The 21st century marks an era of complex geopolitics with paradigm shifts in the traditional understanding of war and peace. Wars in the 20th Century were fought to ensure peace. Wars in the 21st Century are fought to shatter peace. A series of socio-political, societal, technological, and ideological storms has shaken the global equilibrium of peace and created instability by war and violence. The policy objectives have transformed from the creation of peace to seeking justice through war. Ironically both are increasingly failing.
Waging war for peace has been replaced by waging war to shatter peace. The on-going Ukraine-Russia War and Hamas-Israel War are testimony of the same. There will be no victor or vanquished in these wars, nor is there justification for the aggrieved as the aggressor.
Escalating provocation by Ukraine and its Western proxies cannot be justified, nor can the Russian invasion’s destruction and loss of innocent lives of Ukrainians be justified.
Similarly, justice for Palestinians does not come at the cost of Israel by brutalities perpetuated by Hamas terrorists and justice for Israel does not come at the cost of innocent Palestinian lives and their continued misery.
Loss of innocent lives or deprivation of basic means for livelihood can never be justified. War cannot buy justice nor ensure peace.
Drivers of War in the 21st Century
The destructive nature of technological wars, the military-political missions of communism, liberalism, and exceptionalism by superpowers, religious fundamentalism, or any other dictatorial ideologies has become dominant. Ideas and shapes have already emerged based on self-interest and weakening competitors rather than mutual collaboration for peace and prosperity.
Maintaining stability in traditionally calm regions has become a challenging endeavour, and regional conflicts are increasingly influenced by broader geopolitical rivalries
Geopolitical Competition and Spheres of Influence: The 21st century has witnessed a resurgence of great power competition, leading to a global landscape marked by the pursuit of spheres of influence. Maintaining stability in traditionally calm regions has become a challenging endeavour, and regional conflicts are increasingly influenced by broader geopolitical rivalries.
Non-State Actors: The emergence of non-state actors as significant players on the global stage has added a new layer of complexity to the dynamics of conflict. These actors, whether terrorist groups or state-sponsored proxies have demonstrated their capacity to influence and disrupt global stability.
The impact of incidents such as 9/11 and the 26/11 highlights the inadequacy of traditional conflict resolution mechanisms. The world’s greatest threat to peace and stability however lies in the geometric enlargement of Islamist fundamentalism and its destructive ideology.
Civil Society’s Militarisation: The militarisation of civil society has introduced a unique element into the global security paradigm. The influence of public sentiment and domestic politics, coupled with civil society’s growing militarisation, collectively casts a formidable shadow upon the foreign and military strategies of nations.
The use of violence as a tool by state and non-state actors in pursuit of ideological, religious, or political objectives of the 21st Century challenges the traditional framework of conflict resolution.
The use of violence as a tool by state and non-state actors in pursuit of ideological, religious, or political objectives of the 21st Century challenges the traditional framework of conflict resolution
State-Sponsored Terrorism: Proxy wars and state-sponsored terrorism have emerged as a new tool for power play. While these state actors may not rival the organised might of traditional nation-states, the damage they can inflict is disproportionately substantial. The grey zone between state and non-state actors is becoming increasingly blurred, complicating the global response to this threat.
Cyber Threats: The digital era has ushered in new domains of conflict, particularly in the realm of cyber, space and non-kinetic warfare. These conflicts have significant implications for global stability, as nations grapple with challenges posed by information dominance, digitised battlefields, and integrated networks.
The traditional framework of conflict resolution of the 20th Century is thus ill equipped to address the complexities of 21st Century conflicts. The dynamic nature of these drivers necessitates a re-evaluation of diplomatic approaches to peace.
Diplomacy for Peace: Euphoria or an Illusion
The significance of times of change has gone beyond diplomacy. Times of change are always associated with uncertainties, risks, and opportunities. At such moments the price to pay for a mistake increases dramatically bringing the draconian shadows of war closer.
World War II-era global institutions struggle to maintain their authority in a landscape marked by a web of contradictions and double standards. The lack of a unified framework for conflict resolution exacerbates the challenges faced by diplomacy
Challenges of Diplomacy: The 21st Century presents formidable challenges to diplomacy. Despite living in an era of globalisation, profound communication, and interdependence, the powers often fail to hear and understand each other. Diplomacy inevitably fails when there is a fundamental conflict of interest. Traditional global institutions, such as the United Nations, have lost their sheen and authority, leaving international relations marked by contradictions and double standards.
Ideology vs. Pragmatism: Attempts to build relations on ideological, rather than pragmatic foundations, have often led to violent escalations. Ideological conflicts, rooted in deeply held beliefs and values, pose a significant challenge to the traditional diplomatic approach of dialogue and negotiation. Conflicting ideologies and interests hinder the quest for common ground and lasting peace.
Rule-Based Order: In the absence of a universally accepted rule-based order, international relations often become a game with self-defined rules or no rules at all. The World War II-era global institutions struggle to maintain their authority in a landscape marked by a web of contradictions and double standards. The lack of a unified framework for conflict resolution exacerbates the challenges faced by diplomacy.
Overall, at the end of the first quarter of the 21st Century one is now faced with more questions related to identity, citizenship, volatility of the international system and finding universal solutions which need to be based on the “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, a Sanskrit phrase found in the Hindu texts such as the Maha Upanishad, which means “The World Is One Family”.
Shared Core Interests Must Drive Peaceful Coexistence
In our shared global narrative, we are all driven by a common set of professed core interests. These interests form the bedrock of our aspirations: the pursuit of peace, the steadfast resistance against destabilising forces, especially those fuelled by the ever-evolving spectre of terrorism, and the tireless effort to cultivate an environment conducive to sustainable development.
