Placing Social Distance (Us and Them) within Security Approach and Peace Approach

Placing Social Distance (Us and Them) within Security Approach and Peace Approach       

The Time for Art of War is Over, it is Time for Peace

We guard our borders with intensity that can evoke envy in any species, the passion associated with a line of demarcation, largely hypothetical which few citizens would have seen or conceptualized beyond maps, is remarkable. Yet, we treat human beings within the borders as disposable ‘products’ whose aspirations need to be addressed as when their expression of dissatisfaction crosses the limit of  violence palatable to our 'sensitive souls'.

India can blame its neighbors for acts of violence but can we as Indians state with a clear conscience that we asserted the rights of all our co-citizens, especially those who differed in their physical attributes from us or those whom we perceived to be of lower stature or those who we could never accept because of their historical desire to have more constitutional independence than us. Can we erase the scars that it has left on our collective consciousness through the years, since independence.

Beings, when born, are not nurtured by food, human ties of warmth and social norms alone but also by the collective consciousness which communicates in verbal and non-verbal ways. The social distance between groups is strengthened through the use of racially coloured slang, gestures of discrimination or expressions; all contributing to building walls of separation ‘Us and Them’.

If this is the case, can India actually hope for a sustainable peace other than as spurts of ‘an absence of acts of violence’. A condition which is termed as negative peace by Gultang Johana (1).

Many countries in conflict have historical baggage they refused to address and pushed under the carpet with the hope that time would diffuse the tension. Often systems of governance, both formal and informal, focused on issues associated with negative peace and thereby on acts of violence for making its population and area secure. The process of governance, probably, ensures a spiral of silence around issues that are too unpalatable to our sensitive souls, ‘spiral of silence’ referring to how we silence ourselves to fall in line with what we consider the majority view.

Yet, these views find a space in the mainstream media at times as local people find discrimination and violence is a daily reality, they are rarely immune to its presence. It exists within them and somewhere despite all our efforts finds a niche in the collective consciousness.

Even countries equipped with the best of defence strategies, national and international, can be found to be extremely vulnerable when social distance exists within, cultural or racially, different groups. The discrimination can get entrenched and sustained through structural and institutional action, explicit or implicit. The reality in the United States is a clear assertion of the same. A sense of being excluded which goes beyond policies and ethical framework to become part of everyday reality.

We do yearn for inclusiveness and can assert it loud and clear as seen in case when a little one was washed over on the shores of Europe. But can inclusiveness be an isolated momentary expression, isn’t it something that has to be nurtured through the years, for that shift in perception, from being discriminatory to perceiving unity in diversity.

If, social distance does play a role in facilitating or hindering peace process, maybe it is worth the while to dwell on how our systems of governance and society is undertaking this task.

I. Governance For Peace

When peace is seen as an absence of violence then the system of governance will opt for security approach as a means for attaining peace. It is only when a country opts out of this tunnelled vision, to a holistic perspective that it moves beyond the security approach to look at sustainable peace, even as a concept.

I. a. Security Approach – To detect the Enemy and Secure the Nation

The security approach places its body of knowledge within the ‘Art of War’ Strategies that have been evolved by strategists on the conventional battlefield or conceptualized by others for those waging a war (2). When depending on strategies that have been evolved by Sun-Tzu (4th Century BC), Chuko Liang (A.D. 181-234), Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821 ), and Erwin Rommel (1891-1944), the underlying assumption is that the context surrounding war has not changed from that of conventional war. Hasn’t the context changed?

It would be interesting to note that Sun-Tzu to ensure women got oriented to Art of War, beheaded two women leaders to ensure women got beyond giggles and learnt the Art of War. In fact according the manuscript, “when you lay down a law, see that its is not disobeyed, if it is disobeyed the offender must be put to death” (3). With such stringent provision to ensure adherence, it is natural that the society was largely pacific and intensely opposed to militarism in any form.

Fight over terrain- geographical Demarcations

War in yesteryears meant control over borders and asserting the desire to expand the boundaries of the Kingdom. Different groups fought in the battlefield to conquer terrain and the assets that went with it.

