Rising Expectations, Social Unrest & Development

The relationship between peace and development holds the key to effective strategies for addressing the roots of social unrest. Rising expectations are the principal driving force for social development. However, the faster and higher aspirations rise, the greater the gap between expectations and reality. That gap promotes a sense of frustration, depravation and aggression leading to social unrest and violence. The opposite is also true: rising economic opportunity can mitigate or eliminate social unrest. The remarkable renunciation of armed struggle by the IRA in North Ireland in mid – 2005 appears inexplicable until the impact of rising incomes and expanding employment opportunities in the Republic of Ireland is also taken into account. A similar approach can be applied to address the problems of violence and social unrest in Kashmir and Palestine. Here too apparently intractable conflicts will lend themselves to be addressed economically. India’s recent efforts to provide guaranteed employment to its rural poor are part of a strategy to stem the rising tide of social unrest in impoverished areas resulting from rising expectations among the poor.

1. Introduction
During the early 50s an American aid official working in Taiwan noted a marked change in the attitudes of the local population which was having a profound impact on the pace of social development in the Far East. Harlan Cleveland, later became Assistant Secretary of State under Kennedy, US Ambassador to NATO under Johnson and later President of WAAS coined the phrase “Revolution of Rising Expectations” to describe what he observed. He perceived that the real driving force for development in the region was social and psychological rather than financial. In the early 1970s The Mother’s Service Society (MSS), a social science research institute based in South India, observed the same phenomenon of rising aspirations beginning to emerge in the first generation of young Indians born after Independence releasing fresh energies for national development. The Society formulated a comprehensive theory of social development explaining the role of this phenomenon in the development process. In the early 1990s the International Commission on Peace & Food (ICPF) observed a similar change in attitudes sweeping across Eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall. All three concluded that attitudinal change in the form of rising aspirations is the central motive force for social development.

In its report to the UN, the Commission observed that the phenomenon of rising aspirations has positive as well as negative dimensions, both of which impact on global peace and security. Rising aspirations release social energy and dynamism for new initiatives and more rapid progress. At the same time, if the rising aspirations and actual results do not match and the gap between expectations and reality becomes too wide, expectation turns into disappointment, discontent and in some cases violence. More than absolute poverty, what breeds violence is the perception that others are developing faster and farther in relative terms. This explains why at a time of rising prosperity following the end of the Cold War, social unrest and violence have also increased, and the number of regional and local conflicts has risen sharply.1

In the course of human evolution from mere physical survival to mental awakening, the social unrest generated by rising expectations is an inevitable and necessary stage. Discontent is an indication that people are no longer resigned or satisfied with mere survival. They replace a feeling of resignation with an active aspiration for more. Rising aspiration for more has accelerated progress around the world, while at the same time it has spread discontent across the globe. Peace and development are two aspects of a single social condition. When the nature of their relationship is fully appreciated, it offers a powerful means for resolving conflicts.

2. An Irish Lesson
The truth of this linkage has been dramatically demonstrated by the cessation of terrorist violence in Ireland in July 2005. The origin of the Irish problem can be traced back nine centuries to the time when English kings colonized a small area around Dublin. In the 16th century, Edward VIII proclaimed himself King of Ireland. When he broke with Rome and formed the national Church of England, he failed to win over the Irish Catholics to Protestantism. A century later, Cromwell landed in Ireland and dealt a crushing blow to the Catholics, seizing their lands, massacring many and deporting many others. By 1703 Protestants owned nearly all the land and the majority of Catholics were reduced to being impoverished tenant farmers. Highly discriminatory laws were passed against the Catholics preventing their access to education, public office and parliament, etc. The English came to look down on the Irish as an inferior race, generating a sense of humiliation and resentment that seeped into the very blood of the Irish and festered for centuries. The potato famine of 1845-48 effectively depopulated the country, causing a million deaths due to starvation and disease and resulting in large-scale emigration to the United States. As a result, there are currently eight times more Irish living abroad than in Ireland.

