Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How must we respond?

Sourced image

 1. Do not despair. The much of the world was already broken before you were born, and it parts of it will remein broken long after we are gone. It is the purpose and function of life to re-order the disintegrating world and defiance of the second law of thermodynamics. So it helps to try to understand the situation as it evolves, rather than crystallise our view of it in judgment.

If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.
Sun Tzu The art of war (Chapter 3:18)

Those who incite hatred and violence, their supporters, victims, onlookers, observers, those who are dismayed by communal violence and those who secretly support it, those who want to stop it, criticize it and others who don’t care as much: they all act out of their innersprings of motivation and covert or overt desires. It is almost universally true that every individual is spurred to action by any their aspirations and desires, because we all need something to aspire to. Some aspire for material wealth, others desire power. Yet others may desire fame, skill, wisdom or enrichment through service. We are also contained by our fears. The less fearful we are, the deeper our capacity for tolerance and the broader our range of choices for action. If we are not driven by fear, we are also less likely to harm or hurt others and more likely to be more accommodating generous and calm. However, people’s actions and words are fundamentally informed by their beliefs – but they are also the least tangible or conspicuous and therefore the most puzzling factor to understand. Beliefs entail not only our religious and moral inclinations but the manifestation of each person’s self-identity. So we must pay attention to all these factors that influence individuals and groups – so that we can understand why people act and speak the way they do.

Also, keep in mind that the present is not an isolated moment. As much as what transpires in this moment is a product of history, it will also shape the future in ways that we may not be able to fully understand or anticipate. Moments of adversity demands that we all become keen and humble students of history. The very existence of people whose actions are so far removed that we utterly and completely fail to understand them point to deficiencies in our knowledge of the world and how it works – that it could produce members of the same species, civilization, culture and time that yet remain incomprehensible to one another. Not everything about our anthropology and history may be immediately knowable, but it helps to be chastised by an acknowledgement of our own fallibility and imperfect knowledge before seeking to critically engage with the fallibilities of another.

Document what you see, read and hear. Especially at times when we least know what’s going on. Keep as detailed a record of what people say and do, so that our future selves and future generations may have a more detailed account of history than we do now, to analyse the actions and inactions of individuals and groups – and their far-reaching and unpredictable implications.

2. Do not discard religion. Understand religion for what it is; especially in times darkened by hatred, violence and intolerance motivated by religious sentiments, it seems not only tempting, but quite reasonable to assume that religion is the problem. While such a conclusion may be justified in many ways, it is most unhelpful – because that makes us lose sight of the fact that – for better or for worse - religion is arguably the most powerful force for social transformation that humanity has ever known. Those who argue that technology has been a more powerful transformative force than religion, ignore the fact that technology only serves to facilitate and amplify social change, while religious beliefs -and in more recent times, political ideology- inspires social change and perpetuates social norms. The greater the sanctity that people attribute to their religious beliefs, rituals and priests; the greater their power to influence the way societies function and the decisions they make collectively. Because a community of people – or even an organised mob – can have far greater power over a multitude of unorganised individuals, religious beliefs and their induced fears and aspirations can easily be appropriated by individuals who desire to gain political power.

Most religious beliefs and even political ideologies are also rife with ideas and visions for peace, justice, equanimity, tolerance and love. So, rejection of religion as a force for evil rather than good – not only misses the point altogether, but more critically deprive those who hold that view of a potent tool that can also be a force for immense good and constructive visions of influencing progressive social change.

3. Speak out, engage in dialogue and publish. Use every opportunity to discuss and debate what’s taking place in society with friends, children, parents, relatives and – within reason – even with strangers. Do so at the well, on Facebook, in your blogs, in the mainstream and mass media. Talk to people who know people, make sure that those who are responsible for social leadership, security, peace and justice know you are watching them and keeping note of their action or inaction. Also, as importantly, listen. Engage equally with those who do not agree with you as much as those who do. Gain new perspectives by paying attention to what they have to say.

Do not be distracted or discouraged by those who call you “Facebook heroes”, “armchair critics” or hurl any number of derogative remarks at you instead of – or while – engaging with what you have to say. Those who criticise free expression and critical debate online and on social media, do so out of ignorance about how technology have transformed our world. Organising online petitions and voicing our opinions in social media can be as powerful as any rally or protest at a busy street junction. They reach a broader audience, can often engage otherwise apathetic or ill-informed people in vibrant social discussions (even if only to complain about those who speak out). Social media also expose people who fail to speak out; those who avoid expression of their views either because they believe they cannot make a difference or have doubts about the moral defensibility of what they have to say.

The world has moved on and the Internet has become a public place where we can engage in civic life and discharge some of our civic duties legitimately, effectively, and relatively safely to a broad audience; though perhaps one that is limited, not representative of society at large and too homogeneous to be of critical value. It is not only a viable alternative to street protest in some circumstances, but can be more effective and channel much broader participation of an audience that is not constrained by their geography or mobility.

