Politics of Wars

In “A Plea for Less Malice Toward None” Ogden Nash writes –

“Any kiddie in school can love like a fool,

But hating, my boy is an art.”

Unfortunately, men have acquired the art of hating so well that it requires “a half-naked Indian fakir” to make them understand “the fact that there are so many men still alive in the world shows that it is based not on the force of arms but on the force of truth or love”.

Whether or not the above Gandhian disposition about human nature can be extended to global politics is a matter of contention, but human history has been dotted with so many wars that it is very difficult to deny the presence (if not the predominance) of a certain trait in human nature, which keeps the world in a perpetual state of belligerence and hatred. This trait draws its vitality from the ‘scientific shibboleth’ of ‘survival of the fittest’ that has been drilled into the very consciousness of human existence. This narrowly held view of the world, namely an omnipresent struggle in the face of unrestrained competition, limits the idea of rationality of agents to mere ‘selfish rationality’. In other words, the pursuit of unilateral self-interest has shaped politics over centuries of human civilization in a way that it now has a tendency to fan a sense of intolerance. To make matters worse, the economics of the post-industrialization world has promoted such an unbridled consumerism that it leaves in its wake an entire generation of lonely men and women who are disinterested even about their immediate environs. Thus, an unscrupulous competitiveness gripping modern life lies at the roots of violent geopolitics and mass xenophobia.

Why are Wars Waged?

From the ongoing platitude, one might think I am propounding that wars are the result of a flawed philosophy and a disturbing modern lifestyle. This is untrue because wars have been present since time immemorial (whence there may not be any cogently formed xenophobic belief-system). It is only to iterate that over the years, with the rise of hysterical diatribes in an air of distrust and hatred, wars have tended to be more violent in terms of the damage inflicted on ordinary civilians. Despite the rising violence in modern warfare, one can find a striking commonality in all wars, irrespective of their era and place of origin – the cause of wars. Without fail, wars among rational players are waged only when at least one party believes the cost of waging the war is less than the prospective gains from it in terms of resources, power, glory, territory, etc.

Moreover, almost all wars are preceded by a failure of bargaining – an inability to reach a mutually advantageous and enforceable agreement. One important feature of wars is that they tend to recur between the same belligerent parties. This is because bipolar negotiations between parties disparately endowed with bargaining resources are characterized by a chain reaction of further such negotiations, with the sole aim of either retaliation by the previous vanquished or reinforcement of superiority by the earlier victor. Thus, patent skewness in the global political power scenario serves as the cradle of wars.

Military Industrial Complex[1] and World Peace

If wars were always fought, and the cause of wars was always failed negotiations, then the natural question arises: what, if any, is new about wars?

While the causes behind the recent instances of wars across the globe can be seen through the lens of the erstwhile understanding of failed negotiations, a careful scrutiny will reveal that the story is much more convoluted. With the advent of the Cold War, competitive armament has become norm of the day. Corporate giants seized this opportunity to make ‘nasty profits’[2] by producing and selling arms; they colluded with the political class and invested huge sums of money in the name of ‘research and development’. These corporations certainly kept their word in advancing modern technology – but only to develop weapons of mass genocide.[3]

Clearly, these corporations and the so-called ‘Military Industrial Complexes’ need profits and the only way to bag profits is to sell their arms. Therefore, it is of utmost importance for these corporations to foster a sense of military insecurity across the nations – a task well undertaken by the developed country diplomats. These diplomats found newer avenues to make the developing countries believe that procuring arms in the face of potential military threats is an absolute necessity. Where they failed to propagate their agenda, they took yet another route – that of waging a war against terrorism. Thus, in the name of establishing world peace, developed countries, particularly the US, undertook a massive project of armament of nations. From fanning the Middle East crisis to sending troops to Afghanistan, USA left no stone unturned to make use of their arsenal.[4] Thus, in a world with skewed political powers, the US presented war as an instrument of furthering its political arm-twisting.

One perennial source of military struggle has been the resource-rich regions of the planet. However, in the recent years, the straightforward motive of grabbing the resources has been carefully hidden under the guise of establishing political stability in the region by economic superpowers like the US. Often the neighbouring countries with similar resource endowments engage themselves in mutual wars in order to grab hold of the resources and become a strong monopoly of the resource. Even when countries do collude and form a cartel, such mutual agreements between nations are usually violated because of the intrinsic incentive to cheat and break away from the cartel. Once cheating is detected, the errant country is punished either by waging a war against it or through politico-economic non-cooperation. Consider a hypothetical situation where Iraq and Iran have the choices of either restricting production to 2 million barrels of crude oil per day, or produce a larger amount of 4 million barrels per day. The following matrix[5] shows the payoffs of Iraq and Iran for the four combinations of possibilities.