The country was partitioned in 1920 into a northern and southern part and in two years the mainly Catholic South became a dominion within the British Commonwealth as the Irish Free State. In 1938, Ireland declared itself to be a republic and pulled out of the Commonwealth which prompted England to incorporate the six northern districts containing equal numbers of Catholics and Protestants into the U.K as Northern Ireland. This division of the country into two parts evoked protests from the Irish Republic but it did not spark serious violence until a Catholic procession was attacked by Protestants in 1968. This attack triggered a spiral of violence lasting for three decades and resulting in the loss of more than 3500 lives.

Over the past thirty years many attempts have been made to bring peace to the troubled region, but no solution was ever found to the intractable political and religious issues dividing the Catholic and Protestant communities in North Ireland. The issues dividing the Catholics and Protestants remained unsolved and persistently defied solution. Then all of a sudden in an unexpected development, the IRA announced a permanent ceasefire in North Ireland. The announcement took the world by surprise, though politicians and academics were quick to explain away the miracle with a generous dose of practical common sense. Those explanations overlooked a critically important factor in the equation-the rapid economic development and changing social attitudes in and toward the Irish Republic, which have dramatically altered social perceptions and relationships in the region.

When Ireland joined the EEC in 1972, it was considered the “basket case of Europe” with a real per capita GDP one-third less than that of U.K. During the 1970s the flow of emigrants to Northern Ireland, Europe and U.S continued unabated. But by the time the European Union was established in 1993, the situation had changed dramatically. The Irish economy had undergone a miraculous change and Ireland emerged as a top performing country with an average annual GDP growth rate of 10%. Immigration trends reversed and people started coming from the North and other places looking for employment in the South. From 1988 to 2004, total employment grew by 67%. By 2000 the balance of labor movement shifted in favor of immigration into Ireland and the Irish per capita income rose beyond that of the U.K. By 2003 its per capita GDP was 16% higher than that of U.K and more than a third higher than the EU-25 average, with unemployment less than half the average of EU-25.

Prosperity in the South and termination of violence in the North may appear unrelated to a superficial observation, but a deeper analysis reveals a close connection between the two in an economic and psychological sense. So long as Catholics were emigrating into Northern Ireland, the Protestants were slowly losing the small edge they had in numbers. The slight majority the Protestants enjoyed was considered crucial in negotiations for sharing power. The reversal of emigration meant that more workers were going south than moving north. Till the year 2000, the U.K was the favorite destination for Irish emigrants. But in the first decade of the 21st century the trend has reversed and the immigration into Ireland from U.K is three times higher than in the other direction. Such a reversal of the emigration trend has impacted on the traditional attitudes of superiority and inferiority that used to mark the relationship between the two communities. Psychologically it boosted the self-confidence and self-esteem of the Irish people.

Ireland’s performance is all the more remarkable when considered in relation to the per capita GDP of North Ireland, which is 23% lower than the U.K. average. Ireland’s economic take-off elicited the admiration of Ulster, U.K and the rest of the world. That astonishing accomplishment absorbed all the energies of its people and channeled them into productive activities, leaving neither time nor inclination to support or encourage violence. The nation became too busy with its success to trouble others. Its success attracted people from Ulster who wanted to share in that success.

The successful resolution of the Irish conflict offers valuable lessons for other conflict-prone countries and regions. Economic development and economic security can be an effective remedy for military and political conflicts. Indeed, much of what we take to be irreconcilable religious and ethnic hatred thrives on a substratum of poverty and is aggravated by the absence of economic opportunities for those who seek through education to escape it. It needs to be mentioned that peace has been achieved in Ireland without actually reconciling the political and religious differences between Catholics and Protestants. These differences remain essentially unresolved, but the resort to violence as a means for addressing them has been abandoned.

