War, military professionals are usually quick to tell you, is about breaking things.
In olden times, the way you won a war was by breaking the crucial things – the enemy’s military, or the enemy regime’s hold on its people. Do either and you had won. The war was over and on all sides, the breaking of things stopped.
And the rebuilding of things began, much of it financed by the victors. Part of the price of peace, easing the transition from war to peace.
But these are new times. Today, long-range weapons can, not just break, but pulverize whole sections of cities, while portable weapons continue to get lighter and more lethal.
So, it takes remarkably few unbroken fighters carrying inexpensive, often home-made weapons to force an escalation from breaking things to destroying them.
And it takes remarkably few fighters, for whom enough weapons can always be found, to disrupt neighborhoods or cities, and impose on countries a level of violence and uncertainty that feels like unending war.
In Libya, where millions of citizens want peaceful lives, a few thousand men with guns have prevented that since the 2011 overthrow of the Muammar Gaddafi regime. Today, Libya has 2 impaired governments, maybe half a dozen seriously armed and seriously ungoverned militias, and for the people who live there — a daily chance of deadly violence.
Not long ago, one particular armed group of a couple hundred men arrived in pickup trucks and took over Libya’s biggest oil port. In the week it took to force them to flee, they did an estimated “tens of billions of dollars” of damage to the facilities and the Libyan economy and deepened divisions between the 2 governments, less than half a year before scheduled elections both of them have pledged to support.
In the Libya Gaddafi, NATO and the United States left behind, a couple hundred guys could break the chance for peace for 6.3 million. That’s modern war for you.
Mustafa Fetouri is an award-winning journalist and financial analyst from Libya. He has been covering the conflicts in his home country, both from inside Libya and utilizing a wide network of sources there. His coverage is published by the online news-magazine al-Monitor.