4. Promote social integration. Intolerance and communal disharmony are results of isolation and lack of empathy. People who are fearful or uncomfortable with the diversity of beliefs, preferences of gender, language, ethnicity and culture are - more often than not – those who have grown up and lived in isolated homogeneous clans. It is difficult – though seemingly not impossible – to hate Muslims for being Muslims if you have close Muslim friends that your grew up, shared food and laughter, and played Cricket with. Unfortunately, ethnic and religious communities remain cloistered among their own in most rural areas all over the world – unlike in some big and cosmopolitan cities. That is still a generalisation and doesn’t always hold true. But it takes time for people and entire communities to mix and integrate – and will possibly require at least a few generational shifts in our political structure as well as religious and cultural attitudes to marriage for true integration of communities to happen at a significant scale.

But much can be done in the interim. If you are a senior manager or a leader of any capacity in any organisation, you can take tangible measures to promote diversity within your organisation and teams. In workplaces and clubs, in schools and sports teams, you can lead the way in eradicating unfair discrimination of people based on their background or identity. Expose organisations that do unfairly discriminate in their recruitment and in the course of doing business. Ministers who award government contracts unfairly to members of their own clans and consumers who discriminate where they shop based on the identity of the shop owner are just as culpable for propagating communal violence and perpetuating social inequality as much as any hatemonger or militant extremist.

Even as ordinary citizens, it is ingrained in our culture to share food with people from all communities, backgrounds and walks of life, to travel, to strike up conversations with strangers and to stand up in defiance of unjust authority. Inter-faith and community dialog doesn’t require extraordinary commitment or radical change – it is something we have experimented with for well over two thousand years. Even though our tainted history of seemingly perpetual violence bear testimony to the fact that we have often failed to live amicably for long periods of times, it is nevertheless as rich in cautionary lessons as it is with sobering examples of our recklessness and fallibility. Which leave one lesson above all for us to embrace…

5. Embrace non-violence. No matter how dire the situation, how imperilled our hopes and how threatened our very own existence; bear in mind that violence can only deepen our fears and hasten our destruction. I can add but little to what has already been said about it.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


One step after another,
We'll scale this mountain high,
Two eyes to greet and gather
What even hearts may never pry
Three wishes to carry us thither
When feet and limbs are tied
Four seasons and merry weather
In this blessed life to bide
Five friends to kindle or smother
And hearts and minds that rhyme
Six strings to strum and tether
The beautiful and sublime
Seven days to carry us nether
For unknown tomorrows to prime
To grow and then to wither
In the fires of unending time


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Whither Democratic Peace?

The democratic peace proposition (DPP) is a liberal theory of peace (Oneal et al. 2003) complimented by constructivist arguments in support of it. Its central and simplest edict posits that ‘democracies do not go to war with each other’ (Owen 1994). There is a high degree of consensus among its proponents, that both statistical and empirical evidence indicates the “absence of war between democratic states comes as close as anything we have to an empirical law in international relations” (Levy and Thompson 2010). Yet, the ‘democratic peace proposition’ is - at best - an incomplete theory of peace. However, historical evidence of conflict between democracies as recently as the Indo-Pakistan and the Israel-Lebanon wars illustrate that shared democratic principles alone cannot be a sufficient guarantee of peace between nations. In critically evaluating existing literature on the subject, it becomes quite apparent that the spread of democracy is just one of many factors that have contributed to a reduction in the number and intensity of conventional wars between nations. Advancements in technology and multilateral organisations on the other hand are increasing the relative military, economic and diplomatic cost of conventional war. Therefore, states, including liberal democracies, still engage in unconventional warfare and other forms of conflict; in an environment where the global battle space has shifted into alternate arenas.


The foundations of the theory were laid by Immanuel Kant in his 1795 essay titled “Perpetual Peace” in which Kant conceives three main criteria for a peaceful world order. The first is ‘republican constitutions’ which would engender and enfranchised and empowered citizenship in every nation; secondly ‘a federation of free states’ which would bring governance and order to interactions between states; and thirdly ‘universal hospitality’ or goodwill between citizens of different nations (Kant 2008). Kant’s propositions for perpetual peace saw resurgence in the 1980s with Michael W. Doyle among its leading proponents (Doyle 1983a, b).

The DPP that emerged in the early 1980s must be understood in the context of Cold War politics, and the ideological battle that was polarising nations along pro democratic and Communist arguments. Doyle as a proponent of democracy used Kant’s logic as a basis for his argument of the democratic peace proposition. However, the criteria he specified for ‘perpetual peace’ differs from Kant’s in two out of the three elements. Doyle retains “republican representation”(Doyle 2005) from Kant’s original thesis as a criterion for peaceful relations between nations, but deviates from Kantian thinking in the next two. The “ideological commitment to fundamental human rights”(Doyle 2005) requires states to agree on values that inform their political ideology, whereas Kant merely specifies a federation of states which may or may not share the same values. Contemporary Southeast Asia is an example of a region made up of states with different political values, therefore not meeting Doyle’s criteria, but still manage to retain peaceful relations along the Kantian thesis of federation (Kivimäki 2001). Doyle’s third requirement of “transnational interdependence” is also a deviation from the spirit of Kant’s idea of universal hospitality. Liberal as well as conservative states – perhaps with the singular exception of North Korea – share a high level of interdependency with many other states through trade and shared human security interests (Farber and Gowa 1997).

Doyle further insists that his argument “rests on a simple and straightforward proposition that connects those three causal mechanisms as they operate together and only together, and not separately”(Doyle 2005). Doyle’s insistence that all three causal mechanisms must be fulfilled for the DPP to apply to a given nation, raises questions that will be addressed below - about the definitional challenge of what ‘democracy’(Danilovic and Joe 2007) itself, and ‘peace’ between nations entail.


The DPP has been advanced by many contemporary liberal thinkers, including Michael Doyle , Francis Fukuyama , John Rawls , and Bruce Russett . Other scholars have extended the core proposition to argue that democracies are less likely to start wars (Lake 1992) and once engaged in war, they are also more likely to win them (Gelpi and Griesdorf 2001). Some go even beyond to argue that democratic states fight shorter wars or that they suffer fewer casualties compared to nondemocratic states (Bennett and Stam 1996).

Various proponents of the DPP attribute it to different characteristics of democracy . Their merits and shortcomings will be reviewed below. However Lipson himself agrees that there is a lack of theoretical basis for their claims – even though he insists there is irrefutable empirical evidence supporting the DPP . The absence of a theoretical basis for the DPP and the reliance of its liberal proponents on statistical evidence to support their arguments, raise the question – if the DPP is to be accepted – whether democracy is the cause of peace or whether it is just a statistical correlation (Ray 1998).


It must be noted on the outset that any claim of Democracies never going to war with each other must necessarily ignore or disregard the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1947 and Kargil war of 1999 , Israel-Lebanon wars of 1978, 1982 and 2006 and the United States (and allies) backed coups in Iran (1953)(Abrahamian 2001), Guatemala (1954), Indonesia (1955), Brazil (1960s) and Chile (1973)(Forsythe 1992). Wars have also been waged by democracies against other functional or constitutional democracies in the name of promoting democracy and on the contention that they were in fact fighting dictatorships – such as the Kosovo war in 1999 against the Milosovic regime. The American Civil War (1861-65) was waged between democracies of United States (United 2007) and those of the Confederate States (2009).
Scholarly critiques of the DPP has been based on the realist view that nations go to war to secure their interests; where shared democratic ideology is not a determining factor for a nation considering going to war or choosing not to. Farber and Gowa argue that the statistical correlations that support the DPP are a result of cold war politics (Farber and Gowa 1997). David Spiro contests the statistical significance of the perceived absence of war between democracies, to argue that there is no significant correlation between democratic nations and peace (Spiro 1994). Sebastian Rosato attacks the causal logic of the DPP to argue that (a) there is no basis to assume that democratic institutions or citizens are biased against war or more effective in non-violent dispute resolution and (b) there are no inherent attributes in democracies that prevent them from going to war against another democracy (Rosato 2003). However the purely realist analysis of the problem also fails to sufficiently address the ideological reasons that influence political decision making, which is at the core of argument in the DPP.
The lack of a consistent definition of ‘democracy’, or of ‘peace’, may help proponents deflect empirical scrutiny of the DPP by being selective in what they consider to be liberal democracies and what constitutes ‘peace’. Filtering the statistical evidence in favour of the DPP weakens it even further and definitional issues erode its utility. It is instructional to note that in recent years, wars that otherwise would have been avoidable, have been fought for the propagation of democracy in the hope that the will lead to greater peace (Kellner 2005).

In almost every democratic nation, media, lobbyists and businesses compete with citizens for influence over government. Rule of law, accountability and individual freedoms are subjective measures at best. Democracies also do not have an impeccable record of electing honest leaders or evolving efficient bureaucracies that most DPP theorists would rely on to deter respective nations from war. According to the definitional boundaries that Doyle sets out for ‘liberal democracies’ (Doyle 2005), such ideal democracies may never exist – least of all outside of the global West.


Theorists who identify either a correlation or causation between peace and democracy overlook a host of other factors that influence political decision making and conflict. The lack of a theoretical framework for the DPP as admitted to by Lipson et al, stems from the fact that other significant global and historical factors have contributed much more to the reduction in number and intensity of conventional inter-state wars. They include (a) Nuclear deterrence and the standoff during cold war years, (b) emergence of the UN and a global governance structure (c) prevalence of multilateral organisations with effective diplomatic as well as trade tools to check state behaviour, (d) end of colonialism and international consensus against invasion and occupation of foreign lands, (e) interdependence and integration in the global economy and (f) the increase in global travel and information exchange. It is possible to argue that nuclear deterrence – particularly the US nuclear umbrella over its allies – has played a far more significant role in preventing war than the propagation of democracy in the post World War II world order. It is also telling that even nuclear deterrence could not prevent the democracies of India and Pakistan from going to war in 1999 over Kargil (Dixit 2002) – albeit briefly.

