To Exploit Uncommon Opportunities  

(An overview of global peace and security in the 21st century)

Jasjit Singh[*]

Nov. 21, 2004

The US State Department’s Report on Global Terrorism 2003 state that 625 people were killed in terrorist attacks worldwide during 2003. But in reality 845 innocents civilian men, women and children were killed in terrorist attacks in Jammu & Kashmir state in India alone during that year, and nearly 40,000 Brazilians were estimated to have been killed in small arms fire, with as many as 100,000 people, mostly civilians including women and children, being killed in the US-led war in Iraq and its aftermath, while sub-Saharan Africa experienced nearly 2 million deaths due to AIDS-related illness. This denotes the nature as well as complexities of some of the major challenges facing humanity.

Peace dividend

Many of the optimistic expectations for the future when the great confrontation ended with the demise of Cold War have not fructified. For example, the “peace dividend” expected after the end of militarised Cold War simply did not materialise. On the other hand, global military expenditure has crossed $1,000 billion. Global arms transfers did come down, but are still in the range of nearly $29 billion (with 60% going to developing countries) in 2003. There are many reasons for this development contrary to the expectations. One is that the military expenditure of the USSR was overstated. If we look at the global military expenditure during the last five or ten years excluding that of the USSR and its allies and compare it with the data in the five years after the end of Cold War, one finds that no significant reduction took place although the Former Soviet Union states were spending far less on their military forces which themselves were being retrenched.

Second, the end of Cold War witnessed a sudden spurt of Peace Keeping Operations, mostly undertaken under the UN auspices. But with the US withdrawal of its contingent from Somalia and the consequent shift in US policy the frequency of UN Peace Keeping Operations started to come down. At the same time, such operations started to assume increasing characteristics of “peace enforcement” rather than the classical peace keeping of earlier times. This was as much due to the nature of complex tasks facing peace keeping as the nature of conflicts.

The nature of global security challenges require international co-operation. This makes it necessary to make an objective assessment of the nature of the international order to identify the key players who must co-operate for peace and security in the future. In other words, we need to identify the players who should work for the international community undertaking common responsibilities of states, institutions and people to manage global security challenges. In other words we need to understand the nature of the international order as it evolves into the future.

International Order in Transition

At the same time there is an increasing acceptance of the idea that global power is shifting from the West to East after nearly three centuries. This is not so much due to the decline of the traditional transatlantic powers, but the rise of new power centres like China, India and recovery of Russia and Japan. This view may be difficult to accept by those who believe that the world is unipolar and will remain so in the foreseeable future. But, the so-called “unipolar moment” was just that, a moment, and ended long ago.

Given the fact that the United States is the sole super power with unmatched capabilities in military, economic, technological and political-diplomatic fields, this might appear to be a premature and even wrong judgement. But the reality has been that there are finite limits to the use of that power as indeed is clear in the way it has to soft pedal the North Korean (nuclear weapons) issue, in trying to impose its will on Iran, or battle it out virtually alone in post-war Iraq. At the same time, the US power has been magnified by the extensive alliance system that it has headed since the Second World War. It was inevitable that with the end of Cold War, this alliance would not carry the same importance as it did earlier because of the mismatch between the political and military rationale for it in the face of the dissolution of the enemy. But it certainly has continued to harmonise policies and postures among themselves thus providing the perception of the leader being even larger than the reality. The image of “unipolarity,” therefore, has come as much from the power of the US itself, as from the collective power and influence of the alliances built around the United States whose members are all the developed industrialised countries.[1] But progressively the US-led alliances have been getting less aligned as the fissures during the lead up to the Iraq War showed, continuing into the aftermath of the war when even staunch allies like Spain withdrew its forces from Iraq in spite of the critical shortage of forces to manage the post-war situation and the pressures to keep the forces who had fought alongside the US-led coalition forces in March-April 2003.

Alliance members would no doubt support the United States in cases where the cause is justifiable and legitimate when force is used. In fact the bulk of the international community would also side with the United States in cases where the issues are clear and US policy choice is in tune with natural justice and sensitive to international law and views of other nations as indeed happened in 1990-91 war against Iraq to liberate Kuwait. But when it came to the second war against Iraq in 2003 serious dissensions were to be experienced even among US allies creating rifts that have not healed so far. One may conclude that support for actions and policies of the most powerful state cannot be assumed to be automatic, and will also depend upon the perceived interests of other actors.

If the world is not bipolar, and unipolarity is more an image than substance, what sort of world are we moving into? The most often described term is that of an emerging multipolarity. Or at least some of the countries, like China, Russia, France etc. have been talking and even working toward that end. The realities on the ground are that new centres of power have been emerging during the past quarter century or so, while some of the existing centres (like the Soviet Union/Russian Federation) have shrunk though once again showing signs of recovery into a new model. This has been acquiring greater salience in recent years due to the remarkable economic growth in China, India and the recovery in Russia which would inevitably keep altering the global equations of power that many countries seek to define in terms of multipolarity. But multipolarity also implies each of the poles to assume a leadership role in the region around it. For a variety of reasons, such a situation is unlikely to become a reality in the foreseeable future.

For example, China, whose rise to power in the past two decades has been the most dramatic, still carries a great deal of historical baggage which restricts its ability to assume a leadership role in Asia. Its search for multipolarity, in fact, is recognition of this limitation and hence its need to work in co-operation with other major centres of power while it pursues its own long-term strategic goals. Japan, the other major power in Asia also carries its own historical baggage that constrains it to move cautiously and almost gingerly in the exercise of independent political role leave alone a military responsibility outside its borders lest it re-ignite the old images of the Samurai and a resurgent expansionist Japan of the Second World War. Russia is still weak and debilitated from the socio-economic turmoil of the Soviet collapse and the legacies of the Soviet era. India has its own historical baggage in terms of de-industrialisation during the two centuries of colonial rule and the political-psychological scars it left behind, in addition to the current challenges of having to go a long way to ensure the requisite level of human development and domestic peace. The European Union is deeply pre-occupied with the processes of integration to be able to constitute a pole by itself at this stage, while some of its individual constituents like France and Germany carry with them legacies of the past and the obvious contradictions of seeking an independent role while resolving the tensions of being part of US-led NATO.

What is clear and empirically valid is the reality of new centres of power rising in the world while many of the old ones are undergoing changes, qualifying the international order to be designated as moving toward an increasingly polycentric world. Many of the old norms and paradigms of arms control, non-proliferation and strategic stability have undergone fundamental changes. Techno-economic growth is altering the patterns of interaction that marked most of the 20th century, both before the Second World War as well as during the decolonisation of the world and the Cold War. This state of transition would almost inevitably move toward some sort of an end state over time. And this is why the present period may be seen as the foreplay of that end-state. What needs to be recognised is that almost all the new and old centres of power face their own limitations that (severely) constrain their ability to forcefully shape the policies of the 25 member European Union and/or the 45-odd Asian countries. The search for a `multipolar’ world is a recognition of these constraints.

