Devastation in Aden - July 2015

Tomorrow’s war ? With Bertrand Badie

Elba Rahmouni

Since April 2018, Elba has been in charge of dissemination at CRASH. Elba holds a Master's degree in History of Classical Philosophy and a Master's degree in editorial consulting and digital knowledge management. During her studies, she worked on moral philosophy issues and was particularly interested in the practical necessity and the moral, legal and political prohibition of lying in Kant's philosophy.

Since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Middle East has seen all kind of war. Yesterday’s war, today’s war… but what about tomorrow’s war? With the proliferation of war-mongering politicians and provocations, there would seem to be little reason for optimism. To find out more, I attended a conference on Wednesday 13th June organised by the l’Institut de Recherche et d’Etudes Méditerranée Moyen-Orient (iReMMo)Every month, Dominique Vidal, historian, journalist and member of iReMMo, invites a researcher, diplomat or journalist to come and  discuss a current affairs issue with the public.where Bertrand Badie was guest speaker. Bertrand Badie is a French political scientist specialised in international relations. He is a professor at the Institut d’Etudes Poitique (Sciences Po) in Paris and an associate researcher at the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI Sciences Po). After listening to him speak, I can only encourage everyone to go along to these conferences. They are as accessible as they are fascinating. 

Modern conflicts in the region are defined by their uncertain, composite and heterogeneous nature, as well as by their permanence, as there are no winners and no losersWhen war is a confrontation between one or several states, it ends with a winner and a loser.. The situation can be interpreted vertically as a “superposition of logics of conflict” and horizontally as an “aggregate of logics of coalition”. Like the First World War, which was not simply rivalry between France and Germany, but started in the Balkans, Bertrand Badie explained that a conflict situation is really dangerous when it combines several logics of conflict and several logics of alliance, making it virtually impossible to reach a compromise. Today, we can distinguish fives layers of conflict in the Middle East, a level of superposition never previously attained, according to this specialist in international relationsIn Bertrand Badie’s opinion, although economic explanations are of course pertinent, they shouldn't be over-exploited when analysing the reasons for a conflict..

The superposition of conflicts

Layer 1: war of weakness. Bertrand Badie distinguishes between wars of weakness and wars of strength.  Hobbes had accustomed us to seeing war as a competition between powers, but today’s conflicts result from a shock between weaknesses: the excessive weakness of a state, social contracts, social bonds, etc. Unlike wars of power which end when one side has been crushed, wars of weakness are destined to lastBadie believes that wars of weakness can be overcome by strengthening institutions and that the social will eventually triumph over the political, although this may take several generations.. Because of their chronicity, they become a means of expression and, for the citizens of this kind of warring society, their only chance of survival. Iraq and Yemen could thus be categorised as warring societies, Gaza as having become a warring society and, in a way, Syria as gradually becoming a warring society. 

Layer 2: hegemonic war. Hegemonic wars are rare because states engaging in such a war make an enemy of any state opposing their desire for hegemony. This is the type of war chosen by Israel whose political objective is to be the only hegemonic power in the region. For Israel, which is afraid of losing its nuclear monopoly, Iran represents counter-hegemony. 

Layer 3: war of strength.  For a state, the goal of this type of war is to demonstrate its strength, to carry weight in the international arena. This is the type of war being led by Russia which has lost its status as a major power. In Syria, Russia is not acting to protect its base in the Mediterranean, or if it is, Bertrand Badie sees this as a pathetic motive. Its real reason is to ostentatiously flaunt its strength. But the longer a war of strength lasts, the more frustration it creates, because strength can crush or destroy, but it cannot create. Strength brought down Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, but it didn’t create a new international order.

Layer 4: war of competition. When one international shows its strength, the other states have to do likewise. If the Russians are in Syria, the western countries have to be there to. We owe the bombings that took place last February to the war of competition and not to the problem of chemical weapons use or the desire to put an end to the war. As Bertrand Badie pointed out: “Do we need to be reminded that we don’t live in a virtuous world ?”.

Layer 5: neo-imperial war. This corresponds to the awakening of regional powers which consider it to be their natural role to take charge of regional issues. We have long been led to believe that only western powers are meant to hold sway both at home and abroad. This negation of regional powers by western powers has led to frustration and imperialist ambition on the part of those regional powers not aligned with these western powers. For Bertrand Badie, it is essential to recognise the right of local actors to manage their own conflicts.    

These five layers of conflict are intertwined. Wars of competition and neo-imperial wars activate wars of strength, and wars of strength are destructive which creates frustration and generates wars of weakness. When wars of weakness are complicated by these other four logics of conflict, war adds to war and uncertainty increases vertiginously. 

Logics of coalition

The alignments game is rendered even more complicated by the phenomenon of systematic alliances and negative alliances. 

Systematic alliance. This is when an actor is in the wrong but we remain allies because, from a systemic point of view, we are necessarily allies. Bertrand Badie is concerned about the position adopted by  President Macron who, despite the fact that the Americans are wrong to move their embassy to Jerusalem, to withdraw from the nuclear agreement with Iran, etc., maintains that the United States are our allies, whereas Iran is not. 

Negative alliance. Thucydides developed the concept of symachia. Unlike a real alliance founded on shared values, solidarity and long-term collaboration, symachia implies disagreement, a lack of esteem but a vested interest in making a pact with the idiot or the bad guy. This type of alliance is becoming increasingly frequent in the Middle East, with Israel, an otherwise isolated country, gradually building a coalition in which force and impunity reign. 

During this conference on the future of war, Bertrand Badie highlighted the real and significant danger caused by the superposition of logics of conflict, often chronic, and the perpetuation of systematic or negative alliances.   

See also the video interview with Bertrand Badie « L’ère des nouveaux conflits ».

To cite this content :
Elba Rahmouni, “Tomorrow’s war ? With Bertrand Badie”, 3 juillet 2018, URL :

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