The Art of War in Global Politics: Whither South Asia?

1887; Asia Is The World’s Most Dangerous Continent

Abu Sufian Shamrat

The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected (Sun Tzu). However, the history of art of war roots back to the rise of property ownership and motivation of expanding imperialism under several empires states to strengthen the imperialist system of colonialism. From ancient to contemporary global politics there are several traditions of the art of war, and the prominent traditions include:

The Clausewitzian or instrumentalist tradition which considers war as a part of political intercourse of governments and nations (Clausewitz: 1968).
The Machiavellian tradition emphasis on the management of the war and military affairs centering the ‘double standard of morality.’

The Hobbesian or realist tradition which views international politics as a state of war against all with a zero-sum game in a moral and legal vacuum.
The Marxist or dialectical materialist tradition which interprets the historical development as a resultant of class struggle where the state, as an instrument of the dominant class, will be withered away through the means of proletarian war against the bourgeoisie.

The Critical or contemporary tradition sees war within a transnational paradigm which includes regional-global conflict over the environment, terrorism, illegal migration, humanitarian issues, energy, strategic resources, and postures.

Since the ancient period, there exists a long-standing debate regarding the courses, forces, scale, and management of war through the very basis of the art of war in contemporary world politics aggregates most of the principles of the war traditions. Globalization of economics, politics, society, culture, civilization, and conflict is shaping an ever-changing world order where not a single issue remains only in the realm of a nation-state. The factors which are indivisible from the local affairs have broader implications within the wider scale of international system which analyses the dimensions of global anarchy considering the prospects for perpetual peace, the possibilities of society among states and its moral basis, the nature of inter-state order, and the nature of power at the centre of inter-state relations.
However, the trends and issues of the art of war in contemporary world politics are highly inter-connected and work systematically. If any issue is endangered, then the others are impacted along with an unintentional manner, and the security threats constitute transnational, multi-dimensional and multi-purposive dilemmas. Considering these multifaceted scopes of contemporary world politics, the issues of the art of war can be discussed in the following way:

Firstly, since the beginning of the 21st century, the world has been experiencing ruthless dramatic growth in mass displacement due to wars and conflict. The people of the Middle-East and Sub-Saharan African states are migrating to Europe to escape from the bloody war domains and ethnoreligious conflict-prone entities, i.e., Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Congo, Somalia and others. A huge number of people also died in the Mediterranean Sea during the period of illegal migration. The UNHCR announced that the number of forced displacement had reached 51.2 million worldwide, a level not previously seen in the post-World War II era. Persecution, conflict, generalized violence, and human rights violations have formed a ‘nation of the displaced’ that, if they were a country, would make up the 24th largest in the world (UNHCR: 2015).

Secondly, struggles among the global powers centering war on terrorism are mapping the current geopolitical order. The world famous political scientist Samuel P. Huntington considers the post-cold war global politics within the paradigm of ‘Clash of Civilizations’ where a new world order is remaking dividing the ‘West’ from the ‘Rest.’ Huntington argues that the contemporary war will not be launched by the state against any state rather a collective liberal civilization will fight against radical, militant and terrorist forces of the Rest. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the West block is in war directly or indirectly in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, Palestine, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria and so on in order to fight against Al-Qaida, Taliban, ISIS and other militant groups along with the fight against non-democratic regimes resulting 100,000 casualties. The war on terror affected the general people of these states rather than the terrorist groups.

