THE ASIAN AFFAIRS PUBLISHER'S MOOD
THE RETURN OF THE MILITARY MENTALITY (Issue nș 18)
Albert Einstein at a disarmament conference in 1932 pointed out that the greatest obstacle to international order is that monstrously exaggerated spirit of nationalism which, he said, "also goes by the fair-sounding but misused name of patriotism".
"During the last century and a half, he wrote, this idol has acquired an uncanny and exceedingly pernicious power everywhere. To estimate this objection at its proper worth, one must realize that a reciprocal relation exists between external machinery and internal states of mind. Not only does the machinery depend on traditional modes of feeling and owe its origin and its survival to them, but the existing machinery in its turn exercises a powerful influence on national modes of feeling".
The current machinery at the disposal of the Bush administration since September 11, 2001, is worth USD350 billion a year. To put things into perspective, we are reminded in this issue (see Barry Desker's analysis) that the combined military expenditures of Europe, Russia and China do not even match that figure.
The high development of nationalism has always been intimately connected with military expenditures. After all a state which demands its inhabitants to spend an inordinate amount of money on weapons and counterintelligence institutions (such as the CIA or the FBI) is compelled to cultivate in them a nationalistic spirit, thereby laying the psychological foundation for their military usefulness.
Einstein was prescient enough to conclude that, as a result, the state's schools would then be compelled "to idolize, alongside with religion, its instrument of brutal force in the eyes of the youth".
One feels that Einstein is giving here a perfect description of the film industry and the teenage addiction to violence in the United States in 2002. Yet, he was making the remarks in the year 1932 and what he had then in mind was Germany.
Who has not noticed the ever-present American flag in the background of a movie, no matter what the subject is, or the endless glorification of violence or heroic acts in the Hollywood productions? The CIA has even admitted that it acts as "advisor" in many of these senseless movies, to avoid "mistakes"!
Then, where else but in Washington do we have a cabinet meeting starting with a compulsory prayer? Israel, probably, but in Europe (and Asia) it would now be unthinkable.
The above facts are well-known, but for some reasons, they are ignored by the international media, which usually, are so prompt to show the backwardness of other banana republics. Yet if we want to size up the problems the world order is now facing, they should be kept in mind to understand a return of the military mentality.
Its re-emergence as a way to solve international issues is reaching unprecedented levels in some quarters, as if the previous century had not delivered its verdict on its lack of efficiency and its horrific price.
Sixty years ago, Bertrand Russell pointed out that the characteristic feature of this mentality is that people suffering from it place the importance of "naked power" (his expression), far above all other factors which affect relations between people.
Today, it is all the more dangerous than before because offensive weapons have become more powerful than the defensive ones. Inevitably, and you can't fault the logic, it leads, by necessity, the military establishment to consider that preventive war is the only winning option. Hence the current attitude in London and Washington as regards Iraq.
But Bush and Blair, the UK Prime Minister, forget an important factor: the logic breeds a general insecurity which results in turn in the sacrifice of some people's human rights to their supposed utopian political order.
How is Asia reacting to such a mentality?
The region had its fair share of conflicts born out of nationalism and/or religion. We have chosen to look at the Korean issue, the Tamil problem in Sri-Lanka and the security landscape in Asia, one year after the launch of the "war against terrorism".
Clearly, for the past twenty years or so, the use of military means has never achieved anything worthwhile and long lasting in Asia. That is probably why Asian politicians are today more inclined to diplomacy coupled with confidence building measures as a mean to achieve peace and development than to use brute force.
Of course, it could be argued that the limited military machinery is also a factor. But this would only reinforce the argument raised by Einstein about that intimate relationship between state of minds and machinery.
The return of the military mentality is so insidious that politicians who do subscribe to it, are considered "nice", in politics an attribute that implies weakness and stupidity. Nice politicians don't amount to much, do they?
The future Prime Minister of Malaysia, Abdullah Badawi, has been labelled a "nice" man. Yet the speech we publish is everything but nice. Even if he, the consumate diplomat, skilfully avoids to point fingers, in his position that would create a diplomatic row, the message is unambiguous. (Is it the reason why he had to take his shoes and belt off when he landed in New York on his way to the United Nations?)
