War or peace? An argument that the choice between conflict & harmony lies with us, and much of this initiative has to come from the common people | The Financial Express

War or peace? An argument that the choice between conflict & harmony lies with us, and much of this initiative has to come from the common people

The book under review touches upon all these issues, analyses threadbare the thinking on the subject by philosophers and statesmen, scientists and pacifists from Cicero and Kautilya to present-day visionaries, and suggests that if war is a matter of choice, so is peace.

War or peace? An argument that the choice between conflict & harmony lies with us, and much of this initiative has to come from the common people
Sundeep Waslekar builds his edifice, brick by brick, and, based on past evidence and a serious assessment of present scenario, develops a blueprint of action.

By Amitabha Bhattacharya

Asked about the essence of Mahabharata, Gandhiji reportedly remarked: the futility of war. In a perceptive autobiograhical work, Professor Dietmar Rothermund (My Encounters In India, Primus Books, 2020) wrote, in the context of Sudhir Chandra’s book Gandhi: An Impossible Possibility, how the dropping of atom bombs in Japan, its scale and anonymity of violence, deeply affected Gandhi. But the ‘impossible possibility’ lies in Gandhi’s abiding faith in ‘satyagraha’, as nothing else, he felt, could save mankind. Was Gandhi, or his contemporary Rabindranath Tagore who had cautioned about the limitations of ‘nationalism’ and perils of its excesses, too naive or utopian? The book under review touches upon all these issues, analyses threadbare the thinking on the subject by philosophers and statesmen, scientists and pacifists from Cicero and Kautilya to present-day visionaries, and suggests that if war is a matter of choice, so is peace.

Sundeep Waslekar builds his edifice, brick by brick, and, based on past evidence and a serious assessment of present scenario, develops a blueprint of action.

Waslekar, an Oxford-educated thinker and activist “currently facilitating a nuclear risk reduction dialogue between permanent members of the UN Security Council”, is well equipped to undertake this task. As one of the six signatories to the ‘Normandy Manifesto for World Peace’ (2019), four of whom are Nobel Laureates in Peace, he urges us to study Gandhi’s conception of the world federation of free nations (that Waslekar considers as a modification of Immanuel Kant’s suggestions), and take the ideas forward, adapting them to the realities of the 21st century. More importantly, he sums up the dominant global perspective on this subject and recommends a pathway to attaining sustainable peace.

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Most of us are in the mode of denial that the prospect of a nuclear war is a high possibility and our lazy thinking prompts us to dismiss such a scenario as alarmist. Waslekar lays bare the risks involved with convincing details, but sees hope amidst the darkening horizon. Those who believe in the inevitability of wars, arising out of intrinsic human nature to dominate or take revenge, and join the arms race as a rational consequence, often forget other lessons of history. “They will not tell you that Jean-Jacque Rousseau gave birth to the idea of social contract when monarchy and theocracy reigned supreme… that Rabindranath Tagore appealed to us to rise above nationalism when competitive nationalism was dominant enough to spark the First World War… that John F Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev had agreed on a world without weapons at the height of the Cold War.”

Waslekar adds, “With competitive nationalism blending with militarism, all the nations that possess such weapons risk the obliteration of the human civilisation.” Waslekar alludes to American philosopher Lou Marinoff’s book, On Human Conflict (2019), where he enquires, “Can humankind end war before war ends humankind?”

It may be interesting to note that President Kennedy had asked this question on the floor of the UN General Assembly in September, 1961, but it has been generally avoided in policy and academic discourse. Evidently, there is no uniform global behaviour pertaining to war. As Waslekar notes, “If more than twenty nations abolish armies, confident of not encountering military confrontation, while a dozen nations accumulate increasingly lethal arsenals…there is no permanent human trait pertaining to wars… All wars, whether the crusades a millennium ago or the invasions of Iraq and Ukraine in this century, were decisions made by someone.”

The strength of the book lies in developing the discourse further, and making suggestions that are bold but not naive. Rousseau in 1762 showed how a social contract should work and this idea has been hugely influential in moulding world order. Waslekar argues, “This time is upon us to forge a global contract.” Einstein once said, “Past thinking and methods did not prevent World Wars. Future thinking must prevent wars.”

Learning from the Nuclear Freeze Movement, disarmament negotiations between Reagan and Gorbachev and others, one can see hope for the future that would go beyond the Kennedy-Khrushchev enterprise. However, much of the initiative has to come from the common people as international public opinion can make a real difference. “We must create a global social contract, dual loyalty to the state and human race, and an institutional machinery that represents our species and not our nations”, in the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. It is a treat to read this balanced work where information and insight seamlessly blend.

Amitabha Bhattacharya is a former IAS officer who has also worked in the private sector and with the UNDP

A World Without War
Sundeep Waslekar
HarperCollins
Pp 324, Rs 599.

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First published on: 27-11-2022 at 00:15 IST