Thirdly, the art of war in the 21st century can be best understood within the paradigm of global environmental degradation. Robert D. Kaplan in his ‘The Coming Anarchy’ argues about environmental causes of chaos and state breakdown explaining population growth, ozone holes, biodiversity loss and climate change (Kaplan: 1994). Scarcities of critical environmental resources- especially cropland, fresh water, forests, and fish stocks- are powerfully contributing to mass violence, wars among countries, ethnic clashes, urban unrest, and insurgencies in key areas of the world (Homer-Dixon: 1996). A recent study of Solomon Hsiang is showing that the Syrian civil war is a resultant of the severe drought from 2006 to 2011 along with 70% reduction in annual rainfall in East Syria causing serious food crisis. It compelled to the rural people to migrate to the near cities and created a situation of unemployment, poverty and finally instability reaching to the civil war in 2011.
Fourthly, conflict among the superpowers to retain their system of neocolonialism and balance of power centering energy, market, naval and strategic postures, ideology has become a defining trend of contemporary global order. The conflict and unrest in the Middle East are often termed as the result of the power politics over the vast oil resources. The growing tension in the Asia-pacific Rim region (recently in the South China Sea) among the superpowers especially the USA vs. China (the Asia Pivot vs. New Silk Route) is fueling to establishing supremacy over regional economy and energy.

Whither South Asia?

Nuclear Bipolarity: The strategic framework in South Asia is comprised of a bipolar equation between India and Pakistan, inter-connected with a regional security complex and other major powers. In South Asia, the nuclear arsenal is regarded as a great equalizer and the ultimate tool to counter the adversary’s present or future conventional strength. One’s (India/Pakistan) strategists identify conventional military imbalance to that of other’s and believe nuclear weapons are a safe alternative to avoid a dangerous conventional arms race (Khalid, 2017). Indeed, the global nuclear powers- the USA, Russia, China, and France- involvement with these South Asian nuclear bipolar is shaping the regional geopolitical, geo-economic, geo-strategic, and diplomatic priorities within the greater global power matrix. For this nuclear bipolarity, the other regional small states- Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Myanmar and others- are drawing huge attention among the global powers and institutions initiating a tradition of the balance of power within the posture of the art of war.

Shadow of Terror and Militancy: The art of war in South Asian politics is changing drastically as well as dramatically due to the rise, development and having a close connection with the global terrorism and militancy. The rise and fall of the great Afghan civilizational politics are still in severe distress due to the strong foothold of religious militants, i.e., Taliban having a caring relationship with both the statehood and global militants. Also, the Afghan militant connection with the Pakistani militants provides a high breeding land for the spreading global terror within this region. India is also in a strategic dilemma in controlling the increasing global terror connection with the regional militant and insurgent groups in the North-Eastern part (the Seven Sisters of India). Bangladesh is experiencing a huge geometric change due to the rise of religious militancy. Over the years, militant groups in Bangladesh have grown in strength and reached the extent to where they can conduct organized terror campaigns all over the country. A close look at various militant acts conducted to date reveals that the problem has deeper roots and that all political forces in the country have been responsible for the present situation. In a nutshell, religious militancy brought about by Politicization of Islam, the growth of Madrassas, upsurge of banned religious parties, perceived official patronage and ISIS/Al-Qaeda presence is the primary problem facing the whole South Asia (Shamrat, 2017).

Refugee Crisis: As the globe is struggling with migration and refugee crisis, South Asia is not out of this humanitarian crisis. Nowadays the Rohingya refugee crisis is drawing a deep concern among the global communities pushing a diplomatic and strategic pressure on the Myanmar government to control this crisis politically, culturally, nationally, and strategically. Even a huge Rohingya influx in Bangladesh portrayed a great humanitarian image globally though the state is in a great dilemma to manage this huge number of Rohingya people. This Rohingya refugee crisis is also impacting the demographic politics of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and others. Recently Indian pressure on the refugees living in several Indian states to drive them away from the land is fueling the South Asian refugee crisis from a great height. Sri Lankan statehood is struggling to form strong nationhood due to their Tamil ethnic problem.

