Peace Studies: An Introduction to the Concept, Scope and Themes
Aswini K Ray ·       

"Conflict Studies" according to Samaddar, "divorces peace from the agenda of justice and democracy", which constitute the "heart of peace studies" and its "'central theme." The editor also asserts courageously at the outset that "Peace has become a maximal concept, refusing to accept a minimalist version that stops with the master-idea of security." But such optimistic assertions, normatively unexceptionable, remain empirically contestable, even when tested through this welcome collection; because it is among the pioneering attempts to promote peace studies in, and around, the region so full of conflicts; and particularly welcome being a collection of contributions from a majority of the relative greenhorns in the scholarship of international relations in the region reeling under the hegemony of anomic realism. But as a pioneering attempt, it must also be subjected to exacting standards of academic scrutiny to be a potentially viable alternative to the mainstream orthodoxy, and as a new role-model to inspire future scholarship, if not inter-state diplomacy in the region.

Let us being with the two propositions of the editor, as reflected in the volume. Of the 19 essays, only one by Gautam Basu deals directly with democracy, and a few others peripherally. The overwhelming majority, particularly from the relatively high-profile ones, are around conflicts, their pre-emption, resolution or reconciliation. Samaddar himself deals directly with justice, and others like Barun De, Irene Khan, Sanjnkta Bhattacharya, most notably Asha Hans, and arguably Rajeev Bhargava, deal with various components of justice; but not a single one explores a possible theory of justice relevant to peace studies in the region, in the "maximalist" sense asserted by the editor. In fact, most essays are around themes in pursuit of the otherwise laudable objective of making conflicts in the region less inhuman, rather than the editor's focused concern around peace. This reality in the volume tends to further mystify the hornet's nest created by Samaddar in the 'chicken-and egg' syndrome in the operational relationship between peace and security. Going by the result of this volume, despite its focused concern, the two could only be conceptually de-linked, and not operationally; they seem to be dialectically linked, both in diplomacy and in scholarship, unlike Samaddar's ambitious claims.

Besides, of the 19 essays, 10-1/2 are by the editors themselves, and another two by Kanti Bajpai, who, with his long astrictive lineage in the Indian Foreign Office Establishment, reinforced by its Doon School social base, may be embarrassed by the 'peacenik' label implicate around the contributors, particularly of the editor's maximalist vintage. If peace studies have had such widespread appeal in the region, then surely its intellectual catchments area would have been a little more widely spread than is reflected in the volume; possibly also a few more high-profile ones from the mainstream of international scholarship in the region. The reality is more likely to be what Samir Das says, that the "evolution of peace studies as a discipline is much younger than mankind's abiding concern for peace." While this appears to be true of the general field of scholarship in international relations, in the South Asian region it still to be conceived; in fact, this volume fills up this historic gap, howsoever inadequately.

It seems, the editor, the reasons best known to him, has chosen the contributors before their themes, and hence allowed him to be high jacked by their essays than his initially well-formulated rubrics around themes, concept, and scope as part of the sub-title of the volume. Samaddar raises two important heuristic questions: can there be a rational peace studies in South Asia? And, "does peace studies need to be a separate discipline"? Both these questions remain inadequately responded to in the volume. Samaddar himself suggests an off-the-cuff obiter-dicta to the effect that a text book on South Asian Peace Studies is possible with improvisation and flexibility. Firstly, this is true of almost any subject; and, secondly, the present volume appears somewhat overstretched in terms of flexibility and improvisation for the cause of peace studies in the maximalist sense of the editor.

Besides, as a textbook, it has other problems. For example, Samir Das' insightful historical narrative asserts inter-alia: "that peace is amenable to a given number of rational and moral laws is one of the great contributions by the exponents of modernity". Hopes raised by this insight is dissipated in the absence of any checklist of such a basket of rational and moral laws, along with the existential reality of uninterrupted wars accompanying western modernity, and increasing insecurity and wars in the post-modern, post-cold war era, but all outside the core area of the global system. Besides, the formulation: "the problematic of peace, a la modernity was in many ways paradigmatically discontinuous with the autochthonous peace tradition"; whatever it means to profound scholars, could hardly inspire peace studies in innocent minds, much less as a textbook.

