The next world war

When Kingsley Martin, the famous editor of The New Statesman and a life-long friend of India, met Mahatma Gandhi days before his assassination, he was surprised to find that Gandhiji approved wholeheartedly of India's war with Pakistan on Kashmir. But he also recruited soldiers during the First World War since he believed that the British Empire had justice on its side in the war.

We are not so lucky. Few wars are clean or just. The war in Syria has been going on for two years, a civil war with proxy participation from outsiders. The war has claimed more than a lakh lives and made refugees out of 70 lakh people. Bashar al-Assad, whose only claim to being the ruler is dynastic and not democratic, is tenaciously holding on to power with the help of the Hezbollah. On the opposite side are some "moderate" Sunni forces and Islamist terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda.

The Western countries have condemned the war and supported the opposition but only from a distance. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have financed the supply of arms to the opposition. It is a civil war but also a Shia-Sunni war. The war is, however, spilling over into Lebanon, thanks to the Hezbollah, into Turkey and Jordan where millions of refugees have gone, and of course Iran as a Shia country is supporting Syria. Analogies are never exact but this could be like the Spanish Civil War, which was a prelude to WW II. We could soon be in a general war across the Middle East, with Iran, Iraq and Syria on one side along with the Hezbollah and the Sunni nations and the Islamists on the other.

If such a war breaks out, there is no prospect of its prevention. The International Order which was created during the 1940s with the UN at its centre has had its problems. The Security Council has seldom agreed on a common plan of action. Through the Cold War, the UN had hardly functioned. After 1991, the Western nations began to intervene to enforce human rights across the world—a policy called liberal interventionism. It worked in Yugoslavia where horrendous human rights violations occurred. But it got into trouble with Iraq where it overreached itself.

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