Dance of the Nations: Old Problems and New Realities
 Student MA in Politics and International Relations, JRF Political Science
Central University of Gujarat.
|Title:||Dance of the Nations: Old Problems and New Realities|
|Keywords:||War & Peace; New Cold War; US-China Rivalry|
|Issue Date:||October 9, 2023|
|Publisher:||IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute|
|Abstract:||From the history of the Peloponnesian War in the 5th century BC to the war between Russia and Ukraine, the world has come a long way. But the war has never left humanity or rather we should say humanity never left the wars. Tribes fought among themselves in ancient times, Kingdoms and Empires in the medieval age and so did the Westphalian states born on the principles of sovereignty, territory, population, and government. The nations are fighting among themselves and the world has not learned its lessons after fighting the tragic world wars in the twentieth century. The paper ‘Dance of the Nations’ is an attempt to analyze the enduring questions of war and peace and how can these these wars be stopped or at least their magnitude be reduced. The nations dancing on war tunes forget that there is a real threat of an apocalypse since the weapons and scale of the war have risen to a magnitude where we would need thousands of earths to settle the scores. But sadly, we got only one. The paper will also mull over how India can strike a slightly different chord in the era of new bipolarity (rivalry between the USA and China) where ‘nations are dancing to the tunes of these powers’ leading to a peaceful globe.|
|Appears in Collections:||IPRR Vol. 2 (1) [January-June 2023]|
(January-June 2023) Volume 2, Issue 1 | 8th October 2023
ISSN: 2583-3464 (Online)
From the history of the Peloponnesian War in the 5th century BC to the war between Russia and Ukraine, the world has come a long way. But the war has never left humanity or rather we should say humanity never left the wars. Tribes fought among themselves in ancient times, Kingdoms and Empires in the medieval age and so did the Westphalian states born on the principles of sovereignty, territory, population, and government. The nations are fighting among themselves and the world has not learned its lessons after fighting the tragic world wars in the twentieth century. The paper ‘Dance of the Nations’ is an attempt to analyze the enduring questions of war and peace and how can these these wars be stopped or at least their magnitude be reduced. The nations dancing on war tunes forget that there is a real threat of an apocalypse since the weapons and scale of the war have risen to a magnitude where we would need thousands of earths to settle the scores. But sadly, we got only one. The paper will also mull over how India can strike a slightly different chord in the era of new bipolarity (rivalry between the USA and China) where ‘nations are dancing to the tunes of these powers’ leading to a peaceful globe.
War is a persistent feature of world politics. The conception of the nation-state is itself an outcome of thirty years of war and peace in Westphalia in 1648.
In his magnum opus, On War, Carl von Clausewitz gave his famous dictum, “War is nothing but the continuation of policy with other means.” This has been misinterpreted and interpreted in many ways (primarily due to translation errors) but what he meant was that the war should act as an instrument of policy and serve some ends (O’Donovan, 1998). From the history of the Peloponnesian War in the 5th century BC to the war between Russia and Ukraine, the world has come a long way. The tribes, kingdoms, empires, and nation-states have been dancing to the war tunes since antiquity to modernity and the trend is continuing even today.
This article draws its inspiration from George RR Martin’s fantasy ‘Dance of the Dragons‘ which was a civil war that resulted in the downfall of the most powerful Targaryen Empire. The dynasties in the fantasy fought among themselves to the ruins unaware of the real apocalyptic danger from the dead (zombies). The analogy is clear that the nations are fighting among themselves both in terms of interstate wars and internal wars (civil wars) unperturbed by the real threats in terms of Climate Change, Pandemics, Nuclear Wars, and uncontrolled development of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI). These threats have the potential to cause human extinction. Meanwhile, the war of nationalities has receded to the background and the war of identities has taken center stage though not fully. The war has led to death, destruction, and an armament race unaware of the global catastrophic risks. Humanity has created destructive weapons (Nuclear and Biological Weapons) which in case of a total war (a war where actors use all the resources at their disposal and attack even civilians) can destroy our planet Earth, a thousand times over. The road to peace is filled with challenges and the questions on war and peace need to be answered in the context of new emerging realities.
