FUELLING FEAR AND MILITARIZING SOVEREIGNITY
1. Concept of nation state after treaty of Westphalia and use of military force for protection of territorial integrity of this socio-political entity was fast eroding with fall of the Berlin Wall and even the Indian concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (Global Family) was gaining currency and traction with free trade and simplified immigration procedures fuelling an idea of world sans borders. However two events in the last twenty years have bucked this trajectory and geo-politics has taken a ‘U’ turn, first was the globalization and corporatization of terror and now the COVID pandemic.
2. The global trend line is now toward walled and secured borders and interestingly so these walls and militarized security efforts are not a sign of strength, but instead are the last gasps of a dying political system based on territorial-defined nation-states. Counter-intuitively, perhaps, it is the weakening of state sovereignty and more precisely the detachment of sovereignty from the nation-state that is generating much of the frenzy of nation-state wall/fence building today. Rise of various cross-border regimes, instantaneous and difficult-to-regulate capital flows and new assemblages of decision making power in private corporations and virtual global entities like Amazon and Facebook with their own netizen population are eroding the unitary character of nation-states.
3. Global corporate networks, regional trade organizations and even terrorist groups have led primarily to ‘denationalization’, the distancing of citizens from states, and a ‘distributed’ allegiance among certain groups of people. However, with the pandemic demand for government has resurfaced and citizens have pined for assistance from the state machinery to tide over the fiscal, social and health challenges. This has provided the nation states to fuel fear amongst citizenry about unfettered move of monies, people and ideology across the national borders and further calcified the requirement of walled or fenced borders literally and figuratively as well. Any attempt to understand the impact of security concerns on conflict should begin with a brief examination of the security dilemma, which provides a framework for analysing the interaction of insecurity and elite manipulation. Modelled from the international relations theory originally articulated by John Herz and Robert Jervis, the security dilemma applied to conflict presents a scenario where two nations may end up in conflict even if neither seeks such an outcome.
4. Cooperation-Competition-Crisis-Conflict paradigm has multiple actors operating under myriad motivations, it is a complex challenge that requires complex analysis if truly effective policy responses aimed at preventing, ending, or at least mitigating conflict are to succeed. Among the various causes credited with paying a role in sparking conflict, two have received increasing attention; accentuated internal and external security concerns and elite manipulation. There is a dynamic relationship between insecurity amongst both elites and the masses and the ability of elites to manipulate societal identities and external threats for political aggrandization. The basic premise of the argument is that public insecurity and uncertainty creates an environment in which the public is more receptive to nationalist elites, who in turn employ strategies aimed at increasing public insecurity even further as a means of achieving their political aim and hold on to power.
5. The “spiraling cycle” of distrust and increased militarization is a characteristic of the security dilemma amongst the citizenry fuelled by a rabid and jingoistic media as well as a security establishment seeking prominence and relevance and can ignite a conflict in several ways. One example is if one nation senses a ‘window of opportunity’ when it has a military advantage, but fears that the advantage will switch to its rivals in the future or be negated (PLA’s effort to re-align the LAC in Eastern Ladakh in 2020), the nation may feel compelled to attack as a preventative strategy. Other possible triggers could be an isolated rogue incident of violence by a cabal (Op Koh-e-Paima executed by Gen Parvez Musharaff in 1999) or defensive actions which might be perceived, as the beginning of an offensive and therefore prompt a pre-emptive attack (1971 air attack by Pakistan). Other factors that contribute to the security dilemma include the difficulty of distinguishing offensive from defensive capabilities, lack of credible intelligence as to adversary’s intentions and action (forcing ‘worst-case’ assumptions), and the perception of an offense-dominated environment (where the first mover advantage is key to success. In sum, the self-defeating ‘dilemma’ is that “what one does to enhance one’s own security causes reactions that, in the end, can make one less secure”.