In today’s world with, by and large, clearly, demarcated borders the dispute is far more within countries or within a region. There isn’t an unknown enemy to study or an unfamiliar terrain to entice one’s enemy into to ensure the final fall.

Often there is powerful State which is perceived to be a aggressor by some groups who use violence to assert their view. Since, the latter neither has the resources nor the manpower to fight a conventional war they opt for unconventional warfare and the concerned state often respond in kind. 

There is no foreign terrain for the victorious to conquer and lord over, there are natural resources (oil, minerals, gas) to take control of, even if through backdoor channels. Unlike earlier war situations, where the mind of the vanquished was immaterial, today it the mind of the vanquished that matters. For the scope for any semblance of peace depends on the perceived reality of the vanquished or the rebels.

If peace hinges on human beings and their perceived desire to be part of the society there is a need for us to look at “war strategies” and explore whether they put in place walls of separation or nurture bridges across differences. Contextualizing the relevance of a few strategies, held in high esteem in the present day may be useful.

a) Expanding the scope for profiling an enemy- To declare war on your enemy it is necessary to identify your enemy, especially those who remain outside your vision. For best results keep expanding the concept of your enemy, identifying even those who show subtle affinity for a different world view.

b) Personalize the fight, ensure those who engage in war feel the desire to vanquish the enemy. Basically, transform war into a crusade.

c) To deter the enemy create a threatening presence, use any means to achieve one’s goal, deception being central to it.

d). Have a grand strategy to win the war be it through divide and conquer or destroying the source of power or enveloping the enemy psychologically till they break down and give in.

While the Art of War may give an excellent insight into strategies to be adopted and the enemy to be vanquished as an issue for the future. It gives no clarity how the process will bring peace to warring groups within a given society, state or region. A dependence on the security approach for peace will but ensure that walls of separation are strengthened and sustained. Making walls of separation a permanent reality for years to come.

I.b. Security Approach and Social Distance

The central crux of the security approach is to dehumanize the enemy, for any tinge of sympathy or empathy is perceived as a hurdle or threat to wining a war. This means the social distance between the ground troops and the local people is systematically increased and institutionalized. This clearly explains the reason for using disproportional force, whereby individuals can have their entire back riddled with pellets (4) or corpses are found with a liberal spray of bullets (5), and plays out in our national reality of conflict management.

The extreme sense of detachment ensures the army personnel rarely see the humane side of the ‘enemy’. Functioning within this tunneled vision of conflict reality, sustainable peace is an an alien reality, probably assumed to be a product of wishful thinking.

I.c.What the Security Approach does in Conflict.

According to Mitchell Chris (1981) in Demmers Jolle (2012) “…, conflict are not static phenomenon, and hence the dynamic aspect of conflict which alter both structure and inter party relation over time,.. (6)

Chris Mitchell (1981) used the triangle put forwards by John Galtung to explore the dynamic process of conflict. The three points of the triangle are Attitude (a), Behavior (b) and Contradicts (c) often referring to goals. In conflict situation, contradiction in goals set the ball rolling, attitude and behavior adds fuel to the fire.

When Security Approach is implemented for peace, the natural focus would be:

  • To strengthen the attitudinal difference or mis-perception of the other to the extent, if necessary, dehumanize the enemy,
  • To focus on the behavior of enemy, rarely dwell on questionable behavior of self and others whom one considers to be one’s own. Even when focusing on behavior of enemy, it is a tunneled vision that isn’t contextualized, effort is taken to ensure there isn’t an iota of scope to instill critical analysis in the minds of the public.

  • Motivate individuals by playing on negative emotions towards the groups in conflict rather than initiate rational thinking.

  • Ground strategies that are meant to win a conventional war can have different impact when dealing with conflict. For example, the divide and conquer strategy. When used in today’s setting can destroy a terror group, but it can also ensure splinters penetrate the society at large and make any positive change extremely difficult. Often to penetrate and divide the enemy, deceit is an important tool, and deceitful experience makes most people strengthen walls of separations. To do otherwise they need to be enlightened beings and terrorists in violent conflict are rarely enlightened beings.

