At the end of the Cold War, a new kind of war emerged. It was to be found not on the battlefields of the new world order; rather, it emerged in the imaginations of those who sought to understand, and so manage, warfare in the new world order. At the same time, an armed conflict also emerged in Algeria. Slowly at first, this war soon became one of the bloodiest and most opaque of the 1990s. Yet the complexity and indeterminacies of Algeria's violence did not inhibit the new sciences and managerial strategies of conflict from appropriating lessons from Algeria. An examination of these appropriations of Algeria's violence reveals a tendency towards antipolitical accounts of conflict after the Cold War, as well as antipolitical managerial strategies aimed to prevent, interrupt, and otherwise control mass armed violence.
The Syrian civil war has proven difficult to understand and resolve. This is not new. With the end of the Cold War, the international community became aware that wars inside of states were the primary security challenge of the 1990s. What followed was an explosion in social science research on the causes and consequences of civil wars. At the heart of this research was the concept of civil war itself, and the way in which it deinternationalized a problem that had been treated throughout the Cold War as the opposite, as inherently geopolitical phenomena. This deinternationalization was thus a depoliticization. Understandings of Algeria's violence in the 1990s as a civil war ran into conceptual difficulties. These owed as much to the contested nature of the killing in Algeria as to the conceptual schema through which mass violence was scientifically tamed into an intelligible and manageable object: a civil war.
As the conflict sciences increasingly began to treat civil wars as entirely endogenous phenomena, so too have conflict prevention strategies begun to treat civil wars in ways that are indifferent to the actual politics and history of conflicts. This most clearly manifests in efforts to treat civil wars as problems of development rather than problems of global politics. Rebels, rather than states, were seen as the sole cause of civil wars. Their motives were treated as criminal rather than political. This antipolitical vision of civil wars manifests in efforts to understand their generic causal pathways as much as the effort to re-describe the grassroots politics of killing as "logics of violence." Attempts to conform the various and contested etiologies of Algeria's violence to these understandings had as much difficultly accounting for the killing as political and economic initiatives had in stopping the violence.
Terrorism eclipsed all other international security concerns in the wake of 9/11. Yet concerns about the relationship between core and immalleable identities had been a central debate in the conflict sciences at the end of the Cold War. It was suggested that the new terrains of conflict would be based on much more intractable notions of identity than negotiated politics. In the 1990s, Algeria was often viewed as a frontline state in the clash between secular and religious identities, between Islamic fundamentalism and modernity. Such accounts of Algeria's violence are woefully deficient. Algeria's violence became Islamic for reasons that have little to do with the identities and motives of the participants in the killing. The Islamization of Algeria should be understood in terms of the powers of violence to dictate the terms of its representation in the context of a post-Orientalist geopolitical order.
Counterterrorism has radically revised understandings of armed conflict and the means to manage it through prevention, interruption, and postconflict peacebuilding. Terrorism itself has been, and continues to be, treated as an apolitical phenomenon. Contributing to this antipolitical understanding of Islamic terrorism, Algeria's violence in the 1990s, particularly the large-scale massacres of 1997 and 1998, have contributed to the understandings of Islamist violence and terrorism as irrational, and thus irredeemable. Though Islamic insurgents were blamed for these massacres, their true agents—and the motives behind them—were intensely debated at the time. That debate remains fundamentally unresolved today, as the Algerian government's national reconciliation policies since 1999 have been premised on refusing to open any investigations into the past. What ended the international debate about the nature of the Algerian massacres were the events of 9/11, which occasioned a radically depoliticized revision of what had happened in 1990s Algeria.
The use of military force by NATO to protect civilians in Libya's 2011 civil war was considered a success at the time. That success was also attributed to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) project. The R2P project developed in the late 1990s and early 2000s to establish a framework that would allow for the legitimate use of armed forces for humanitarian purposes. The R2P project also established a framework of understanding of what kinds of conflicts warranted intervention—a framework built upon a history of mass atrocities and international interventions. Entirely absent from this history are Algeria's massacres of 1997 and 1998, as well as the intense international debate about how to stop the killing there. This absence allows the R2P project to claim to address the most difficult cases in international conflict management when, in fact, R2P evades much more difficult challenges.
With the global decline in armed conflict since the end of the Cold War, postconflict management has become a central task for international peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Central to such peacebuilding efforts are programs aimed at national reconciliation and transitional justice. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has become the standard by which countries are now judged. Indeed, Algeria has been criticized for refusing to create an official state history of the conflict or for allowing other Algerians to create it themselves. This denial of history, however, has to be considered in relation to the excess of history that was overdetermining Algeria's violence in the 1990s. These contradictory understandings of history as both causal and curative suggest that the problem is not simply Algeria's relation to its history but the failure of history to learn from Algeria.
Despite the failures of understanding and management documented in this study, the world is reportedly experiencing the most peaceful period in human existence. What might be understood as a challenge to this study's central thesis (i.e., conflict science and management are working) is in fact a paradox whose consequences, if not seriously engaged, could lead to a global crisis of unimagined proportions. Indeed, there is a history here. It is not just that social sciences utterly failed to predict the very crises they should have seen. It is that those sciences also failed to grasp their imbrication in the forces that led to the crisis. In the face of a global climate challenge, whose effects will undoubtedly manifest in terms of mass armed violence, there is ever more need for the conflict sciences to extirpate themselves from the geopolitical they serve but cannot see.