The proliferation of independent democratic states outside Europe commenced with the end of World War II and vastly accelerated to become the most common form of governance after the end of the Cold War (Thor Torfason and Ingram 2010). The spread of democracy after the Cold War was hastened more by the lure of capitalism than by democracy itself (Gartzke 2005). Indeed Capitalism has even penetrated non democratic countries such as China and Vietnam. Economic interdependence has also been a powerful deterrent of war even with rival democracies (Tang 2012). In the backdrop of a distinct shift of power from individual states to non state actors (Strange 1996) such as large and multinational corporations, NGOs and Multilateral organisations such as the WTO, World Bank, IMF and the UN Security Council, the role of democracy as a factor in international peace must not be exaggerated .


The DPP has its origins with the ideological battles of the cold war in its backdrop. It may have been a potent tool for promoting the virtues of democracy during such a political climate, but by synthesising a weak correlation between democracy and peace, scholars have overlooked many exceptions to the theory on one hand and a number of significant factors that may have contributed equally or more towards peaceful relations between nations.

Given that the bulk of empirical evidence supporting the DPP are sourced from post WW II history of the world, it is worth contemplating other factors that may have prevented conventional wars between nations in that time. The advent of the United Nations and related multilateral organisations including the Security Council, the GAT/WTO, World Bank, IMF as well as other groupings of nations have brought some structure and governance to international politics. These have made arbitration and peaceful resolution of conflict possible, more effective and cheaper than the option of conventional war. The spread of capitalism has integrated global markets binding the economic interests and fate of nations – serving to deter war.

As nations become more economically integrated and dependent on technology, conflicts between them have shifted to new realms. Where nations do have unresolved disputes, trade levers and cyberspace for example have become a new battle grounds where they can and do attack, spy and extort concessions from each other in ways that escape the conventional definition and understanding of war and conflict. Therefore, the understanding of ‘peace’ as the absence of conventional war - that is attributed to the propagation of ‘democracy’ - is itself questionable.


History has consistently demonstrated that neither democratic nor totalitarian governments can survive without the implicit (or complicit) support of a majority of the population. The French revolution in 1799 and the Arab Spring of 2011 and many other historic events demonstrate that. For a government to have the implicit support of the people, it must fulfil at least two conditions. First, it must be seen to have the capacity to guarantee the physical and material safety of its citizens. Secondly, it must have influence – if not control - over the political beliefs of its citizens including their beliefs about justice. For example, a feudal system will prevail so long as the citizens believe that their society is justly organised by the class or caste system and that belonging to a noble bloodline is a legitimate claim to political power. Totalitarian regimes in North Korea and China demonstrate how the respective government’s ability to control the political beliefs of citizens and capacity to provide material safety is sufficient to retain power. Liberal democracies are no different – liberal leaders are elected by majority citizens who believe in liberty and egalitarianism. Such societies exist mainly in the Global West. Democracies in other regions may never be as ‘liberal’ due to differences in political legacies, culture and beliefs.

What compels nations at a political level, to go to war or refrain from doing so, are factors that affect their capacity to fulfil the two criteria outlined above: perceived threats to their material or physical security or to their political beliefs. North Korea threatens to attack any country that jeopardize its political beliefs for the same reasons that the words ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ are derided in the liberal democratic United States (Ceplair 2011) – because they are perceived as threatening entrenched political beliefs. Any two countries who share similar political beliefs – be they democracies or feudal states – will not have ideological grounds to go to war with each other and will only fight for reasons of material security. In a global economy of shared resources, nations may be pushed to fight other nations who threaten or stand in the way of their material or physical security regardless of shared political beliefs.

The realist view, that a nation’s ability to defend its physical and material security and political beliefs through military means depend on their relative military strength, tactical advantages and the overall likelihood of being able to militarily achieve their political objectives, has its merits. Peculiarities of individual leaders, national values and nationalistic fervour can also be major influences. The present world order offers non-military options for conflict resolution that are cheaper and less destructive.


The point is not that democracy does not engender peace. Indeed, there are attributes inherent to democratic governance that put tighter controls on nations going to war; such as political accountability, budgetary oversights and policies weighted more towards citizen welfare than government ambitions. Democracies also make desirable and trust-worthy friends – because of the collective wisdom of the crowds (Surowiecki 2005) and their general bias towards justice. As argued above, nations that are perceived to have shared political ideologies have one less reason to go to war against each other. In the past and present, wherever religious belief is the source of political power, shared beliefs have kept the peace and divisions have caused war. For example, the shared beliefs of ‘Christendom’ kept Europe relatively peaceful (Hillerbrand 2007) until their theological split in their beliefs during the reformation destabilised it. Wars such as the crusades were fought against competing ideologies rather than for material or physical preservation. With the spread of democracy, more nations have shared political values than those who don’t and therefore one less reason to rally against each other. Religious terrorist groups that threaten liberal democracies also do so, on ideological grounds.

