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Understanding impact of conflicts among nations on future of world

Oct 26, 2023 03:35 PM IST

HTLS 2023: In the lead-up to the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit 2023, thought leaders and experts share their views on the theme of this year’s event

Nations are now so sharply and almost irretrievably divided across regions and religions that it is difficult to be optimistic about the future of the globe. Until recently, we believed that we had come far away from life in the state of nature which the eminent 17th century English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously described (Leviathan) as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. The recent happenings in Gaza and Israel radically change our perspective.

IThe attack on Israel by Hamas is a reminder that there is no limit to insanity or immorality in international relations. (REUTERS)
IThe attack on Israel by Hamas is a reminder that there is no limit to insanity or immorality in international relations. (REUTERS)

The question that nags the most is: Are we less brutish and more humane than when Hobbes wrote? My response is an emphatic no. The attack on Israel by Hamas, a dreaded terrorist outfit fully supported by a country such as Iran and a few other anti-Semetic outfits, is an ugly reminder that there is no limit to insanity or immorality in international relations. It seems to me that autocratic leaders and organisations formed only to propagate hatred, which are not averse to employing violence at the slightest provocation, continue to dictate the course of events. Vengeful attacks – as Israel is planning for – will be unleashed ad nauseam, much to the consternation of smaller nations.

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Where there are no violent exchanges, routine transactions could be frosty. I saw this personally prevailing between Turkey and Cyprus, with the border between the latter and Northern Cyprus (held by Turkey) cutting across the capital city of Nicosia and one could easily sense insecurity and hostility in the air.

It is also now true that classical terrorism and modern warfare have become intertwined. This is dangerous beyond words. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE) conduct in Sri Lanka and on our own land until a few years ago, illustrated how terrorism easily blends with transactions between nations. Unfortunately, international bodies such as the United Nations are only marginally effective in preventing violence or diluting it. There is no visible anxiety among nations to give them more teeth. I do not visualise any enlightenment among nations that would help bring about selflessness and sharing of resources to maintain order in society.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) based in The Hague, which tries war crimes, has been a major disappointment. With China, India, Russia and the US refusing to sign the Rome Statute that created ICC, there is no available deterrence against countries that commit war crimes. Against this backdrop, it is not illogical to surmise that the smaller nations will have to fend for themselves unless they are willing to align themselves with powerful alliances.

The International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) has a severely limited charter. Contrary to popular belief, it has no penal authority. It is a paper tiger whose role is only one of information sharing. Drug smuggling, trafficking of human beings, stealing of antiques and distribution of pornographic images will remain unabated. There is reason to believe that their expansion will be exponential in the years to come.

What is remarkable is that India has honed its ability to walk the tightrope in a highly complicated world. Practising dynamic neutrality of the kind our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru ushered in, we have made a strong impression among the comity of nations. Our response to the cruel events in Ukraine some time ago and in West Asia more recently, are examples of how a mature and humane nation could make an impact on reducing tension between nations and rushing relief to battered nations. But for how long can we do this without hurting or embarrassing ourselves is the question. There may come a time when India will have to take sides, with its attendant consequences on our border.

I have seen in my life of 80 years at least four major conflagrations – Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Ukraine – all of which have had great international impact. It is no surprise that the West, wittingly or unwittingly, got drawn into each of these major conflicts. This is unlikely to change in the conceivable future. It seems reasonable to believe that West Asia will be the focus of attention of all major powers for quite some time. With Hamas establishing an uncomfortable fact that there is nothing like 100% security, either to the state or individual citizens, I believe there will be more and more recklessness in relations between nations.

I am especially concerned about our neighbour Pakistan which indulges in misadventure at every conceivable opportunity. Hamas’s imaginative intrusion into Israel could give some ideas to Pakistan. This will naturally call for greater alertness on the border, both with Pakistan and China.

This situation is unlikely to change for the better in the foreseeable years. This is not, however, dismaying because throughout modern history we have seen so many wars between nations, but mankind has survived, highlighting that we can still move forward by drawing lessons from history. We can derive some energy from G20 and other similar movements that encourage economic cooperation, and incidentally a tacit agreement on security issues.

Nelson Mandela once said that if you want to make peace with your enemy, you will have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner. This applies to the whole world, not merely to Israelis and Palestinians. Cynicism has unfortunately overtaken wise counsel. This is what the future order in the international community will have to reverse.

RK Raghavan is a former CBI director and a former Indian High Commissioner to Cyprus. The views expressed are personal

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