Ireland’s accomplishment demonstrates the validity of another principle also. The levels of development the most economically advanced nations have achieved over centuries can be replicated by other nations very quickly, now that it has already been done elsewhere. In practical terms this means that the most economically backward nations can develop quickly to overtake the traditional leaders, as Japan and South Korea did in the past and China and India are in the process of doing today. Ireland’s greatest achievement is not the elimination of violence and social unrest. Rather it is a standing contemporary example of how great is the untapped potential for rapid human social advancement, once human beings become aware of the opportunities and release their energies to avail of them. Ireland offers a call to humanity to brush aside its age-old grudges, petty squabbles, festering resentments and competitive zero-sum perspectives and seize the opportunity to dramatically accelerate the pace and scope of human development globally.

More than practical examples, the world needs a theoretical framework-a comprehensive theory of social development-that gives full theoretical weight to the unlimited productive potentials and creative capacities of modern society. The economic and military mobilization that Allied nations achieved during World War II shows the untapped social capacity for organization. Humanity already possesses the knowledge, resources and technology needed to rid the world of violence, unrest and poverty in no time, should it awaken to the available opportunities. Today there is a glut of money in the world. Since 1980 the world’s financial resources have risen by more than fifteen times. Not many nations are using more than a fraction of the available technological resources at their command. Japan’s rise is an illustration of its cultural powers. England surviving the Nazi onslaught and eventually defeating Germany illustrates the power of psychological stamina. The European Union is a good demonstration of the benefits issuing from forging positive international relationships. The U.S illustrates the power of combining technology with practical organization in a free atmosphere that is conducive to individual development. The Internet surpasses all these, as it combines technology, organization, social networking and individuality into a new global organization of unparalleled power. Whatever be the present level of a country’s development, a harmonious blending of its economic, technological, cultural, educational and physical resources can launch that country on a course of development far beyond what Ireland has achieved.

3. An Elephant Divided
Like Ulster, the Kashmir problem and the on-going tension between India and Pakistan are relics of a colonial past and the scarred divisions left by the collapse of Imperialism after World War II, an observation more generally applicable to conflicts in the Middle East and Africa as well. An insight into the possible resolution of the confrontation between India and Pakistan over Kashmir arose from an unexpected source when a joint ICPF-MSS research team sought to assess the likely economic impact of the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. The team was surprised to discover that no economic studies had ever been conducted to model the potential impact of a breakup of the country on living standards among the Soviet republics. A Russian expert’s prediction that it would cause a decline in per capita income in the successor republics by as much as 50% met with disbelief. His prediction proved valid. Between 1990 and 1995 the real per capita income of these countries declined by more than 40%.

In 2000 this same study group applied its understanding in the reverse to determine what would be the economic impact on Kashmir, India and Pakistan, if full trade relations were restored between the two countries in an atmosphere of freedom and peace. Studies had been undertaken previously about the mutual export potential of both these countries. But a full assessment of the benefits of economic integration between India and Pakistan had never been done, because it was widely perceived that economics had little or nothing to do with the conflict-the same reason it was rarely asked in Ireland or Palestine or other regions wracked by chronic violence. Remedies need not be directly related to causes. Overweight caused by overeating can be tackled by more exercise, which is not directly related to the cause. But there is an indirect connection. Overeating means excess intake of energy. More exercise offsets that by inducing greater consumption of energy. Society can also be viewed as an energy system. When excess social energies are not positively channeled, they acquire a destructive direction. A political problem tackled by an economic approach is one such indirect solution.