I. d. Terrorism and Its link to Security Approach

Violence has been used through out history as a means to be heard, to assert a different viewpoint and fight against abuse of one’s right or world view. Violence also finds takers, who enjoy acts of violence and the pain it inflicts. Today’s reality presents different types of groups who base themselves in some sort of socio-political and religious frame and others who seem to glorify violence.

While we may feel a total disconnect with expressions of violence by terror groups, a critical look at acts of terror may indicates its link to a body of knowledge - Art of War, which evolved through centuries and we are immensely proud off.

• Know your enemy’s mind- Understand how mind works to wage a psychological warfare. The focus is to unhinge their mind. Isn’t this what the terrorists are doing when they bomb a location to ensure maximum damage and strengthen the sense of fear.

• The Blitzkrieg strategy- To overwhelm resistance with speed and suddenness. Use speed to strike and if possible, use different modes of attack to immobilize the opponent. When terrorists use timer bombs at different locations simultaneously, the terrorist is using a strategy we put in place.

II. Need for Peace

Our world presents two different attempts to bring peace, both focus on the use of violence as a means to an end; at one end is the security approach and at other end the terror groups who claim they are fighting for their people. Neither are bringing peace, both are managing to create a world filled with distrust and deceit; where building walls may be seen as a moral duty. Is this what we want, divided sections across the globe, where freedom will be defined by how secure it is ?

Johan Galtung (ibid), when looking at dynamic process of peace, focused on interaction between attitude, behavior and the contradiction in goals and how it can play out in different levels: culture, nature, structure and interaction among them. Most of all how to research these aspects and try to intervene.

Experience creates a narrative within individuals, families and communities these can be transferred from one generation to other, based on the duration of conflict. The extent to which such discriminatory or dehumanizing narrative gets entrenched within the minds of people may influence a long violent struggle.

The measures taken both by the army and terrorist groups affect the lives of local population, often making things that are normally taken for granted a difficult struggle. Strikes called to draw the attention of the State can last for weeks and months, as seen in the case of Manipur and other parts of the north eastern region. This disturbs basic services, education, health care, small trade, informal sources of livelihood and even access to basic household items. Individuals would be forced to seek alternate arrangements that rarely come without riders, may very well go to further complicate the complex local reality.

We, from the mainstream in other parts of India, find it trying when basic services are taken away for a day and yet when thinking about areas in conflict we do not give that a second thought even when it appears a normalcy for the region. With that blatant differentiation in perception about our rights and theirs can we expect a peaceful interaction to evolve.

When the system can be blatantly unaccountable it is foolish to think that any government schemes or services would be functioning with any sense of accountability. Especially when the absence of an accountability towards a tribal population can be a reality even for a state as Kerala which has one of the best social development indicators for the country. Recent investigation reports on tribal communities by the Asianet News Channel (19 and 20th Oct,2016) provided details how even money meant for ensuring transportation services for children from tribal populations to reach schools, schemes for pregnant mothers and infants have been misappropriated by officials can we then in India expect accountability in trouble torn conflict areas?

At times the harsh form of violence meted out to the less privileged is revolting, a recent report said in a remote region of Jammu, a father found his newborn, in a Government maternity ward, with marks of rat bites and he even witnessed them nibble away at his loved one who had passed away (7).

Along with silent violence the presence of human rights violations, ensures the local population feeling alienated from mainstream society, the experience is far from welcoming when people in conflict try to find a foothold in other metro cities of India. The mainstream media has reported instances of physical/sexual abuse, at times abuse that has turned fatal. This has but increased the sense of alienation. For these migrants even day to day existence can be tough; from finding a place to reside, to protect oneself from being taunted for being different or being overcharged when using basic services.

In fact to go back to the Art of War (Sun Tzu) according to the text, a country can benefit from prolonged warfare “… who is thoroughly acquainted with evils of war that can throughly understand the profitable ways of carrying it on”. In the present day reality, the ways and means in which unconventional warfare takes shape given the access to technology and a fertile mind, the possibility for anyone having a hold on or understanding the probable evils of unconventional war is limited, and the relevance of the Art of War is highly questionable for the present day.

