Sun Nov 14 15:08:53 2004.


Globe Scan
by Chanakya Sen

Pelf Wars

There is enough in this world for everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Economics, hidden in the penumbra of ‘political economy’ until the 20th century, developed into an independent social science when scholarship recognised the universal human condition of limited means vis-à-vis unlimited wants and desires. Scarcity of resources compels people toward choice- rational choice that maximises utility and satisfaction given the constraints of shortage. Our subject of enquiry is how scarcity of resources has fuelled wars and violence, and whether economic causes are the underlying rationales for all conflicts.

Spirituality truly cannot be expected in hungry bellies. Wars occur over resource paucity perceptions or desire for more riches. Ancient and medieval history is replete with references to pillage, loot, plunder and booty. A ‘marauder’ was one who militarily attacked other lands to snatch resources- slaves, land, buildings, equipment, precious metals and stones, not to mention women who were (and sadly still are) considered objects to be forcibly sequestered and owned. Every major conqueror committed acts of savage destruction and justified it by dangling the carrot of spoils of war. The 2003 US invasion of Iraq is the latest in an endless continuum of wars advertised as capable of ‘paying for themselves’, a euphemism implying massive resource exploitation by the occupiers.

Michael Klare (author of Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict), contends that “economisation of security” holds not just for the United States but for most important states including Russia, China, India and Japan. Materialistic strategic thought isn’t new, but is increasingly the root cause for international and internal bloodshed. Access to water, oil, biotech material and outer space are going to critically determine the ‘new wars’ posterity has to endure. Such a prognosis is likely, given that the world economy is limping and not enough global wealth is being created or redistributed fairly. Neo-Malthusian tendencies gain prominence in times like the present, with war-prone state and non-state actors inventing unilateral ways for staying one step ahead of consumption trends and demographic growth.

The counter-argument to views that all wars are basically resource wars is provided by Mary Kaldor (author of New and Old Wars. Organised Violence in a Global Era), who puts forward ‘identity politics’ and ethnicity as the prime drivers of the new wars facing humanity. Between 1987 and 1997, more than 85 percent of violent conflicts were fought within national borders, overwhelmingly in poor countries with fractured nationhood and confused identities. Lack of belonging and group security for communities have driven them to take up secessionist armed rebellions, the main type of internal conflicts today.

Michael Ignatieff coined the phrase ‘blood wars’ for appalling events such as those witnessed in the erstwhile Yugoslavia and in Rwanda. Purity of bloodlines has manifested prominently in ethnic cleansing and genocide witnessed in the post-Cold War world. The question- ‘Who am I?’- is worryingly being cast in regressively narrow parameters of region, religion and the dangerous catch-all category of ethnicity. An indicator of how hate-filled blood wars have changed the nature of fighting is the ratio of military to civilian deaths. For the wars of the 1990s, it is 1:8, reversing the 8:1 rate at the turn of the 20th century. Arguably, the technology used by armies is far more lethal today, but deliberate targeting of civilians belonging to the ‘other’ community is also far greater than in traditional wars of the past. Inflicting torture and terror on innocents purely on the basis of the accident of their birth is now a commonplace strategy of many internal wars.

Growth of identity-based conflict also focuses attention on cultural differences that some claim to be civilisational. Samuel Huntington, another American thinker who excels at grand global explanations for problems, says that cultural identity is shaking up the world more than any other phenomenon. According to his widely read The Clash of Civilisations the Remaking of World Order, the most important distinctions in the post-Cold War period are cultural, not political, economic or ideological. Ancestry, race, language, values and customs are the tools most humans are resorting to define themselves and attack others. Huntington’s rival intellectual, Francis Fukuyama (author of Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity), differs on the pessimism of bloodier blood war predictions but agrees about the significance of “inherited ethical habits”, translated as culture.

Proponents of identity and culture wars have also expanded their analytical trade into the hot topic of terrorism rather successfully. Huntington was rediscovered by academics and lay persons after the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. That the world could now be divided into Islamic and anti-Islamic (‘Judaeo-Christian’) parts engaged in a modern crusade to the finish was an exciting and dreadful possibility, with quotes from the Harvard professor to boot!

Apart from the empirical weakness of civilisational war theories (over-generalised philosophies fail when tested against real examples), a big loophole in the so-called post-Marxist understanding of warfare is treatment of warring entities as monolithic. One civilisation cannot be fighting another per se, since every civilisation contains highly matured constructs of peace and tolerance that preserve stability and order. Within civilisations or states or regions, there are interest groups motivated by resource expropriation or exclusion fears. These groups couch violent intentions in the garb of identity and ethnicity to inflate their social base and numerical strength.

Extremists wage war by appropriating the mainstream platform (at least temporarily) and pursuing their own agendas of power and pelf that are well hidden. Wealth is essential for extremists to proliferate and prove that their way bestows personal and group prosperity. From rewarding the faithful to planning new military ventures against the ‘enemy’, money talks. Take, for instance, the much-celebrated modern scourge, ‘warlordism’ (a word coined by Professor William Reno of the University of Florida). It is a ghoulish combination of feudal violence, criminality and capitalist accumulation. Afghan warlords rose to power using the traditional anti-Soviet civilisational struggle language. They are better known for drug trafficking, smuggling, extortion and other inhuman techniques of self and accomplice enrichment. Foday Sankoh of Sierra Leone labelled himself a ‘revolutionary’ against oppression, dug deep into the pocket of Liberian conflict diamonds and ordered barbaric limb severing of thousands of defenceless civilians. ‘Holy Warriors’ or army generals have rarely hesitated to amass fortunes or live in luxury while preaching sacrifice, selflessness and nationalism. If only the poor cannon fodder that joins ranks of these greedy military entrepreneurs saw through the game, the venom would be rid from war economies. The bin Ladens and Musharrafs would lose sting.

Conferences are being held around the world to debate whether poverty is the root cause of terrorism and wars of all kinds. Harvard’s Jessica Stern (author of Terrorism in the Name of God) has convincingly postulated that “humiliation, real or perceived, is more likely to attract recruits to terror than is poverty or lack of opportunities.” It is also proven in various countries that the poor are not any more naturally prone to violence than the elites. However, de-linkage of poverty and violence need not imply that economic motives are absent in wars. Greed among warmongering ruling classes knows no limits and accepts no shackles. Every potential resource war can be avoided through creative diplomacy and fair apportioning of natural bounties. But for those who have learnt vicious bullying methods to expropriate, war is the rational choice.


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