Since gaining independence from the British in 1947, India and Pakistan have gone to war four times in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999. The problem was seen to be mainly religious, in spite of the fact that there are roughly equal numbers of Muslims living in the two countries. Later it acquired political dimensions also, when authoritarian Pakistan allied itself with democratic America, while democratic India allied itself with autocratic Soviet Union during the Cold War. But the conflict between India and Pakistan has deeper origins than these religious and political overtones. It stems from the divisive caste system prevailing in India from ancient times, which labeled 25% of the population as social outcastes relegated to abject poverty. Islam, which arrived with the Moghuls, and Christianity, which arrived with the Europeans, offered the outcastes an opportunity to escape from poverty, ignominy and exclusion through religious conversion. Urdu, the language of the invading Moghuls and their descents, is spoken by only about one-third of the Muslim population of the subcontinent, indicating the magnitude of the conversions that took place to Islam because of the social and economic inequalities perpetuated by caste system. Though Islam gave them respectability, their economic condition remained much the same until the British quit India. Mahatma Gandhi took an immense effort to uplift the scheduled castes and his service to the downtrodden sections of the Indian population must be rated as equal or if not greater than his contribution to the freedom movement. The Muslims’ demand for a separate nation can be seen as the erstwhile excluded population’s demand for social equality and respectability.

A similar background is there to the Kashmir problem. At the time of Independence the Hindu king of Kashmir, a state with a Muslim majority, wanted to remain separate and join neither India nor Pakistan. The move prompted Pakistan to attack Kashmir and the resulting cease-fire led to a division of Kashmir into Indian-held and Pakistan-held portions. When the Russians left Afghanistan unable to withstand harassment by fundamentalist forces, these religious warriors became jobless. They readily switched over to fighting a holy war for liberation of Kashmir, where they were promised good pay and maintenance. Rising violence was directly related to rising cross-border infiltration of Pakistani-trained militants. India feared that Kashmir may ask for out-right independence, if the separatists force gain control of the government, prompting interference with the electoral process.

Terrorist violence began to weaken the local economy. The stream of educated youth coming out of the colleges faced bleak employment prospects and took to violence to vent their frustration. Educated unemployment rose markedly through the nineties and the ranks of the terrorists swelled by addition of the educated unemployed.

Viewed strictly in narrow religious and political perspectives, the Kashmir problem and the conflict between India and Pakistan appears as an insoluble problem as the Irish problem did a few years ago and the Arab-Israeli conflict does today. But approached in social and economic terms, rapid economic advancement based on full exploitation of the untapped potentials of economic integration can wipe out the underlying source of social tensions between the two countries.

This proposition was tested by the ICPF-MSS research team when it approached the Government of India in 2000 with a proposal to explore the potentials for wider economic cooperation between the two countries. Less than two years after Pakistan’s surprise attack on Kargil and at a time when cross-border infiltration of extremists and terrorist violence in Kashmir were at a peak, the idea that the Indian Government, a coalition headed and supported by Hindu extremists, would seriously consider efforts at peaceful reconciliation with a military government in Pakistan headed by the general who spearheaded the Kargil War was itself almost an unthinkable proposition. In fact, the proposal received a warm welcome in both New Delhi and Islamabad. Plagued by low growth and high educated unemployment, Pakistani officials were more interested to learn about the achievements of India’s software industry and the prospects for cooperation in this field, than to discuss questions of politics and religion. The Federated Chambers of Commerce of both the countries agreed to jointly explore and study the wider economic potentials of cooperation, including shared exploitation of water, power and natural resources and transportation. One of the most promising potentials explored in 2000 was a proposal to address India’s burgeoning energy requirements through collaboration with Pakistan on what has become known as the Peace Pipeline. The proposal called for bringing gas from Iran to India through Pakistan to meet India’s burgeoning energy requirements, which were slated to triple by 2020. The proposal had been summarily rejected by numerous governments because of the high perceived security risks and unwillingness to depend on Pakistan for meeting the country’s essential energy needs. The possibility of attractive transit fees for Pakistan is a very good temptation for that country to go ahead with the project. Negotiations between the three governments removed the major hurdles to the project, until US concern over possible nuclear weapons proliferation by Iran led to intense pressure on India to consider alternative ways to meet its energy needs.


Ashok Natarajan: Fellow of WAAS & Secretary, The Mother’s Service Society(India)
1. Uncommon Opportunities: Agenda for Peace & Equitable Development (London: Zed Books, 1994), 22-24.
* Discussion paper for the World Academy of Art & Science seminar on “Revolution in Human Affairs”, New Delhi, February 9, 2011

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