Home Contact Us  

South Asia - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#5133, 21 September 2016

The Strategist

The Blind Men of Hindostan
Vijay Shankar
Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India, and Distinguished Fellow, IPCS

Edited Transcript of Valedictory Address to the International Conference on Non-Traditional Security Threats, Christ University, Bengaluru, 03 September 2016.

In coming to grips with threats and challenges that confront a nation, the lines that demarcate the traditional; by which is meant those that demand a military response, from non-traditional is blurred. The confusion renders discernment problematic as very often one morphs to the other leaving little trace of what first causes were. It also places leadership in a quandary of comprehension as to what nature the threat is and what combination of tools from the State’s armoury of national power would be appropriate to confront it. The dilemma is analogous to a story in primary English text of my days titled “The Six Blind Men of Hindostan.” The tale is told of six blind men who came upon an elephant: each felt and sensed different parts of the pachyderm; the first wrapping his arms around a leg swore it was as the trunk of a tree; the second ran his fingers along the torso exclaimed, no it is like a wall; while the third holding the tail vouched it was more like a rope; the fourth stroking its head and feeling the swish of the elephants ear deposed, forsooth it’s like a fan; while the fifth and sixth grasped the tusk and the trunk and vowed it must be akin to a spear or related to a snake. But, as we know, the truth in its entirety is composed of all six vital elements that made the elephant. The same may be said of the various threats that speakers thus far addressed; each one’s subjective narrative is true, but it is limited by the inability to account for the totality of truth, that is the elephant-of-state is an integrated whole of all those elements and the State can be destabilised by trauma to any one of them.

Contemporary history of the Anglo sphere has had disproportionate influence on structuring world order and defining economic and societal values. Driven by the philosophic motivation of free will and a belief of liberal laws delivering what is best for mankind it does not make an attempt to transform the dangerous inequities amongst nations, the tyranny of the carbon economies, the domination of military power or indeed the ‘emperor of challenges’, climate change. The last is intertwined with all other threats, traditional or non-traditional, whether in the political, economic, demographic or military dimension. And therefore it is to climate change that I shall focus your attention.

Amongst Mahatma Gandhi’s many pronouncements on the ills of mercantilism and industrial capitalism the one that was prophetic in its sweep and profundity were his lines written in December 1928 for Young India: “God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism in the manner of the West. If an entire nation of 300 million [sic] took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.” Gandhi intuitively came to the conclusion that industrialisation was designed for inequity and an anarchic carbon economy was untenable as we quickly snuff-out life on the planet.

There is today no doubt that the climate predicament has been accelerated by the manner in which the carbon economy has evolved. Its impious upshots have the world’s people’s finger prints on it for its impact has broadened and intensified while its sway on politics and society comes at a time when politically the global perspective is more diffused and society blinkered in its view of development. The November 1970 Bhola cyclone that hit the entire coast of erstwhile East Pakistan is one of the deadliest natural disasters of living memory; the official death toll was estimated at 500,000. The storm surge partially inundated the Sundarban island of Bhola, displacing millions unleashing mass migrations the effects of which were political, military as well as demographic. The consequences are apparent even today. One of the chief causes of the disaster was global warming, melting ice-caps and rising sea levels; these are manifest in the increased periodicity of calamitous climate events and the scale of disasters.

The on-going civil war in Syria has left 250,000 people dead and millions either displaced within the country's borders or have sought refuge abroad. And, while the proximate causes were largely political, new perspectives argue that climate change helped to trigger Syria's descent into violence. The recent Syrian drought is the worst in 500 years. The dry spell, which has lasted about 15 years, has caused farms to fail and livestock to perish. The continuous collapse of harvests forced as many as 1.5 million citizens to migrate to the urban centres of Homs and Damascus. The drought had displaced Syrians long before the conflict began, and what is alarming is that we completely missed it. Climate change, displacement and war are the trinity that have changed the face of sub-Saharan Africa, Libya and Iraq. It has set into motion violent demographic dynamics as the planet has not seen before.

There is another foundational problem that is linked to the system that we live and labour in. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) established a new system of political order in central Europe, based upon the concepts of coexisting sovereignty; balance of power and non-interference. As European influence spread through imperial conquests, these principles, especially the concept of sovereign states, became central to prevailing world order. The scheme of nation states is structured to channelise political energies towards nationality, sovereignty and the urge for domination rather than concentrating on new ideas to relieve and reconstitute the relationship between States such that uncertainty and turmoil that currently obtains is replaced by the larger reality of common destiny. However, the awkward irony is that these principles that came into acceptance among and within what was essentially a cohesive entity, are at odds with the globalised world that we live in. Perhaps the time has come when the Westphalian model itself requires a critical review for the ‘emperor-of-challenges’ is provoking man to think of an alternate way to exist.

In this belligerent milieu of nation against nation and nations feeling the heat of relations within and without; illusions of world order stand in denial of reality. Some of the symptoms that have emerged are an increased and vicious securing of spheres of power and economic influence; competition between autocracy, liberalism and collectivism; an older religious struggle between radical Islam and secular cultures; and the inability to regulate the anarchic flow of technologies and information. As these clashes are played out the first casualty is the still born hope of an enlightened order that comes together to face its common destiny. Sovereign democratic processes have feeble impact on the challenges ahead be it the carbon economy, climate events or in restructuring the system we live in. Communications which can serve as the vehicle that catalysis the spread of new ideas of the larger reality has failed us, finding satiation in egocentric intrusiveness. The reason for the inability to mobilise collective action are amply clear, for it is the spiritual nature of the quest for development to the exclusion of all else that blinkers political philosophy to things ‘as they are rather than what they could be.’

So why has the political domain remained unaffected by the many crises that antagonise man? Is it myopia or a self-destruct lemming-like impulse? If it is the latter then our destiny is sealed if the former then there is at least the hope of the corrective lens of statesmanship that may generate a future more benevolent, less bigoted, more tolerant and clear eyed about man’s common destiny and a philosophical passage from the individual to kinship.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
No Responsible Steward of Nuclear Weapons, This

The Curious Case of USS McCain

"The World is Not Peaceful"

Nuclear Crises in the Time of Orwellian Wars

The Value of a Declared No First Use Nuclear Policy

The CPEC: Corridor to Chinese Coffers

Forecast 2017: Carnage Ahead?

Perils of Nuclear Paranoia

The Catechism of a Minister

Hillary's Nuclear Policy: A Time of Change, Dithering, or Sameness?

The Misshapen Pivot

Rewarding Thugs

South China Sea: Chinas Double Speak and Verdict at The Hague

There is a New Symphony at Play

Barbarism and the Smell of Cordite

To Steer the Stream of Time: The Crisis of Verge Powers

Forecast 2016: Pakistan, Aberrated Strategies and Strategic Stability

What is Strategic Stability?

Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence

Falun Gong: The Fear Within

China: The January Storm

State of Play: Non-Proliferation, Fissile Material Cut-Offs and Nuclear Transparency

Swabbing the Bleakness of Subcontinental Nuclear Instability

The Af-Pak Entity: Seduction to Armageddon?

Maritime Combat Power in the Indo-Pacific

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 January  February
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.