Global Power Shift

There is increasing congruence of views among experts that there is a perceptible global power shift taking place from West to East, especially with the rise of China and India along with the Russian recovery and Japanese economy starting to move forward once again. The problem from our perspective is that global (or even regional) power shifts, when they have occurred in history, have rarely been peaceful and have often been caused or accompanied by the clash of arms.

The United States is unquestionably the pre-eminent dominant power in the world and likely to stay so for the coming decades. But as Brantly Womack concluded recently, “In the long run it (the United States) cannot succeed in forcing its will on the rest of the world.”[2] In fact the process of democratisation of the world is intrinsically linked to the expansion of the principle and practice of democracy in sovereign states. Looking at it from a different perspective, Paul Kennedy had hypothesised in the late 1980s that the United States and the Soviet Union would succumb to the phenomenon of imperial overstretch and China and Japan would replace them in the hierarchy of leading powers.[3] Four years later the Soviet Union proved the thesis right; and the United States as the sole super power now seems to be overstretched in its unilateralist imperial mould. The US National Intelligence Council study on Global Trends 2015 updating the earlier one had concluded that “There will be increasing numbers of important actors on the world stage to challenge and check --- as well as reinforce --- US leadership: countries such as China, Russia, India, Mexico, and Brazil: regional organisations such as the European Union; and a vast array of increasingly powerful multinational corporations and non-profit organisations with their own interests to defend in the world.”[4]

John Mearsheimer had cautioned that ascent of new rival to American power would start to alter the global strategic balance in a multipolar multipower world.[5] More recently Niall Ferguson had argued that the United States suffers from three structural deficits: (i) its dependence on foreign capital (ii), the deficit of troops level, and (iii) its attention deficit.[6] While it must provide the leadership in the emerging de-centralising world where 3-4 mega-states would contest for power, influence and resources, this is where the most notable US deficit is.

Other observers are arguing that the “US will not be able to maintain the dominant power and influence that it has enjoyed since the collapse of the Soviet Union.”[7] This is not due to the decline of the United States’ power, but rather due largely to the rise of other powers. At the same time, in the 18 months since the launching of the Iraq War, the United States has faced a serious legitimacy problem. As a consequence of this process, its approval ratings have declined in Europe and the Muslim world. And yet it needs the co-operation of both if it has to win the war against terrorism. Under the circumstances the United States is left with no choice but to seek the co-operation of countries outside of Europe (at least other than “Old Europe”) and the Muslim world. That is exactly the region where the new centres of power are rising, where, this would lend strength to the increasing multipolarity favoured by China, India and Russia.

Unfortunately, the current signs point toward US inability to win the peace in Iraq. Here lurks a serious problem. Islamic jihad came to believe that it had defeated the Soviet Union in the 1980s. And if the Mujahideen could defeat a super power, so went the sentiment, lesser countries like India and others would not be able to withstand the onslaught of irregular war waged in the name of religion through non-state actors supported by sub-state institutions like the intelligence agencies. Islamic jihad erupted across the world from Chechnya, to Kashmir and all the way to the Philippines finally coming home to the United States on “nine-eleven.” Here lies another complication. Terrorist organisations do not have to win from legitimate governments; they only need to ensure that they are not defeated and that provides them with the perception of victory especially as long as recruits in the name of religion are forthcoming from impoverished feudal societies. Islamic jihad has taken nearly three decades to get to the stage of “nine-eleven;” and it would take fairly long time for it to be rolled back. And the United States needs to work closely with the Asian powers and the European Union to reverse global terrorism if not defeat it. This is most visible in the quick shift of the Bush administration’s attitude toward China from treating it as a rival competitor to a cooperating power.

Various studies now clearly indicate that while the United States remains the largest economy in the world, the next three largest economies in PPP terms are China, India and Japan. In 2000 RAND updated its 1995 study and issued a revised report on Asian economic trends and their implications for security taking data as in September 1999.[8] Its main conclusions of the trends till 2015 relative to the present examination can be summarised as follows:

  • China’s economy under the sustained growth scenario would lead to doubling of GDP by 2015. By that time its GDP would be more than 3 times that of Japan in PPP terms (only 36 percent in exchange rate terms). China’s military capital would be 4 times that of Japan in terms of PPP value (and about the same in nominal exchange rates).
  • Japan’s estimated GDP growth varies from 1 percent to 1.6 percent per annum. Its military capital stocks would increase from about $112 billion in 2000 to $119 billion in 2015 (from $154 billion to $166 billion in exchange rate terms).
  • India’s GDP growth would double between 2000 and 2015 reaching 54 percent of China’s GDP (that is, about 5 percent greater than its GDP relative to China in 2000). By 2015 RAND estimates India’s military capital would reach $314 billion, which would be about 62 percent of China’s $666 billion (compared with only 48 percent in 2000).

What all this (and more) adds up to is that global security issues in the coming years are going to be far more complex, less easily resolvable, and above all, depend greatly on international co-operation. James F. Hoge, Jr., the Editor of Foreign Affairs, cautions that “The transfer of power from West to East is gathering pace and soon will dramatically change the context for dealing with international challenges.”[9] There is every risk that the present international order would, sooner rather than later, drift toward polarisation with inevitable hegemonism gaining strength. On the other hand, what the complex global and regional security issues require for successful handling is a world that is non-polarised, non-hegemonic and co-operative within a non-hierarchical polycentric international order. At the same time, multilateral institutions, especially the UN would need to be rejuvenated and re-aligned with the consequences of the global power shifts taking place. This is what all countries, especially the United States, need to be working for in common with other states if we are to successfully respond to the challenges ahead.

Institutions for Co-operative Peace and Security

It would not be possible to build co-operative peace and security to deal with the complex and new challenges to global security where most of the old sources of instability and violence have not disappeared without reshaping and strengthening global institutions. At the tope of such agenda naturally has to be the question of rejuvenating the United Nations and the principle and process of multilateralism.

The United Nations acme into being at the end of World War II reflecting the international order as it emerged at that time. Profound changes in the world have already taken place since then, beyond the Cold War that dominated the decades after 1945 and its subsequent demise. Reforms of the UN, especially the UN Security Council (which is responsible for managing international peace and security) have been long overdue. For the UN and its Security Council to play a meaningful role in the 21st century it is vital that reforms are not delayed any further. Three central principles should guide the reshaping of the international institutions:

  • The reformed restructured UN (especially the Security Council) must reflect the realities of changed international power structure and its future direction. This would naturally have to take into account the geopolitical architecture that has been examined in the beginning of this study indicating the global power shift to Asia.
  • Multilateralism would need to strengthened and given a fresh impetus. This may even be more difficult than restructuring of the UN. But that restructuring itself must ensure the revival of multilateralism.
  • Institutions would need to be tailored for establishing co-operative peace among states. This would require detailed studies where a new conceptual framework for inter-state (as well as intra-state) peace and security is evolved so as to make up for the missed opportunities of the past and reshape the future through acceptance and fulfilment of common responsibilities for this task. In turn this would require strengthening of the nation-states system and their sovereignty rather than weakening them as has been the case in recent decades.