Geo-economic War: In global as well as South Asian politics of 21st century, all types of economic activity- trade, access to finance, and investment- are being used as weapons and tools of disruption. Faced with war-weary publics and tightening budgets, global as well as regional powers are projecting power through their influence over the global economy, finance, and trade, and through their control over multinational corporations domiciled in their countries (Leonard, 2016: 16). As the South Asian region is becoming a huge market for the geo-economic power engines, the states of this region are becoming battlegrounds where political, strategic and diplomatic revenge initiated as a form of geo-economic war. The USA framed the ‘Asia Pivot’ policy considering the growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region where the South Asian states- India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar- are playing a key role in countering the rising global economic giant China. China portrayed its ‘Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)’ to establish itself one of the global powers where neighboring South Asian nations would be the basement of Chinese neo-imperialism. China’s huge investment in connectivity, energy projects, seaports, economic zones, business development and so on in Myanmar, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and others draws tension among the global as well as regional powers. India’s ‘Cotton Route’ also places the neo-power engine in a great strategic position within the South Asian power matrix. India’s spreading involvement with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and others is strengthening the nation’s growing economic muscle.

Water Dispute: Due to the regional scarcity of water, India has had long-standing disputes with its South Asian neighbors over the regulation and distribution of shared water resources, particularly rivers. These disputes are intensifying, as rising demand outpaces a shrinking supply of fresh water. Also, as climate change alters weather patterns and shrinks glaciers, the quantity of water in these river systems is expected to become increasingly erratic, leading to a higher frequency of severe floods and droughts. In the long-term, experts predict, the quantity of water in these river systems will decrease, especially in the Indus River system. The combination of these two trends- increasing demand plus decreasing supply and access- is likely to exacerbate disputes over regional water resources. Thus far, conflicts between India and other nations have been mediated through a combination of treaties and international arbitration. As some rivers flow across national boundaries, these agreements govern water allocation between India and its neighbors and develop a protocol for hydrological construction projects. Despite a history of cooperation, the likelihood of conflict between India and Pakistan over shared river resources is expected to increase. Due to Pakistan’s heavy reliance on the Indus system, as well as India’s control and damming of many of its major tributaries, increased shortages are liable to translate into increased tensions. To the northeast, India is also likely to face ongoing disputes with Nepal and Bangladesh over flood control and river diversion. However, the risk of armed, interstate conflict is minor. Nepal and Bangladesh remain weak politically and militarily in India, and they possess little leverage in negotiating water issues. Of greater concern are the substantial public health consequences of these disputes. Flooding, soil salinization and destruction of arable land in the northern Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and Bangladesh had displaced people and disrupted economic, social and political life. Such issues raise the potential for increased local-level, interprovincial and border-area conflict. Also, these disruptions threaten the quality of economic, social and political relationships between India and Nepal, and between India and Bangladesh (Condon et al., 2006: xv).

Border Dispute: South Asian political analysis would not be fulfilled without analyzing the territorial disputes among the regional states. Because today’s South Asian nations achieved their political territory as nationhood following the division of the Indian sub-continent in 1947. Since 1947 to till date, all the states are in physical as well as psychological war centering border dispute. India’s war with Pakistan portrays the territorial claim of both states regarding Kashmir. China is also involved in a conflict with India centering Sikkim and Arunachal states of India. Recently the ‘Doklam Crisis’ fueled a huge tension between China and India-Bhutan nexus. Border killing in Bangladesh-India border areas is also spreading tension where the cornerstone of trust and friendship is weakening day by day. Also India’s concern regarding its North-Eastern part sketching a geopolitical tension among the bordering nations.

The pattern of the art of war in contemporary global politics is changing rapidly due to the intrusion of techno-strategic revolution. The influence of non-state actors along with several strategic principles like the balance of power, collective security, geopolitical power projection, chemical warfare, information warfare, nuclear warfare, space warfare are shaping the postmodern pattern of war where the actors are involved in ‘Mind Mapping’ and ‘Issue Making’ for ensuring multi-purposive interests. The art of war in contemporary global politics is threatening the natural character of the earth which finally may destroy the whole planet. In a nutshell, a quotation of HG Wells can be presented urging immediate initiatives from the global communities as “If we don’t end the war, war will end us.”


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