yemeni capital of Sanna and overran much of the northwest. 


Iranian support for the Houthis led Saudi Arabia, its longtime archrival, to spend $265 billion from 2015 to 2019 attempting to weaken the Houthis. This is even without considering additional support from nations like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. 


Even with military spending equivalent to more than the GDP of Portugal, the Houthis are far from being defeated. Perhaps Yemen’s conflict is truly intractable. 



With global attention consumed by the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, many conflicts look to be  the forgotten as well as the never-ending wars. 


However, this case is more hopeful than Yemen. After looming over the country since indepence, the military looks to be faltering. In recent months, rebels have overrun most of the border regions and several military bases and now control more than 50% of the nation, with their territory less than 200 miles from the capital of Naypyidaw. The rebels could soon control the entirety of Karenni State, the first state to fall to the junta. However, if the junta begins to roll back the gains of the rebels, the nation will become another symbol of Western failure through inaction.


In a disastrous turn, the civil war in Sudan that began in April 2023 looks to join the ranks of the forever wars. The African nation south of Egypt and west of Ethiopia saw war erupt over a disagreement between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces over the latter’s integration into the Sudanese military. In the western region of Darfur the ethnic African tribe of the Masalit has been subjected to ethnic cleansing in the city of El Geneina, with shelling of refugee camps among other war crimes in the region. 


A rapid victory for either side looks out of sight. Since October 2023, the RSF made sweeping gains, capturing 90% of the capital of Khartoum and most of Darfur. With the RSF supported by the UAE and Russia, and the Sudanese military by Saudi Arabia and Iran among others, both sides are well-capitalised and control vast territory. Like Sudan's 22 year civil war between the years 1983 to 2005, the current geopolitical reality could witness the plausible eventuality of a decades-long conflict in the region. 


Despite the prevalence of conflict, it's hard to be wholly pessimistic about global peace—the 21st century might be the most peaceful era yet. Since 2019, several costly conflicts have also ended. In South Sudan (2016–2020). In Ethiopia (2020–22). And most widely known, Afghanistan (ending in 2021). It is important that the West does not allow the 21st century to become an abattoir like the last, through non-interference.



Image: Felton Davis

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