Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The wars that come after wars (II): How one can start, or fuel, another one

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 ...

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. 

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. 

Peter W. Singer is strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Further information is available at www.pwsinger.com and on Twitter @peterwsinger.

Thomas 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 ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

The Pentagon is seen from the air over Washington, D.C., on Aug. 25, 2013.

The Pentagon’s Office Culture Is Stuck in 1968

The U.S. national security bureaucracy needs a severe upgrade.

The Azerbaijani army patrols the streets of Shusha on Sept. 25 under a sign that reads: "Dear Shusha, you are free. Dear Shusha, we are back. Dear Shusha, we will resurrect you. Shusha is ours."

From the Ruins of War, a Tourist Resort Emerges

Shusha was the key to the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Now Baku wants to turn the fabled fortress town into a resort.

Frances Pugh in 2019's Midsommar.

Scandinavia’s Horror Renaissance and the Global Appeal of ‘Fakelore’

“Midsommar” and “The Ritual” are steeped in Scandinavian folklore. Or are they?