Domestic Peace and Stability

If we look beyond the obvious and visible challenges to domestic peace and stability, the issue that stands out most clearly is that of the pervasive information-cum-communications revolution that has been sweeping across the world for the past two decades or more. This has had a profound impact on perceptions of people now connected by audio-visual communications like the television networks arising out of a new phenomenon of awareness in society even if people are isolated physically and located in remote places. Thirty or forty years ago formal education was a pre-requisite to awareness among people. Formal education is still important for an increasing number of reasons. But it is no longer a pre-requisite to the spread of awareness among people. That awareness now comes from the television screen, mobile cellular phones, greater connectivity through enhanced mobility and a host of other means and methods made possible by the information revolution. Commercial advertisements in increasingly free market-oriented societies further propel awareness and expectations.

This information revolution, in turn, by rapidly enhancing awareness, has triggered off a global revolution of rising expectations. This has its roots in the rising expectations of people based on the new awareness about a quality of life that is possible, but not necessarily available in real life. This ranges from awareness of human rights and their violations, issues of social injustice, economic disparities and social-economic inequities and a host of differentials in the living conditions of people, and so on. Increasing sense of inequities along with either lead to deepening of a sense of relative deprivation. This in turn leads to frustrations, alienation, and disillusion with the existing order. This sense of relative deprivation and disillusionment affects the youth the most. In turn the impatience of the youth, driven by idealism and the desire to change things for the better, faced with the effects of rising expectations and an increasing gap between them and the realities of life, resort to violence becomes an apparently attractive option. This creates a ripe environment for ideologies and political agendas that seek to exploit the youth and change through violence.

Weight of historical evidence informs us that (political-social) revolutions take place during periods of rising prosperity. Rarely have people rebelled in any significant manner when weighed down by stark poverty; and there are few incentives to initiate a violent upheaval during periods of great affluence. The reason is simple. Periods of rising prosperity are often accompanied by growing disparities in social and economic terms. This in itself constitutes a destabilising factor promoting violence.

The first issue then is that the world needs to recognise that the world is in the middle of a revolution: the revolution of rising expectations, where a widening gap between human expectations and the actuality of satisfaction is tending to rapidly foster and increase political instability and social turbulence. Socio-economic disparities and inequities provide powerful impetus to increasing sense of relative deprivation arising from disillusionment. In turn resort to violence to alter the iniquitous paradigm comes early especially among the youth (Overwhelming majority of present day terrorists are in the age bracket of 15-28 years). Religion provides a degree of emotional anchor. But when religion begins to be exploited for political purposes, including motivating and inciting people to resort to violence in the name of religion, this leads to serious turbulence in society. This revolution, spurred by the dawn of information age and the end of Cold War, is undoubtedly at the root of manifestations of conflict and insecurity, ranging from blatant aggression, trans-nationalisation of ideological conflict, ethno‑nationalism, religio‑political radicalism, narco‑ terrorism, to corruption and breakdown of norms and values of civilised society with expansion of the negative prospect of rising discontent and socio‑political upheaval.

But there is a positive side to the revolutions too. And as happens so often, the source of challenge (information revolution and the revolution of rising expectations) also contains the seeds of successful antidote to the negative aspects of these revolutions. Rising expectations and the thrust for upward socio‑economic mobility are the driving forces for social change and human development. The revolution of rising expectations, therefore, offers a great opportunity for moving human development forward at a faster pace provided social justice and equal opportunities can be provided. This in itself may require a political vision of the future to be clearly articulated and pursued. At the same time, information revolution provides a powerful tool to direct energies toward more constructive activities by influencing the ideas and attitudes of people.

In short, most of the current and future challenges to global security arise from the disparities and inequities which generate instability due to the rising gap between expectations and realities. Political leadership will have to lay out the vision and ideologies to provide the direction to this revolution. At the same time, social justice, enhanced opportunities for gainful employment, removal of poverty, improved quality of life etc. would all have to be accorded greater focus and attention.

The New Face of War

The parameters of peace and security are being altered by the transmutation of conflict: from total and nuclear war to limited wars, inter‑state wars to intra‑state conflicts, and regular structured warfare to irregular (low‑intensity) asymmetric conflicts. Inter‑state war has lost much of its traditional rationale as an “instrument of policy.” But the overwhelming majority (and some of the most vicious) of conflicts since World War II have been within the states, and mostly resulting from ideologies in conflict. During inter‑state conflicts the State could afford to fight and pursue developmental activities, and some (as in the case of the United States in World War II) even provided a boost to economic and industrial growth. But conflicts and violence within states will adversely affect human development directly.

Society has always been involved in war preparedness and contributing the means and manpower for war. War, however, had been treated as an exclusive undertaking of the military. But during the past two centuries, society has been made increasingly inclusive to war (and conflict). Society itself became the target in war under the Clausewitzian concept of targeting and destroying the "will of the nation". Strategic bombing and nuclear weapons have added an apocalyptic dimension to the (indiscriminate) targeting of population centres and innocent human beings. At the same time, the proportion of civilian casualties in wars has increased dramatically. Equally disturbing but more debilitating is the expansion of violence inside society for political ends, with or without external linkages. This is one of the most serious problems of peace and security since it not only undermines national and international security, but also threatens social peace.

These problems are being seriously aggravated because the spread of violence within society. The State has been rapidly losing its traditional monopoly over instruments of violence. Highly powerful and lethal weaponry, normally classified as "small arms and light weapons," is available in increasing quantities and technological sophistication to non‑state actors. Small arms proliferation (SAP) is already proving to be the most destabilising factor in the security of states and societies. This proliferation now poses greater dangers than even nuclear proliferation, because nuclear weapons may or may not ever be used, but “small” arms and light weapons are being used everyday in the world's three‑dozen ongoing wars and in scores of other states and societies.

Unfortunately, little attention has been focused on this cancerous growth. While the UN has finally taken cognisance of the problem, it still seems to be tied down to the approach to work along the least common denominator of policy in addressing the issues. One of the central problems is that most expert focus tends to address the problem of spread of small arms and light weapons within the framework of conventional arms trade and transfer framework. But the problem is that small arms are legitimate instruments with the military and security forces of countries. The problem is their diffusion to non-state actors and general spread into society, both as a natural phenomenon of the debris of the Cold War and its proxy wars (like Afghanistan, Somalia, Angola etc.). On the other hand, many states have actively pursued a conscious policy of SAP as an instrument of their own policies and objectives, mostly through sub-state agencies and non-state actors and groups. Small arms proliferation, linked to other factors promoting conflict, like ideology, narcotics‑trafficking, terrorism, etc., threatens to seriously undermine human development.

One of the common responsibilities of the international community is to reverse the spread of small arms and light weapons into society. Some of the key policy options to do so are listed below:

  • Enhanced awareness and understanding of the phenomenon and consequences of the spread of light weapons into society outside legitimate control of the State.
  • Deligitimisation of targeting civil society and innocents, especially through terrorist violence. Changes in the belief systems and attitudes that have sought to legitimise targeting of civil society with lethal weapons and advocate use of terror as a weapon. Eradication of terrorism and doctrines that promote the use of terror as a legitimate weapon for political ends.
  • Stop the movement of light weapons (especially those manufactured to military specifications and for the use of military/armed police forces) from under State control to outside its direct physical control. Inventories of arms with military/armed police to be strictly controlled.
  • Ban the possession of weapons of military-specification by non-state actors and groups or individuals. The ban will need to be rigidly enforced. Recover/revert arms outside governmental control to bring them under strict government control.
  • Declare the supply of weapons of military specifications to non-state actors/groups or individuals as an international crime.
  • Control of trans-border movement of light weapons to ensure they remain within the jurisdiction of the State. Control and eliminate illicit trade and transfer of light weapons.
  • Enhanced awareness and understanding of the phenomenon and consequences of the spread of light weapons into society outside legitimate control of the State.
  • Tighter control over narcotics manufacture and trade, and money laundering. Narcotics production and trade to be treated as a challenge to international peace and security.
  • Control of crime and criminal activities, both at national and transnational levels. The UN has initiated steps through its resolution which need universal adherence to control transnational criminal activities.
  • Tighter control over narcotics manufacture and trade, and money laundering. Narcotics production and trade to be treated as a challenge to international peace and security.

The central goal of the first step would be to institute a Convention prohibiting illicit manufacture and transfer of small arms and light weapons (including ammunition etc.). The OAS convention is a useful guide for this purpose. More extensive measures will be necessary if effective control over transnational movement of light weapons is to be ensured. Such a convention, however, would be a useful reinforcing step to the initial commitment to bring all small arms within governmental control. Unfortunately the United States has not ratified the OAS Convention still seven years after it was signed by it. Similarly, US laws to ban assault weapons instituted in 1994 expired this year without being renewed by the Bush administration thus giving the process of control of sophisticated weapons in society a serious setback.

Terrorism and its Strategic Context

The issue of global security uppermost in the minds of people across the world is that of global terrorism and the US-led war against it since “nine-eleven.” While terrorism per se is not a new phenomenon in human history, what the world is experiencing is a transformed framework for the type of terrorism that has transnational connections at one level, and is driven by religion-based extremist-radical ideologies at another, while some states have adopted the use of terror as an extension of politics by other means. Globalisation of economy, communications, financial flows, flow of illicit weapons, and crime has facilitated the globalisation of terrorism, its supporting infrastructures, often employing normal channels and resources like banking etc. These developments, by definition, require international co-operation if global trends in terrorism are to be arrested and reversed.

The State has been losing its traditional monopoly over the instruments of violence. During the Cold War the super powers pursued the policy of diffusing sophisticated weapons (like hundreds of force structure, highly lethal Stinger surface-to-air missile to Mujahideen non-state actors fighting in the name of religion in Afghanistan) this as part of their strategy for mutual dominance. Afghanistan was the classic example where clandestine warfare under the banner of religious jihad was promoted by the United States (and Pakistan, though for different reasons) encouraging the spread of weapons, narcotics and violence into society in the name of jihad. The debris of Cold War has further eroded the control of the State over weapons.

Terrorism is shifting from its traditional political orientation to religious-ideology driven violence. Compared to their near absence three decades ago, today religious groups constitute over two-third of the militant/terrorist entities in the world. Ideological reasons had driven the Cold War and its hot segment, the proxy wars. Toward the end of Cold War religion was increasingly exploited for political and ideological purposes in Afghanistan to provide motivation for war and violence. The nearly two‑decade war in Afghanistan was fuelled and sustained by ideological factors ‑‑ domestic, regional, and global. Religion is coming to play an increasing role in politics even in states that have pursued liberal democratic or socialist ideologies. International security is consequently affected seriously, because "...the combination of religion and politics is potentially explosive. The combination of religion and nationalism is stronger, but a blend of the three has an extremely destructive potential."[10]

Distinction between domestic terrorism and international terrorism has been diffusing due to greater external involvement in internal terrorist violence in a country. Today there is hardly any significant domestic armed conflict that does not actively receive political support, weapons, serious financial assistance and safe havens beyond the borders where terrorist acts are committed. The US war against terrorism had stalled nearly a year after it was initiated as a consequence of “nine-eleven.” The Taliban regime was removed from Kabul, but it quickly found refuge in Pakistan. Al Qaeda infrastructure has been severely dented; but Osama bin Laden and a large segment of Al Qaeda leadership is still free and inspiring if not guiding terrorist operations. US shift of focus on Iraq and the subsequent war and managing its aftermath not only resulted in reduced focus on terrorism but actually permitted the Al Qaeda to diffuse into foreign lands. According to an expert analysis in the US Army, “The global war on terrorism as presently defined and conducted is strategically unfocused, promises much more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate U.S. military and other resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security. The United States may be able to defeat, even destroy, al-Qaeda, but it cannot rid the world of terrorism, much less evil.”[11]

Changes in the belief systems and attitudes that have sought to legitimise targeting of civil society with lethal weapons and advocate use of terror as a weapon. Eradication of terrorism and doctrines that promote the use of terror as a legitimate weapon for political ends requires fundamentally different sets of ideas and belief systems compared to those that legitimise use of violence against innocents. Counter-terrorism is absolutely essential to rolling back and eliminating terrorism. But by itself it is not likely to achieve desirable results without energetic efforts to alter the ideas and belief systems that provide the foundations for modern terrorism. This would require:

  1. Delegitimisation of use of terror as an instrument of policy. This has to be built on the foundation of reversing the two-decade legitimisation of targeting and indiscriminate killing of civilians and innocents.
  2. Addressing the phenomenon caused by the revolution of rising expectations through appropriate ideology. This requires removing the inequities and disparities in society while ensuring faster human development.
  3. Restoring religion to its moral-ethical social role rather than as an instrument of politics and political goals.
  4. Ensuring that the process of nation-state building is accorded the highest priority.
  5. Cleaning the complex debris of the Cold War on priority.

One of the essentials for reducing violence in states and by them in and outside states is to promote and strengthen the principles of working through consultative processes based on the ideology of equality of the human being. This is normally interpreted in terms of democracy. But there are many facets to democracy and electoral processes by themselves cannot automatically provide the consultative doctrines without the ideology of equality seeping deep down into the cultural roots of people.

At the core of the battle of ideas what is required is the pursuit of the philosophy of non-violence as the vehicle for resolving differences and disputes. This itself demands institution and strengthening of consultative culture and democracy. It is generally believed that democracies don’t go to war with each other. But empirical evidence demonstrates that the democratic dispensation extends its influence far beyond just wars between states. For example, democratic societies indulge in far less violence against their own populations compared to authoritarian states (see Figure 1)

Source: Based on data from RJ Rummel, Power Kills: Democracy as a Method of Nonviolence, New Jersey, 1997.


Similarly democratic governments indulge in violence outside the state far less often that other forms of governance and ideologies (See Figure 2).

Counter-terrorism obviously must proceed with focus and energy to dismantle infrastructure, organisations, sanctuaries and support systems of modern terrorism. But what we need to ask ourselves is whether winning the counter-terrorism battles would lead to winning the war against terrorism? Would terrorism against the United States and its allies end with the decimation of Al Qaeda?

