( I thought I won’t write till I reach Dunedin, but then, as usual, my brilliant plans are never successful! This Op-Ed was also published in Freepressers. )
Reading Daniel Drezner is a delight. The good professor brings a sense of humour in his articles which is quite a rarity considering the drab subjects we have to study in the field of International Relations. (I haven’t got an opportunity to study under him or meet him in person yet, which would be an honour, but hopefully someday!) I absolutely love reading his pieces since I started writing on this subject three years back. So when the year ending columns on threat perceptions started coming out, I was eagerly waiting. And he didn’t disappoint. It is a must read, with lots of links, just for the sheer fun, even when you don’t agree with some of his assessment, for anyone who is interested in world affairs, and considering the volatile world we are living, any sane human should be.
Professor Drezner comes out with a brilliant rebuttal of Matthew Kroenig and Paul Miller and in general anyone considering the threat perception of 2012 high. Matthew Kroenig’s piece on Iran sounds paranoid, to be honest, more so to decade long war weary World…but not because of the lack of threat from Iran which is ever clear and present, but because it is not well articulated.
However, I have some questions on Mr. Drezner’s assessment. Which I am pointing out hereinafter.
There are three important points in his article, which I would like to counter today. Let me categorically point them out, just to be clear. Firstly he says that the Cold War was much more threatening than today. He has repeatedly said that, in various articles. Secondly he nullifies the threat from Iran. Thirdly, in defense of his various contentions he points out the uneasy peace between nuclear India and Pakistan, saying if we can, why can’t others. With all due respect to Mr. Drezner, here are my counter points.
1. Was Cold War much more threatening than today? No. It wasn’t. Even considering the height of Cold War with nuclear missiles on both sides amounting to well over thirty thousand, the threat was always less and diminishing. Reasons are various. War is always asymmetric. Always. Take up the example of any war from history. Any. It never happens between equal forces. Though the result is not predictable. The greater power is not necessarily always the winner. The fact that Al Qaeda had the audacity to attack USA on its homeland is proof enough to the fact that the more asymmetric the power balance is, the greater the threat of conflict. During the heights of Cold War, USA and USSR was always guided by the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction and deterrence. The intention of both the power was the destruction of the other, but not at the cost of their own populace and way of life. We can’t say that about the Jihadis, or for that matter any religious terrorists of today. It is an honour to them to kill anyone opposing their own ideology, the greater the number the better the result, and if they are destroyed for the cause, so be it. Religion (as in a fixed set of rules to worship a particular God, and not God himself/herself, whichever way or form you worship) makes people delusional, and the communists were brutal and repressive but not insane. Also, just to get things straight, I am almost thirty, and I distinctly remember the Cold war, and yes, I do wear blazer over untucked shirt at times, rarely though!
2. Which brings us to the second point of Iran. Is Iran a threat? Yes. Massive threat. Let there be no doubt about it. Is a war needed? I am not much sure about it. Confused? See, Iran is a country with an overt and declared ideology of destruction of Israel. Iran needs nuclear weapons. So it is obvious analysts all over the world will make the simple calculation of two plus two and speak either for or against Iran acquiring WMD. But Iran needs WMD not so that it can bomb Israel to smithereens. Even the mad mullahs know that one rogue missile flying towards Israel can actually wipe their own personal heaven from the face of this planet, in a massive, disproportionate and deadly second strike. But Iran needs the bad bomb for different reasons. It is well established in foreign policy that you need chips to bargain. Nukes in the hands of Iran will increase their bargaining power, their influence and political clout in the oil rich center of the earth, their support for the non state actors like Hamas and Hezbollah, without any fear of retaliation. No one will be able to coerce them anymore. Example North Korea and Pakistan. Whenever there are sanctions against North Korea, whenever they are starving, they fire two shots over the bow of the South, like last year’s submarine sinking, and island shelling. You see Pakistan supporting Al Qaeda and other terrorists, singlehandedly destroying the peace process in Afghanistan and the inept World looking helplessly? Iran would be a thousand times worse. Which brings us to the second point, is a war needed? I don’t think yet. Surely Mr. Drezner, Mr. Kroenig, and the hundreds of analysts in DC know that there are other ways to sabotage a country’s nuclear prospects than overt war and invasion? Intelligence, technology, softwares, have gone miles since the two towers were struck down. And I personally feel Mr. Bush was limited by the technology of his time, and maybe, just maybe if the drones came a decade early, so much lives wouldn’t be lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. But once again, let us not make the mistake of thinking that we would be able to live with a nuclear Iran. Sometimes it is better to “face a ravenous bear with one single bullet shot in your gun, than to face a thousand mosquitoes”. Mosquitoes can make your life unbearable.
3. That brings us to the funniest part. The example of India and Pakistan. I find it hilarious to read the western analysts trying to demystify the uneasy peace between the South Asian neighbours. Really? They think that it is a success of both countries to stay out of war? After three clear wars, two border skirmishes, and everyday killing of people by firing at the Line Of Control in the last fifty years? Let’s be clear. The fact that we have not been in a war since 1999, is primarily because of two reasons. Number 1, Pakistan’s nuclear button is still in control of the army/civilian tandem, and not the extremists…though it is increasingly looking bleak. When you see a certain police body guard Mumtaz Qadri, who killed his own country’s minister just because he opposed the blasphemy law prosecuting religious minorities like Hindus and Christians, and then get garlanded by lawyers in court for upholding Islamic values, you get a cold sweat down your spine. The situation might look rosy with potentials for everlasting peace from 20000 km west, but it is actually quite bleak here. Also, the reasoning that just because we didn’t have war means we are an example for the world is in lack of better words, a tad puerile. With terrorists attacks in the whole of South Asia almost every alternate day, I am sure it won’t be wrong to call the zone a nut house. And people here wish maybe there was a permanent solution to this problem. Which there is not. Why? Cause Pakistan has those “bargaining chips”, the same Iran is trying to acquire. Also, the second and equally important reason. India is a passive country. Hinduism, Buddhism etc are passive religions. History proves that. There was never, not for once a counter attack against any invasion in this region. Right from Alexander, Sakas, Huns, Mongols, Persians, Afghans, to the French and British, everyone invaded, came down, and then settled here. We don’t have a history of preemptive strike. There is something in the air and water perhaps. But then, I am deviating, that is a different issue. Just to be sure, no one is happy here with this superficial peace and terrorist attacks, just that the politicians here don’t have political will or spine to change the course of history.
So what is the conclusion? Conflict is futile if seen from a broader and ideological perspective, yes. But it is also inevitable. Yes, I belong to the realist school of IR analysts. And the threat perception of 2012? The same. Not less, not more. The world is still a dangerous place, and will be one for the foreseeable future, like it or not. And you will have to fight to win peace, and survive. Nothing ever changes.
Happy new year, planet Earth!