Sunday, September 18, 2011

Challenges to International Security

Security, power and welfare are important attributes for the stability of the international system. These are faced by ever present real and perceived threats, which in turn will destabilize the international system.

The very first threat which comes to mind associated with international security is international terrorism. That international terrorism poses grave challenges to the security is an undeniable fact. However, by focusing on this one may forget that there are a number of other and sometimes not so obvious challenges which may pose even a larger threat to the world order. Some of these inevitably nurtures terrorism.

International Terrorism

Let us begin with international terrorism. This was a phenomenon largely unknown to the world until the Palestinians decided to globalize their struggle. The belief that the Arabs could militarily defeat Israel was shattered in 1967 with the Six Days War. This gave rise to a new breed of Palestinian terrorism which spread its wings even outside the small area for which they are in mortal combat with the Israelis.

International terrorism may have two types of groups. Firstly, there may be groups which operate in several countries, as was the case with some Palestinian groups. Also, there may be several domestic groups allied to each other for operational or ideological reasons. This can be seen in some left-wing terrorist groups and Islamic groups.

Al-Qaeda is a relatively new and lethal phenomenon of international terror, now largely but not entirely, eclipsed from the international arena. However, although the outfit has a central core group, it is in effect an alliance of various fundamentalist terror groupings around the world.

Domestic Terrorism

This brings the attention to a more challenging aspect, that of domestic terrorism. A vast number of terror organizations and insurgencies are domestic ones although they may be associated with foreign organizations for various needs. These domestic groups threaten the States where they are active. Mostly these are secessionist or are attempting to seize power. When the security of a State is affected it will have repercussions to the international community, at least in the near vicinity of the said State. There can be no international security without internal security.

Causes of Terrorism

Terror and all other challenges facing the international community are arising due to a number of socio-economic and political factors. The gap between the rich and the poor, class and caste differences, racial, linguistic and cultural divisions all increase the friction points in the societies.

An example of socio-economic issues directing an insurgency is currently seen in India, where despite the economic boom, a Maoist insurrection is increasingly engulfing the countryside. With the economic boom, the gap between the rich and the poor has grown considerably. In addition, India is having its inherent caste divisions still polarizing the society. The insecurity within India can become a regional issue if it goes out of hand.

International Crime

Another challenge to the international community is the increase in international crime. Narcotics trade, human trafficking, weapons smuggling and other illegal activities are growing around the world. Political instability, economic insecurity and increasing interaction among the peoples around the world are facilitating this phenomenal rise.

For instance, political tensions and increasing armed conflicts helped the weapons smuggling to grow out of proportion. Narcotics are also tied to armed conflicts and weapons smuggling as some insurgent groups depend on it for their finances.

Human trafficking is also a growing concern, which has risen to unprecedented levels in recent times.

Political Instability

Political instability is a dire threat to international security, welfare and power. While stability will not be the answer to each and every evil, instability is the nurturer of many.

The breakup of the Soviet Union is an instance where this was seen vividly. When the State broke up to pieces and law and order situation deteriorated, numerous problems sprang up. Economic collapse precipitated an increase in ordinary crime, narcotics usage, human smuggling, weapons smuggling and a plethora of other evils which became grave obstacles for the new republics. The increase of criminal activities in these areas had unfavorable repercussions throughout the world. The Russian criminal world has now spread its tentacles all over the world and so has the criminal networks of Albanian origin.

Rising Racial Tensions

Increasing poverty and political instability has driven citizens of the developing world to migrate to Europe and North America. Also, due to the rise of Islamic terrorism, especially after September 11 attacks, there is an increasing phenomenon of ‘islamophobia’ especially in Europe and the United States. As a result, there is a growing right-wing extremist tendency in these countries. The recent attack in Norway is but one illustration of the tendency. Extreme right-wing political parties are registering historic electoral victories in even very ‘liberal’ societies. While the mainstream political groups do not condone violence, this development is an illustration of the people’s perceptions in these countries.

The Competition for Vital Resources

The industrialization and the rising population of the world drive the nations to compete for vital resources. The fact that many international disputes are in one way or the other connected to petroleum or a maritime boundary is no mere coincidence. The thirst for energy, in the form of the relatively cheap ‘black gold’ has made peoples go to war. The seas and Oceans, with their largely untapped resources are also a point of contention as nations are becoming increasingly aware of the vast potential in them.

Both industrialization and population growth has also rendered the available clean water resources limited. If the industrial pollution of water resources and deforestation are not curbed, a water shortage is predicted to occur in a few decades. There will be less water available for agriculture which in turn will make it difficult to feed the increasing population.

With this impending water crisis, there are considerable tensions between nations and even communities over water resources. This has always been a concern for rulers from time immemorial. However, it is going to be an ever growing concern in the near future.

Global Warming and Climate Change

Recently, the U.N. Security Council declared that the impacts of climate change are a threat to world peace and security. They give rise to natural disasters and other repercussions which will generate a number of challenges including human displacement, the reduction of the availability of water, reduction of agricultural productivity, food insecurity, health hazards, and energy crisis. These can in turn give rise to international disputes, terrorism and other security issues.

Nuclear Proliferation

Nuclear proliferation is causing long standing international disputes between the Western world and countries such as North Korea and Iran. Before the fall of the USSR, the nuclear proliferation of the two superpowers was the main cause of tension. After 1991, with the USSR out of the way, the U.S. seeks to prevent the so called ‘rogue states’ from acquiring nuclear weapons.

A further cause of insecurity is the possibility of a major nuclear disaster due to a terrorist attack or a natural disaster at a nuclear facility. This became a nightmare come true at Fukushima a few months back. In the fallout of Fukushima, the Green Party in Germany, for the first time in its history, was able to form a government at a State in that country.


With all these factors playing a role, it can be stated that global security, welfare and power are challenged by a multitude of factors. However, the root cause of all these can be found in inequalities between the elite and the people or the powerful and the powerless.


Billy, B. Racism on the Rise in Europe
Accessed: Sep 06, 2011

Muniruzzaman A.M.N. Climate Change: Threat to International Peace and Security
Accessed: Sep 09, 2011

FAO No Global Water Crisis, but Many Developing Countries will Face Water Scarcity

Accessed: Sep 09, 2011

Federation of American Scientists, International Crimes Threat Assessment
Accessed: Sep 05, 2011

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mao after the Demise of Mao

Image: "Mao Zedong at Tiananmen Gate" by http2007 at flickr

Its 35 years since Chairman Mao Tse-tung of the People's Republic of China (PRC) passed away.

Within a very short time, the PRC itself made an about turn in her policies under Deng Xiao-peng, in what was to be an 'economic revolution' of China. The PRC leadership has almost forgotten Mao's legacy. For instance, five years ago, they chose to commemorate his 30th death anniversary by simply forgetting about it.

Nevertheless, small Communist political parties around the world are adhering to Maoism albeit with little success. Meanwhile, in several countries, insurgent groups following Maoism in general and Mao's "People's War" concept in particular have waged more successful "People's Wars" years after the Chairman's demise. Even today, some of these insurgents are active with variable successes, most notably in India.

Political Parties Adhering to Maoism

Not many classic mainstream political parties adhered to Maoism in the West, with the notable exception of the Communist Party of New Zealand. In many other countries, Maoist parties were formed after the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s. In South East Asia however, several political parties embraces Maoism in Mao's life time. In Burma and Philippines, these wage an ongoing armed struggle against the respective governments.The Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) formed in 1984 was a collection of Maoist parties, led by the Revolutionary Communist Party of the USA. It published a periodical, "A World to Win".

"People's War"

More successful exponents of Maoism has been the relatively successful insurgent groups in Peru, Nepal and India. Both the Communist Party of Peru (Sendero Luminoso) or the 'Shining Path' and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)-CPN(Maoist) followed a similar line of action in the early stages of their struggles. There were some politico-ideological preparation carried out in remote areas with little government presence and little development. These were to become base areas of the Maoists once they initiated the armed struggle. Thus, what Ayacucho was to the Peruvians, Rukum and Rolpa were to the Nepali counterparts.

However, later the two groups diverged. Nepali Maoists returned to electoral politics winning the largest number of seats in the Nepali legislature in 2008, 12 years after they started their "People's War". Meanwhile, after nearly threatening the Peruvian government to collapse, the way of the Shining Path 'became dark' after the capture of el Presidente Gonzalo, once again, 12 years after the start of their "People's War". Nevertheless, Sendero Luminoso and some other small insurgent groups are still active in the country. The danger has not passed.

The ideal illustration of the fact that the danger persists is the case of India. The Maoist or 'Naxalite' movement in India was decimated in early 1970s within several years of its emergence. Whatever remained was suppressed during the emergency. It fragmented into numerous factions and some even turned to electoral politics. However, the conditions which gave rise to the Naxal movement were never eradicated. Hence, small hardcore Maoist rebels remained active and by now their movement has grown to such an extent that was identified as the greatest internal security threat India faces.

The general supporter or sympathizer of a Maoist insurgency usually does not have any idea as to who Mao Tse-tung was. Yet, social conditions are such that in certain places they receive overwhelming support of the populace, another important attribute to a successful guerrilla campaign according to Mao.

Mao's legacy of "People's War" seem to be quite alive despite the eclipse of Maoism as a whole, especially when its apparent that insurgent groups which are hardly Maoist also admire and utilize his methods.

Certainly. Mao is still alive and kicking in certain areas of "Maolands".

Sindh to Teach its Children Chinese

Sindh is one of 4 Pakistani states, lying in the South West. It has around 1/3 of Pakistani population, including the bulk of the small Hindu minority. Nearly 50% of the people live in urban areas, including the former capital city of the country, Karachi.

Despite this cosmopolitan nature, Sindh has many problems. Its education system may be better than most of Pakistan, as seen by the literacy level of above 65%, well ahead of the national average. But, problems are there, including the shortage of teachers and facilities. The Sindh government is now adding to it by planning to make Chinese language compulsory from Grade 6 upwards from 2013.

This move, taken by a Commonwealth country's state government, is a surprise. However, it epitomizes the realities facing the world today. Yet, it seems to be a premature action.

The world economic epicenter is moving towards Asia. As erstwhile economic giants and their allies are feeling the pains of a recession, China is rising as an economic giant. The oriental civilizations seem to be returning to what they were centuries ago-the world's wonders. Chinese economy is now having a huge impact not only in Asia, but also on the United States and Europe as well.

Because of these developments, there is a emerging interest to learn the Chinese language, especially the Mandarin dialect. Although it is the most widely spoken language of the world, a very few wanted non-Chinese to learn it. Not anymore.

However, the move by the Sindh government is simply baffling. While they have enough issues to attend to with regards to the education, they have created a new problem as if its no big deal! Teaching Chinese, let alone learning it, is no easy task. To learn it, like any language, constant practice is needed. To a vast number of people who have no idea what Chinese is, it will be an additional challenge.

The students who attend the schools of Sindh have enough subjects to torment them. However, the government thinks otherwise.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Vo Nguyen Giap: The Vietnamese Centurion

Image: Vo Nguyen Giap in 2008 by Ricardo Stuckert. From Wikimedia Commons.

The General who baffled two world superpowers has passed his 100th birth anniversary. Vo Nguyen Giap, the nemesis of the French at Dien Bien Phu and the leader of the Vietnam People's Army (VPA) during the Vietnam war, celebrated his 100th birthday on August 25, 2011.

General Giap is known as a leader who never backed down even against obstacles seemingly impossible to overcome. Born in 1911 to a well to do family, he rose to prominence as a superb military tactician, a fact supported by the defeat of superpowers at the hands of the VPA. Despite being marginalized in political matters during the last few decades, he is highly respected in Vietnam because of his achievements.

Giap had become a Communist while studying at the University of Hanoi in early 1930s. When France outlawed Communism in 1939, Giap fled to China where he met with Ho Chi Minh. He returned only in 1944. By that time, his immediate family had been arrested by the French and had been executed. Such was the regard for human rights the colonial masters had at that time.

Yet, Giap carried on.

In 1945, when the Democratic Republic of Vietnam declared independence, he was appointed as the Minister of Interior. Soon, the Viet Minh forces were at loggerheads with the French troops in Indochina.

Giap played a vital role in the anti-colonial war. The poorly armed Vietnamese troops continuously harassed the better armed French colonial troops using guerrilla tactics.In 1953, the French established a fortified position at Dien Bien Phu, straddling supply lines of the liberation fighters. It was an invitation to positional warfare, which is anathema to the guerrillas. But, Vo Nguyen Giap was not a man to back down. With the help of the supplies from the USSR and People's Republic of China (PRC) and mainly with the help of the Vietnamese populace, the VPA launched the attack on the French fortifications. Some diversionary attacks elsewhere helped the Vietnamese to prepare for the offensive on Dien Bien Phu, which started on March 13, 1954. They battled for position after position. Guerrillas isolated the fortified area from the outside, blocking roads and using anti-aircraft weapons received from the Communist allies to the North to hinder French air traffic. The last French troops surrendered on May 7. It was an ignominious defeat which brought down the French rule in Indochina.

Vietnam War

Vietnam was separated to two parts, North and South, pending elections to unify the two. However, the elections were never held, mainly due to the opposition of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), which argued that a free and fair election will never be held in the North. Thus began the struggle for Vietnam. Once more, it was a matter of guerrilla tactics. The National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, with the support of the North Vietnam and her allies waged a war to unite Vietnam. Against them were the capitalist camp led by the United States. Regular forces of North Vietnam, USA and her allies were soon embroiled in the conflict. Extensive bombing of North Vietnam and even other areas in Indochina was carried out by the U.S. Still, General Giap did not back down. Mainly using guerrilla tactics, aided by the extremely favourable terrain and generally supportive people, the Vietnamese fought on against the military might of the superpower across the Pacific Ocean. The United States and her allies won almost all the battles and yet were resoundingly defeated in the war. Most of all, the U.S. lost in the home front where anti war sentiments gave rise to radical student protests largely unseen in the country till then.

May be it was Giap himself who summed up the Vietnam war in 1997, when he met his erstwhile opponent Robert McNamara. "The U.S. lost in Vietnam...", he told McNamara, "....because the U.S. did not understand Vietnam". What he could have told is that perhaps the U.S. did not understand General Vo Nguyen Giap.