The reality is that what Al Qaeda, Lashkar e-Tayyiba, Jaish e-Muhammad etc. represent are not just distinct terrorist organisations, but a movement that seeks to inspire and coordinate other groups and individuals, often with no direct contact between them except the ideological foundations driving the resort to indiscriminate use of violence for what the perpetrators believe to be a “noble” cause and duty. Counter-terrorism is essential to rolling back and eliminating terrorism. But it not likely to achieve desirable results without energetic efforts to alter the intellectual foundations, the ideas and belief systems that provide the foundations for modern terrorism. This would require:

  1. Delegitimisation of use of terror as an instrument of policy and reverse the two-decade legitimisation of targeting and indiscriminate killing of civilians and innocents.
  2. Addressing the phenomenon caused by the revolution of rising expectations through appropriate ideology. This requires removing the inequities and disparities in society while ensuring faster human development.
  3. Strengthening the ideology of equality of the human being and provide robust support to the spread of democratic principle and practice.
  4. Restoring religion to its moral-ethical social role rather than as an instrument of politics and political goals.
  5. Ensuring that the process of nation-state building is accorded the highest priority.
  6. Cleaning the complex debris of the Cold War on priority, especially the spread of (military-specification) small arms and light weapons in society.

Dangers of Nuclear Weapons

Contrary to the expectations a decade ago, the salience of nuclear weapons has, if anything, increased. With the US reversal in opting for renewed emphasis on nuclear weapons even in contingencies against non-nuclear adversaries, the prospects of controlling nuclear weapons are receding.

The adoption of the resolution on Principles and Objectives during the NPT extension conference itself reaffirms the commitment of Article VI of NPT to negotiate the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The World Court ruling of July 1995 had categorically ruled unanimously that “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all aspects under strict international control.”[12] All the nuclear weapon states, declared and undeclared, have at various times articulated their support for total nuclear disarmament. The G-21 resolution specifically seeks tangible progress on nuclear disarmament. The NPT Review Conference had adopted a 13-point agenda to move toward nuclear disarmament. Unfortunately, more than four years later, little progress on any of the thirteen points has taken place.

Abolishing nuclear weapons require an approach to the issues based on concurrent definitive movement along a number of mutually reinforcing and converging pathways that seeks to

  • Establish a process of de-legitimisation of nuclear weapons so as to make nuclear weapons redundant and unusable,
  • Progressively narrow the scope and envelope of the role and deployment of such weapons,
  • Achieve deep reductions down to zero levels, and evolve an international security framework for a post-nuclear weapon world. Given the complexities of elimination, the starting point should be a re-affirmation of the intent to eliminate nuclear weapons at the earliest, and to make concerted efforts “in good faith” to achieve the goal of a nuclear weapon free world.

De-legitimisation of Nuclear Weapons

All real changes in human history have come about as a result of force of ideas. It is necessary, therefore, that elimination of nuclear weapons also seeks to alter the belief system and ideas that have sought to justify nuclear weapons. The process of such change and de-legitimisation will have to based on three concurrent measures.

Binding Declaration of Intent

Although there are many treaties, agreements, communiqués, and declarations supporting the goal of elimination, especially as a long-term objective, it would be useful at this stage to restate the objective of total elimination and prohibition of nuclear weapons. As General Lee Butler states, “A clear and unequivocal commitment to elimination, sustained by concrete policy and measurable milestones, is essential to give credibility and substance to this long-standing declaratory position”.[13] Declaration along the above lines needs to be made essentially by the five declared and the three undeclared nuclear weapon states. The three (India, Israel, and Pakistan) are not members of the NPT and, it can be argued, are not bound as yet by any formal commitment to elimination. It would, therefore, be desirable to get them committed to the process and goals of elimination. The non-nuclear weapon states parties to the NPT have already foregone their right to acquire nuclear weapons, and are committed to Article VI of the NPT. It has also been suggested that Japan and Germany, as major non-nuclear weapon countries, should also be included among states that should carry primary responsibility for ensuring elimination along with the other eight.[14]

Creating a Legal Norm

The World Court has ruled that there is no specific law that declares nuclear weapons as illegal, although their use would be generally inconsistent with rules of armed conflict and humanitarian laws. It is necessary, therefore, that an appropriate legal norm be established on the road to total elimination of nuclear weapons. This is best achieved through a convention to outlaw the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. Such a convention could be modelled on the 1925 Geneva Convention, and could even, initially, allow the right of use in self-defence as long as the principle of proportionality is observed.

A resolution to this effect has been moved and passed with majority vote at the UN General Assembly regularly since 1978. The interest of some of the key players that pressed for such a convention earlier appears to have flagged somewhat. But if the goal of elimination of nuclear weapons is to be translated into reality, it would be necessary to establish the norms and legal framework that alters the legitimacy and the mindset that believes in the utility and usability of such weapons.

No-First-Use Commitment

Doctrinal changes in the use and utility of nuclear weapons is another aspect of the process of de-legitimisation. There is an urgent need for a binding political agreement among the eight declared/undeclared nuclear weapon states (five weapon states, and India, Pakistan and Israel) not to be the first to use nuclear weapons/capabilities. Of these, China and India have always supported the concept of no-first-use pledge. The Soviet Union used to support the concept also, but the Russian Federation has moved away from that position. However, it is not an absolutist shift. Last year Russia and China agreed to a bilateral no-first-use (of nuclear weapons) commitment within a broader non-aggression pact. In a profound change from its earlier position, NATO adopted the position in July 1990 that nuclear weapons were “truly weapons of last resort”. The new Strategic Concept adopted by NATO in November 1991 further relegated nuclear weapons to margins of NATO strategy by stating that the “circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated” are “remote”.[15]

The new NATO-Russia Founding Act signed at Paris on May 27, 1997, states that “Russia and NATO do not see each other as adversaries”. President Clinton, speaking about the Charter stated that “The veil of hostility between East and West has lifted. Together we see a future of partnership too long delayed that must no longer be denied.” President Chirac of France and Chancellor Kohl of Germany endorsed these views. There is every reason to expect, therefore, that NATO should move at early date from its current “last resort” position.

Narrowing the Envelope

Progressive constriction of the envelope of nuclear weapons in terms of the role and deployment is necessary. Given the reality of a dramatically altered geo-political landscape, this should be based on three concrete measures.

De-activate Arsenals

Declaratory commitment should include announcement followed by action placing nuclear arsenals off alert, and de-targeting of other countries. This would be a strong measure of reassurance of security of other countries, whether they are nuclear weapon states or not. At the recent NATO-Russia summit, president Yeltsin announced unilaterally that “Russia was going to remove the warheads from the nuclear missiles” that it has continued to target on countries of NATO.[16] The goal apparently was to de-target NATO countries. Russia already has a 1994 agreement with the United States not to target each other’s country with nuclear arsenals. The present Russian proposal would extend that unilaterally to other NATO countries.