Changes in the Phenomenon of War and Peace
The study of war and peace has evolved significantly over time. The war among states i.e., the inter-state wars was a prominent feature of nineteenth and twentieth-century Europe. Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), World War I (1914-1919), and World War II (1939-1945) led Europe into chaos and disarray (Mulligan, 2008). The total number of military and civilian casualties roughly was 40 million in World War I and 50-60 million in World War II. The post-world war scenario completely transformed the nature of war and during the Cold War, the two superpowers fought mostly proxy wars with some exceptions like during the US-China war in Korean Peninsula (1950-1953). The advent of nuclear weapons was also a tectonic shift in war strategy with the coming up of deterrence theory and the nuclear umbrella being provided by the superpowers. Many argue these acts as a deterrent against a full-scale war and the world has become a relatively stable place (Waltz, 1995) post-World War II but we can see instances of the growing frequency of proxy wars and Militarized Interstate Disputes (MIDs) which is military coercion below the threshold of full-scale war (Jones et al., 1996). The occurrence of intra-state or civil wars has increased post-Cold War fought along the lines of ethnic-religious identities. The most prominent example of intra-state war is the Rwandan Genocide (1990-1994), the Bosnian Civil War (1992-1995), the Syrian Civil War (Since 2011), and Myanmar (Since 2021). The world it seems has not learned its lessons despite witnessing so much death and destruction in the last century and is continuing on the path of death and destruction.
The absence of total war in no way testifies to the world being a peaceful place. Limited wars have been fought among the nations and even nation-state and non-state actors examples being the Sino-Indian Conflict (1962), India-Pakistan (1947,1965,1971,1999), Arab-Israeli War (1948), Vietnam War (1955-1975), Gulf War (1990-1991), Iraq War (2003), and many others. A limited war is a war where the state does not use all the resources at its disposal to fight the war. As per the Correlates of War (COW) interstate wars have dramatically reduced post-world war and the deaths related to extra-state wars have seen tremendous jumps. An extra-state war is when a state clashes with a foreign unrecognized state or a non-state actor. The US attack on Afghanistan (2001-2021) post 9/11 attacks and the US-led action in Syria (2014-till date) can be an example of an extra-state war. These classifications are not watertight and the combination of extra-state and intra-state can occur at the same time, for example, the US-led Global War on Terror Afghanistan is the extra-state for the US, but there is an intra-state war among the different factions in Afghanistan.
The United Nations has been successful in preventing World War III but it has badly failed as an international governmental organization in tackling proxy wars, Militarized Interstate Disputes (MIDs), ethnic-religious clashes, and civil wars. The concept of positive peace (where peace does not merely mean the absence of war but the presence of attitudes, structures, and institutions) that promotes harmony has failed to a great extent (Defining the Concept of Peace » Positive & Negative Peace, n.d.). The death and destruction of precious lives and resources continue despite the peacebuilding and peacemaking efforts by the UN.
The latest conflict between Russia and Ukraine is another example of the long war list. The war has never left humanity or we can say humanity has never left war. The road to peace seems difficult but at the same time, the world needs to devise a mechanism or theory which can attain relative peace, if not minimize the impact of wars. But the realities have changed the scales have magnified, and so has the cost of war. The war fuels the economy of an unprecedented kind. There is a simple correlation between wars and the profitability of weapons-manufacturing countries. Scholars argue that vested interests keep the war machinery running to suit their military-industrial complex. The newer technologies have acted as a catalyst that has increased the propensity of war. One single miscalculation can cause total annihilation of the planet which is already reeling under huge pressures from climate change, economic inequalities, illegal migration, and ethno-religious conflicts.
The anarchy in international relations is a fertile ground for chaos to prosper. The revival of Great Power Politics due to the monumental rise of China which is seen as a revisionist power challenges the existing institutions and liberal rule-based order. The sparks can be seen in the Taiwan Strait (post-Nancy Pelosi’s visit ) and the Galwan incident (2020). These manifestations of changing world order can be a threat to global peace as no great power has gone down without fighting. The US is going all out to arrest the rise of China. It remains to be seen whether China goes down the route of the USSR in providing a peaceful end to Cold War 2.0 or China rises to the top displacing the US. The world is witnessing the signs of old power politics like balancing and alliances with the formation of groupings like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) consisting of the US, India, Japan, Australia; Australia, United Kingdom, and the United States trilateral grouping (AUKUS); and the growing proximity of China-Iran-Russia axis. The world order is seeing a tectonic shift and the shift is causing tensions (Debate on the “Democratic Peace”: A Review, n.d.)
