You may not have noticed, but war has changed. We have entered an era of endless war. What does the change mean and where will it lead?
A recent article by talented global security expert Robert D. Kaplan is titled “Endless War.” He suggests that warfare has entered a new “postmodern” period, where it may no longer ever end.
He’s right that we have entered a new era, but there is hope that one day it will end. More on that later.
A short history of war
For most of history, war was an affair between princes or nations. Organized armies equipped with weapons and supplies marched to face other similarly organized forces. They maneuvered and met in pitched battles, often decided in a day or even a few hours.
The goal was to destroy the enemy’s army and force him to sue for peace. Declarations and treaties were signed, so it was possible to know exactly when a war began and when it ended. This was also largely true of civil wars.
The Cold War brought a new twist to war; the free Western countries and their allies faced the Communist-bloc nations for 45 years, not in open war, but in a tense ideological conflict waged through proxies. But even that war had an end.
Now we seem to have entered the era of never-ending war. War in the traditional sense does still occur, as we witnessed not long ago in Iraq, where it officially ended quite quickly once it began. But the violence there didn’t end with the peace treaty, as it hasn’t in Afghanistan.
The focus shifted to insurgency and terror attacks, mounted by a hodgepodge of hard-to-identify, makeshift militias, each with its own goals and motivations. U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens was recently killed by such a guerrilla force in the aftermath of the civil war in that nation.
Militias, guerrillas, separatists
Undeclared, unofficial, low-grade, constantly simmering war has become the norm. Often it is between militias, guerrillas, separatists or anarchic groups and the nations they oppose.
One Internet source counts 60 countries currently involved in such wars—almost a third of all nations in the world—and it names 366 warring militias, guerrilla groups, separatist groups and paramilitary drug cartels. That’s more than one for every day of the year! Most of these are involved in civil wars that sometimes draw in other nations. There are:
- 107 in Africa.
- 91 in the Middle East.
- 87 in Asia.
- 57 in Europe.
- 24 in the Americas.
This is not what is traditionally called a world war, yet much of the world is ensnared in continual armed conflict. The United States, of course, is involved in a number of conflicts, especially against Islamist terror groups such as al-Qaeda and its various iterations. The U.S. has increasingly used drone strikes in a remote-control war against such terrorist groups. This has become such a common occurrence that many hardly notice when yet another U.S. drone strike kills insurgents (or civilians) in Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia.
At the same time, ruthless terrorist methods, evolving technology and the ease of international travel result in our inability to name any place in the world that can be considered safe from attack.
Partly as a result of such simmering conflicts, the last annual Department of Defense report showed the U.S. has about 200,000 troops spread around the world, in 150 different countries! This is a continual drain on the American economy, which it can ill afford in times of economic downturn; and the military presence often creates resentment abroad.
No end in sight
The hit-run-hide nature of these conflicts means they can drag on indefinitely. For most of the currently ongoing wars, there is no likely cessation to be imagined.
Counting Sept. 11, 2001, as the beginning, the U.S. is now in its second decade of this new kind of interminable, terror-tainted conflict. And it appears to foreshadow worse to come. As weapons of mass destruction become less difficult to produce, even one successful terror attack using nuclear or biological weapons could kill millions of people at a blow.
A prophetic signpost
When the disciples of Jesus asked for precursor signs that would identify His imminent return, He gave as beginning signs: “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:7-8). The closer we get to the return of Christ, the more prevalent these signs will be.
During the actual time of the end, Jesus described a time of world war worse than any known until that time (Matthew 24:21-22).
A prophecy of that time in the book of Joel speaks of all nations who will “beat [their] plowshares into swords and [their] pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, ‘I am strong’” (Joel 3:10).
This description indicates the whole world will be engulfed by the largest war in history. And there are indications that it will ultimately degenerate into a general melee of civil wars. In the context of the nations who will fight against Jesus at His return, God says in Isaiah 19:2:
“I will set Egyptians against Egyptians; everyone will fight against his brother, and everyone against his neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom.”
So we can expect to see the new era of never-ending war continue and worsen. The world will become less and less safe, and more and more contentious, including a steady decline of civic unity, which is already not hard to see.
We can be thankful that after the Kingdom of God is established on earth, the martial scene of Joel 3:10 will be reversed and world peace will finally come:
“He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).
Read more about the end-time prophecies and the good news of the Kingdom of God in our “Prophecy” section.