It is easy to get stuck in old ways. The longer we live, the more we feel comfortable in doing things the way that we have always done them. We feel our habits are unnecessary and impractical to change, at least in everyday life. But what about the broader issues and the way we think; are we as stuck in old habits and feel new ways are a disturbance? I think not, at least not always. We may even like to embrace new ways and alternative thoughts. We may question old conventions in social and other fields and realise that young people, and others, such as immigrants, have ideas that we like, too. Sometimes, we may have thought about alternatives, but did not follow them out of fear for being excluded from the good, middle-of-the-road society. Most of us like to associate with people we agree with rather than a mixture of ‘friends and foes’, that is, people with different ways and beliefs, in various secular and religious fields.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar about important issues on the Subcontinent; it was about Kashmir and security in the region, organised by the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) in Islamabad. There were at least half a dozen retired Pakistani ambassadors and senior researchers speaking, and two young women, who used PowerPoint presentations. The old men knew all the historical details, from the peaceful years and sad conflicts with India, the UN resolutions, and so on. The negligence at Independence in 1947 of not having had clear decisions about Kashmir, was also mentioned.

Yet, are we stuck in old ways? Are there no other ways than presenting all the right thoughts about actions and resolutions that were never implemented? True, they should have been, but in practice they probably won’t be, not in my lifetime, and maybe never. New ways, second or third best ways, could reduce the suffering and breach of human rights that happen in Kashmir every day. They could be steps in the direction of the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination – even if neither India nor Pakistan would think they were quite ideal for the them, or for the Kashmiri people, whether administered as one land or, initially, two lands. Maybe there can be some kind of joint jurisdiction – which has been proposed earlier by politicians and researchers? Maybe all neighbouring countries, in addition India and Pakistan, should be included in a Kashmir Council (on top of Kashmir’s government/s), which should also include other countries, probably appointed by the United Nations? In all, it could be a Kashmir Council of some 15-20 countries, also with small, neutral countries from outside the region. Since I am a Norwegian, I would suggest that Norway and other Nordic countries be included; and others could be Ireland, Cuba, Sudan, and others, but probably not USA. In any case, there are many good people and states to choose from! Over time, such a model could lead to an improved situation and democratic development for the Kashmiri people – and India and Pakistan would be kept happy, too. As it is now, there is no progress.

Allow me then to move to another topic, notably the world’s current rearmament spiral, where we are indeed stuck in old ways. The 28 NATO countries are expected to increase their military budgets to two percent of their GDP, so that USA can pay less, although USA would probably always be the leading hawk in the NATO group, paying most of the cost, plus having own overseas military facilities in some 130 countries, with special forces in as many, and involvement in wars around the globe. We should remember that when NATO was established in 1949, the alliance was to defend the West against the Soviet Union, which the West saw as a threat, and to some extent it was, although it was also among the winners of WWII, but was never given real credit for that. Serious mistakes were made that time, and serious mistakes were made again when the Soviet Union collapsed over 25 years ago. Now, the West has yet again made Russia their main enemy – otherwise the raison d’être for NATO would be gone, and terrorism has been added, too.

The Warsaw Pact was dissolved after the Soviet Union’s fall. NATO should have been, too, and a new organisation for disarmament, democracy and peaceful development should have been created – with Russia as a member, too. NATO was a defence organisation but has recently also been used outside its territory for military operations, including in Afghanistan. It has grown from 12 member countries when it was founded; Greece and Turkey were added in 1952, BRD (West Germany) in 1955, and Spain in 1982; and after the fall of the Soviet Union, another 12 countries have joined, reaching today’s 28 countries in all, and additional countries in partnerships – yet, always with USA as the ‘chief in arms’, for reasons far beyond what the organisation can decently stand for. Today, Russia’s military budget is only 8-10 percent of NATO’s budget.

The debate today shouldn’t be about why individual member countries should increase their military budgets reaching the NATO guideline target of two percent of GDP. The debate must be about how to reduce NATO’s budget drastically, reduce nuclear weapons, and transfer funds to development of poor segments of their own populations and development assistance of poor and fragile states. Development aid was always just a tiny fraction of the world’s military expenditures. In the long run, to transfer military budgets to peaceful activities are real support for security for all countries. It would reduce the number of forced migration and refugees, and separately, it would reduce terrorism and extremism. How come we all don’t see these obvious aspects?

We are stuck in old ways of thinking; we behave like university teachers who just repeat the same lectures for undergraduate students every year; we don’t ask new questions and hence we won’t find new and better ways. How come the West’s propaganda about rearmament is accepted in the West, including my home country Norway, and obviously in NATO headquarters? NATO’s current Secretary General is a former Norwegian Prime Minister. He was good as PM but seems to have lost his ways now. He should be leading in discussing alternative ideas about peace, making the new world safer and better.

Why aren’t the peace movements and anti-nuclear movements stronger worldwide? Don’t we live in a time when we communicate with everyone and, hopefully, get to understand each other better so that all conflicts in future can be solved without military power? To use military might is always just attacking the symptoms, not the causes of conflicts. We would all realise that as basic knowledge if we weren’t so stuck in old ways – even those of us who try to ask these questions.

Finally, in my article today I only managed to discuss two issues where I think we are stuck in old ways of thinking: first, Kashmir (and India-Pakistan relations), and, second, NATO.

Let me underline that our learning specialists and other social scientists (including myself) don’t teach much about how to de-learn and change opinions, how we can rid ourselves of misunderstandings, prejudice, outdated and wrong information and interpretations. We like to talk to likeminded and feel comfortable in old ways and habits. That is costly and dangerous to all, and it takes away attention from real human development issues.