War, as an instrument of human action, is as old as humanity itself. It stands as an enduring expression of both human rage and desire—the desire to achieve martyrdom for a cause, to attain glory, fame, and wealth. This encapsulates the ancient and medieval concept of war.
According to Kautilya, war is essential to neutralise threats from rival kings but should never be waged for petty causes or for sport. Wars have also been waged for the cause of religion and religious glory. The premise of the medieval age in Islam and, to some extent, in Europe was to spread the ‘true faith.’ The Crusades exemplify this, waged to reclaim Christian holy lands from Muslim control. Conversely, protecting the sacred Islamic land was the primary objective. Caliphs in Islam embraced a fanatical outlook, waging war against infidel kingdoms and kings.
The cost of conflict has been a grave burden for the warring countries and the world at large. However, an interesting phenomenon led to the gradual decline in violence and preference for commerce. As Norbert Elias aptly terms it, the ‘civilizing process’ ushered in an era where trade and commerce began to overshadow the once-glorified theatre of war. There exists a fundamental shift away from the preference for war, rooted in the UN principle of sovereign equality and the pursuit of international peace and security outlined in Article 1 of the UN charter.
The Decline of War: A Historical Perspective
The notion that war is no longer relevant finds resonance in Immanuel Kant’s “perpetual peace” theory, which posits that democracies, by nature, abstain from war and instead prioritise economic engagement. This sentiment was emphatically echoed by PM Modi challenging the prevailing narrative and asserting, “This is not an era of war.” Examining India’s stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Modi advocated for the cessation of violence and exploring avenues of mediation. This highlights a broader understanding that in a world interconnected by global business, the exorbitant costs associated with war make it an untenable proposition.
From the fervour of an India-Pakistan cricket match to the broader geopolitical landscape, nationalism takes on various forms. While it played a crucial role in the liberation of nations post-World War II, it also fuelled devastating conflicts and spawned ideologies like Fascism and Nazism
As of 2023, global military spending reached a staggering $1.83 trillion, a figure that underscores the economic burden nations bear due to armed conflicts. The economic ramifications of war, coupled with the interconnectedness of nations in the global trade network, contribute significantly to the dwindling appeal of traditional warfare.
Nationalism: A Lingering Force
However, amidst the growing irrelevance of war, nationalism emerges as a potent force. From the fervour of an India-Pakistan cricket match to the broader geopolitical landscape, nationalism takes on various forms. While it played a crucial role in the liberation of nations post-World War II, it also fuelled devastating conflicts and spawned ideologies like Fascism and Nazism. Today, nationalism intertwines with religious fervour, evident in pan-Islamism and Christian revivalism.
PM Modi’s assertion captures the prevailing sentiment that countries are reluctant to embrace war, but it’s a sentiment not easily realised. The complexity lies in the enduring grip of ultra nationalism, a force that transcends geopolitical boundaries and influences the very fabric of societies.
How can we, as a global community, collectively steer away from the allure of conflict? This question beckons leaders, thinkers, and citizens alike to contemplate alternative paths toward conflict resolution, fostering a vision that prioritises peace over the vestiges of historical animosities
Towards a Shared Vision
In light of this nuanced reality, it becomes imperative for societies to come together and embark on a collective introspection of the nature of war. How can we, as a global community, collectively steer away from the allure of conflict? This question beckons leaders, thinkers, and citizens alike to contemplate alternative paths toward conflict resolution, fostering a vision that prioritises peace over the vestiges of historical animosities.
The call to action is not just to reject war but to actively seek alternatives that promote dialogue, understanding, and cooperation. In doing so, we move beyond the era of war towards a future where the complexities of history, religion, and race can be navigated without resorting to the age-old instruments of conflict.
–The writer is currently working as a Research Associate at Defence Research and Studies (dras.in) and is a columnist. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda