by Manuel Herrera Almela
Does the internal political regime of States condition how they fight wars? How do democracies deal with the management of civilian casualties throughout an entire war period? What have been their main deficiencies regarding the protection of civilians in Afghanistan?
We may assume that democracies, by the simple fact of being democracies, wage war in a different way than non-democratic States (i.e. because they are founded on liberal principles and values that promote individual freedom). However, democracies usually conduct war in such a way that it is unviable to ensure the safety of civilians in combat zones despite whether or not measures to protect civilians had been taken (i.e. curbing air strikes).
Based on their liberal roots, we may believe that democracies wage war in order to attain the noble goal of freeing people from physical and societal constraints. Thus, we may presuppose that the conduction of war by these types of countries should be done in such a way that this goal can be achieved (i.e. by the eradication of poverty, increasing education, eliminating political oppression, etc…). As a consequence, freeing people from physical and human constraints should be actively pursued throughout the entire war period. However, the case of the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan clearly shows us that this assumption is wrong and obliges us to reflect on whether democracies are really committed to the management of post-conflict scenarios and civilian security during a war.
Following the pattern of previous years, 2016 set a new record of civilian casualties in Afghanistan: UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) documented 11,418 civilian casualties between January and December 2016, an overall increase of 3% in comparison with 2015. An appalling number of those casualties were children, 923 deaths and 2,589 injured, a 24% increase over record-high numbers from 20151.UNAMA attributes these statistics to the exposure of children to unexploded bombs, and to the fact that many children living in contested areas have never received mine-risk education.The unexploded bombs that remained from aerial operations by both Afghan government forces and the U.S. killed 250 and injured 340 civilians, a 99 % increase over 20152. Child casualties from the remains of aerial operations more than doubledto reach 200 compared to 91 in 2015.
The yearly release of these statistics, which have worsened each year since UNAMA began collecting the data in 2009, shows us that the problem is not related with how democracies – in this case U.S. – carry out the armed action; but their irresponsibility in securing post-conflict zones (through artefacts cleaning operations, and offering preventive education to children and families).
Due to the characteristics of new wars, and particularly the War in Afghanistan where combats usually consist of sporadic insurgencies, it is vital to proceed with this idea of responsibility while protecting (promoted by Brazilian president Lula da Silva) because data shows us that more people are dying in non-combat situations that in combat ones. Even though we are only observing a single case, it is significant that the country that is considered the biggest democracy in the world is unable or unwilling to secure civilian populations in war time. This inability to manage post-conflict scenarios during a war demonstrates the democracy’s failure in reaching their goal of liberating subjugated populations.
The internal political regime of a state may play a role if we consider that it is a characteristic of democracies to not be responsible for the management of the whole process of freeing people from tyranny, because they don’t put efforts in the management of post-conflict scenarios during wars. If we build upon other cases such as The Libyan Civil War in 2011 where the responsibility to re-build principle was not implemented by the international coalition, it may be reasonable to state that this is an inherent deficiency of democracies. So, democracies wage war in such a way that they are unable or unwilling to free oppressed populations, and that’s why they are so prone to killing civilians (be it directly or indirectly). This is not a result of whether they carry out more or less aggressive attacks against the civilian population. In fact, the U.S. develops very precise strikes against military and insurgent targets thanks to the development of new military technologies. However, by its inaction towards safeguarding the integrity of civilians in post-conflict scenarios, the U.S. demonstrates a purely military or “traditional” understanding of what security is,in contrast with the Human Security perspective on security). If democracies are unable or unwilling to free civilians from tyranny by not protecting them during the entire war period, this shows us that they suffer internal logical contradictions because they are behaving against their own founding principles and the principles that may legitimate their engagement in war.