top of page

Can war be a weapon for war?



In a world where conflicts are not just about physical battles but also involve diplomatic maneuvers and information warfare, the dynamics of war have evolved dramatically. This article delves into the complexities of contemporary warfare, exploring how various actors strategically exploit crises for political, economic, and ideological gains. From historical precedents like the Cold War to recent conflicts such as the Russia-Ukraine war, we examine the motivations and consequences of external interventions, the role of information manipulation, and the delicate balance between stability and crisis escalation.

When a war breaks out, the belligerent parties rarely remain the same ones throughout the whole duration of the conflict. There are several incentives that might lead an actor – be it a country or an armed non-state actor – to become an active participant in a war. The most common ones are political proximity with one of the belligerents, a previous agreement to assist a country in case of military attack, or an economic interest in the region. Instability in a geographical region is often considered by external countries as an opportunity. An actor can take advantage of a conflict acting as a diplomatic intermediary to gain credibility and obtain a bigger role in the region, negotiate with the parties the access to a contended resource, support one of the belligerents to have a future partner after the end of the war.

From the perspective of the international system, a crisis is a strong shock to the structure that holds the system together. […] the collapse of the Soviet Union and break up of Warsaw Treaty Organization led to a crisis in that the leadership of many countries felt the possibility of military hostilities in which they might easily become involved because of reactions by any number of parties based upon emotion, uncertainty, miscalculation, misperception, or the posture of forces. (Maj. Gen. Robert E. Linhard)

The most striking example of the causes and consequences of the intervention of an external actor in a conflict is the geographical and ideological division of the world into a “Western” and a “Soviet” block after the end of the Second World War. After the intervention of the USA (from the Atlantic versant) and the USSR (from the Eastern continental side) during the conflict, Europe was distinctly divided into two regions, each one subject to the influence of the respective “liberator”. The USA and the USSR could then count on the support of the countries under their spheres of influence during the Cold War. The influence of the respective superpower is still visible today in the territories formerly under the Soviet and American pull: the most evident case is Germany, which decades after the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the division between the two Republics, still shows visible differences in political sentiment and levels of economic development between East and West Germany. The intervention of a foreign actor in a crisis almost always warrants a partnership between the actor and at least one of the original protagonists of the conflict.

In more recent times, the outbreak of the war between Russia and Ukraine represented an opportunity for the Iraqi region of Kurdistan to play a stronger role in the oil market, after its 9-year commercial relationship with Türkiye was halted by a ruling from the International Chamber of Commerce in March 2023. On November 6, seven months after the conclusion of the legal case, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) from Erbil warned Dana Gas, a company active in the region, that the firm is not allowed to transport supply stocks out of Iraqi Kurdistan without the approval of the KRG. Since the 2017 referendum for the Kurdish independence from Iraq, the government of Baghdad has been looking to impose a stronger central authority. This attempt from the KRG to assert a strong, independent position on the global energy market could therefore cause an intensification of the tensions with Baghdad.

The definition of “war” has changed in the last decades. With the increasing speed of communication and the progress in the field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), information and disinformation have turned into weapons. The manipulation of information is crucial to the development of military operations. Controlling the narrative around an armed conflict, an international dispute, or a diplomatic tension, allows the governments of the belligerent countries to maintain support inside and out of the country, so as to secure a stable approval rating of the government and obtain sympathy from foreign states and populations. For this reason, almost every country has implemented instruments like troll factories, bots, and fake news into its arsenal. This leads to an extreme polarization between the parties of the conflict and their allies. The constant exposure to mainstream media, social media and Internet inevitably causes the formation of epistemic bubbles and echo chambers, wherein propaganda easily finds its way to a large public. Moreover, the most popular social networks use algorithms which tend to push content on the basis of how likely it is for the user to engage with it – which, in the context of political propaganda, translates into the constant reiteration of information the user has already interacted with. The political polarization exacerbates the level of epistemic closedness towards other lines of propaganda, creating a vicious cycle in which conflicting ideas radicalize and clash among each other. This turns social media into political arenas where users from different epistemic bubbles echo the information they are exposed to, even in “areas” where the matter is not even treated. An example of this phenomenon is the comment section of many Instagram posts, where emoji flags of Israel and Palestine are posted under contents which have little-to-nothing to do with the Israel-Hamas war.

However, foreign actors may also be interested in fostering stability to counteract or prevent the insurgence of a crisis in a region where the risk of instability is high. For instance, Mongolia succeeded to maintain its democratic institutions despite being landlocked between two countries with strict authoritarian political systems – China and Russia. Alongside the history of the relations between Mongolia and its neighborhood, among the factors that led the country to guard its independence are its relations with countries outside of the region, namely the USA. The presence of a democratic regime in a mostly authoritarian regional context allowed Western countries to interact with a reliable partner in the area, counting on Mongolia to de-escalate tensions between Russia, China, and other actors.

Purposefully triggering a crisis, be it an armed war or a situation of diplomatic tension, can have serious effects and may even backfire on the actor who destabilized the region, just like taking advantage off an existent crisis can lead to being isolated by other actors which, instead, are engaged in the de-escalation of the situation.

Related Articles

Theory and practice of State Building 2.0

How the USA and the European Union weaponized SWIFT against Russia?

Israel-Hamas war from a legal perspective

Israel-Hamas war from a legal perspective

Israel-Hamas war from a legal perspective

How the USA and the European Union weaponized SWIFT against Russia?

How the USA and the European Union weaponized SWIFT against Russia?
bottom of page