Development Ended In Kuwait
issue 232 - June 1992
Development ended in Kuwait
The Gulf War as development's final curtain... Global apartheid...
The South as a sea of crises which must be managed - militarily.
Even those who think that Heraclitus is the name of a rock formation know the two phrases that the philosopher of Ephesus bequeathed to the West's heritage of quotations. 'All things flow: nothing abides' was the formula he used to describe the continuous coming and going of existence. However, as history does not always flow slowly and quietly, but sometimes surges forward impetuously, Heraclitus coined the other phrase: 'War is the mother of all things'.
Heraclitus was referring to the clash between opposites in general, but there is considerable truth in the meaning that people generally give it: wars very often accelerate history, precipitate events and create new perspectives. My opinion is that the Gulf War marks the final curtain on the era in which the relationships between the North and South of the world could be considered in terms of 'development'. In its place, a new era is dawning in which relationships with the Third World will be dominated by the concept of 'security'.
The war made clear one essential fact: the terrifying technological divide that today, more than ever, separates the richer countries from all the others. This is a divide that expresses itself in macabre statistics: 115 American soldiers lost their lives as opposed to 100,000 Iraqis, a 1 to 1,000 ratio which must be unique in the history of war. In spite of the inhuman efforts which Iraq made to arm itself to the teeth, its army was wiped out because, technologically, it had remained at the level of the 1970s. The defeat of Saddam Hussein, however desirable it might have been, became the symbol of the speed of innovation in the First World and of the powerlessness of the Third.
It is no longer possible to deny it: the idea that all the countries in the world were marching along a common road was but a post-Second World War mirage. It is no longer possible to say that everyone is moving in an interdependent economic space. On the contrary, the international super-economy of the North and the poor economy of the South are separated by a wall.
Much time has passed since, as in the Brandt Report of 1980, the North was considered the South's engine of growth. It is still longer since the North was dependent on raw materials, agricultural commodities and cheap labour - all things that a highly technologized economy can substitute with increasing ease. The North no longer needs the South: it can prosper on the exclusion of the rest of the world. The world is no longer divided between capitalism and communism, but between fast economies and slow economies - to quote Alvin Toffler. In the wake of the Gulf War it has become obvious that the nations of the world are not at different points on the same road, as the image of 'development' implies, but are rigidly separated in a situation of planetary apartheid.
The way the peoples of the South are perceived is changing as a result. For Truman, Third World societies were indeed poor, but also full of potential. They were 'young' nations and 'emerging', whose future was to shine more splendidly than their present. Such optimism is implicit in the very idea of development: where should the road of progress lead, if not to the promised land?
In a situation of world apartheid, this concept collapses. No-one speaks any more of a radiant tomorrow; the future appears grim and the South is seen as the breeding ground of all crises. In a world divided, the countries of the South are no longer looked at with hope but with suspicion. In the cynical eye of the privileged, development aid is done for and the job at hand is to keep a latent explosive force under control.
The Gulf War made it clear, once and for all, that Third World countries are now risk zones. All kinds of dangers are to be found there, as the newspapers and television keep telling us: violence keeps exploding, the mafia is in command, epidemics are spreading, deserts are advancing, ideologies are rampant, and everywhere the demographic bomb is looming. And even the stronghold of the North is not immune from the threat of immigration, the greenhouse effect, drug traffic, terrorism and war: the 'one world' is discovering the boomerang effect of degradation. The more the threatening dangers strike fear into people's minds, the more the image of 'The Other' takes on a different colouring. During the centuries it has been identified with the pagan, then with the savage, then with the indigenous and finally with the poor, which today embodies the 'risk factor'.
In these circumstances, the 'development' concept loses its reassuring connotations for the future: slowly it is being substituted by the concept of 'security' - from the North's viewpoint, naturally. There are already many development projects which have little to do with taking a country along the road to progress and which simply content themselves with trying to prevent the worst on a once-only basis. Once, the order of the day was to 'catch up' with the North. Now the aim must be to avoid being engulfed by disaster and to engage in 'security for survival'.
At the international level, too, the change of theme has been under way for some time. Whereas, in the past, the discussion at conferences was about how to give the South more opportunities to enter into the world's economic growth, today conferences analyze how to keep the excesses of such growth under control. Governments are concerned about the signs of weakness in the biosphere - pollution of the seas, the ozone hole, global warming. Who should eliminate emissions, and how much, and in what time span? Who can claim what compensation? The focus of international negotiations has changed: the division of wealth has been replaced on the agenda by the division of risks.
Amidst all this, the way that the North perceives itself has had to change too. Truman was proud to consider US dominance not from a colonial viewpoint, as the trustee of peoples who are still under age, but rather in terms of the economic prosperity of the whole world. It was in line with this that institutions for 'aid' and co-operation' were set up.
Little has remained of all this under planetary apartheid: today, for reasons of self-defence, the North must stop itself being pulled down by the collapse of the South. From now on, the North will claim that it is obliged to dominate so as to protect the stability of the world system.
On 1 April 1991 Time magazine dedicated its front cover to fears about security, showing a uniformed body wearing a sheriff's badge marked 'Global Cop'. The new attitude has its military expression in the present planning of a multinational intervention force. Whether this belongs to the Western European Union, NATO or the UN is of secondary importance. What is under way is an epoch-making reorientation of the military apparatus towards war of low and medium intensity in the South of the world (and in the East, which is slowly slipping towards the South).
In a more charity-orientated variation, troops are being sent to relieve people who are struck by natural disasters, as Bangladesh and Kurdistan, while one is beginning to hear talk of 'green helmets' to intervene in the case of ecological disasters. And people are talking about the planetary environmental crisis in terms of ecological security'. Ecology, once the rallying cry for new public virtues, has become a problem of security policy. Satellites are launched that keep an eye on far-away countries - veritable environmental spies.
Global security is beginning to justify anything - just as it united the international community against the dictator of Baghdad. Rich countries are now increasing their diplomatic, charity and military instruments for risk prevention. But where there is no justice, there cannot be peace. Security has replaced development as the global guiding light-another tragic consequence of the continuing arrogance of power.
This article is from
the June 1992 issue
of New Internationalist.
- Discover unique global perspectives
- Support cutting-edge independent media
- Magazine delivered to your door or inbox
- Digital archive of over 500 issues
- Fund in-depth, high quality journalism