The main opposition to the Democratic Peace Proposition presented here is aimed at its singular attribution of democracy as the source of peace between democratic nations because that ignores more compelling reasons why democratic as well as non-democratic nations have often refrained from fighting each other. Neither does the DPP deal with definitional challenges that limit the scope of what ‘democracy’ and ‘peace’ means in the modern world. The material and diplomatic cost of conventional warfare has increased, causing a shift of the battle space from the conventional theatre to covert operations, political manoeuvres, economic warfare and even cyber warfare. There is no evidence that democracies are, or have ever been, immune to such attacks or backed away from using such tactics to attack other democracies.

Understanding that political and ideological beliefs of nations are as defensible as their physical and material security; not only bridges the liberal and realist views on security but also provides a platform for more comprehensive theorisation. If a democracy is threatened; economically, ideologically or on their sovereignty by another democracy, conflict will inevitable ensue. Whether that culminates in conventional warfare, diplomatic wrangling, trade disputes, cyber attacks, espionage and blackmail or covert and proxy attacks depend on the political priorities and avenues available for nations to pursue the optimal outcome.

I have outlined a theoretical framework based on national security interests and national political values that provide a more complete framework for understanding the factors that influence nations to attack one-another or fight for self preservation. The argument presented here is that these factors are common to democracies as well as others, and provide the foundation on which a comprehensive theory of international relations can be formulated.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Power games: why did America bomb Japan?

On August the 5th 1945, a B-29 bomber, named “Enola Gay” after the pilot’s mother, took off from North Field in Tinian, in Mariana Islands, carrying in its cargo bay, the first nuclear weapon to be dropped on a populated city. The world was about to find out the destructive capacity of nuclear weapons, though it is not clear whether even the Japanese, against whom it was used, immediately understood the grim fate of Hiroshima and its citizens. The development of the atom bomb had been urged by scientists – Albert Einstein among them – who warned the United States administration about the risk of Germany developing such a weapon first. Germany – and not Japan – was the intended target of the bomb all through its development. Furthermore, the very scientists later urged the President of the United States not to use the weapon on humanitarian concerns.
The United States air force had been flying unchallenged over Japanese skies for months before, bombing Japanese cities including Tokyo and destroying them almost completely with conventional and incendiary bombs. It was calculated at that rate, they would run out of targets by September 1945. By July, The U.S. knew that Japan’s war cabinet led by Prime Minister Suzuki, was already searching for options to surrender. Yet those who made the decision to use ‘the bomb’ against Japan had agreed unanimously to do so, with substantial knowledge of its capacity for indiscriminate destruction. Why did the US administration decide to use the weapon on an enemy who had already been military overpowered and a step away from surrender? Why did they decide against issuing a prior warning? It is worth exploring these questions, even though definitive answers – even if they existed – would not be readily determinable. The commonly held belief that the atom bomb brought World War II to an end need to be questioned as the historic narrative is deconstructed. It may not be possible to scrutinise key personalities in great detail, but the focus instead must be on how the pivotal decisions they took have shaped the world political climate for decades to come.

The alliance between Western nations and the Soviet Union in World War II was an unlikely one, forged against many odds. Ideologically poles apart, they were deeply mistrustful of each other. Back in 1917, soon after the Bolsheviks assumed power in Russia during the latter stages of World War I, Vladimir Lenin wrote:
“World history is now undoubtedly leading, on an incomparably larger scale [than in 1852], to the "concentration of all the forces" of the proletarian revolution on the “destruction” of the state machine.”

Two years later Lenin and his Comintern colleagues openly advocated a world revolution of the proletariat and planned the abolition of capitalism and democracy. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed with imperial Germany and obstruction of the Czechoslovak Legion during the latter stages of World War I, and the Treaty of Rapallo afterwards, deepened western suspicion of the Bolsheviks in Soviet Russia and had supported the white army against them.
Having seen the way the West conceded Czechoslovakia to appease Hitler’s Germany in 1938, Stalin feared that the West would never stand up to Hitler. The Soviet Union thus signed the “Treaty of Nonaggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” on 23 August 1939, and cooperated with the German invasion and occupation of Poland, much to the dismay of Western countries. It is in such a historical background that the alliance between Western nations and Soviet Union is forced upon all parties by common enmity towards Germany which invaded Russian territory with the launch of ‘Operation Barbarossa’. Such was Stalin’s suspicion of the British that he had ignored intelligence warnings of the impending German invasion with the now famous response; “English provocation! Investigate!” Germany’s declaration of war on America and the Japanese attack on Perl Harbour forced these unlikely allies to unite against their common enemies – Hitler’s Germany and the axis powers.