Kanti Bajpai's attempts at theorization is a refreshing departure from the mainstream South Asian scholarship in international relations, and appears more in conformity with his Baroda 'Guru', than his Urbana-Champaign mentor. His three notions of peace as "hegemonic", "functional" and "integrative" to describe respectively the Hobbesian, Kantian and Grotian versions, is conceptually innovative, and a welcome attempt at exploring the enormous normative resources of the social sciences to enrich the arid field of mainstream International relation on this score. But it seems, somewhat unwittingly, Bajpai exposes a chink in the armour of contemporary scholarship in international relations by the liberty - bordering on license - he takes with the classical concept of 'hegemony' rooted in the Gramscian version of Marxist social science, to suit his analytical scheme; in the process, simplistically distorting it to the point of vulgarization. Hegemony, according to Bajpai, is a "more or less generalized threat system presided over by a dominant power." And he elaborates by example: "United states is a potential hegemonic peacemaker in South Asia," and "with the smaller states of South Asia." India is in a situation of military and economic hegemony" or "near-hegemonic position", but "India is full-fledged hegemon for Bangladesh and Sri-Lanka." Thus, Bajpai's hegemony is synonymous with dominance, which makes it redundant except as an aesthetic variation for linguistic communication; and, in sharp contrast to Gramsci's creative conceptualization to describe the "collective commonsense of the epoch."

In the Gramscian sense, there is little scope for coercion in hegemony, but it involves the willing suspension of disbelief in the collective about the superior wisdom of the hegemon; and, the collective internalizes the 'no-win' rules of the game laid down by it. In a different context, by default as it were, Bajpai is closer to Gramsci when he describes that "a hegemony that knows how to diagnose conflicts and conceptualise solutions will be more durable because it will fashion psychological and intellectual shift". In fact, by definition, such a psychological and intellectual shift is a necessary pre-condition of hegemony, in the absence of which there could be dominance but no hegemony. Again, by definition, hegemony cannot be compartmentalized into functional instrumental, or spatial categories, like economic, technological, political; or, such concepts as a "pacifying hegemon", "near hegemon", or "semi-hegemon", they appear as incongruous as being semi-pregnant. The same argument could be extended to Vajpayee's concept of a "quasi-super power", but perhaps less convincing than around a classical concept rooted in a legitimate scholarly discipline like hegemony which, when misused, could be a form of intellectual piracy to be discouraged in textbooks with normative concerns.

In his second essay, Bajpai labours to conclude that nuclear weapons do not promote economic justice or social dignity; they appear a little two trite to deserve discussion in a serious publication on peace studies unless it was aimed as a textbook for primary school. Apart from the conceptual mystifications, Bajpai's empirical conclusions about the convergence of the South Asian states around pluralist democracy and secularism appears a little too optimistic and premature. In fact, empirically, the South Asian States are divided by their specific post-colonial versions of democracy and secularism, both induced by external stimuli of "conditionalities" as their price of globalization in the post-cold war era. With inadequate civil society underpinnings and cross-border networks, they still appear too brittle to provide any viable basis for long-term "functional peace" in the region.

Some of these questions, and their pitfalls, are raised by Gautam Basu in his perceptive essay to conclude that, despite the "re-democratisations process in South Asia", as in the rest of the "new world order" of the 90s, "two-thirds of the world's states have used their armies against people they claim as citizens". This, is also true in South Asia, and according to Basu, may not be militarism, but the trend is towards "disciplined societies", unlike liberal democracies or even Myrdall's "soft states". Tapan Bose's assertion that "the struggle of the Kashmiri people for their democratic rights, cannot be separated from the South Asian peoples' struggle for democratic rights", is unexceptional and worth repeating.

As for the chapter an "sub-regional dialogue in the East and North-East, the conclusions are useful and rewarding, but so commonsensical, and oft-repeated, that one is surprised to see it requiring the "collective commonsense" of four distinguished scholars, and the suffix of "a new way to cooperate", presumably, to reinforce its legitimacy.

But the most useful part of the volume is its comprehensive bibliography on "Peace Studies". In fact, an annotated survey of literature on the subject, including the work of the NGOs in the region, would be useful to reinforce civil society networking, to complement scholarship, to promote peace in the region. This volume, despite its inadequacies, is a welcome beginning in this direction.