“Political realism is aware of the moral significance of political action. It is also aware of the ineluctable tension between the moral command and the requirements of successful political action. And it is unwilling to gloss over and obliterate that tension and thus to obfuscate both the moral and the political issue by making it appear as though the stark facts of politics were morally more satisfying than they actually are, and the moral law less exacting than it actually is.” — Hans J. Morgenthau
The realignment of ‘Balance of Power’ in contemporary international politics has resulted in a paradigmatic move in the classical realist teachings of Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hans J. Morgenthau, Reinhold Niebuhr and Nicholas Spykman, wherein the fulcrum of politics and political action has shifted inexorably toward structural realism and security dilemma. Adversarial India-Pakistan relations, growing Chinese influence in South Asia and interventions by United States of America in all matters of realpolitik are the crucial components of new security studies and neo-realism or structural realism as propounded by Kenneth Waltz and Joseph Grieco.
Classical realists like Morgenthau held a pessimistic view of human nature. The ‘ism’ was primarily based on the realities of human nature, hunger for power, survival and how conflict was an intrinsic part of insane human nature. Hence, conflict or war was a natural phenomenon. Classical realists dissected political action during the inter-war years mostly after the World War II; hence conflict became an act of individual achievements and since the state comprised individuals, the power of the state was sovereign or unchallenged. Justice, law and society were circumscribed.
Morgenthau opined that when we speak of power, we mean man’s control over the minds and actions of other men. By political power, we refer to the mutual relations of control among the holders of public authority and between the latter and the people at large. The shift in classical realism was witnessed in the 1980’s when Kenneth Waltz opined that it is the anarchy in international political structure that determines political action or international power structure. How power was distributed in the international political order was the crucial cog of political studies.
With the killing of Burhan Wani, a young Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander in Kashmir, the Uri attack and ensuing Indian claims of surgical strike to ‘wipe out terror camps across the Line of Control (LoC)’ and China’s technically putting on hold the listing of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, as an international terrorist, the security dilemma has become an inevitable and an unavoidable reality. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad is receiving staunch support from Putin’s Russia in the fight against ISIS. What Putin is also trying to ensure is a permanent support base in Syria as a hedge against US power in the Middle East. In the new Cold War between Russia and the US, the nuclear dimension is again gaining centre stage, as it is in the standoff between India and Pakistan in the subcontinent. Propaganda has indeed replaced moral philosophy.
Offensive and defensive realism has replaced classical realism. The current international political order is as anarchic as it can be with nations hedging their conventional war-waging capabilities with nuclear options.
Security dilemma, the third dimension of realism essentially focuses on the rising insecurities among states when one state expands its nuclear and defensive power capabilities in the name of self-help or self-defence. All this is based on intuition. There isn’t an actual war going on but threat perceptions are such that are used to justify defence preparedness in an era of globalisation, asymmetric threats, changing and increasingly-digitized battlefields and strides in weapon technologies.
The structure of international political order is a powerful determinant of state behaviour today. Conflict studies dissect the role of this structure in carrying out research on conflict transformation and peace building. In 1979, Kenneth Waltz, in his “Theory of International Politics” stated that anarchy prevents the states from entering into cooperative agreements to end the state of war. Critiquing the idealistic theory of conflict, neo-realists argue that structural dimensions of political order determine the trajectory of existing conflicts.
The recent cancellation of the annual summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) scheduled to be held in Pakistan was primarily due to India’s hegemonic attitude toward Pakistan as it prevented the members states from attending the Summit in its bid to ‘diplomatically isolate’ Pakistan.
The idea of balance of power as propounded by the realists essentially means an arrangement to control aggression but with unending India-Pakistan tensions and India-sponsored terrorism in Pakistan the entire fabric of balance of power has been distorted.
In response to the terrorist attack in Uri in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed, India claimed to conduct a surgical strike across the LoC. Pakistan took journalists to the area where this ‘attack’ was claimed to present the clear picture before the world. This was followed by (as some media reports suggest) the Indian Army taking a team of journalists along the LoC to brief them on the situation. If reports are to be believed, both countries are claiming their readiness for any eventuality in future. In the narrative as it has unfolded, the role of the fourth estate in conflict scenarios can no longer be undermined. This is equally applicable in the new world order across the globe.
The history of the formation of nation-states is intertwined with armed conflicts and bloodshed. War is central to the understanding of international relations and several other disciplines. When India, for example, was partitioned in 1947, there were riots and a huge refugee crisis. Similar examples can be seen in the case of Israel, Palestine and all other nations grappling with ethno-national violence and the resultant bellicose tactics used by the governments to suppress such violence.
According to Clausewitz, war is an extension of politics by other means. Headly Bull defined war as organized violence carried on by political units against each other. Nations today are accelerating their defence modernisation process and conducting nuclear tests to augment their conventional capabilities for waging war. The psychological pressures by the international community including the United Nations have fairly managed to control nuclear proliferation across the globe, but this influence seems to be waning now. Both India and Pakistan are traditional adversaries and nuclear states. It is best to avoid a full-blown war.
E. H. Carr and Hans Morgenthau had opined that nation-states will go to any length to gain power. Geopolitical wars have changed the geography of the world map. Conflicts or wars have existed since time immemorial. Gray, Kaldor, Thornton, Hoffman, Bousquet and Creveld have explored the many dimensions of war, be they hybrid, postmodern or asymmetric. War is essentially rooted in socio-political, psychological, cultural or economic inequalities. Internal conflicts such as the Naxalite movement in India are quintessential cases of resource inequality. War or conflict is more than just an act of violence; it is an action-reaction mechanism based on historical transformations of human societies.
Institutionalization of war is yet another dimension that has been a central theme of political studies and international relations. In common parlance, institutionalization refers to the process of embedding some conception—a belief, norm, social role, particular value or mode of behaviour—within an organization, social system, or society as a whole. The discipline of international relations was moulded to suit the objectives of the United Nations created in 1945 to save the succeeding generations from the scourge of war. But some wars are never ending. They may not be full-fledged armed violence; proxy wars can disrupt the social fabric of political societies as well.
There are several dynamics of war that need to be understood to tackle internal and external disturbances. The first is to deal with economic inequality. Redistribution of wealth or dictatorship of the proletariat as crafted by Karl Marx is an important study in itself. Other factors include religious differences, territorial disputes, violence against women, gender inequality, political non-representation, etc. The mechanism of war is like a manipulative tool in the hands of the political establishments to suit specific interests. Analogy can be drawn in the case of the fourth estate which focuses on dramatic stories, sensationalism to increase their TRPs. This is also a war, a war to win the first slot during primetime telecast of debates.
It is very difficult to understand the logic behind conflicts and wars; as Clausewitz opined, there is a marked difference between absolute and real wars. Wars are politically motivated. Unless a just social order is put in place, inter- and intra-state conflicts will continue to plague human societies. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the world witnessed the rise of United States of America as the new hegemon controlling international politics. In recent years, economic development and globalisation has led to many nations competing with the hegemon for their space in the international arena. India is seen as a hegemonic state in South Asia; the rise of the Dragon is a direct attack on America’s hegemonic superpower status and equally on India’s aspirations.
New balance of power always replaces the old one. This is an important tenet of realism. Realism, therefore, has not lost its relevance today. World wars may be over, but the new wave of cold war between India and Pakistan has changed the dynamics of international political order.