Russia fought World War II on its own on Europe’s eastern front, where the U.S. and Great Britain only provided material aid but did not deploy their troops in support of the Russian war effort though western troops had fought with the White Army against the Bolsheviks decades earlier. Russian casualties of World War II are generally estimated to be thirty times that of U.S. and British Commonwealth casualties combined - perhaps the best indicator of Russia’s disproportionate war burden. During negotiations with British Foreign minister Anthony Eden in December 1941, Stalin had demanded that the Soviet Union should retain influence over the Baltic States as a precondition for cooperation with the allies. As World War II approached its end in 1945, Stalin would feel an entitlement to a greater share of its spoils – which would in turn frustrate President Truman and Secretary of State Jams Byrnes and arguably become a key factor that influenced them to use the atom bomb to keep the Soviet Union out of the war in the Pacific.

As the directors of the allied war effort, heads of state from the U.S., Soviet Union and Britain played a critical role not only in the strategic decision making, but also in negotiations about the war burden and eventually how its spoils will be shared. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Marshal Joseph Stalin and Prime Minister Winston Churchill - ‘Big Three’ as they were known - met on three occasions during the height of the war and toward its end in what turned out to be pivotal meetings that had a historical impact beyond the war itself.

The first of their meetings was in Tehran in 1943 and here the Russians repeated their demand that Poland and Eastern Europe should come under its influence in the post war world. Here, Even though Russia had yet to declare war on Japan, Stalin reluctantly agreed to join the allied war effort against Japan in the Pacific. The keenness of the U.S. and Britain for Russia to join the war against Japan at this state of the war is noteworthy.

YALTA 1945
As the defeat of Germany seems imminent, the ‘Big Three’ met again in Yalta where Britain and America insisted that countries in Eastern Europe should have democratically elected governments after the war – particularly Poland where they hoped to establish a pro-western government. The Soviet Union was keen to have a pro-Soviet government in Poland which was a buffer between Europe and the Communist Soviet Union. The discussions were ambiguous and all parties believed they had an agreement.
However, as the Russian troops marched across the Eastern frontier immediately before Germany’s surrender, occupying Poland and German held parts of Eastern Europe, Stalin saw no incentive to concede influence in the states that his troops already occupied. Russia helped establish a Pro-Soviet government in Poland in a move that would sour relations with its Western allies and led to a ‘tough’ exchange of telegrams with President Roosevelt. Then in a twist of fate, Roosevelt passed away in April 1945 to be succeeded by Harry Truman whose lack of diplomatic tact has been cited by U.S. State Department officials at the time such as Averell Harriman and Alger Hiss as a reason for the deterioration of U.S. relations with the Soviet Union.
All these events combined to pave the way for what would be a flashpoint between Stalin and Truman at the final meeting of the Big Three at Potsdam. But Truman had assured his War Secretary Stimson, that he would delay Potsdam until the bomb was all but ready, and just four days after Potsdam, America would drop the first atom bomb on Hiroshima.

The war effort had drained Britain’s treasury but America was much richer and more powerful than when it initially joined the war. Although the U.S. economy had surpassed that of Britain decades earlier, its participation in WW II and ability to project power on multiple fronts far from home, made America the predominant military power in the world. Britain’s Superpower status had diminished and would later have to concede it’s colonies in the years immediately after the war. The planned economy in Russia was already ailing and its population famished, but the damage and casualties of war had further debilitated the Soviet Union. In this backdrop, America emerges as the world’s newest super power and has an interest in dominating regions of the world beyond the American Continent. Demonstrating its ability to attack distant targets with nuclear weapons would make America an unassailable military power.

By the time Germany surrendered, Japan was also battered to the point of submission. Prime Minister Kantarō Suzuki and his war cabinet were seeking a negotiated settlement despite the army minister General Korechika Anami’s determination to fight on, insisting that they will fight to the death to preserve their honour and the emperor. Japan still had a nominal neutrality pact with the Soviet Union but Foreign minister Togo Shigenori was unsuccessful in his attempts to obtain Soviet mediation for a negotiated peace with Western allies.
Continental America was largely untouched by the War. However, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in the Hawaiian Islands was a particularly painful and humiliating memory in the American psyche and both the soldiers fighting on the Pacific front as well as their leaders had little sympathy for Japan. Debilitated as Japan was, Japanese resistance in Iwo Jima and Okinawa in particular had demonstrated to the Americans, the near impossibility of a land invasion of the mainland where nearly three million troops still remained. With the Japanese Air Force grounded without fuel, Ariel bombardment of the Japanese mainland was the only viable option. Hatred of the Japanese and their dehumanisation on one hand, and the determination with which the Japanese resisted on land and in the air, would somehow enable Americans to justify to themselves, the indiscriminate Ariel attacks they would carry out towards the end of the war, mostly on Japanese civilians, culminating in the nuclear attacks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The final meeting of the Big Three had been postponed by the Americans who expected the delay would give them time to complete a full-scale test of the atom bomb to enter the negotiations from a position of unrivalled strength – particularly against Stalin. Their calculations paid off and Truman received news of the success at ‘Trinity’ while he was in Potsdam. If Truman hoped it would bend Stalin’s stance, the Marshal’s moderated – if not cold - response upon hearing about the bomb may have been a disappointment. If Truman had any doubts whether Stalin understood the message, he would be able to erase them all a few days later when it was dropped on Hiroshima.
Truman had declared in front of congress that the U.S. would not accept anything short of a full unconditional surrender of Japan. U.S. intelligence intercepts of Japanese communications had however revealed Japan’s difficulty in agreeing to an unconditional surrender that would submit their emperor, and the willingness of the Japanese army on the mainland to fight till the end. As the dropping of the bomb became an imminent reality however, President Truman modified the allied stance in the Potsdam declaration and demanded the unconditional surrender of “Japanese forces” allowing room for the emperor to be retained. In what turned out to be a fatal decision, Prime Minister Suzuki interpreted the U.S. concession as a weakening of allied resolve and ignored the Potsdam Declaration, using the word “mokusatzu” to describe how he would ‘kill it with silent contempt’. Lack of a positive response from the Japanese would later make it easier for the U.S. to justify dropping the bomb on Japan.

