In September of 2021, the Biden administration proclaimed that the U.S. would withdraw its army from Afghanistan, which caused the US to lose its strategic credibility to its allies. Ignoring how this policy will influence the following international relations, there is still one question floating, why was the American army deployed there for over twenty years? In traditional occupations, the army is deployed to annex territories. But in Afghanistan, a variety of countries’ armies were sent to different provinces of Afghanistan to help them maintain internal security, train local police officers or legitimize elections. Those actions had only one purpose, counter-terrorism. In 2013, a militant islamic group, ISIS, occupied some of Iraq and Syria’s territories to establish an Islamic country.  In the 21st century, the actors in international society are facing not only traditional but non-traditional security issues, and those non-states actors and the methods to cope with them will change the traditional perspectives on warfare.

Comparing traditional actors to those in recent conflicts, the differences have led to significant changes in warfare. Traditionally, only states could start wars, from when Napoleon occupied most of Europe to when Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and then caused comprehensive wars. Even in the Cold War, proxy wars were started from some little countries. However, after the start of the new millennium, the trend of international conflict is much more chaotic. From 911 to ISIS, those militant groups have different purposes, and they can start anywhere. They can be individual bombers attacking people randomly, or organize serious action to hurt the interests of whole countries. Their strategies make it difficult for countries to recognize enemies, and change the perspective to recognize that even non-state actors can also be actors in warfare. 

In addition, how to cope with those non-state actors in international relations to avoid conflict is a significant issue for states, and the international regime is a good tool that they can use. After the Cold War, NATO insisted it was necessary to cooperate for mutual defense, and contributed to collective counter-terrorism efforts. NATO deployed their united army to Afghanistan to marshal collective defense, and those troops’ target was not the military of Afghanistan, but the terrorists, which is different from traditional armies’ functions, in that a military coalition was attacking irregular militants, not national military forces. Meanwhile, another international organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, is also devoted to counter-terrorism. Different from NATO, this organization uses a softer way to defend their member territories.  They have forums, summits which include the countries which shelter terrorists, and also hold united exercises to exchange valuable military information and deter those terrorists. The international regime therefore is the modern tool to defend countries from non-states actors, including terrorists. 

To sum up, different from the traditional perspective on warfare, nowadays countries need to focus more on non-state actors, they are more likely to use non-traditional military strategies to reduce the chances of conflict.


Written by Eddie C. 

Edited by Ari B.