A Project of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research in Cooperation with the Einstein Forum, Potsdam

Berliner Colloquien zur Zeitgeschichte

Berliner Colloquienzur Zeitgeschichte

Western Societies and »New Wars«Hosted by Sönke Neitzel

26 and 27 April 2013

The end of the Cold War was also the end of certainty for NATO countries. Apparently there were no enemies left for the heavily armed forces of the West. Some observers even asked what purpose such military forces had if the member states were surrounded only by friends. The second Iraq war in 1990/91 and the following so-called humanitarian wars soon provided a response to that question. The new conflicts foreshadowed a groundbreaking change of paradigm: for the first time in decades, many states in the Western alliance had to send soldiers into combat operations, and they had to deal with the challenge of legitimizing these campaigns and their heavy losses in the face of an increasingly critical public. Within the armed forces, these wars also led to a change in self-perception and to occasionally fierce debates on military values and virtues, as well as on the »correct« understanding of traditions. This applies especially to those states that have not waged a major combat operation since WW II, such as Italy, Spain and Germany. But even for the USA or the UK, the year 1990 marks a major cesura in their respective histories of warfare.

The aim of the colloquium was to analyze the shifting relationship of politics, society and the military in Western Europe and North America in the era of these »New Wars.« The focal point of our discussion centered on the question of how fighting in the wars since 1990 has changed how the meaning of war and the military is construed—in the public and political discourse, and within the armed forces themselves. Furthermore, we discussed the impact of the »New Wars« on the perception of past wars as well as the impact that master narratives about past wars have on present debates. A particular focus was on national specifics and transnational phenomena.

Conference language was English.



Interview with Sönke Neitzel

Sönke Neitzel in Mittelweg 36 (in German)