I was fascinated to read Luc de Keyser’s article in last month’s Asian Affairs. His approach, concentrating on evolution, is entirely sensible. The meaning and context of violence varies hugely in human society. Sometimes violent acts in tribal cultures are associated with the appropriation of personal power – e.g. the ritual taking of the head of an enemy as a trophy, or as part of a rite of initiation in which a boy becomes a man. Just as human behaviour varies in this area, so does that of other primates. Contrast the chimpanzee group out hunting other monkeys with the mainly solitary forest-dwelling orang utan.
Ultimately, in modern developed nations, the disassociation of the personal and the political renders such distinctions irrelevant, as young people are still sent into battle in accordance with aggressive foreign policy. Surely the fact that we are able to take an overview and attempt to understand our motivations suggests that there is some hope for the future and a future without war at that.
Interesting piece by Richard Cockett on the Philippines’ foot-in-mouth president (‘As bad as his word’, Asian Affairs, Sept. 2016), especially given Rodrigo Duterte’s latest alleged gem of a comment about Barack Obama.
This man seems to be a liability to his country politically, economically and diplomatically, with his violent abuses of power and slanderous language.
That said, isn’t there something to be said for Duterte’s query over America’s right to call him to account over human rights abuses, since the Philippines, like many other nations, has been subjected to US ‘democratisation’ (in the late 19th/early 20th century)? ‘The Punisher’ may be richly deserving of criticism but, when it comes to US hypocrisy, he has a point.
UN’s real raison d’être
I refer to Rita Payne’s article, ‘Still Fit for Purpose?’ about the United Nations in the September issue of Asian Affairs. It seems that an organisation that was founded after the horrors of World War II to prevent conflict has failed miserably to do that. Many parts of the world are in turmoil today. There are conflicts raging all over the Middle East; Syria; Yemen; Libya and Iraq and in Ukraine the threat of renewed war between Russian backed separatists in the East and the Kiev putsch government is still constant. The Korean War in the 1950s, the Vietnamese war in the 1960s along with a succession of Israeli-Arab conflicts and India-Pakistan wars have also plagued the cause of peace for the past several decades and establishes the fact that the UN has been impotent with regard to its ability to prevent war during its lifetime.
But this situation is not the fault of the United Nations. It is the responsibility of those states that chose to adopt a foreign policy of ‘might is right’ rather than to find peaceful political solutions to disputes.
Happily, as your correspondent points out, the UN has been able to make an impact in other areas, particularly in helping refugees and in dealing with education and health issues in the developing world. I just hope the new Secretary General is able to expand those UN activities because they alone would justify its continued existence even if it cannot stop powerful states from engaging in warfare as an instrument of foreign policy.