IRAQ  2 millions of barrels per day (Cooperate) 4 millions of barrels per day (Cheat)
 2 millions of barrels per day (Cooperate) (46,42) (26,44)
4 millions of barrels per day (Cheat) (52,22) (32,24)

The first number in each of the ordered pair of payoffs represents Iran’s profits per day in millions of dollars and the second number represents those of Iraq. Now suppose Iran cheats for a day successfully, while Iraq stays honest. Iran gains US$ 6 million (=52-46). When Iraq finds out Iran has cheated, the mutual trust breaks down. The two settle down to a regime of high outputs. Relative to cooperation, Iran now loses US$ 14 million (46-32=14) a day. Even if it takes Iraq a while to detect the cheating, Iran loses in the end. For example, if it takes Iraq a month to detect the cheating, it takes only 13 days to wipe out Iran’s gain (=180 million) from cheating. Thus, punishment means strategic non-cooperation. The Iraq-Kuwait war is a prime example of a violent punishment. Whatever be the punishment strategy, the basic issue is that once the atmosphere of mutual trust is lost, influential third-party countries like the US can easily incite violence, undermine the native governments in the region and further its politico-economic hegemony. Once the bluff of the baseless allegations of Iraq preparing nuclear weapons was exposed, the world understood that the infamous duel between the US president and the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was fuelled by the underlying resource-curse.

Costlier: War or Peace?

Once we have understood the unholy nexus between the political clan and corporate giants, we turn our attention to the crucial trade-off of channelizing scarce fiscal funds between defense and developmental fronts. During periods of economic austerity, developing countries tend to maintain their defense expenditures at a more stable level than other functional expenditures such as health and education.[6] This proves countries are too afraid of taking the risk of not keeping themselves prepared for a military threat. Ironically, what the governments forget is that the pent-up bitterness amongst their own citizens due to prolonged deprivation of developmental rights can eventually find its vent in the form of mass agitation against the establishment. This would entail a collapse of the economic activities, at least temporarily, with an effective breakdown of the law and order system in the country, such as in recent Egypt. Apparently, this seems to be quite easy for the governments to tackle, particularly with their arsenal of sophisticated weapons for public threat. What misses the eye is the prolonged adverse impact of such popular unrest in the society on the international trade relations and investor-confidence. Thus, the long-term loss to the economy can be much more than what it takes to smother the rebellion by armed force. Thus, strengthening the military-base of a nation at the cost of the developmental aspirations of citizens can prove to be a fatal mistake.

Wars Making the World ‘Flat’[7]?

In the course of the above deliberation, one can understand that maintaining peace in the world requires developmental aspirations of the people to be met, and not a threat of military aggression. Despite the war-mongers’ efforts to cloud the understanding of global peace, the public has time and again eloquently pointed out that they are not in favour of wars to establish global ‘justice’ (e.g., the disenchantment of the American populace with George W. Bush after the Iraq war). The only possible way to break the vicious cycle of the corporate giants funding the political parties win elections and the political class favoring the ‘nasty’ motives of these corporations – is to form a unified struggle against these “traders of hatred” in demand of ‘flat’ development.

[1] The term was first used by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell address. The term is used to mean the entire network of contracts and flows of money and resources among individuals as well as corporations and institutions of the defense contractors.

[2] Joseph Stiglitz (2006)

[3] At the risk of slight exaggeration of expression, these corporations through the active patronage of the supercilious political class converted the American “dream” to the American “drone”!

[4] The fact that the US has maintained till today its military expenses in real terms unchanged at the World War II levels (approximately 270 billion $), points to its vested interests in maintaining a state of belligerence in the world.

[5] Dixit, Nalebuff (1991)

[6] Robert E. Looney of the National Security Affairs, USA, notes this statistical fact for a number of developing countries.

[7] In his 2005 book, ‘The World Is Flat’, Thomas Friedman argues that globalization and diffusion of modern technology have flattened the world, creating a level playing field in which people from any part of the globe can compete on equal terms.

3 thoughts on “Politics of Wars

  1. Nice article..the progress was very logical..I sometimes feel that we are inherently drawn towards violence and war. However, the diplomats who are involved in the sale of armaments..do they encourage wars against terrorism? Or do they encourage terrorism itself? I mean..if war is not waged against terrorism..how else can one stop it?


  2. Yes, Amartya. You are absolutely correct. There is a well thought out agenda to first promote terrorism and subsequently smother it. This entire cycle involves an obvious arms’ race between the governments and the terrorist organizations, leading to escalation of wars and consequent increase in profits of the military industrial complexes – more sophisticated arms on one side being matched with even better arms on the other side in the next round.


  3. Amartya, I share your thoughts on our inherent inclination towards violence and war. More on this issue in some other article. 🙂


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