Weekend Musing: Why do countries go to war?

Posted: February 10, 2013 in POLITICS
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Weekend Musing: Why do countries go to war?

Diplomacy and the politics of wars, is not simple, trifle or an issue that mere words can undermine. This weekend however, it may be necessary to take a look at certain events from a less astute and less rigid perspective, as we explore the real benefit or lack of it, of wars.

This piece is filled with political naïveté. Read with caution, all of you who are politically “aware”!

An inadvertent coup d’état last March, by low-level military officers, created a vacuum in Northern Mali. Gradually, jihadist groups stepped in and seized more and more territory, imposing a harsh form of Islamic law upon hapless Malian citizens. These jihadist cells started to advance their hold unto Mali’s government-held south, and in January this year, France stepped in and began bombing the jihadists, to stop their advance.

This is the popular scripting of the events that have led to “war” and political instability in Mali.

The French, are said not to have invaded Mali, but to have been called upon for assistance, of a military kind, by the Malian government. At the moment, there are approximately 3,000 French forces deployed to Mali and an estimated total African force of 7,700 soldiers. The french intent is supposedly, to pull out soon and allow African governments provide the needed support for Mali to rebuild, restructure and move on.

Some say that there is hope for a “victory” in Mali.

I wonder what exactly qualifies as victory in Mali.

The US foreign policy records estimate that at least 100,000 people have been displaced since the turmoil in Mali. Homes have been lost, along with lives and livelihoods. These displaced people automatically become at risk groups for infectious diseases, malnutrition and hygiene related morbidity and mortality. These displaced people will also migrate to new territories, and such influx of people into a new territory will bring with it increased tension, and possibly another full blown conflict.

To these displaced people, what exactly qualifies as victory?

The 2nd Gulf War
President George W. Bush uttered this famous sixteen words in his 2003 State of the Union address: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” These words, were supposedly based on a British intelligence white paper that contained a number of allegations according to which Iraq also possessed weapons of mass destruction, that were a threat to the free world and to US national security. These words, inadvertently laid the foundation for the 2nd Gulf War.

Without exception, all of the allegations included in this so called white paper, have been supposedly proven to be false.

A former US diplomat, involved in gathering intelligence in the build up to the war, also alleges that the relevant information on how false these claims were, was available to the US government, who still went to war against Iraq.

Recent opinions, are that the US went to war, to liberate Iraq and set the Iraqis free from Saddam Hussein. And also hopefully spark off democratisation across the Arab world. Some would even go as far as to suggest that Oil for Aid, played a key role in precipitating Iraq occupation and the 2nd gulf war.

Was Saddam Hussein a terror? A maniac? A tyrant? Yes.

Did the US or any members of the International community have the right and justification to invade Iraq for the 2nd Gulf War?

Did Iraqi citizens deserve military intervention that cost hundreds of Iraqi lives?

Wars over Water Resources
Speaking to President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson of Iceland, in 2009, after his visit and address of an assembly of mostly Nordic medical students, it struck me that climate change is an issue that many people take a casual approach to.

Lots of research on Climate Change and its effects on the planet and its inhabitants, have been carried out by various departments of the United Nations and various other institutions (health, industry and environment based institutions). One conclusion that has never been disputed or opposed is the effect of climate change on health. Climate Change is identifiably a threat to global health, with wide range of short and long-term effects on health.

A growing body of scientific evidence strongly suggests that climate change has enormous and diverse effects on human health. Rises in temperatures and resultant heat waves can lead to forest fires, causing droughts and additional deforestation. Glaciers melt away, depleting the world’s sources of fresh water. Sea level rises and extreme weather events such as floods cause water logging and fresh water contamination, which in turn exacerbate diarrhoea diseases. The spatial and temporal distribution of vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue has been projected to increase due to favourable temperatures, with resulting alterations of communicable disease dynamics.

The poor and the most vulnerable populations are likely to be disproportionately affected, with poorer nations bearing the brunt of the impact due to deficient health systems and resources. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that every year about 150,000 deaths occur worldwide in low-income countries owing primarily to the adverse effects of climate change, primarily crop failure and malnutrition, floods, diarrhoea diseases and malaria.

President Grímsson’s take, was that Climate change is a global issue and its adverse impact can affect the entire world. He worried that some day, the world could go to war over scarce fresh water resources, a plight with huge implications!

Climate change harms the health of a population. Wars also harm the health of a population. And climate change depletes fresh water resources.

What happens when our water resources are so depleted, that countries go to war over water resources?

In the post world war 1 era, would anyone have ever thought that countries will go to war over oil resources, whether as a direct or indirect factor? And now?

The Downsides
Countries go to war for a number of different reasons, some reasons more selfish than others. However, every war has certain underlying features in common:
– Women and children will die
– People will be displaced and be forced to migrate
– Lives and livelihoods will be shattered, never to be the same
– The people do not come out as winners from a war. Not usually!

Former US Ambassador Joseph Wilson, once maintained that a diplomatic approach, with a credible threat of military intervention, must be extensively explored before any country sends its men and women to death over any cause.

What he however didn’t mention, is that 4 out of 5 wars (by my count), do not achieve the so-called political stability and liberation of citizens that are promised. These wars mostly paper over the cracks and allow the unrest continue to fester. Wars are more often than not, lose-lose situations!

Nigeria fought a civil war, along ethnic divides, many years ago. The war has long been over, but the ethnic divides are even more pronounced today, than is imaginable. The war kept Nigeria as one country, but has left such gaping ethnic distrust and disharmony, that continues to be manifest, ever so shamelessly among many of today’s generation.

Could the Nigerian civil war have been avoided? What lessons did we learn from that war, and how have they impacted governance and citizenry in Nigeria today?

Too many questions. Not enough answers.

Enough of the political naïveté now. It is overoptimistic to want a world without wars, yes. But a world with more altruistic approaches, especially when the health of a populace are considered?

It beats me that we can’t seem to have that, either!

  1. Good piece, thought provoking…

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