There is a fine line between bellicosity and military restraint. Unfortunately, in a world that is fiercely dominated by post-truth politics – where the boundaries between fact, fiction and belief are blurred by emotional appeals – any form of militarism could trigger the imminent threat of war.
Such circumstances carry implications that stretch beyond short-term devastation. As the world surges towards an apocalyptic conclusion through excessive militarism, the discourse surrounding human rights and the environment has entered rough terrain and lost its value.
Western political systems have, since time immemorial, safeguarded basic human rights. However, all rights are balanced against competing liberties. Since the Western ethos tends to give needless priority to civil and political rights, there has been a growing emphasis on military spending as a means of asserting the right to self-determination. These attempts to aggressively prepare for a war help consolidate national strength through a strong military force. For most countries, militarism allows the opportunity to demonstrate arms potency. In many respects, it is considered a structural choice that is aligned with the desire to maintain security.
However, analysts are of the view that militarism is not just a shield that protects countries against real or perceived enemies. It has, on countless occasions, been used to achieve narrow, national interests rather than deter countries from a war-like situation. For instance, after a military base in Uri was attacked on September 18, 2016 by four armed militants, India did not mince its words when it pinned the blame on Pakistan. Soon after the attack, tensions sharpened to a flash-point between both countries. India announced that it had carried out surgical strikes in Pakistan. The claim was denied by the latter and a team of international journalists were sent to inspect various sites to assess the extent of damage caused by the so-called ‘surgical’ activity. The team did not find adequate evidence to suggest that the strikes had occurred.
Nevertheless, India continued to fire salvos at Pakistan. Violations along the LoC persisted. India refused to attend the SAARC conference and persuaded other South Asian countries to adopt a similar stance. It also made consistent attempts to isolate Pakistan on the international level. India revisited the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) – which was ratified in 1960 – and made innumerable efforts to unilaterally wriggle out of the obligations made under the agreement. Water was used as both a bargaining chip and a means of intimidation. Relying on this weapon to stoke tensions between both countries came across as a veiled attempt to reduce Pakistan’s agricultural output and food supply.
However, India’s belligerence and brinkmanship did not solely represent efforts to uphold national security. LoC violations have become a norm that does little to shake the government’s resolve. As a result, India decided to engage in a form of militaristic nationalism to provoke Pakistan. The claims of initiating surgical strikes served to deflect public attention and scrutiny from the atrocities inflicted in Indian-Occupied Kashmir. In addition, a militaristic approach was adopted by the BJP to construct an anti-Pakistan narrative that could help them win the state elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. In the process, India threatened to undermine the IWT and potentially jeopardize Pakistan’s agricultural sector.
Similarly, the Siachen conflict between India and Pakistan had also resulted in the destruction of the region’s ecosystem and culture. Heaps of waste dot the region and the remains of crashed helicopters and the shards and splinters of gun shells and empty fuel barrels have become the order of the day. Toxic residue flows into the adjoining Nubra River and there has been a considerable loss of plants and animals. Owing to the pressing need to assert military might in the region, little has been done to prevent environmental degradation.
The emphasis on militarism has led a cluster of repressive regimes in Iraq, Myanmar and Syria towards devastation and human rights violation. However, the
US has also suffered the adverse effects of military spending. Although the logic that military expenditure can reduce the likelihood of a recession has not been questioned by most US administrations, modern economic thought suggests that this approach hinders economic progress. Such practices also increase a country’s propensity to go to war and impact the economic rights of people.
And yet, the US spent $2 trillion on defence while reducing taxation during the Reagan years. With Donald Trump at the helm, the risk of nuclear proliferation remains high. The new US president wants to provoke a new arms race by enhancing nuclear capabilities and thereby bringing other countries to their knees.
According to estimates, Russia and the US have 7,000 nukes and could easily destroy the entire planet. At this critical juncture, militarism will do little to show the US army’s strength. Excessive military expenditure will bring the US – and the world at large – a step closer to annihilation.
Furthermore, the general perception among analysts in the US is that the use of nuclear weapons is only legitimate if it serves as a form of deterrence and there is an ample stock of conventional weapons to combat threats. This is a problematic assertion as various conflicts have also been triggered by conventional weapons.
Global militarism in Myanmar has led to a scourge of human rights abuses. Violence and bigotry has taken hold and damaged the fabric of social life. Unemployment and income disparities have become the new norm and countless cases of rape, torture and unjustified imprisonment have surfaced. Militarism, in this context, has proved to be a source of considerable dissatisfaction. The worst casualty of this militaristic, oppressive approach has been inflicted on the Rohingya Muslims. Many of them have been forced out of their homes and have sought refugee status in Bangladesh. However, their ordeal is likely to continue as their liberties are repeatedly being infringed. Bangladesh recently mulled over plans to relocate all Rohingya refugees in the country to a remote island. The move has been heavily criticised and serves as a chilling reminder of persistent human rights violations.
More often than not, militarism is aligned with the desire to maintain security.
However, there is a pressing need to reevaluate the notion of security and break away from limited approaches towards understanding the concept. We must adopt a broad-based analysis of security that accounts for the social and environmental costs of militarization. These are the silent casualties of militarism and nuclear war which should not be ignored.
There is an urgent need to radically alter our perceptions on nuclearization and warfare and to rethink our perceptions of militarism so that they could serve as a useful first step in this direction.
In a scathing article published in TIME magazine, Mikhail Gorbachev states that a “ruinous arms race” looms over the world. The former president of the Soviet Union argues that the militarization of politics and excessive military spending suggest that the world is inching towards war. Policymakers must not overlook these signs and prevent the battle lines from being drawn. If bellicosity and a nuclear arms race are given excessive importance, they will continue to trigger human rights violations and impact the environment in an unfavorable manner.
The writer is a poet and author. He is a law graduate of SOAS.