III. Ways to Peace

The passage to peace is complex in its simplicity. Peace is a treasure we value when it is beyond our grasp, that is when we struggle to be in its clasp. The Art of War, evolved through the decades is a body of knowledge that forms the basis of our deterrence strategy even though it has been the recipe for a divided society. For peace, there is a need to journey in the opposite direction to create a sense of unity in diversity. To understand the reality that the Whole is more than sum of its Parts.

On this journey it may be useful to take the Art of War strategies and turn it upside down.

To illustrate, lets take one strategy and change it.

III. a. Build them in Detail

Art of War orients us to Defeat them in Detail, we could instead for peace ‘build the population’ living in conflict areas, especially those who face the brunt of conflict. Instead of dividing, focus can be on identifying ways to strengthen linkages within the community and if possible with the mainstream in other parts of India. Efforts can focus on ensuring at least the basic rights of a citizen are respected, such as access to education, livelihood, food security and safety from abuse and corruption. Prosecuting individuals legally or otherwise for having familial or other associations with alleged or known terrorists may fit into the Art of War strategy, where the focus is to expand the scope of identifying the probable enemy, but this is a hindrance to peace. It may form the basis for the alienation of a large number of the population, who may abhor violence irrespective of who commits it. It also forms the rational for terrorist groups to recruit new aspirants.

Understanding silent violence may be a difficult task but not unsurmountable, there are agencies that work on these, may be the government does have reservations about their assertion, but then, all of them can’t be lying. Besides professional committees are formed and sent on fact finding missions, but rarely are the reports collated for synthesis and action.

Probably, the Government/State wants to fall in line with provisions under the Art of War, which is “Negotiate while advancing, the diplomatic war strategy. It elaborates on how not to give in to appeal for fairness and morality as it may be seen as a sign of weakness and used as a cover to advance their position. The source of the strategy Prince Klemens Ver Metternich (1774-1859)..." Let us always carry the sword in one hand and olive branch in the other, always ready to negotiate but negotiate only while advancing”.

But, hasn’t the world changed, Prince Klemens Ver Metternich did not have to deal with globalization, multi-racial/ethnic profiles of local population, the presence of individuals willing to link with insurgent or terrorist groups for various individual, religious, ethnic, political reason or their mix. Besides, the lack of communication and resources then restricted the scope for individuals to opt to be part of unconventional war, which is not the case, today.

Clearly the Art of War and its product the security approach cannot be the sole or main solution to deal with a conflict situation or terrorism. Neither can we hope for a Blitzkrieg strategy to work, instead we need a snail pace approach that focuses on detail to enhance its quality and relevance. An approach where there is no exit strategy, but takes steps to ensure change is integrated within the system and individuals/groups at all levels. The focus is not on division but unity in diversity.

The present day security approach can set in place a divided society that in the short run may benefit the armament industry, military industry and private partners who play a direct and indirect role. But, not for long.

It is time for change, to opt for sustainable peace, otherwise nature that thrives on diversity might decide that the human race can turn extinct.


1. Johan Galtung, “Peace by Peaceful Conflict Transformation- Transcend Approach in Webel 
    Charles. Galtung Jung (ed.) (2007) Handbook on Peace and Conflict Studies. Taylor and Francis         e-Library.

2. This paper has extensively used the publication Greene Robert (2010). The Concise 33 Strategies
   of War. Viva Books: New Delhi.

3. Sun Tzu (2015) The Art of War. Wisehouse : Sweden

4. Asia News Channel had extensive coverage on ground reality in Jammu and Kashmir in their
   investigation section in Oct 2015

5. Charles Molly (2015) Manipur in Conflict in

6. Demmers Jolle (2012). Theories of Conflict. Routledge: New York.

7. Indian Express (17/10/ 2016) Nibbled by Rats in J &K hospital new born dies. Indian Express,
    Thiruvananthapuram. Kollam Edition. p.7

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