Geo Political Instability

World Must Shift Confrontation To Cooperation

The Statesman | Sep 17, 2002

Political considerations must not be allowed to override international security concerns; and militarised foreign policy should not dictate political discourse. To ensure security and stability, today all nations need to exhibit immense political will, ingenuity and imaginations while dealing with the various new factors and forces, which have come into play.

The 20th century was mired in conflict and was the bloodiest in history, but the period of the Cold War between Nato and the Warsaw Pact was one marked particularly by strife and chaos. Numerous wars and small conflicts the world over resulted in the loss of life and property on a very large scale. One or the other great power was invariably behind these conflicts, directly or indirectly. However, the threats were almost always predictable and a balance of power system, tentative and skewed as it was, ensured that the world was spared the spectre of another major world war.

Foremost challenge

The peace dividend expected to accrue at the end of the Cold War failed to materialise. The unexpected and sudden breakup of the Soviet Union created a power vacuum and further exacerbated the prevailing uncertainties. Long-suppressed ethno-nationalist aspirations for autonomy and self-governance came to the fore the world over. Fissiparous tendencies surfaced where the existence of fissures in society could never have even been imagined — for example in former Yugoslavia. Wars of interest were supplemented by wars of conscience as the international community, newly awakened to the horrors of the violation of human rights, moved to relieve the suffering of those who had been long oppressed and those who were being victimised for sectarian and ethnic differences. Movements for democracy came to the fore in many countries governed by dictatorial and authoritarian regimes.

The proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction has become a major concern in the emerging world order, Some analysts have classified terrorism as the foremost challenge confronting the world today. Other non-military threats to national security, such as the proliferation of small arms, low levels of food, energy and water security, mass migrations, information warfare, narcotics trafficking, ecological disasters and environmental concerns, have now begun to overtake military threats. In. short strategic uncertainties have become the order of the day. Planning for defence and national security in such a scenario is becoming increasingly more difficult and complex.

Defence planning is necessarily based on a nation’s perceptions of the strategic capabilities and intentions of its adversaries. It is directly affected by the changes that may possibly come about as the adversaries develop new capabilities over many decades. Obviously, threat perceptions vary from country to country and even within countries. In an era of Strategic uncertainty, it is more prudent to opt for capability based force structures rather than threat-based planning as it would then be easier to react to emerging threats.

At the same time, when capability base planning is discussed the various types of emerging threats for which the capabilities are to be acquired, must be skilfully visualised through a process of systematic analysis. The capabilities to be created should be inherently flexible to react to changes, which will inevitably take place. Hence, under such circumstances, it is necessary to possess both a strong conventional capability at all times, backed by nuclear weapons where the security environment so demands, and a capability to react to emerging situations short of conventional conflict.

While the possibility of conventional wars cannot be ruled out, the time has come to redefine the role of armed forces since non-military threats to security, including internal security threats, are gaining greater importance day by day. The ruling elites in some of the developing countries are of the view that it is necessary to give the armed forces a role in the governance of the country so as to help in the management of internal security and law and order.

Checks and balances

If such a course of action appears unavoidable, due to the complexities, of the internal security threats being faced by a particular state and its apparent inability to deal with the situation with the help of only the civilian police and paramilitary forces, very carefully thought out checks and balances will need to be built into the system to ensure that the fundamental rights of the people are not compromised by giving a role to the armed forces in governance.

Such a role for the armed forces is best avoided; instead, civilian security forces should be strengthened to deal with problems such as insurgencies and foreign sponsored large-scale terrorism. Pakistan is a case in point. The Pakistan army has had a de facto role in governance for almost half a century. General Musharraf is now trying to legitimise that role into a de jure one.
Often, discussions on defence planning tend to focus too much on defence expenditure as a percentage of the GNP. While this may be a reasonably reliable comparative indicator, it is not a good yardstick of whether a country is spending an adequate amount for national security, or whether the expenditure is too much or even too little.

A nation must first analyse the threats to its security and then decide on the level of defence spending that it can afford to meet these threats. Depending upon its stage of development and its need for strengthening its socioeconomic infrastructure, it may not be able to fully meet its defence expenditure requirements. Today, it is widely accepted that there is a need for two kinds of forces; one, to meet external threats to national security and the second, to meet internal threats to security, including terrorism. However, what really matters is how much the budget can support the capabilities required for these two kinds of forces.

While discussing a framework for international security, the world needs to come to terms with the type of attacks that are being routinely launched by the US on Iraq and the present preparations for another assault on that country. These attacks are without the sanction of the UN Security Council and are taking place against a country that has not committed aggression after 1991.

The international system appears to have serious loopholes that allow the infringement of national sovereignty by two or more nuclear weapons states coming together. A similar thing could happen to other nations in future. The “might is right” school of thought cannot be allowed to gain prominence in international affairs.

Even in this mega-media age in the wired and networked world that knows no commercial and intellectual boundaries, national sovereignty must remain sacrosanct if international chaos is to be avoided. This is even more important in the era of strategic uncertainty. If the basic tenets of international law are violated, this will in itself contribute further to instability in the world and create still more uncertainties. It is axiomatic that when a nation is forced into a back-to-the-wall situation it is likely to be forced to take precipitate action that may endanger life and property in large areas of the world.

The increasing promiscuity in the international marketing of arms and ammunition is also leading to the creation of instability in many regions of the world as it creates disparities and spurs an arms race.

Vested interests

This is an important factor to be considered when taking up the issue of regional and international security and discussing ways and means to reduce threats to national sovereignty. The United Nations Arms Register has quite obviously not had the impact that it had been designed for. The vested commercial interests of powerful arms lobbies must not be allowed to annul years of diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions. Political considerations must not be allowed to override international security concerns; and militarised foreign policy should not dictate political discourse.

The factor of emerging developments in weapons technology will have a major bearing on international security in the coming decades. Also, the cost of military equipment is progressively rising and defence requirements have to compete with other pressing developmental needs.

Hence, to ensure security and stability, today all nations need to exhibit immense political will, ingenuity and imaginations while dealing with the various new factors and forces, which have come into play. While defence and national security can never be planned at the cost of development, it must be recognised that meaningful development cannot take place in an unstable security environment. In a situation of uncertainty and fear, industry can never hope to prosper and negative growth rates are likely to be achieved. It is a fundamental duty of the state to ensure the basic security of all its citizens and their enterprises.

There is a need for greater understanding and cooperation among members of the international community to shift from confrontation to cooperation and evolve a viable security framework for the 21st century. Concepts like containment and balance of power are relics of the Cold War and are neither feasible nor desirable any longer.

What the people of the world need on priority are enhanced Impetus to human development and the safeguarding of values like human rights. This is possible only in an assured environment of durable peace. The great powers must take the lead in this noble venture.