In a war, we see ourselves as a nation or a race, but not as humans, even though we pine for the others to be so. Therein lies the fallacy of the perspective, which is the root cause of wars.
In this part, we shall explore the actors that contribute to the making and ending of wars. See Part 1 below:
Actors make the act. There is always something smoking because of historical reasons. No war happens overnight – but one day a time, and begins long before the actual war starts. There is a historical discontent, oppression, imbalanced equation that sets the ball rolling. It always boils down to the fact about somebody turning greedy or seeking power, creating an imbalance.
How the actors behave during this festering period sets the background for the unfortunate event.
There are passive actors who stoke the flames in the passing because it serves their cause. There are others who don’t bother to intervene because it is not their problem anyway. Over time, the flames get fueled and one side starts becoming the aggressor.
When the actors take the good old faith away from the table, and don’t see the other’s point of view, diplomacy takes a back seat. Somebody has to force the issue, in the name of ‘negotiating from strength’, and finally a flashpoint explodes.
The relative strengths of individuals and alliances also come into play – alliances on principle, alliances of convenience, alliances based on history. Some of these partners do make strange bedfellows, even sleeping with the proverbial enemy’s enemy.
The war is fostered or averted during the ‘festering period’. We would not be talking about a festering period, if not for the war itself. That is the benefit of hindsight. But it is insightful to see how these events happen, but we always reach the same conclusion that somewhere, somebody threw the kitchen sink on sanity.
To understand this, we have to focus on the actors.
Mostly we refer to war as an armed conflict between two states (countries) or a group of nations. But in recent years, we have seen another classification emerge – non-state actors. Non-state actors don’t have to abide by the Geneva Convention, and that makes war all the more complicated.
We will also analyze the typical human elements that contribute to wars – between kingdoms, nations, and civil wars.
First, let us assess the ‘nation’ that goes to war.
Group: The State Actors
State Actors are three types – politicians, industrialists, and people. Of course, there is the army.
If the armed forces of a nation are under civilian control, like most democracies, then the decision to go to war is left to the head of state or the council that directs the nation’s security policies. In some cases, the approval of an assembly or a parliament, meaning, the consent of elected representatives of the countries is needed before a formal declaration of war. The equation between these civilian lawmakers is complex and dynamic.
In certain democracies, there is a strong head of state who controls the parliament, which ends as a puppet in the hands of the strongman. Because the head of state controls the military, clouds appear over the fearless thinking of the representatives, and clear debates seldom happen.
In more open democracies, where such a scenario is less likely to happen, the politics of the day dominates the decision-making.
He knows nothing, and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.”
―George Bernard Shaw, Major Barbara
Politics is the art of the possible. It is also the art of compromise, always driven by power than principles. Power is the ultimate prize in politics; unless the politicians are in power, their words are mere rhetoric.
Power comes in many forms but is always drawn from vested groups. Power comes to the possibility and promises that those sitting on the citadel can make things happen for those who voted for them. This could be concessions, privileges, jobs, and domination over other groups – race or religion, mostly.
The leader is obligated to serve the people who placed faith in and followed him. In other words, a leader emerges from the pains of the people with the promise that he will alleviate the pain. The relief could be bequeathed to them identities and rights, or liberty – which is of course, privileged. This obligation that the leader has is built on this promise. It is the fuel that gives purpose to the leader, and also the power.
As long as he makes them believe that he is their benefactor, people shall follow. In cases where this faith starts falling short, the leader unleashes fear that replaces the faith, which has started to erode over a period of time. In such cases, there is another leader who raises through the cracks in the seams.
Political parties are based on lofty ideals, at least that is how they start. But over a period, as seasons pass, the ideals mellow and slowly reality takes place. It is not out of the way for a new leader of a political party to recall its founding values, but eventually, politics take over again.
This is how new variables emerge, and from there, new ideas and ideals. This leads to the birth of new parties. Each party, therefore, has a reason for its existence, yet, they serve the same purpose – they rally around an ideology drawn from its vested groups.
Democratic nations can feed on multiple streams of ideology – nationalist, socialist, green, left, and right – but they all come under a clear framework call the constitution. The constitutions of democratic nations are themselves amendable and malleable, yet they stand as the cornerstone for the dos and don’ts of power and its abuse. There are always vested interests, like everywhere, to subvert this gospel, or yet paint outside the lines, but the lines stay. It is like a soccer game where the ball is always kept in play. Everybody knows the danger when the ball goes out of the line.
Democracies are fundamentally about the balance of power – between the religion and the state, and its branches; the judiciary, executive, and parliament. Balance of power is key to ensure that no single vested interest can hijack an entire nation and get away. The balance of power is the referee for the football match that we talked about.
Democracy is the best form of government just for the following two reasons. First, they have a written down rule set, and second, a referee system. That is why they are fair play, like any other game that we know of.
There is a third principle that makes mature democracies. It is the social angle where people’s welfare is a shared responsibility between the state and its people. The state guards, defend, and offer basic social cover to its people – defense, foreign policy, law and order, healthcare, education, and these days, add universal basic income. This welfare angle makes the system work without anybody having to be a messiah or a savior. Y
Young democracies suffer from the lack of these; even when they have the rule book and the referee system, the spirit of providing welfare depends on whoever is in power. When social welfare is provided through the conditional benevolence of power, democracies become benevolent dictatorships.
The true liberty that the rulebook promises and the referees watch over goes for a toss in such regimes. The concept of benevolence overrides this promised liberty. It manifests in the form of restrictions on people from saying and protesting, and everything is painted as black and white – for or against the regime.
This is where liberty becomes so important, as much as welfare itself. The cornerstone of a successful democracy is this delicate balance between welfare and liberty.
Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.
There are two forms of expressing this liberty. One is when people vote, and another is when people protest.
Voting is, therefore, a cardinal responsibility, and it is the exercise of the power of choice vested in people. However, the correlation between the outcome and the intent in voting is not linear.
Elections have proven that each vote is not an unencumbered expression of free will, but more often, it is subject to propaganda, herd mentalities, social influences, no-shows and the absence of alternatives. But voting is still the best expression, despite this non-linear relationship. It is the collective expression of people, in a systematized and peaceful manner of their choice on the candidatures of their elected representatives. The constraints with the voting mechanism are that it is left to the institutions’ ability to check and balance (separate of power – the referee system) and the Constitution (the rule book) to hold the sanctity and sanity of the democratic process together.
This brings us to the second form of people’s expression – protests. Protest or expression of dissent is the core of free-thinking, obedience is not. However, when protests subvert the balance of power or the rule book, they veer into anarchy. Anarchy is not bad sometimes if the change has to be cataclysmic for the old order, but in most cases, it is damaging to life and property.
The protests induce the democratic system to relook at itself – that is why the Constitution is malleable, and the House can make laws and discuss issues around the protests.
Of course, no system is perfect. That is why we have the media, and now, social media as the means to call out such imperfections. It might be pertinent to note that even the media are subject to influences such as fake news.
When democracies go to war, there is the belief that there is a level-headed approach, with its checks and balances to ensure that war is the measure of last resort. There is diplomacy and dialogue, there is reason and there are debates. Consensus building towards a major decision like going to war is a key element of decision-making in a democracy. Yet, it is not always true. One such instance is when the United States invaded Iraq, and another, when it bombed Japan, despite being in a winning position.
Despite its faults, democracy is the best form of keeping sanity in place. Nations, therefore seek a path to democracy as the final destination. When we examine the alternatives, we realize the reasons.