Archive for April, 2016

THE history of human civilisations, before the dawn of European colonialism, has been mostly about the rise and fall of mighty empires – Greek, Persian, Roman, Egyptian, Mongol, Indian (such as Maurya, Kushan and Gupta) Chinese (such as Chin, Han, Song and Ming) and Latin American (Incas, Maya, Aztecs).

Main causes of the eventual decimation of these empires were environmental degradation, diseases and epidemics, famines, natural calamities (such as earthquakes and volcanoes) and often, oppressive, unjust and divisive rule. Or a combination of these factors.

On the last cause, it was as though most humans by nature were born “being oppressive to others” and they needed to be cruel and ruthless in order to rule. Often, they made use of man-made beliefs, external bogeymen and religion to justify their rule. In cases of oppressive rule, the tolerance of their people would be tested to the limit. Having suffered enough, these people would then rise up and might even collaborate with external forces to bring down the empire concerned.

Not long (by historical time) after the fall of the old empires, the world was carved up by the more recent Western and Japanese colonial empires. The rivalries between them and for the control of resources in their colonies and for new ones, led to the two world wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945), the first two times that humanity went to war with itself, not to save the world but for global domination. Millions of people died and many more suffered unnecessarily. Mother-nature (environment) was also being battered mercilessly by the new firepower unleashed.

There have hardly been any studies on the negative effects of wars on our eco-system, which are more far-reaching than what arms’ manufacturers and some governments would like us to believe.

What is the point of trying so hard to fix ecological catastrophes such as climate change when another stupid global war can quickly destroy the very environment that we all depend on to survive?

Developments after World War II have led us today to a new world order. In terms of military superiority, there are four superpowers – United States, Russia, China and the European Union or EU (as a power block led by Britain, France and Germany). All the superpowers have nuclear weapons and each of them has the unilateral capability to destroy the planet. All of them (with EU represented by nuclear powers Britain and France) are also permanent members of the UN Security Council, the “untouchables”.

The lessons of the past empires should serve as warnings to the new superpowers. However, let’s not be too optimistic as the chorus of the classic pacifist song Where have all the flowers gone? goes: “When will they ever learn …”

Each superpower has its own sphere of influence. For example, the largest superpower today, the US, has its influence over Latin America, Europe, major parts of the Middle East and Asia (Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the Philippines).

For Russia, its sphere of influence would be over its former satellite states in central Asia and Eastern Europe and parts of the Middle East. For China, it would be over parts of Asia and now Australia, Africa and Europe.

But spheres of influence are dynamic and fluid. Most of the conflicts in many regions of the world are caused by the constant rivalry for control and influence between the powers involved. This is eerily similar to the prelude to the two world wars.

For example, in Asia, the US is trying to defend its existing sphere of influence, while another emerging superpower, China, is expanding its influence, much to the dislike and anxiety of the existing “big brother” (US). China claims it is merely trying to re-assert itself and regain its old friendly non-colonial influence during the era of Admiral Zheng He of the Ming Dynasty, before it became a reclusive empire. Much of China’s growing influence comes from being the new economic powerhouse.

Russia, which has lost its old influence under the former Soviet Union, is now exerting itself to regain its influence in Eastern Europe (such as in the Russo-Georgian War, 2008 and Ukraine War, 2014) and the Middle East (forging a military alliance with Syria’s Assad regime in 2015 and the huge arms deal with Iran in February 2016 after the lifting of UN sanctions).

For EU, the focus is on economic survival of its members and integration. As a whole, EU has increasingly taken a more balanced role on issues such as the Middle East conflict and its commitment (led by Germany) to take in more than 1 million Muslim war refugees from Syria.

One significant and subtle way used by some superpowers now is the overseas promotion of “soft power” such as culture to win over the hearts and minds of people concerned.

The traditional ideologies (communism and capitalism) have to be adapted and “re-engineered” to be relevant to the realities of the 21st century, especially on economic development and profit-making but in a more sustainable, just and ethical manner.

There is a new “lunatic in town”, which is trying to challenge the status quo of the current imperfect world order. That’s fine, except that what these proponents are offering is a far worse alternative of living under a barbaric regime. The IS, the de facto successor of Al-Qaeda, is distorting a religion of peace and hijacking legitimate causes such as the Palestinians’ struggle, to achieve their plan of spreading their vile tentacles everywhere and hoping to be a new superpower.

Mad people are never stupid, in fact, the IS operatives are smart in their recruitment approach. They have been exploiting the internet and social media to recruit and win over many disenchanted youths in the Muslim world. In the same manner that religion was abused by some of the old empires to treat their people with satanic cruelty, the IS is far worse in treating people under their control.

After they take power in Muslim countries, they intend to conquer the rest of the world. If they cannot win, they are prepared to commit hara-kiri and destroy the entire world with them.

The Nuclear Security Summit in the US last month highlighted the danger of nuclear terrorism by the likes of IS. The 57-member summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on April 14, supported host country Turkey’s position that terrorism (by the likes of IS) is the largest problem confronting the Muslim world today and a special body be set up to deal with it.

The moderate Muslim world and the superpowers must collaborate to eliminate this enormous danger to world peace via rigorous education and using deadly force against their militants (massive ground offensive backed by air firepower).

As the rise of the superpowers has been rather recent, we have not seen the fall of any superpower yet. If and when that happens, it may even be dangerous to the rest of the world.

The global community, represented by the UN, must be able to manage the relationship between the superpowers in a judicious manner. Furthermore, the leaders of all superpowers have an unambiguous responsibility to humanity to prevent another global war, which the world CANNOT afford.

It is also pertinent to prevent warmongers and terrorists, such as the likes of IS, from taking a foothold in any part of the world.

The writer is an independent think-tank analyst and strategist. Comments: