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Development (Aid)

new internationalist
issue 252 - February 1994

Jungle of snakes
Paul Rogers argues that we’ve not got long to rethink concepts
of security and link them to the development agenda.

‘We have slain the dragon but now live in a jungle full of poisonous snakes,’ commented President Clinton’s new Director of the CIA, James Wolsey, referring to the end of the Cold War and to the New World Order that has replaced it.

During the 45 years of the Cold War most of the 100 or more major conflicts in the world had an East/West dimension. But they were fought largely in the South, and most of the 20 million people killed and 50 million people injured were citizens of the South.

Now Western strategists are developing the view that the new threats to their security are likely to come from North/South confrontation. There are several reasons why they believe this. The world has divided into ‘islands of wealth’ floating in a sea of poverty – one-fifth of the world’s people uses three-quarters of its wealth and physical resources. The population of the North is now stable, while in the South it is likely to grow for at least the next 60 years. So in 30 years time the wealthy minority will have been reduced to one-seventh of the total. A crisis of unsatisfied expectations will be hard to avoid.

We also seem to be approaching the limits of human activity set by environmental constraints. These limits result in intensifying competition for resources, and especially for those strategic resources such as oil, which are now found predominantly in the South. On occasions, as in the Gulf in 1991, the competition results in open warfare.

There is, finally, the legacy of world-wide militarization. This has left behind a massive array of weapons, postures and attitudes, many of them searching for fresh ‘threats’ to provide new military roles as budgets decline. The defence literature is rapidly filling with assessments of the new security risks – the threat from the global ghettos is just too good to ignore!

US Navy and Marine Corps analysts, for example, point to new tactics and weapons, notably the conventionally-armed Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile which has been used repeatedly in the Gulf. The most recent version of this missile can be launched from submarines deployed hundreds of miles offshore and can target any point on 75 per cent of the earth’s land surface. Almost all potential targets in the South can be hit.

There is little prospect of a move away from nuclear weapons as instruments of military strategy. Quite the reverse. A new strategy is likely to include the production of small, highly sophisticated nuclear weapons such as enhanced radiation systems for use against troop concentrations. The terms of reference of a Strategic Deterrence Study undertaken for US Strategic Air Command in 1990 refer specifically to a belief that ‘the growing wealth of petro-nations and newly hegemonic powers is available to bullies and crazies, if they gain control, to wreak havoc on world tranquillity’. The study calls for ‘a Nuclear Expeditionary Force... primarily for use against China or Third World targets’. These targets include potential nuclear powers such as North Korea, Algeria, Libya, Iran and, of course, Iraq.

The ideas being expressed on North/South nuclear confrontation are the most stark of the new strategies for controlling a ‘crowded, glowering planet’. In essence they are all concerned with maintaining the status quo. But global security problems are not best approached from a military standpoint. Indeed, such an approach is almost certain to be thoroughly counter-productive.

Our difficult task is to confront this approach and to point to more fruitful responses. The process of militarization has to be reversed. Northern industrialized countries have to change their policies towards the South and ensure accelerated yet environmentally sustainable development. Development in the industrialized countries must itself be sustainable. There must be a change in international behaviour to ensure a rapid and effective response to any future threats to the global ecosystem.

These necessary changes are both radical and fundamental. They represent a near-total reordering of attitudes and would, over a period of years, involve a redistribution of wealth from North to South – a reversal of the pattern of the last several decades.

So there will be powerful opposition. Political systems usually want a return on political investment within five to ten years at the most. Planning to counter environmental degradation may show little positive return in one or even two decades. A degree of planning and co-ordination is required that runs counter to the broadly free market approach that dominated Western politics in the 1980s. The long-term effects of major environmental trends are difficult to predict with any kind of certainty, so it is easy to adopt best-case scenarios and avoid facing up to uncomfortable choices.

There will also be considerable costs for the wealthy industrialized states of the North, especially the Group of Seven – the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. There are those who believe that the countries of the North have a legitimate international right to maintain their standards and styles of living, if need be by military force. Any attempt to redress inequalities will be seen as a threat to the security of the rich and powerful.

But the global system is too integrated and environmentally constrained to permit a minority of the population to live in secure isolation from the majority. Intellectual and practical efforts have been made during the past two decades to integrate our understanding of development and the environment.

But we also need to understand how international security processes work, and the dangers of applying them as an answer to North/South polarization. We have entered a period of transition in which great promise and human potential also carry the risk of instability, conflict and war on a near-global scale. The remaining years of this century may well be all that is available if we are to start the process of creating a peaceful alternative.

Paul Rogers is Professor of Conflict Analysis at Bradford University and a contributor to A World Divided, forthcoming from Earthscan.

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