Historically, Russia’s presence in its Far East frontiers has been weak and sparse due to the inhospitable geography that separates it from western Russia. Russians never migrated East in significant numbers and even though its South-eastern parts closer to China supports some agriculture, its isolation from Russia’s industrial and economic bases in the west made them dependant on foreign resources. Russia’s Far East remained vulnerable to foreign migration and even at the turn of the 19th century, the vast majority of its civilian population was either Chinese or Korean. In the Russo-Japanese war in 1904/05, Japan’s successful naval blockade managed to destroy the Russian Pacific and Baltic Sea Fleets. Their solitary military victory against a major East Asian power came in 1939 against a depleted Japanese force that was being pulled out by Tokyo.
However, with Japan on its knees in 1945, Russia saw an opportunity to get a foothold in the Pacific with a front to Asia. Stalin was under no illusion that Russia’s position was too weak to sustain itself in the Far East. His late, but hasty invasion of Manchuria hints that he may have sensed an opportunity to gain control of a population centre in the Pacific, with access to open seas in the East.

The reasons for America’s execution of two nuclear attacks on an already debilitated enemy who had no capacity to attack the continental United States can only be speculated, in the absence of a clear justification for doing so. As a new and soon to be nuclear-armed superpower, America had the will and capability to project its power into the far reaches of the globe and demonstrating that capability would give the U.S. unassailable power in the post-World War order. Indeed the effectiveness of this new weapon on real targets such as cities or fortified military installations was not known when the decision was taken to drop them on Japan. There were two types of bombs – the gun-type assembly used in the Uranium bomb (Little Boy) which would be ‘tested’ on Hiroshima and the more complicated ‘implosion triggered’ Plutonium bomb (Fat Man) on Nagasaki.
It is likely that Truman would have felt that the difficulties encountered during the partitioning of Germany and Eastern Europe may repeat themselves if Russia is allowed to join the Pacific war and claim a share of the spoils. With Russia merely days away from entering the Pacific theatre, America had every reason to keep the Red Army out of Japan and secure exclusive access to Asia. If Russia succeeded in occupying any significant population centre in East Asia, America would have been faced with the Russian threat on both the Eastern European and Pacific fronts. Therefore, if it was going to take a nuclear attack to keep Russia out of Japan, there was no reason for Truman to hold back that trump card.
Yet, the bomb was made to be dropped on Germany – not Japan. America’s suspicions of Russia and the difficult negotiations over post war control of Europe were not sudden developments; they have been contentious issue for a few years. America’s superpower ambitions and the prospect of establishing a presence in the west Pacific seem to have been planned out well in advance - at least by the time its ‘island hopping’ strategy and occupation of key Pacific islands was developed. And yet it was the Western allies that urged Russia join the war in the Pacific. Trinity had proved the atom bomb was possible and the extent of its power. If Truman wanted to prove American superiority in nuclear technology, all he had to do was to demonstrate his new weapon to the world at a remote location – rather than on civilian populations of an already defeated enemy. So why did America drop the bomb in Japan? The answer may lie hidden in the explanation for doing so, offered by perhaps its most important decision maker besides Truman himself. In Henry Stimson’s own words;
“[America was] at war, and the work must be done.”

Therefore, it is my contention that; even though history may offer many a reason or justification for America dropping the nuclear bomb on Japan, the general lesson to be drawn from it is about the utter brutality of war itself. The nuclear arms race that followed has been a clear example of how limitations of the human capacity to understand the full implications of our actions can disastrously combine with the unlimited human propensity to imperil ourselves.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A failed test and lost identity

Image: Reuters

At the post match conference after the third test against Pakistan, the captain of Sri Lanka said that his team lost; not because they were too negative in their approach to the game, but on the contrary, because his batsmen weren't defensive enough. His words not only failed to convince, but it all seemed like a scene from a tragic movie about a total amnesiac who had lost all memories of his past, including his own identity and pedigree. Those who let their imagination wander, would have even heard Daft Punk's 'Within' playing softly in the background;

