I have been thinking for a while about penning my thoughts on Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s quip: “This-is-not-an-era-of-war”.
It struck a chord with everyone and not just world leaders— I hope our valiant soldiers haven’t heard it though—for we watch helplessly ourselves being devoured by the Satan of Death.
Yet Modi understands India’s rise disturbs the biggies, as a fresher would do to any established order.
Our impressive defense budget — 13.18% of total budget 2023—mirrors it even if “surgical strikes” or squaring up in Ladakh against two nuclear neighbours is downplayed by those with the remote of narrative in their palms.
The truth is there has never been an “era-without-a-war” in the last 2,500 years of human affairs. You don’t need to dust off history to learn about Germanic tribes ambushing Romans in Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE. We have caves and sculptures, urns, paintings and statutes as enduring evidence that warfare has been a constant in our existence.
So noble as the words are, I hope it doesn’t dull the aches from our history like when Portugal first eyed our riches five centuries ago and went beyond just trading which was the norm till then of our world; plundering, bombing, using terror to embed themselves on our landscape and fuelling the Dutch and Englishmen to do more of the same to our eternal misfortune.
It’s just not India, history is full of tales when nations took their eyes off and repented for ages: Incans and Mayans in Latin America; Prussians (1806), Russians (1905), French (1940) in Europe; Iraqis (2003) and Libyans (2014) in Asia; and in case of Africa an entire continent which nurtured first the Arabs and then the West with the blood of its sons.
Yet, how do we define war?
Is it just just armies squaring themselves across the borders or are there other ways to get what you want?
For instance, what is terrorism but an instrument of war?
An instrument which inserts mercenaries or traitors within to spread fear or communal divide to render law and order redundant;
An instrument through which secessionists break-up a nation, like Pakistan happened and Khalistan is hoped for.
(What was “Direct Action Day” in Calcutta but a tool to sever India of one-third of its limbs.)
Or the financial wars through the instruments of sanctions which are 20 nations-and-counting in the ledgers of the United States.
Or biological wars for that matter through which societies could be brought on to knees. Covid anyone?
Or the fifth column—among one’s own in media, judiciary, politics, lawmakers etc—being beholden to NGOs, civil and human rights groups, many of which dip in the pond of funds granted by the usual foreign suspects.
Or information wars such as Social Media giants unleash, looking the other way as people are mobilized, streets are filled, and a cascading effect hoped towards a regime change.
All of these forms, come to think of it, are used as militarized weapons in our times.
If war is nothing but an instrument for political goals there are more than one way to skin a cat.
The revered Carl von Clausewitz, in his monumental On War, said that war is nothing but continuation of politics by other means.
German legal philosopher Carl Schmitt, reviled as “Hitler’s jurist”, once wrote that not just conventional war, there is always a dynamic existing within states—“every religious, moral, economic, ethical”—which could be transformed towards a political end by creating a “friend-enemy” binary.
Let me give an example which bubbled up the surface recently.
This is about the recent massive unrest in Georgia.
Now Georgia lies in the south of Russia, above Turkey with the Black Sea on its west.
The streets of Tbilisi, its capital, became a sea of humanity in mid-March in protest against a draft law which required NGOs to register as “agents of foreign influence” if 20% or more of all its funds were of foreign origin.
Now Georgia has a lot of NGOs and a lot of them are serviced by foreign networks we have come to know as anarchists in democracy’s cloak: There is George Soros’ Open Society Foundations; National Endowment for Democracy and National Democratic Institute who have poured in tens of millions of dollars to NGOs holding the placards of “democracy”, “human rights”, “religious freedom” etc in their fist.
This has been happening for decades in Georgia: The foreign funds arrive in a noble garb; are then liberally diffused amongst politicians, judges, media etc. The society is thus kept in ferment and governance suspended. Twice, the NGOs have managed to change regimes in Georgia, in 2003 and 2012.
What follows next is copybook toolkit: Those who throw a Molotov cocktail at a hapless cop or set a police van on fire are put forth by media as fearless souls who are risking lives to uphold the “noblest of human values.” Cops who lift baton are portrayed as instruments of an oppressive, Fascist, Nazi-like regime.
Now no sooner than Georgia passed this Foreign Agents’ Bill, the powers in West quivered with rage.
Washington said it was “deeply troubled” and that the bill was “Kremlin-inspired.” The foreign policy chief of the European Union, Josep Borrell, termed the development as “incompatible with EU values and standards.”
Sure enough, in a blink, the Georgian government backed out and scrapped the bill “unconditionally”.
Georgia of course didn’t have the stomach to point out to Washington that its proposed law was no different to what has been in force in the United States itself since 1938 (Foreign Agents Registration Act).
Or the United Kingdom goes by the same maxim as does a number of European nations. In Canada a similar bill is in works to stop what is termed as Chinese interference in federal elections!
So in our flexible media jargon, a similar set of persons could be described as “terrorists” or as “freedom fighters” given which page of the agenda rulebook you are on.
This malleable power finds no wrong if you accept Taiwan as part of One China and yet fund and arm them to the teeth against the mainland;
This malleable power likewise justifies all that flows to Ukraine as a bid to uphold its democracy. Never mind, the Kiev regime had cracked down on opponents, censored media and killed its own people much before Russia put boots on its ground.
So don’t be surprised if a coup, similar to one in Ukraine in 2014, happens in Georgia soon: And a puppet regime is put in place.
For all you know another Ukraine could happen before this Ukraine ends.
As I said, who needs conventional wars when you have other means more than one?
War has always been an element of human existence and it would always be.
The Greeks and the Romans both termed War as nothing but an intrigue of the Gods; and that humanity could never get itself rid of it.
Voltaire, the very face of Enlightenment, believed that “famine, plague and war are the three most famous ingredients of this wretched world.”
So it’s tricky to breed the belief that war in today’s era is an exception and not a norm. It could leave citizens unprepared.
A citizenry, thus lulled, is never switched on and could easily be swayed by fifth columns against what is pursued by the government in national interest.
Indeed, I believe we the citizens pay attention to the goals and sacrifices our defense forces make towards making us safe. (Agniveers, in this respect, ought to have us on our feet, applauding).
Our military institutions should communicate more often with the citizens, in language easily understandable and not with some word-sophistry, to avoid dangerous distortions by those who don’t mean good. (That’s what at least I do, keep it as simple as feasible on matters which concern India’s strategic interests.)
Every time a howl goes up against the purchase of a Rafale or a S-400 anti missiles, or an INS Vikramaditya refitted, there ought to be a sustained information/conversation between our defense forces and citizenry.
This could be important for others but for democracy it’s absolutely vital.
People are of essence and they ought to be on the same page or India’s march onwards could suffer.
A desirable national character, if dormant, ought to be revived.
There would be moments when a Francis Fukuyama would tell us it’s end of history; a Norman Angell would argue that militarism could be obsolete; a Steven Pinker would drums in our ears that large-scale violence is on its way out.
We all know it’s not true.
We have the evidence of history.
I admit it’s not a good feeling that humanity doesn’t have a way out of cycle of wars, in all its forms.
I leave you with the rather chilling words of Vladimir Lenin: “There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”
Simply, as the Romans said, If you want peace, prepare for war.