Introduction: The Limited War Concept and its Origin

            At the peak of World War II, British military historian Sir. Basil Henry Liddell Hart pursued the thought of “limiting wars” believing that an increase in total wars would connote greater risk in the freedom of the people (Chandran, 2004, n.p). He advocated limited war not as a kind of strategy but because of two developments happening in the world. First is the creation of “automatic warfare” which has more destructive power than the ones used before; and second is the invention of the atomic bomb wherein utilizing it ends up in a zero-sum game since both parties would not benefit considering that they will both be able to acquire the weapon (Chandran, 2004, n.p).

            Various definitions were associated with the concept of limited war. However, Suba Chandran summed it up saying that limited war basically involves: “ a miliary confrontation between two belligerents with concrete and well-defined objectives, both belligerents believe that such a military confrontation can be confined geographically and have minimal impact on civilians, and that such a military confrontation does not demand maximum military efforts” (Chandran, 2004, n.p).

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            Basically, this research will qualitatively analyze the circumstances where limited war was proven to be successful and on how the experiences in limited wars can be applicable in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The study will also look for the differences between the conflicts that will be discussed.

Limited War Study: The Kargil Conflict

            Finding its origin from a person in the European region, the limited war theory was also considered in the Asian region. The Republic of India, with the backing and support from the United States of America engaged in a limited war with Pakistan during the Kargil conflict in 1998 in an atempt to find new strategies to deal with the security of the area (Chandran, 2004, n.p). Various factors paved the way for India and the US to utilize limited war strategy in its relation with Pakistan. First of all, there was a failure in having a political dialogue between India and Pakistan. The second factor is the emergence of militants in the Jammu and Kashmir areas. The third was the Kargil War, which some sections of India perceived as a limited war (Chandran, 2004, n.p). But, is the Kargil War really identified as a limited war by both belligerent states? Do India and Pakistan recognize the idea that they are within bounds of a limited war?

            Using Suba Chandran’s definition as a point of reference, India and Pakistan are considerably under the conditions of a limited war. First of all, the two countries were already under a military confrontation because they are already sending troops in Kargil and their primary goal is to pressure the other faction into giving up the claim of the region. There was also a geographical limitation considering the Line of Control within the disputed Kargil district separating India and Pakistan’s area. Lastly, there was also a significant minimal militarization such that there were limited utilization of weapons like “mortars, multi-barrel rockets, and howitzers” and limited number of  air and ground forces (Chandran, 2004, n.p). However, the figures and estimates regarding the total ground forces in both India and Pakistan is unclear since both factions do not want to present concrete numbers of involved people as a form of security and only came up with approximations.

            As perceived in the above assessment, it is observable that the limited war is seen to be applicable in situations or circumstances when both belligerent parties are in recognition of each other’s position in the conflict and awareness in the problem. From a realist’s perspective, Henry Kissinger assumes that limited war is favored when both factions are attempting to influence the undertakings of their opponent but not to completely annihilate them (Viotti & Kauppi, 2001, n.p). However, from an idealist’s perspective, the international system is something that works under the concept of multilateralism and diplomatically discussess the issue  (Chenoy, 2007, n.p). So, in assessing the rate as to whether limited war is successful or not is highly subjective and influenced by different schools of thought.

The Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and Limited War

            The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq were both against the US state with the war in Afghanistan occuring in year 2001 and the war in Iraq in 2003. Both wars, aside from being connected with the US military forces, is also linked through USA’s launching of the War on Terror campaign after the 9/11 attack at the World Trade Center (“Project on Defense Alternatives,” 2008, n.p).

            The United States of America launched an attack against the Afghanistan guerilla forces called “Operation Enduring Freedom” in October 7, 2001 with four main goals: to capture Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network; to weaken Al Qaeda making them incapable of posing threats to America’s national interest; to put an end to terrorists seeking refuge in Afghanistan; and to break the link between the Afghan rulers and terrorism (Aldape, 2002, n.p).

            On the other hand, the war in Iraq was staged by the US army together with its allies in their Counter-Terrorism campaign. The invasion was pursued because of the following reasons: human rights violation and atrocities by Saddam Hussein and Iraq’s manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction (Porter, 2008, n.p).

            Looking at the two almost similar conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is observable that the situation is incomparable with the Kargil conflict. Although the three conflicts are similar in the sense that they all involve militarization and casualties, the Kargil conflict could be considered under the conditions of a limited war because of the awareness of the two states of a waging war as compared to Iraq and Afghanistan’s circumstance. The Iraq and Afghanistan war with US is considerably total war because looking at the goals of US and the factors that triggered it to attack the other faction, it is unilaterally done and inacted without the consent of the Iraqi and Afghan governments as to their attack. Moreover, in relation to the objectives laid down between the conflicting forces, the Kargil war has a more or less clearer sets of goals between India and Pakistan as compared to Iraq – US and Afghanistan – US conflicts.

            The current Iraq and Afghanistan wars with the US could lessen its cost of war by learning from the Kargil experience. The Iraq – US and Afghanistan – US relations should be enhanced in such a way that its government leaders should hold more negotiations and better communication so as to have a clearer perspective of the motives of every faction. Moreover, the conflicting forces should also come up with a demilitarization plan wherein both will gradually lessen the quantity of the weapons they use and also minimize their ground and air troops. Applying such proposals may not actually lessen war casualties since majority of them are non-combatants, but demilitarizing and communicating helps lessen massive damages to the lifestyle of citizens, and the spill-over of the conflict into other aspects of the state like in the economy and socio-cultural development.


Aldape, S. (2002). The U.S. Campaign in Afghanistan: The Year in Review. Retrieved May 7, 2008  from DocumentID=367;IssueID=48;StartRow=71;ListRows=10;appendURL=;Orderby=DateLastUpdated;ProgramID=39;issueID=48.

Chandran, S. (2004). Limited War With Pakistan: Will It Secure India’s Interests? Retrieved May 5, 2008 from

Chenoy, A. (2007). Demystifying Terrorism : a War Against Terror & The Terror Of War, US Hegemony & Militarism. ARENA.

Porter, K. (2008). The Iraq War. Retrieved May 7, 2008 from

Project Defense Alternatives. (2008). War Report. Retrieved May 7, 2008 from

Viotti, P.R., & Kauppi, M.V. (2001). International Relations and World Politics: Security, Economy, Identity. 2nd ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.



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