When defining what a decent global leadership requires, he let us conclude that narrow-based interests are unlikely to bring a more equitable and acceptable rational to the world order. It means potentially that tensions are going to rise rather than decrease if there is no change to such a leadership.
Barry Desker, the Director of the Institute of Strategic Defence of Singapore, agrees. Tensions are unlikely to decrease. In fact, he takes the view that Asia needs all the more a new security framework than we can only expect bad things and not good ones to emerge, and therefore we need more tools to secure our future. Thus he proposes to transform the ARF in what we could describe crudely, as an Asian version of NATO.
The creation of an Asian NATO, whatever that would be, would clearly be a by-product of the prevalent military mentality. It would be a military institution. If the institution was to see the day and Barry Desker's proposals were implemented, the immediate result would be a regional arm race. The machinery would become bigger and so would the "military" state of mind.
Japan and the Korean peninsula have been providing for the past fifty years the perfect circumstances for the military mentality to stay alive and well. One of the side-effects was also to guarantee a lucrative and exclusive market for the American arm-dealers.
We asked Korean and Japanese scholars and analysts if they shared Barry Desker's views on the security implication of the revival of the military mentality in international affairs. They came up with a different view. Both Japan and Korea (South or North) have other worries to tackle.
After worrying so many years about war and peace, about security and the future, they are now moving away from the rational of the military mentality. This evolution will profoundly alter the premises of the bilateral relations of the United States with Korea and Japan, but it is too early to see when and how.
Japan, as Kyohiko Fukushima explains in this issue, is in a state of economic survival. With a shrinking population, it has little choice but to become a partner of China, if it wants to sustain its lifestyle and avoid an economic downfall. It is all the more imperative for Japan to emerge from its slump that the combination of the South and North Korean economies raise the stakes. But there is an unavoidable consequence. By relying economically more and more on China, Japan will sooner or later have to review from the bottom up its postwar relationship with the United States (unless the U.S reviews their attitude towards China, which is unlikely).
It will be all the more imperative that the Korean peninsula is also going to break into new and unchartered territories. According to Kim Ton Je, an analyst from Pyongyang, North Korea has set up its mind towards an agreement with South Korea. In his paper, he outlines the blueprint that the two Koreas want to implement. Can the two unify under a Korean federation as proposed? It is hard to say. Notwithstanding, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-Il are now trying to reach a point of no-return, regardless of the American position in the matter. Thus, quite reluctantly, the Bush administration has changed its tack, if not its tune. A high-level American official recently went to Pyongyang. This is because neither Kim Dae-jung nor Koizumi support the American strategy towards Pyongyang.There are of course many sceptics. But they are part of the school that doubted to the end that Deng Xiao-ping would achieve anything in China.
Yet if Kim Jong-Il seems to have full control of the state apparatus in North Korea, Kim Dae-jung, the architect of the sunshine policy in South Korea, is on the way out.What is going to happen next?
We asked Jung-hoon Lee and Sun-won Park, two scholars from South Korea to decipher the current presidential campaign in South Korea. (No doubt that Kim Jong-Il is also a keen watcher.) Is the sunshine policy imperilled by the coming election? After all, public support has never been that strong for Kim Dae-jung's strategy towards Pyongyang.
Interestingly, none of the candidates is coming out against the "sunshine policy". This is because South Korea is at last getting rid of the military mentality in its dealings with North Korea (probably because in the younger generation anti-American feelings are on the rise). The economic rational for cooperation between South and North is obvious. South Korea needs access to cheap but good quality manpower, that it can get across the border. Japan does not have the same luxury. It has to source its manpower in China.
Another example of abysmal failure when resorting to the military mentality to solve problems was Sri-Lanka. The country has been fighting a civil war for more than twenty years and only a year ago the President considered more war the best option to getting rid of the Tamil problem. Fortunately, she was outvoted by the people, and the new Prime Minister took the opposite view. Suggeeswar Senadhira analysed what went wrong in the past and why this time it is likely that a peace settlement will end the war in the near future.
Looking at those events, it becomes obvious that Asia has no taste for the military mentality any more, if it ever had one in the past fifty years.
Look at the unsolved problems, where the military options are still being used: Aceh, Mindanao, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Nepal. It is doubtful that it is going to bring a solution to their problems. In the meantime, diplomacy and negotiation were and are being used to progress in Myanmar or diffuse sovereignty issues in the Spratlys.