Achieving these noble objectives hinges upon the pivotal premise that the nations can harmoniously align their conduct and the use of force, for there exists no other viable alternative in our contemporary landscape. To envision an alternative path is to recklessly invite our planet’s political arena to cascade into an abyss of uncontrollable escalation in every conceivable direction.
Paradoxically, the Western world champions a comprehensive outlook on global development and the values it seeks to champion, but the consequences of its endeavours often yield results contrary to its intentions and unilateral intervention as a policy of exceptionalism
At this pivotal juncture, humanity finds itself standing at a crossroads of destiny. Shall the mounting internal challenges within dominant nations and the ascent of influential new centres of power propel us towards a revolutionary eruption, or will transformation proceed methodically and deliberately for sustained peace?
The division between the well-established core of the global system and the emerging states takes on a profound knowledge-based dimension. At the heart of this divide lies an escalating struggle to reach a consensus on the very definitions of critical concepts such as “stability,” “security,” “progress,” and “democracy.”
Paradoxically, the Western world champions a comprehensive outlook on global development and the values it seeks to champion, but the consequences of its endeavours often yield results contrary to its intentions and unilateral intervention as a policy of exceptionalism.
In contrast, non-Western nations are united in what they oppose but have yet to crystallise a unified, holistic peaceful vision for the restructuring of the entire system, beyond individual selfish interests.
Can The Transformation Be For Peace and Development?
We find ourselves amid a transformative era; a phase of global evolution where the dream of establishing a uniform, all-encompassing international order with shared values and developmental models appears increasingly elusive in our fragmented and pluralistic world.
However, amidst this intricate web of interdependence and intermingling, a descent into a never-ending war of the 21st Century could spell nothing but calamity. The earliest tremors of this impending catastrophe are already perceptible both in Europe and West Asia.
From disconcerting ripples in the global economy, notably in sectors like energy and finance, to the complex challenges posed by humanitarian crisis, the menacing expansion of Islamist fundamentalism, and the global society’s arduous struggle to unite against these transnational threats, not to mention the looming spectre of climate change, pose a considerable threat.
While the shift of economic cooperation and integration towards regional realms does not signify the end of globalisation, it underscores the imperative of integrating these regional communities into the broader global economy. For this synergy to be effective, global, and regional institutions and trade regimes must fortify, rather than undermine, each other.
The conventional regional economic groupings are transitioning into broader transcontinental or transoceanic entities, as “narrow” regional units struggle to maintain competitiveness in the face of mounting global competition. These new “larger” communities, while not characterised by deep integration, offer enhanced trade frameworks and broader cooperative norms in trade and economics.
Escalating chaos and uncontrollability in international relations cannot endure indefinitely. We may be witnessing the nascent stages of a new world order shaped by a factual, albeit non-institutionalised equilibrium between existing and emerging regional and global players
Regional integration communities do not dissolve within these larger constructs but rather intertwine with them, aligning models and interests. In the face of these challenges, it becomes increasingly apparent that the pursuit of a uniform international order may be unrealistic. The transformation required for peace and development must recognise the pluralistic nature of the global landscape and explore alternative approaches.
Towards A Novel Equilibrium
The escalating chaos and uncontrollability in international relations cannot endure indefinitely. We may be witnessing the nascent stages of a new world order shaped by a factual, albeit non-institutionalised equilibrium between existing and emerging regional and global players.
They must maintain close economic and human ties, seek collective responses to developmental challenges and adversities, and occasionally unite to combat threats, primarily those of an anti-systemic nature.
Presently, a new global order is not arising from the ashes of war but is gradually taking shape through the intricate interplay of competition and interdependence. This impending order will not hinge on the traditional concept of victors and vanquished.
This emerging framework is likely to sustain the unrestricted movement of people, goods, and capital. Successful endeavours to establish novel international financial institutions and integration blocs will enhance global manageability. Governments and private entities will have choices, fostering competition among institutions and enhancing their vitality.
The coexistence of established and emerging powers, while marked by competition, also emphasises the importance of collaboration in addressing shared threats. This coexistence is entirely compatible with the persistence of competition between these groups.
To conclude, the 21st Century presents a unique and evolving global landscape marked by evolving paradigms of war and peace. Its formation will be a protracted process marked by setbacks, regressions, and temporary reconciliations to address shared threats.
The emerging global order, shaped by competition and interdependence, and at times confrontation, represents a departure from traditional paradigms. It aims to ensure the free flow of people, goods, and capital while promoting competition among institutions.
This emerging order underscores the importance of shared core interests and collaborative approaches to address global challenges and confrontation. The need is for adaptive approaches that align with the realities of our interconnected and complex world. It embodies a “path of peace,” not devoid of imperfections but characterised by stability and an absence of extreme fluctuations.
-The author is a PVSM, AVSM, VSM has had an illustrious career spanning nearly four decades. A distinguished Armoured Corps officer, he has served in various prestigious staff and command appointments including Commander Independent Armoured Brigade, ADG PP, GOC Armoured Division and GOC Strike 1. The officer retired as DG Mechanised Forces in December 2017 during which he was the architect to initiate process for reintroduction of Light Tank and Chairman on the study on C5ISR for Indian Army. Subsequently he was Consultant MoD/OFB from 2018 to 2020. The Officer is a reputed defence analyst, a motivational speaker and prolific writer on matters of military, defence technology and national security.The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily carry the views of Raksha Anirveda.