Around 70 world leaders had assembled at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on 11th November to commemorate the centenary of the armistice signed at Compiegne, France at the eleventh hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 that ended the First World War between the Allies and Germany — “the whir of the shells and the whistling of the bullets” — that left ten million soldiers dead and six million wounded and maimed — was finally silenced.
Now the question is: Have we learnt any lesson from the disastrous consequences of this War? The honest answer is, no, for, this did not end the bloodshed in Europe and the world. With the collapse of Austria-Hungary, Germany, Tsarist Russia, the Ottoman Empire, there erupted revolutions, counter-revolutions, boarder-conflicts and murderous ethnic disputes, and within two decades from the end of the First World War, all this culminated into Second World War between the Axis powers—Germany, Italy and Japan — and the Allies — France , Great Briton, the US and the Soviet Union — resulting in 40-50 million deaths making it the bloodiest war in history.
And unfortunately, not even the Second World War could evoke the ‘pity of war’ among the nations and its leaders. For, man’s passion for war continued unabated with Korean War, Vietnam war, Gulf wars and now the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Over it, the alarming development is: Countries are now developing/resorting to newer technologies to change the very nature of warfare. Today, the focus has shifted to cyber weapons.
Cyber weapons are being increasingly used now against civilians and their daily infrastructure. For instance, in May 2017, the WannaCry malware attack disabled an estimated 250 000 computers in more than 150 countries. Within a month of that attack, the NetPetya attack said to have been sponsored by a country affected a third of Ukraine’s computers resulting in the impairment of international shipping and air delivery operations.
Incidentally, these attacks are not computers attacking other computers. It is the governments that are today deliberately resorting to cyber weapons to attack computers on which people rely for their day to day needs — for instance, the WannaCry malware attack on the UK’s National Health Service resulting in cancellation of thousands of appointments. And if civilian infrastructure such as electrical grids, etc., is attacked by such weapons launched by governments, the impact could be much worse. As everything is getting connected, such attacks can easily disrupt anything, throwing public life into disarray and making people panicky. In short, maintenance of digital peace is gaining greater importance. And Cyber-security calls for the tech companies /organizations /people joining hands with governments in strengthening the technology ecosystem so that innocent citizens and enterprises are protected from cyber-attacks.
Next to it is the threat of growing ‘nationalism’ among the countries, which the French President Emmanuel Macron observed in his address to the world leaders assembled at Arc de Triomphe in Paris to commemorate the centenary of signing Armistice, as “the exact opposite of nationalism”. Indeed, airing his disappointment at the growing nationalism, Macron warned the world leaders thus: “Old demons are reawakening, ready to sow chaos and death. Sometimes, history threatens to retake its tragic course and threaten our heritage of peace that we believed we had definitively settled with our ancestors’ blood.”
Echoing Macron, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany observed: “Isolation wasn’t the right answer 100 years ago”, raised a vital question: “How could it be wise to isolate ourselves today” in the name of nationalism, that too, “with a widely interconnected world?”
When viewed from these two leader’s perspective, the ongoing challenge posed by the US to the rule based global system — striking down the trade agreements, walking out of global agreements signed earlier, giving a goby to well-defined alliances, etc. — appears to be a potential calamity. In its new avatar of a wrecker of the rule-based global system backed by its sheer muscle power, the US is likely to set a bad example for smaller, particularly to rogue states which in turn could simply unleash great damage.
Now, against this backdrop, what the leaders assembled at the centenary celebrations of armistice were supposed to do to ensure the future well-being of mankind. Obviously, the first lesson would be: nations must reflect honestly on these challenges and first and foremost learn not to resent one another. Rather, as the French President observed, what is called of us all is: Combined effort to mitigate the threat of “global warming, poverty, hunger, disease, inequality, and ignorance” and simultaneously wage a joint battle for peace and a better world.
That said, we must also note that — as Boris Pasternak observed — we, being “the guests of existence… travellers between two stations, must discover security within ourselves”. He went on saying: “During our short span of life we must find our own insights into our relationship with the existence in which we participate so briefly. Otherwise, we cannot live! This means, as I see it, a departure from the materialistic view of the nineteenth century. It means a reawakening of the spiritual world, of our inner life, of religion. I don’t mean religion as a dogma or as a church, but as a vital feeling.” When the leaders look at the global problems from this perspective, with such a ‘vital feeling’ everything turns possible and life becomes enjoyable to everyone. But the greatest ‘if’ is: Can the leaders shed their ultra-egos and turn spiritual?