We are closer to an accepted norm of deactivating arsenals than what is generally recognised. NATO and Russia have agreed not to target each other. Russia and China have also an understanding wherein their weapons do not target each other. The only set of nuclear weapon states that still have their arsenals targeted at each other are the United States and China. This would suggest that while the problem of greater co-operation among NATO and Russia on measures to move toward elimination is techno-economic, the problem between China and the United States is much more fundamental pertaining to political and strategic goals of the two countries. One approach to reduce the political strategic divergence between these two countries is for the United States and China to undertake reassurance by agreeing to a no-first-use commitment in respect of nuclear weapons at least against each other to start with. This will also have a very positive impact on the overall situation in Asia, where many people are beginning to wonder whether an incipient Cold War has already commenced between the two great powers, China and United States.

Separation of warheads from delivery systems is a logical progression to de-targeting of nuclear weapons against each other’s territories. Removal of warheads from delivery systems offers the most viable, least costly, and most re-assuring interim step. In fact, if accepted in principle by the declared weapon states, this offers the quickest method of reducing the risks associated with nuclear weapons, and enables a more equitable reliable transitional security arrangement.

Control and Reverse the Nuclear Arms Race

There are a number of indications that nuclear arms race is starting in qualitative terms. This is in contradiction with the goal of elimination of nuclear weapons.

Long-range delivery systems like ballistic missiles and strategic bombers extend the envelope of use and threat of nuclear weapons. They bring an increased number of countries even far away, within the range of the weapons carried. Ballistic missiles, in particular are highly destabilising because of their short time of flight, high re-entry speeds and steep re-entry trajectories which combine to make credible defence against them extremely difficult, if not impossible at present. Two steps are required so that delivery system remain an integral part of the elimination of nuclear weapons as much as they have been in their existence and strategy:

-Expand the INF Treaty abolishing land-based ballistic missiles of USA and USSR/Russia to include missiles with ranges between 50-5,500 kilometres and involving all countries of the world.

-Negotiate a global treaty to abolish all ballistic missiles, and place all space launch capabilities and activities under international safeguards.

Nuclear Weapons Convention

The convergent roads to the ultimate goal of elimination of nuclear weapons will need to negotiate a convention for the abolition of nuclear weapons which, like the Chemical Weapons Convention, prohibits production, possession, and use of nuclear weapons. There are four plausible options in concluding such a convention.

A conventional war between states has already become extremely costly and unaffordable. Unlike the Second World War, use of conventional weapons, for example, in Europe, could lead to hundreds of Chernobyl and Bhopal-type tragedies. For the developing countries also the cost is unbearable since it would retard their development by decades as the case of Iraq clearly proves. In any case, prevention of war rests on conventional deterrence rather than nuclear weapons. The longer we stay with the logic of nuclear deterrence, the greater are the risks of proliferation.

Post-nuclear security must address the problem of breakout and a country clandestinely acquiring nuclear weapons even if highly intrusive and effective inspection and verification measures (like in the Chemical Weapons Convention) are incorporated in a Nuclear Weapons Convention. The logical approach to an insurance measure under this situation would be an international (residual) nuclear deterrent force. Even if such a force were under the joint control of the current five nuclear weapon states, it would eliminate risks and threats emanating from national arsenals and provide the requisite deterrence.

At the same time it is necessary to shift inter-state security paradigm from the traditional competitive model to a more co-operative framework. This will require an ever-increasing level of co-operation with potential adversaries and antagonists. Certain level of such co-operation had existed even among the great powers at the peak of the Cold War confrontations. The process needs to be given a conceptual framework and impetus to serve the needs of the 21st century. The 20th century has been human history’s most violent century. The primary lesson of that century is the need for making the current century not only less violent, but a century of peace. Elimination of nuclear weapons is an essential ingredient of that process.

Missile Defences

An objective examination indicates that the threat of ballistic missile proliferation (BMD) is grossly overstated. The second fundamental issue is that missile defences would not eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons and their use. On the contrary, they are likely to increase that risk, either through greater scope for miscalculation of the adversary’s intentions, or through failure of the missile defence shield. BMD, even if fool-proof and affordable, could only negate one type of delivery system. Nuclear weapons could still be delivered by aircraft and/or cruise missiles (the most likely means of delivery in developing countries). Countries are bound to adopt counter-BMD strategies that range from increasing the number of attacking missiles to saturate the defences (and hence trigger a new arms race), new technological solutions, or seeking asymmetric approaches to compensate for missile defences.

Technological developments are already promising to make BMD less than effective instrument of defence. Research and development in Trans Atmospheric Vehicles and hyper-velocity manoeuvring systems has already demonstrated success last February which led Russia to claim that its manoeuvring warhead would defeat any and all missile defences. A month later the US announced the successful test of the X-43A hyper-velocity vehicle capable of manoeuvring in lower space-upper atmosphere. China is believed to be working on similar systems. These developments would not only negate the effectiveness of missile defences, but have already triggered a new arms race, besides the one already expanding into the militarization and weaponisation of space due to BMD and autonomous momentum of future military technological advances.

Use of ballistic missiles has not taken place against a developed industrialised country since the Germans fired their missiles in World War II. But this does not imply that it cannot happen in future. The most profitable course of action open to the international community is that of universal missile disarmament. It could commence with the universalisation of the INF Treaty. Space programmes could then be pursued for peaceful purposes under an international inspection-verification regime.

BMD will erode nuclear deterrence (through punishment) as it has come to be recognised; and credibility in nuclear deterrence, therefore, will also erode. BMD implicitly conveys the message that the US now leans towards the view that non-BMD nuclear deterrence (conventional or otherwise), especially against a rogue state, will not work in future. This obviously undermines existing treaties and opens up the potential for other states to legally withdraw or circumvent their commitments to international norms, regimes, and treaties. The CTBT and MTCR may be the early casualties. Above all, as the lesson of history points out, success of BMD will lead to alternate approaches including shifting conflict to altogether different planes to apply violence where it is seen as necessary and providing a payoff. And all indications are that armed conflict will tilt further in the direction of irregular wars and unconventional methods of applying force. Transnational terrorism stands out as a prime candidate for such strategies; and it is likely that the risks of nuclear terrorism, especially sponsored by states (rogue or otherwise) will increase.

Following the same logic, it is conceivable that a nuclear weapon state may find it advantageous to transfer nuclear weapons and/or technology to another state to cope with the challenges posed by BMD. This is even more relevant in the context of nuclear weapon states so vehemently opposing nuclear disarmament, even in principle. Proxy wars with small and light weapons in the territories of the developing world had become a frequent phenomenon during the Cold War because the costs and effects of direct confrontation were prohibitive. At this point it may be difficult to visualise proxy wars with nuclear weapons and technologies; but the recent trends that came to light about nuclear proliferation from Pakistan point toward that direction. On the other hand use of sub-conventional war including transnational terrorism would provide an attractive option to countries to conduct asymmetric warfare against powerful states armed with missiles, missile defences and high levels of conventional capabilities.

The central question is that will missile defences stabilise great power strategic balance? Unfortunately there is little to suggest that this is likely to happen. What is more likely is the impetus to polarisation that missile defence issue will provide. Since there are greater potential for instability between the US and China, and the latter has already adopted an adversarial position on the subject linking it to strategic stability and the future of arms control, the potential for polarisation is increasing. The shift of strategic axis from Washington-Moscow to Washington-Beijing would have its own implications for security and stability in Asia. The future of strategic stability in Asia will depend upon whether ballistic missile defences provide stability in the relations between China and the United States or not.