6. Globally this trend line has manifested in hyper-nationalistic political dispensations be it USA under Donald Trump, Russia under Putin, China under Xi and even benign states like Austria and Hungary in Europe have undergone this paradigm shift precipitated by illegal migration from West Asia of Muslim populace to large extent and also threat from a belligerent Russia trying to reassert its suzerainty in Eastern Europe (fig-1). In the Indian context unsettled land borders on both the Northern and Western Front as well as the enhanced presence of PLAN in Indian Ocean Region has provided the contextual frame work to fuel fear and spur hyper-nationalism as explained in para 5 above. This nationalism against external threats has also been augmented by ideological invasion from West Asia in terms of radicalized Islam and proliferation of hardline Salafi ideology with its inextricable linkages to Deobandh.
7. While the external threats to India may still be ominously true and any uneasy calm must be viewed with a jaundiced eye be it the Cease Fire Understanding (CFU) with Pakistan or the evolving Disengagement Process along LAC with China which may have created a new modus vivendi for the Armed Forces in particular and the country as a whole and can be fanned at any juncture to create panic and fear. Internal fault lines are exacerbated to enhance insecurity that in turn makes the public receptive to manipulation by political elite, media or religious figure heads. People that feel physically safe, economically secure and politically represented are unlikely to be moved by extremist politicians, socio-religious fear mongering and scape-goating. If, however, there is a wide perception among the public that they are at risk due to the actions or perceptions of another group, the likelihood that they will be prone to respond to manipulation is greater, owing to the fact that these elites often employ cabal solidarity as a means of protection from other groups. This creates a matrix of fears amongst the public and the elites which can trigger a spiral of activities finally leading to a conflict. The matrix is as under:-
8. The incentive for elites to turn to fear mongering in response to threats to their power stems from recognition that nationalism, ethnicity (including language, customs, religion) are basic foundations of people’s identities. Since some form of insecurity is usually necessary in order for the public to be receptive to elite manipulation (as explained above), elites attempt to present themselves as a protector (Pak Army as custodians of Pakistaniyat). The key challenge for elites in such a scenario is to define the interest of the collective population in a way that it coincides with their power interests. By playing on mass fears, elites attempt to maintain power and in order to accomplish this goal and mobilize support, elites will often portray another nation or group as an existential threat. Strains of this fear mongering can be very well seen in Pakistan which uses India and Hindu ideology as the existential threat to the idea of Pakistan and this also acts as the strategic glue that can bind the fractured Pakistani mosaic into one. In a situation of limited information, where the public has no means of determining the true intentions of an adversarial nation or a rival group, elite control of the media becomes a critical tool in the strategy of generating mass fear and ISPR has perfected this art of narrative engineering be it the internal aspect of PTM or the external threat of India and of course the perennial K2 (Kashmir and Khalistan). In such a scenario, the military elite along with Deep State are able to exaggerate threats posed by other nations and groups, present skewed account of history, and thereby engage in mythmaking aimed at making hyper-nationalism the central component of political discourse. Such portrayals of rivalry inter-nation or intra-nation as imminent threats is significant in precipitating conflict and the perpetrators of a crisis or conflict often cite the threat posed by their adversary as a main motivator for their behaviour.
9. In the sub-continent, insecurity among the population combined with elite manipulation poses a grave risk to peace and stability as countries are negotiating the challenges of the pandemic in the economic domain and/or also political turbulence. Fear begets fear. Insecurity among the population at large makes the public more receptive to manipulations, which rely on the spreading of fear. This cycle can be found in virtually all post-Cold War conflicts. While the role and centrality of this dynamic in actually causing conflict varies case by case. In the context of the sub-continent significant factors such as religious and ideological divide and unsettled borders, great-game dynamics during Cold War and now with a Rising China, security and elite action remain important parts of the conflict puzzle. Attempts to prevent, resolve, or mitigate such crises must take into account the significance of psychology and perceptions in fuelling this violence. The most important implication of this understanding of conflict in the sub-continent is that it is not inevitable, not an outpouring of ancient hatred flowing with the unstoppable force of history. It may be intentionally generated and designed by elites, which means it is preventable.
 https://resanskrit.com/vasudhaiva-kutumbakam/ originally from Maha Upanishad, the “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” phrase is part of the shloka “This is mine, that is his, say the small minded,
The wise believe that the entire world is a family”, Maha Upanishad 6.71–75.
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