YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Special Report: Seeking a New World : 4. 'Unconventional and Indiscriminate': The Changing Face of War : The planet may be less safe because insurgents are getting newer, more sophisticated arms

December 18, 1990

SRINAGAR, KASHMIR — On a midsummer's day, while the rest of India scorches, pine-scented breezes cool the valley. Reflections of the snow-tipped Himalayas shimmer across Lake Dal. Quaint houseboats dot its shoreline, a legacy of British colonial days.

Once the summer home of Mogul emperors and later a tourist haven, the Vale of Kashmir for centuries has been extolled in song and verse as paradise on Earth.

But over the past year, paradise has turned into hell.

Beautiful Kashmir, India's only state with a Muslim majority, is now gripped by civil war. Since January, its long smoldering separatist movement--once limited to an extremist fringe--has broadened into a full-scale revolution.

Tourists have fled Lake Dal; its resort hotels now quarter Indian troops. Rebels have fired rocket-propelled grenades into the hotels' upper floors from the filigreed verandas of houseboats.

Srinagar's graceful wooden mosque is draped with black flags, mourning for the more than 2,000 killed this year. The bazaar, once filled with curios from far destinations on the ancient Silk Road linking Europe to China, is shuttered. Its labyrinthine alleys are guarded by soldiers peering from behind five-foot sandbag berms.

The crisis in Kashmir is more than just another remote insurrection in a permanently unstable corner of the Third World. The brutal fighting on the streets of Srinagar is testimony to the increasing ability of insurgents all around the globe to get their hands on ever more powerful weapons. And behind the immediate conflict is an even more sobering reality: The two countries on each side of the vale, India and Pakistan, could come to war over the issue--and both might be tempted to use nuclear weapons.

Thus the crisis in Kashmir offers a bitter taste of what warfare may be like in the decades ahead. For the end of the Cold War and the sweeping changes in global technology, economics and politics are reshaping the realities of armed conflict just as they are altering so much else.

The threat of an apocalyptic confrontation between East and West has receded, but the new era may be no less violent than the preceding decades. Indeed, conflicts may become more varied in their flash points, tactics and goals--and more destabilizing in their impact on the world as a whole.

Among the trends:

* Unlike the Cold War period, when weapons of mass destruction were largely confined to a handful of nations and subject to the discipline of the East and West blocs, the post-Cold War era is already marked by an anarchic proliferation of such armaments: chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, along with the ballistic missiles that are "democratizing" the potential for catastrophic conflict.

Larger powers will find such conflicts more difficult to contain or quarantine.

* The developing nations are becoming less dependent on outside arms suppliers, which reduces the major powers' leverage on their actions. Although most Third World countries still need at least some outside help obtaining the most sophisticated weapons of mass destruction, some are making rapid strides in producing their own armaments--from rifles and chemical weapons to nuclear warheads. And especially for conventional weapons, many new producers seek to defray their own costs by selling to others.

* Traditionally fought between nations over ideology, territory and trade, warfare is increasingly centered within societies. "Lebanonization"--the process by which nations are torn apart in conflicts over such issues as religion, national identity and competition for resources--is already evident in countries as disparate as the Soviet Union and South Africa.

* Terrorism and guerrilla wars are likely to rise, and wars will be played out more frequently in crowded cities than in the sparsely populated countryside.

"Conflict toward the end of the 20th Century has become increasingly unconventional, increasingly indiscriminate. It's not the established militaries of established countries clashing on demarcated battlefields, but a succession of dirty power struggles, bloody clashes and endemic conflict throughout the Third World," said Bruce Hoffman, a military analyst at the RAND Corp. in Santa Monica.

And, warns Brent Scowcroft, President Bush's national security adviser: "There is a real possibility that conflicts will be more local (but) perhaps more dangerous, because there has been a spread of military technology, especially the possibility of horrible things like chemical warfare and biological warfare, not to mention nuclear."

The most immediate flash point, of course, is the Middle East.

Los Angeles Times Articles