The idea of the world being embroiled in war on a global scale is far from fanciful. The many conflicts convulsing regions and states may not be connected overtly, however, the disruption and distress they cause around the globe connects all people.
War is no longer the controlled preserve of political elites and national military machines. The practice of war has gone local. While terror and fear have become commoditised, being distributed by local political/religious interests, such horrors, clearly, remain supported by international means to sustain prolonged conflict.
The United Nations, NATO and most nation states appear constrained by the withered frame works of mid-twentieth century strategies and diplomacy. Meanwhile the violent politics of this century re-arrange national boundaries reducing long established political stratagems and military force to confusion, if not impotence.
The 1950s-75 conflict in Vietnam heralded an era of localised conflict dislocating international relationships. The mighty USA went against a guerrilla army and lost. The military means of a foreign power could not win the hearts and minds of a people in their own land.
Clearly little has been learned since. Lessons from attempting the same have and continue to be writ large. For example, in Afghanistan via the unsuccessful efforts of Russia and subsequent USA led ‘coalitions’ there and in Iraq to impose political will. Then there are the current disasters in many parts of the African continent.
The record of post-colonial deconstruction across Asia, Africa and the Middle East has illustrated the ultimate futility of military might and associated political advantage being a conveyor of cultural values and technology. President G. W. Bush’s confidence in ‘shock and awe’ signed off any such notion. Perhaps, then, it is little wonder the political/military might of western powers and partners appear to be floundering for answers to current regional and local conflicts.
Yet, all portents of gloom notwithstanding, the ways of modern democracy rumble on in parliaments, senates, media discourse, public debate and elections. Signs of peoples’ self- determination continue, even if, in many cases, with apparent qualified misgivings.
Fiji has finally held an election. On the day of writing this the Scots were at the polls determining whether or not to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Aotearoa New Zealand is about to vote as done every three years. Elections, in such a troubled world, may be like pearls offering a glimmering reminder of the hope for people’s self-determination. They also may serve to remind those privileged to vote of the classical heritage from which such a hope comes.
Tragically, perhaps, in a global environment where nation states are becoming servants rather than regulators of commercial interests, the attractions and commerce of war outweigh the virtues of political will exercised via contestable ideas, debate and negotiation. After all, it costs time, effort and practical resources to ensure climates of understanding that provide political contexts of healthy sustenance, where respect for difference is the strength undergirding peace and wellbeing.
War may have always been local. Terror may have always been close to the human condition. What sets this era apart is the reality of global communication and accessible means to aggressively spread political/religious influence. What was once confined now knows little geographical boundary.
We in New Zealand may find a sense of security in our South Pacific location. However, physical distance is no longer any assurance of safety. Clearly all people are connected as no generation before. The contagion of fear, like disease, has acquired a reinvigorated potential to subvert and undermine peaceful co-existence on a global scale.
How might countries such as little New Zealand apply technologies of global communication and the means of influence in order to promote local identity while building international relationships for the sake of peace and wellbeing?
Ensuring the continuity of a society open to scrutiny, critical self-appraisal and equitable distribution of life-giving resources is a goal worth aspiring to in an international scene bedevilled by conflict and fear.