Future of Arms Control

Arms control have been one of the important components of establishing strategic stability and reducing the risks of arms race, use of military power and managing the dangers emanating from possession and deployment of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, current trends indicate that the future of arms control, especially those necessary in a multilateral context, is bleak.

The most significant (and successful) multilateral arms control measures during the past six decades has been those under “non-proliferation” especially of weapons of mass destruction and related capabilities like long-range (ballistic and cruise) missiles. A series of such measures have been negotiated and formalised in the shape of treaties of which the NPT stands out. Other measures (like the Australia Group concerning chemical weapons, MTCR, NSG Guidelines, Wassenaar arrangement, etc.) have been instituted through ad-hoc limited membership. However multilateral treaties have also been negotiated for complete disarmament as in the case of Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). This has also led to continuing tussle among nations to institute arms control measures with a balance of obligations between non-proliferation and disarmament, the two facets of arms control. The developed industrialised states have sought to restrict and limit the acquisition of military capabilities by other nations even where they were not hostile or posed a threat to them individually or collectively under the rubric of non-proliferation. The developing countries have traditionally pressed for universal disarmament measures as the preferred arms control objective not necessarily with success. The five nuclear weapon states have pressed for (geographically) limited disarmament through NWFZ (Nuclear Weapon Free Zones) without accepting any limits on their own nuclear weapons deployment etc. in those zones. The NPT represents the prime example of this tussle.

After a short-lived spurt in the early 1990s,[†] multilateral institutions have continued to atrophy since the end of Cold War. The UN Conference on Disarmament, the primary institution for negotiating multilateral arms control has been progressively and increasingly deadlocked to proceed with negotiation process leave alone conclude treaties even in case where clear mandate from the dominant powers and the UN General Assembly has existed (as in the case of Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty). Most of the arms control to support non-proliferation goals have been negotiated or concluded piece-meal outside the multilateral institutions and through ad-hoc groupings. Typical examples have been the strengthening of the non-proliferation regime beyond the NPT and without its commitments for disarmament (Article VI) as well promotion of nuclear technology and its availability for peaceful purposes (Article IV).

The United States, in spite of its role as the primary driver of arms control in the world, has had a record of stepping back from its commitments even in case of agreements and treaties that it vigorously sought to promote. In the opinion of one of the most perceptive experts in the field, Dr. Steven E. Miller, the “United States has rejected, repudiated, blocked, ignored, or refrained from joining a long and by now familiar list of treaties and agreements.”[17] By 2001 only START-I remained out of earlier arms control agreements. While it pressed for a Chemical Weapons Convention and signed it in 1993, when it ratified the convention, it laid down nearly two dozen conditions which would dictate its actual adherence. Its enthusiastic support for a CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) led to its signature to the treaty in 1996 when it was opened, but it has failed to ratify it since then with the result that the treaty continues to be in a state of coma with little prospects of recovery since the US was part of the group of states that mandated (under Article 14 of the treaty) that all 44 countries capable of conducting a nuclear test must be parties before the CTBT could enter into force. Its own powerful position in today’s world has not even permitted a meeting of the parties to the treaty to be called (by 1999) to “discuss measures” for its implementation. The US has repudiated its earlier commitment to sign the draft verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention declaring it as “dead, and (is) not going to be resurrected” leaving it as weak as ever.[18]

The problem is not just that of Bush administration and the neo-conservative attitudes. For example, the United States had finally joined the Geneva Convention of 1925 banning the threat and use of chemical weapons (without actually requiring their elimination or even control) a full half century after the convention was signed. Even during the Clinton presidency which looked at arms control with a much more benign eye, no new arms control agreements were initiated and the TMD demarcation agreement was not even submitted to the Senate. Its refusal to join the International Criminal Court is in tune with the jettisoning of multilateralism. The US signed the OAS Convention on controlling small arms in 1997 but has not been willing to ratify it. US commitment to the thirteen steps agreed upon (including on nuclear disarmament) at the NPT Review Conference in 2000 is a case in point. Its recent willingness to conditionally enter into negotiations on the stalled FMCT appear to be motivated more as concession to the forthcoming NPT Review Conference in 2005 rather than a serious attempt at seeing the FMCT through although this is one of the major non-proliferation measure to control nuclear fuel cycle in future especially to reduce the risk of such material getting into the hands of terrorist groups.

It is perhaps useful to quote Dr. Miller at some length on the common core belief in Washington policy circles that “arms control is not particularly effective…. That it (arms control) is unreliable in coping with the hard (and most important) cases.” That “some believe that arms control has been a failure, raising substantial costs and risks while providing little benefit and offering few real successes.” Others believe that “arms control has been downright counterproductive, imposing undesirable constraints, enshrining misguided ideas, and creating the unfortunate illusion that something serious was being done about important security issues.”[19] Other countries are bound to follow the unilateralist approach to arms that the US has adopted. Under the circumstances, it would not be easy to achieve strategic stability and risk reduction in future.

Building Co-operative Peace and Security

A competitive paradigm of international security has been in existence for more than three centuries. The shift from dynastic kingdoms to nation-states since the 17th century has also led to the emergence of a competitive paradigm of inter-state security. The concept of sovereign state, with the inevitable ego-centred state system at its base, implies building up state security to the maximum possible limits. This has actually tended to push nations to seek security at absolute levels. In turn, this inevitably generates threat perceptions in other countries, who, being sovereign states themselves, and then seek national security at ever higher levels. An implicit and explicit competition for achieving a higher level and assurance of security between states gets established.

Competition among states has become an established phenomenon as a result of social, political, economic, and technological competition among people, societies, and states. The competitive paradigm of security has intensified over the centuries, reaching new dimensions with the introduction of nuclear weapons into security equations. The primary reasons for this process may be summed up as follows:

  1. Sovereign nation state system in the 20th century emphasised national sovereignty and security to a much greater level than before.
  2. Ideological competition provided a sharp competitive edge.
  3. Speeding up of the effects of Industrial Revolution due to technological competition and potential superiority in the application of force offered by superior military technology.
  4. Free market economies built on the principle of competitive advantage.
  5. Democracy encourages competitive politics, especially when it is still fragile.

Serious thought must be given to the question whether the competitive security paradigm has provided greater potential for security or not. The consequences of competitive security paradigm include:

  1. Increase in the sense of insecurity of states because of the pressure of the drive toward absolute security by a sovereign state.
  2. Vulnerability becomes an integral component of strategic stability under a competitive security paradigm. Security is built on generating and sustaining insecurity, at times, in profoundly threatening ways. Doctrines of aggressive maximum nuclear deterrence seek to institutionalise vulnerability.
  3. Open-ended arms race, especially among hostile pairs of states (and their allies). A concurrent consequence is the high levels of military spending and militarization of states and societies. This in turn results in disproportionate amounts of resources being allocated to military means of security, often at the cost of more fundamental elements of security needs.
  4. Politico-military doctrines tend to be built on worse-case scenarios and the principle that “offence is the best means of defence”, raising the risks and incidence of wars and armed conflicts.
  5. Competitive security paradigm intrinsically encourages militarization of inter-state relations, and encourages hegemonism with states seeking to dominate/control the security environment.

The search for a new paradigm of inter-state security for the 21st century can best be initiated by an examination of the existing framework of collective security. The roots of collective security can be traced to the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) which obligated all its signatories “to defend and protect all and every article of the peace against anyone .... and to join the injured party, and assist him with counsel and force to repel the injury.” In more recent times, the principle was enshrined in the Covenants of the League of Nations (especially Article 16, besides Articles 10 and 11). The failure of the League of Nations (primarily because of strategic and national interests of sovereign member states ) to maintain international peace and security, and the Second World War led to the establishment of the United Nations as the new peace organisation. The record of the UN over the last half-century has been mixed. The single most important factor that came in the way has been the issue of sovereignty of the nation-state system. The UN has relied more on collective defence rather than collective security. This is why the mechanisms visualised in the Charter for the implementation of Chapter VII provisions were never really instituted.

Collective security should logically be defined in universal terms. For application of collective security principle to the United Nations, it is clear that all members of the international body would be included in the framework of collective security. In such a case, collective security would be “the guarantee of the territorial integrity and independence of each state by all states” (as defined in the Dictionary of Political Science, New York, 1964). On the other hand, a less than universal principle has sought to be used in many cases. For example, Hans Morgenthau defined the organising principle of collective security as a “moral and legal obligation to consider an attack by any nation upon any member of the alliance as an attack upon all members.” (Politics Among Nations). But this should logically be termed as collective defence.

Co-operative peace and security

There is a view that national sovereignty is an outdated concept. The move toward increasing integration of the European Union certainly endorses this perception. On the other hand, the (sovereign) nation state system is the only viable framework for organisation. In fact, most of the countries of the developing world are engaged in the process of nation-state building, and the preservation of the principle and practice (within liberal interpretations) of sovereignty is critical for this process. The concept of international security and its operationalisation has to be based on the prevailing system of international organisation. The issue, therefore, is not so much a question of dilution or removal of sovereignty, but more of harmonising the contradictions of sovereignty directing national security and building international peace and security on more durable, less threatening foundations. This can be achieved by a conceptual shift from a paradigm of competitive security in existence for centuries to that of co-operative security.

Co-operative security requires a set of principles and guidelines for policy. These may be summed up as follows:

  1. An increasing level and scope of co-operation with other states in matters affecting security, especially with the (potential and existing) adversary. It may be recalled that even during the Cold War the two primary adversaries had instituted a significant element of mutual co-operation to ensure strategic stability. SALT I and II, ABM Treaty, INF Treaty, START I, the Helsinki process, and other agreements were part of that co-operative framework.
  2. Mutual and equal security of all states. This includes recognition of not only the sovereignty of one’s own state but also acknowledges respect for the sovereignty of potential adversary.
  3. Resolution of disputes and conflicts only through peaceful means and processes and, hence, non-use of force in international relations.
  4. Contraction of the envelope of conflict and violence against states and societies.
  5. Moving (conventional and nuclear) deterrence doctrines and practice progressively down to insurance, and reassurance.
  6. Harmonisation of politico-military doctrines while adopting less threatening and non-offensive defence concepts.
  7. Institutionalised arms control and disarmament measures to reduce military forces in co-operation with the adversary.
  8. Enhanced transparency in military postures, and confidence and security building as an integral component of state policy.

The paradigm of co-operative security would seek national security through a co-operative framework and process which harmonises the imperatives of one’s own security with that of the needs of the adversary. The goal would be to decrease the threat levels rather than increase vulnerabilities, thereby achieving security at progressively lower costs, political, economic, and military. In the process, the principles of sovereignty of a nation state are to be reinforced rather than questioned; but in a way that they lead to co-operation rather than competition and conflict.



[*] Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, AVSM, VrC, VM, IAF (ret) is Director, Centre for Strategic & International Studies (CSS) New Delhi, and a former Director of Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi (1987-2001). Author and editor of more than three dozen books including Air Power in Modern Warfare (1985); Non-provocative Defence (1989); Security of Third World Countries (1993); India's Defence Spending (2000), and Nuclear Deterrence & Diplomacy (2004), he has published extensively on strategic and security issues. Former Convenor of the Task Force to set up National Security Council and member of the National Security Advisory Board, he is also the Editorial Adviser (Defence & Strategic Affairs) to Indian Express Group of newspapers. A member of International Commission for Peace and Food, he was member of the international Commission for a New Asia.

[†] When, for example, the Chemical Weapons Convention banning such weapons was concluded.


[1] For one explanation of the Western alliance’s continuation see Ted Hopf, “Post-Cold War Allies: The Illusion of Unipolarity” in Barry Rubin and Thomas Keaney (eds), US Allies in a Changing World, Frank Cass, London, 2001, pp. 28-46.

[2] Brantly Womack, “Asymmetry Theory and China’s Concept of Multipolarity” Journal of Contemporary China, 13 (39) May 2004, pp. 351-366.

[3] Paul Kennedy, The Rise And Fall of the Great Powers, Random House Inc. New York, 1987.

[4] Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts, National Intelligence Council, NIC 2000-02, Washington DC December 2000.

[5] John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, University of Chicago, Chicago, 2001.

[6] Niall Ferguson, “A World Without Power,” Foreign Policy, July/August 2004.

[7] Jonathan Manthorpe, “Three challengers are hot on the heels of U.S. influence” Vancouver Sun, August 27, 2004, p. A15.

[8] Charles Wolf, Jr. Asian Economic Trends and Their Security Implications, MR-1143-OSD/A, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, 2000.

[9] James F. Hoge, Jr. “A Global Power Shift in the Making” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2004.

[10] Falih Abd al Jabbar, "The Gulf War and ideology: the double‑edged sword of Islam" in Haim Bresheeth and Nira Yuval‑Davis (eds) The Gulf War and the New World Order London, Zed Books, 1991, p. 217.

[11] Jeffery Record, Bounding the Global Terrorism, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, Carlisle, USA, December 2003, p. 46.

[12] Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion, Communiqué No. 96/23, July 8, 1996, International Court of Justice, The Hague.

[13] George Lee Butler, “Time to end the age of nukes”, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March/April 1997, p. 36. The declaratory position he refers to the fact that all the nuclear weapon states are formally committed to nuclear abolition in the letter and spirit of the NPT; and successive presidents of the United States have publicly endorsed elimination.

[14] “Going on Record”: statement by 62 generals seeking elimination. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March/April 1997, p.35.

[15] Toward A Nuclear Peace, CSIS Nuclear Strategy Study Group Report, op. cit. n.1, p.27

[16] John Vincur, “For NATO and Russia, A Landmark Charter”, International Herald Tribune, May 28, 1997, p.1.

[17] Steven E. Miller, “Skepticism Triumphant: The Bush Administration and the Waning of Arms Control,” La Revue Internationale et Strategique, May 2003.

[18] Press statement of US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, John Bolton in Geneva. See “Transcript: Bolton Briefing on Biological Weapons Pact, November 19,” US Department of State, November 20, 2001.

[19] Miller op. cit.