21st century: main conflicts and wars of the current century –

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21st century: the Age of Terror

If, for some authors, the 20th century actually began in 1914, due to the First World War; For others, the 21st century actually began in September 11, 2001with the terrorist attack on the twin towers of World Trade Centerin New York, and the building of the Pentagon (headquarters of the US Department of Defense), in Washington (capital of the United States).

These attacks were planned and executed by the internationally active Islamic terrorist network, Al-Qaeda, which, at the time, was commanded by the Saudi Osama Bin Laden. This event revealed not only a new form of terrorist attack, larger and better coordinated, but also a new conception of war.

Measures against Terror

The fact is that, after the September 11 attacks, the US’ first decidedly warlike measure was to search for and attack Al-Qaeda training centers. At the time, al-Qaeda was based in Afghanistan and received support from Talibanan Islamic fundamentalist group active in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The search for Bin Laden and other members of Al-Qaeda triggered the Afghanistan Warin 2002, whose most significant moment was the Battle of Tora Bora. These actions in retaliation for the September 11, 2001 attacks constituted what the administration of US President George W. Bush called War on Terror.

Bombing in Tora Bora, where members of the terrorist group Al-Qaeda were hiding

The “War on Terror” was the model of war that stood out most in the first decade of the 21st century. This happened, especially, due to the Iraq War (or as some authors call it, “Second Gulf War”), which began in 2003 and only ended in 2011. The Iraq War constituted an extension of the “War on Terror” from the United States, but with an emphasis on Islamic authoritarian regimes that represented an international danger because they contained weapons of mass destruction. This was the case of Iraq, which had chemical weapons that had been used, in the 1980s, to decimate thousands of Kurdish people. The issue of possession of this type of weapon was the main justification for the outbreak of war on Iraqi soil.

Side effects of measures against Terror

The big problem faced in Iraqi territory by American troops was not exactly the resistance of armed forces linked to Saddan Hussein, but the internal wars between jihadist groups*, who were also interested in overthrowing Saddan and controlling Iraqi territory. Among these groups was a faction of Al-Qaeda. The government administration of Barack Obama, elected after the end of Bush’s term, decided to withdraw American troops from Iraq and entrust control of the country to a provisional government. The complete withdrawal of troops occurred in December 2011.

That same year, many of the outbreaks of insurrection against the provisional government began to gain more strength. In the years that followed, Iraq found itself immersed in a widespread civil war, which continues to this day. One of the jihadist groups that took the most advantage of this situation was the Islamic state, which we will talk about later. First, we need to talk a little about the call “Arab Spring”, an event that changed the situation in the Islamic world and which could be the center of countless future wars.

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Importance of the Arab Spring

A «Arab Spring» was a succession of insurrectionary uprisings that took place in countries in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 and 2012. When the first uprisings occurred in 2011, many journalists and experts in the Islamic world said that the “Arab Spring” aimed to overthrow the dictatorships of the countries in question and establish a democratic regime.

It turns out that, over time, the massive presence of radical Islamic ideology in the rebels was verified, given that a large part of them are defenders of the implementation of the ShariaIslamic law, and jihad. This ideology penetrated these rebel groups through Muslim Brotherhoodan organization founded in the 1920s, in Egypt, which has been one of the greatest propagators of the main ideas of Islamic terrorism.

Countries like Egypt, Libya It is Tunisia their political, economic and social structure was completely transformed by the Arab Spring. The risk of civil wars is imminent in these countries, which may also suffer from the actions of terrorist groups, as is the case in Syria, one of the targets of the “Arab Spring”.

A Syria, commanded by the dictator Bashar Al-Assad, has faced a civil war since 2011 against various jihadist pockets seeking to overthrow Assad. Unlike the Iraqi case, mentioned above, Syria did not suffer direct interference from the US, but some of the rebel groups operating in its territory received weapons, training and American money. The problem is that many of these rebels are mercenaries and fight for whoever offers the biggest amount. One of the most powerful terrorist groups today, the Islamic stateis the one who benefits most from this.

