- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Peter W. Singer
Best Defense guest columnist
A scary thought: It used to be that your neighbor’s war ending was a good thing. But we are more often now also seeing the opposite.
Many conflict groups can’t or don’t want to reintegrate, which is how we visualize war ending, and instead you see this kind of transaction market, where fighters from one conflict will emigrate in search of work in other current or proto-conflict, helping to escalate whatever local beef. For example, in my book on Children at War, I covered how child soldiers from Liberia would pop up hundreds of miles away fighting in some other war. It’s the parallel to what we’ve seen on the informal mercenary market (see this 2014 story on “Mercenaries, Extremists Become Major Balkans Export“) and of course the formalized PMC market (hey look, guess who’s the old/new again “boots on the ground“) in Iraq.
There is historic pattern of this kind of export — our post-Civil War “filibusters”; by some counts as much 75,000 Waffen SS fought in French colonial wars — but with a 21st-century twist. The vacuum of conflict that was sucking in all the bad actors can also start spitting them, and a new generation, back out like a contagion.