Pathway to Peace
As American political activist A.J. Muste once said, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” Scholars have debated for a long on the potential pathway to peace in international politics. The most prominent are the Democratic Peace Theory and Hegemonic Stability Theory. The theories have a mixed experience in the way they have been successful in theorizing that democracies are less likely to wage a war with each other. Hegemonic Stability Theory argues for stability in world affairs in the presence of a dominant power (Webb & Krasner, 1989). Pax Romana in the case of the Roman Empire, Pax Britannica about the British Empire, and Pax Americana about American leadership of the global order are referred to as being prime examples of hegemonic stability theory. The hegemonic stability theory benefits the hegemon and leads to the impoverishment of other nation-states.
Scholars of international relations also argue for an international government structure on the lines of the European Union where a supranational body governs at the cost of loss of some kind of sovereignty of the nation-states. But seeing the events of Brexit and the tensions within the European Union, it is highly unlikely that an international government could overcome the anarchic structure. The United Nations being an international organization has largely failed in providing a mechanism where the nation-state can resolve their differences without going to war. The role of the UN has been limited to peacebuilding and peacekeeping operations. The nation-states remain the unitary actors in global politics and the major powers play the veto card in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to suit their interests at the cost of peace and prosperity. The collective security arrangements have been largely successful like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but their expansion after the fall of the USSR is being questioned.
The Russian-Ukrainian conflict is being fought on Ukraine’s eagerness to join NATO; this is itself the biggest question mark on the collective security architecture. The question of war and peace is an enduring question in international relations. The wars in the age of European imperialism were being fought on the issue of the acquisition of more and more territory. The Cold War was fought on the issue of ideology which in turn was an attempt to expand the sphere of influence which in turn was for the benefit of the two superpowers. After the disintegration of the USSR in the 1990s the capitalist ideology prevailed and scholars like Fukuyama termed it as the end of history. In the post-Cold War era, inter-state wars reduced and the world saw a significant rise in the instances of ethnic conflicts. This was somewhere along the lines of the Clash of Civilizations and the 9/11 attacks in the US gave currency to the theory (Huntington, 1993). There is a dire need for the Compatibility of Civilizations to take precedence over the Clash of Civilizations for a peaceful world. How this will be achieved is a complex question.
We can hedge our bets against the catastrophic challenges, which may bind the globe together. Until then, the combination of hegemonic stability and democratic peace is the best among the worst where more democratic nations exist that are war averse (with complex interdependence and people-to-people connections), where it is difficult to wage a war with a potential regional hegemon to lead the way along with robust international laws and institutions. These must work in cohesion so that faith in this kind of international structure remains unquestioned. The goal is to enhance multilateralism where the voice of all including the global south is heard with the north providing the capacity-building tools on the bedrock of technological innovations.
The institutions must reflect the current geopolitical realities and the role of middle powers needs to be enhanced. Multilateralism and rule-based international order with democracy at its core are key for a peaceful globe. Countries like India have much to offer to this world in terms of inner peace through ancient philosophical and spiritual traditions of non-violence and yoga. Outer peace by following the mantra of ‘Vasudhiava Kutumbakam’ i.e., when we think of this world as a family, we are less likely to ruin it through wars. India can be a perfect state with tremendous balancing power. It can be ideal for the other states especially the global South being in working relations with both power centers namely the US and China. At a time when nations are dancing to the tunes of these two great powers, India is asserting its strategic autonomy. The world needs truly an India Way to peace and harmony in the world of anarchy and geopolitical uncertainty.
Debate on the “Democratic Peace”: A Review. (n.d.). Available at: https://ciaotest.cc.columbia.edu/olj/ad/ad_v9_1/gis01.html
Defining the Concept of Peace » Positive & Negative Peace. (n.d.). Available at: https://www.visionofhumanity.org/defining-the-concept-of-peace/
Huntington, S. P. 1993. The Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs, 72(3): 22–49. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2307/20045621
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