Syria’s dictator, Bashar Al-Assad, seeks to remain in charge of the country **

The uniqueness of the Islamic State

O Islamic state it originated from a rupture between the group that represented al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Qaeda’s own central command. This Iraqi group decided to also operate in Syria around 2011. In Syria, there was already another group sponsored by Al-Qaeda, the Al-Nusra, which led to a clash between the two projects. The leader of the Iraqi group, Abu Bakr Al-Bahgdadielevated the status of the jihadist group to the category of State, calling it Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or Levant, as the Syrian territory where they operate is also known), whose acronym in English is ISIS. Three years later, in August 2014, this same leader declared himself caliph of the Islamic State. From then on, the group’s name became known simply as the Islamic State. Many Iraqi army officers, previously loyal to Saddan, began to side with Caliph Abu Bahgdadi, as researcher Patrick Cockburn points out:

“Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi began to emerge from the shadows in the summer of 2010, when he became the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, after his predecessors were killed in an attack carried out by troops from that country and the United States. Al-Qaeda in Iraq was in bad shape as the Sunni rebellion, in which it had previously played a leading role, was collapsing. It was revived by the Sunni uprising in Syria in 2011 and, over the next three years, by a series of carefully planned campaigns, both there and in Iraq. It is not known to what extent al-Baghgdadi was directly responsible for the military strategy and tactics of al-Qaeda in Iraq and later ISIS. Former senior Iraqi army and intelligence officials under Saddan Hussein played a central role, but are under the overall leadership of al-Bahgadadi.”

In addition to being an openly terrorist group (the most emblematic case of terrorism committed by the Islamic State was the November 13 attacks,, in Paris) and jihadist, the Islamic State has a proposal to effectively build a State, that is, a jihadist Islamic nation based on sharia***. This State would not be limited to the region of Iraq and Syria, but would have the objective of conquering all the territory that, between the Middle Ages and the Modern Age, belonged to Islamic civilization.

The great risk that the Islamic State and its new form of warfare, which is not only conventional and terrorist, but also cultural and religious, represent for the 21st century is the fascination they provoke in young people around the world, who volunteer to fight in the “caliphate” wars and to carry out terrorist attacks in any part of the world. Another, even greater, danger is that, if the objective of founding a State (with a health system, education, etc.) is achieved, the Islamic State will be recognized as such. This is what specialist Loretta Napoleoni argues:

“Regardless of how we face them, the birth of the Caliphate serves to warn us that what politicians mistook for a new species of terrorism may, in fact, be a new model of terrorism. In other words, the Islamic State can break with tradition and resolve the dilemma of terrorism by succeeding in creating a nation, earning for members of an armed organization the status of enemies and, for civilian populations, the status of citizens. . Even without diplomatic recognition, the simple existence of the Caliphate would lead the international community to look at terrorism with a different eye.”

Other conflicts

In addition to these conflicts in the Middle East and the risks posed by the Islamic State, the 21st century has also presented other sources of tension. In the sub-Saharan region of the African continent, there is civil war in Kenya and Nigeria, where there is also the activity of a terrorist group, the Boko Haram. In the region of Caucasusthere was a Chechen insurgency Against the Russiawhich was only properly controlled in 2006. There was also tension between Russia It is Ukraine, due to the strategic region of Crimea, at the beginning of 2014. Little by little, many geopolitical transformations are becoming more pronounced in these regions of the world, especially in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The hotbeds of current wars are located in these regions.

*Jihadists: The expression “jihadist” comes from the term “jihad”, which means “effort” in Arabic, and originally indicated asceticism, the effort or spiritual warfare to become a virtuous person. With the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, this term came to be identified with the “holy war against the infidels”, that is, a war against everyone who does not share the Islamic faith.

** Image credits: Shutterstock and Valentina Petrov

*** Sharia: Sharia, or Islamic law, is a set of legal prescriptions about people’s conduct that is based on interpretations of the Quran. Jihadist groups often use distorted interpretations of these prescriptions to commit atrocities, such as the sexual enslavement of women, the hanging of homosexuals, and the beheading and crucifixion of Christians.


COCKBURN, Patrick. The Origin of the Islamic State: the failure of the “War on Terror” and the jihadist rise. Sã Paulo: Autonomia Literária, 2015. p 85.
NAPOLEONI, Loretta. The Islamic Phoenix: The Islamic state and the reconfiguration of the Middle East. Rio de Janeiro: Bertrand Brasil, 2015.pp. 77-78

By Me. Cláudio Fernandes