There are so many things that I don't understand
There's a world within me that I cannot explain
Many rooms to explore, but the doors look the same
I am lost I can't even remember my name

Sri Lankans have prided themselves on playing a certain ‘brand of Cricket’ that was fearless and entertaining. Before 1995, it may have been carefree and uninhibited by the prospect of losing, but even after becoming the world champions in 1996, the cautious defence of players like Asanka Gurusinghe and Hashan Thilakeratne was conspicuously out of sync with the unbridled aggression of Romesh Kaluwitharana and Sanath Jayasuriya, or the calculated attacks of Aravinda De Silva and even Arjuna Ranatunga who would rather perish in the fight than be dominated by the opposition. A combination of that skill to execute aggression without falling victim to it and the ability to calculate the state of a game and adapt to it became the foundation on which the greatness of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene would be built in the following decade and a half. Even though the bowling unit almost always lacked menacing seamers on either side of Malinga's brief test career, it was well served by the reliable swing of the likes of Chaminda Vass or Nuwan Kulasekera who plugged one end while Murali or Herath attacked from the other. Despite limitations, nothing compelled captains to set fields that hinted at any weakness or timidity.

Perhaps the most endearing aspect of Sri Lanka’s Cricket was that no captain or player and not in the least their ardent fans, were ever inhibited in their drive for victory by the paralysing fear of losing. The drums and trumpets only intensified at the prospect of a steep and improbable chase. Even at the closing overs of a second world cup final loss in 2011, the pervasive smile on Kumar Sangakara's face never dissolved into the look of anguish that most competitive athletes would have borne quite naturally. Yes, that loss was difficult to bear, but the country and their team never lost sight of the joy of being there in that time and place, playing the game they loved. That is the passion with which we play the game at every dusty street corner, between rows of desks in a class - with thick Maths text books for bats and the previous day’s homework crumpled into the shape of a ball. We play the game for the sheer joy of connecting an improvised bat with an orb - so defined by imagination than by geometry.

Not even the most astute observers may have noticed the absence of that joy and energy in Sri Lanka’s premier playing eleven at the end of the first day of their third test against Pakistan in Sharjah. Despite the absence of any vicious turn or signs of uneven bounce, it was far more intuitive to attribute the miserly rate at which they scored on the first two days to a tricky playing surface, and expect a tough battle for batsmen to unfold in the following days. If the average Sri Lankan fan was infused with a bit more optimism than usual, about a second consecutive overseas test win against a side that has never lost a series in the UAE, those shards of hope had been reassembled into an improbbable dream by a team that fought their way back into a glorious draw in the first test, after conceding a lead of 179 in the first innings. Thier execution of a perfect game plan to win the second inspired new hope in a new crop of players who aspired for greatness, and yet knew their place in history. Given how slowly and cautiously Sri Lanka had batted to reach 428 in nearly two days of paralytic defence, a first innings lead of 87 seemed sizable enough to infuse hope of a possible victory; or a tame draw if Pakistan’s top order could muster enough discipline to resist the probing lines and lengths of the newly confident Sri Lankan bowling attack. Even though this was test match Cricket, and nothing could be taken for granted, even as late as the fourth day it seemed decidedly Sri Lanka’s game to lose. Though the openers failed to provide as solid a start as they had by then allowed their fans to expect of them, and despite Kumar Sangakkara ending a series at the crease without scoring a century (a rarity in recent years), the batsmen made proceedings look tough enough to make a history defying feat by Pakistan’s top order to get close to scoring the 302 in the 55 overs beyond improbable and near impossible.

It is unlikely that the Sri Lankan Cricket fan was heartbroken by the sight of Azar and Misbah executing so perfect a chase to reach the impossible. Being lovers of the game, they were in awe and admiration of their opponents' courage and flawless execution of a difficult game plan. Yet, those who have long loved and craved for the brand of Cricket that Sri Lankans have loved to play and watch over the years were left despondent at the sight of all nine fielders - bar the bowler and wicketkeeper - retreating to the boundary. Their heroes seemed to be scrambling, not so much in a helpless and desperate defence but rather in fearful trepidation of losing a game. In those last few hours, Sri Lanka lost more than a test match and a series win. In the last two ignominious sessions of pusillanimity, a nation of Cricket lovers that had endured the heartbreak of losing four world cup finals with resilient smiles and unshakable faith in the courage and determination of their heroes, felt forsaken and rejected. A team that was not rattled or terrorised by gunfire and mortars, were debilitated by a fear of something far weaker and invisible. The loss of a test match will take considerably less to make up for. The honoured ambassadors, of a nation that had emerged from a 30 year civil war with their optimism and passion for Cricket enhanced, seemed to have either forgotten how to play their game or forsaken the true identity and spirit in which Sri Lankans have played in living memory. The tragedy of that game was not merely that we lost out of timidity and lack of imagination and self belief; but in how our heroes remorselessly betrayed the joyous abandon with which we have always played the game of Cricket; the kind of joy that a bunch of kids were probably just beginning to discover just down the street.