Small Wars Journal

SWJ Book Review: An Ontology of Modern Conflict: Including Conventional Combat and Unconventional Conflict

Thu, 02/03/2022 - 5:10pm

SWJ Book Review: An Ontology of Modern Conflict: Including Conventional Combat and Unconventional Conflict by Dean S. Hartley III

Reviewed by Theo Bajon



Understanding how modern conflict exists, evolves, and is rooted in reality through all of the related elements that interrelate with each other provides a way of understanding modern conflict as a complex event that requires some reflection on its inherent conceptualization.

The book "An Ontology of Modern Conflict: Including Conventional Combat and Unconventional Conflict" by Dean S. Hartley III pushes this process of reflection through the establishment of a comprehensive ontology of modern conflicts. The author therefore proposes the creation of a Modern Conflict Ontology (MCO), which objective is to put into perspective the current knowledge of modern conflicts, while taking into account the unconventional conflicts and all the stakeholders and elements specific to the environments that make up these complex events. The book also attempts to fill some academic and theoretical gaps in the incorporation of certain aspects of social theories into modern conflict theory in order to understand some of the complexities of conventional and unconventional conflict. Several discussions are thus opened around the conceptualization of modern conflict, with its own components, and the status of these conflicts as complex adaptive systems. A literature review of conflict theories provides a solid theoretical basis for the development of the Modern Conflict Ontology, which takes up most of the book itself.

The book defines several key concepts that articulate this theoretical and philosophical reflection on modern conflict. Actors are defined as the main elements of the conceptualization, as they can be direct or indirect stakeholders in modern conflicts, they can take actions and be subject to the actions of other actors, while influencing or being influenced by the objects of modern conflicts. Actions are thus defined as interventions, events or processes that can be classified as diplomatic, information, military, or economic actions. Objects, on the other hand, are defined as elements of the natural environment, man-made elements of the environment, or conceptual elements of their own.

One of the main characteristics of the Modern Conflict Ontology is the centrality of actors within the model developed. The ontology thus highlights the way in which actors relate to each other while incorporating the way in which new actors are integrated into the model in the face of changing conflictualities. Beyond these relationships, the book is also very interested in how the different actors will interact with the actions of other actors and with the objects that together form the modern conflict environment.

Beyond the concrete perspective of the Modern Conflict Ontology developed throughout the book, it is interesting to note how the author puts into perspective how the ontology can be applied to modern conflict analysis frameworks by exploring and comparing existing structures, thus justifying the creation of this ontology, filling existing gaps and being part of an important academic continuity.

However, modern conflicts remain highly complex and not easy to conceptualize, given the multiplicity of actors, their own agendas, and their own concepts of legitimate action. The Modern Conflict Ontology is thus part of an attempt to understand modern conventional and unconventional conflictualities as whole events and situations. The fact that the ontology is embedded in theory offers insights into how the actions of actors create effects that will influence not only other actors but also the whole picture through a precise and conceptually important analysis from an epistemological point of view.

The main objective of this book is therefore to provide a background to the current state of knowledge about conflicts in general, while recording what can be known about the specificities of particular conflicts. Relationships, between actors, objects, and action, are at the heart of the reflection beyond what they are as such, but in order to understand what drives them to act on what they do and to be what/who they are. The book can thus be used as an interesting analytical framework through the set of tools it puts into perspective and offers a real conceptual reflection on modern conflicts as such, by incorporating current trends in unconventional conflicts.

About the Author(s)

Theo Bajon is actually working with the Conventional Arms Programme at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR). He previously worked with the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean as a Project Associate, and with the United Nations Development Programme as a volunteer. He holds a master's degree in International Expertise and Risks at the University of Lyon 3 and a bachelor's degree in Political Science and Europe from the University of Avignon, and he’s currently a PhD candidate in International Defence and Security at the University of Grenoble. He speaks English, French, Occitan, Spanish, Catalan and has some knowledge of Arabic. His research interests focus on post-conflict conventional disarmament processes and the role of regional and local actors in these processes.