Mary Kaldor leads the academic community in heralding a definition for new wars specifically. According to Kaldor in her book New and Old Wars, new wars:
- are fought by varying combinations of state and non-state networks
- use identity politics to fight in name of a label as opposed to ideology
- attempt to achieve political, rather than physical, control of the population through fear and terror
- are no longer financed through the state but through other predatory means that seek the continuation of violence.
Kaldor's definition of 'new wars' is made within the context of a wider 'new wars thesis' debate between academics on how to properly define or brand the apparent revolution in warfare in the post-Cold War world. Kaldor purports that new war characteristics must be analyzed within the context of globalization. Kaldor does admit that 'new wars' are not necessarily new, in that they have no precedent in history; however, she insists on keeping the term because there is still a definite need for new policy responses. Old international strategies have failed to address the characteristics of new wars successfully and instead continue to treat it as old conventional warfare. The term is an antonym of conventional warfare whereupon conventional military weapons and battlefield tactics are no longer used between two or more states in open confrontation.
Other authors have also attempted to characterize the shift in warfare, but they have chosen to use another descriptor. Recognizing the blur between state and non-state actors and dual conflation of interstate and intrastate conflict, Frank Hoffman characterizes modern wars as "hybrid wars". John Mueller in Remnants of War describes modern warfare as "criminal" and perpetuated by small bands of greedy and predatory thugs. Martin Shaw chose the term "degenerate war" to describe how warfare is now directed toward the mass destruction of populations.
Often, the term "new war" is compared to or defined as "low intensity conflict", a term invented by the US Army which broadly encompasses all modern warfare that don't quite meet the threshold or level of violence found in conventional wars.
Post- Cold War era war in Africa dubbed New Wars by Mary Kaldor in New and Old Wars: Organised violence in a global era (1999), has been criticized by some, who question whether the distinction between old/new can be made (Utas 2012).
De Waal (Utas 2012) stipulates that the idea of “New Wars” used by Mary Kaldor is not a description of new conflicts as such but a description of conflicts in less governed countries.
Duffield (Utas 2012) suggests that what is viewed as ‘new’ is the security terrain which has been shaped by what he terms network war. Describing network wars as ‘rhizomatic and anti institution in character’, which can be typically associated with alterations in social life. Network wars are seen as uncertain and violent form of reflexive modernity and where ‘war as a reflexive network enterprise does not follow the traditional state-based pattern of escalation, stalemate and decline’. Furthermore, the wars in Africa are seen not just seen as involving national but with other international actors.
- Kaldor, Mary (2012), New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era (Cambridge: Polity)
- Hoffman, Frank (2007), The Rise of Hybrids Wars (Arlington, VA: Potomac Institute for Policy Studies
- Mueller, John (2004), The Remnants of War (New York: Cornell University Press)
- Shaw, Martin (2003), War and Genocide (Oxford: Polity Press)
- United States Department of the Army (5 December 1990), Field Manual 100-20: Military Operations in Low Intensity Conflict
- Utas, Mats ed. (2012) 'Introduction: Bigmanity and network governance in Africa', African Conflicts and informal power: big men and networks. London: Zed books. Pp. 1-34.
- Mary Kaldor: New and Old Wars. Organized Violence in a Global Era. Stanford 1999, ISBN 978-0-8047-5646-4
- Mary Kaldor: “Old Wars, Cold Wars, New Wars, and the War on Terror”, Lecture given to the Cold War Studies Centre, London School of Economics, February 2nd, 2005
- Ismail Küpeli: Die neuen Kriege - Einige Anmerkungen zu Kriegslegitimationen des 21. Jahrhunderts, in: ibd.: Europas "Neue Kriege", Moers 2007, ISBN 978-3-9810846-4-1 (critique on the idea of "new wars" in German, free download)
- Herfried Münkler: The New Wars. 2004, ISBN 978-0-7456-3337-4