Terrorism, nationalism and consumerism have emerged as challenges facing the entire global community.
A reckless Georgian President has just tried to restart the Cold War by triggering a dangerous series of events. Rhetoric on both sides redolent of the bad old days threatens international peace and security. But, of one thing we can be fairly certain. The ideological confrontation between the East and the West, in what was portrayed as a Manichaean struggle between capitalism and communism, will not resume. It is this ‘de-idelogisation’ of international relations that is less likely to return in a new competition between the USA-led NATO alliance and Russia and such allies as it can muster. Instead, we are more likely to see three ‘-isms’ continue to dominate global affairs affecting all nations and requiring our collective and cooperative attention and energies.
Terrorism, nationalism and consumerism have emerged as challenges facing the entire global community. Unless global responses are forged as a common approach to them, we are likely to not just return to the “Great Games” of the 19th century and its balance of power politics but, more dangerously, endanger the future of our planet through nuclear annihilation or disastrous climate change or both.
The first of those ‘-isms’ is terrorism. Although terrorism predated 9/11, the global reach of modern international terrorism with its complex network of funding, arms purchases and supplies, training and planning is new and 9/11 represents its epitome. It has provoked a global consensus condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and a recognition that no cause justifies the use of terrorism. Thirteen international conventions have been agreed upon as a bulwark against terrorism. International cooperation is the key to combating terrorism as a global problem affecting the orderly conduct of international relations.
That cooperation is threatened by another “-ism” – nationalism. With multinational economic entities like the European Union and other regional and global organisations, nation states were prematurely regarded as historical relics of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia. Nationalist competition for real estate and resources dominated international politics until World War II when the United Nations was established with the hope of eliminating “the scourge of war” and ushering in global cooperation for freedom, peace, development and human rights. Today, in this post-Cold War phase, nationalism is alive with a multiplicity of ethno-nationalist groups, all seeking to achieve statehood – even in developed countries like Belgium. It is also evident in the actions of large countries defending their national security interests. This cannot be underestimated. Dangers arise from the covert support for terrorism by some countries to groups elsewhere in support of irredentist claims or inter-national rivalries. Encouragement of groups who have used or continue to use terrorist means by recognition or by arms supplies violates the global strategy against terrorism however you may disguise it. It can also be self-destructive as terrorist groups created for one purpose mutate horribly to strike back even at their own creators. Thus the Taliban, financed and run by the CIA against the Soviet invaders in Afghanistan, transformed themselves into the extremist force that harboured Bin Laden and incubated global terrorism against the U.S. and others. Within South Asia, Indira Gandhi’s short-sighted policy of encouraging Bhindranwale as a counter to the Akali Dal’s dominance in the Punjab led to Sikh terrorism and her own assassination. Examples abound but the lessons are not learned as surreptitious means are found to finance, arm and otherwise support groups to destabilise neighbours or opponents in the perceived national interest. And so the unbridled nationalism of some countries is in conflict with the common interest of stamping out terrorism in terms of the UN strategy agreed upon in 2006.
Finally, with globalisation we have consumerism as a very important driver of the international economy. Since the invention of mass production in the Industrial Revolution consumerism is now a global phenomenon. Consumerism is what lubricates markets and the recent empowerment of a number of large economies in the South, particularly in China and India, has led to a demand for energy and other commodities, entailing a rise in prices already distorted by agricultural subsidies in the U.S. and the European Union and other developed countries. With the failure of the Doha Round of the World Trade Organisation, we need to move rapidly for equality in the terms of trade so that developing countries can have access to markets and to commodities that their people rightly deserve in an increasingly inter-dependent world. We are no longer able to afford to continue the use of fossil fuels to satisfy the consumer demands of the world. The reports of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) irrefutably argued that case. To ignore them would be a supreme self-destructive folly.
But the case against the use of carbon emitting fuels is leading to a fresh demand for peaceful uses of nuclear energy – the ‘nuclear renaissance’ that is being talked about. Although Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) guarantees that non- nuclear weapon state parties will have an ‘inalienable right’ to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the world has suddenly woken up to the perils of this. It is less the threat of massive radiation leaks or accidents like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island to human lives and the environment that lies behind this concern now. It is more the fact that there are no credible firewalls between the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and the development of nuclear weapons since the signing of the Additional Protocol of the IAEA is purely voluntary. That these concerns are being acted upon inconsistently is not the point.
Looking through the prism of these three ‘-isms’ at the world today, their inter-connectedness becomes evident. So also does their link with prevailing crises and the solutions. The first crisis is, of course, nuclear weapon proliferation which arises largely from the strong demand for national security in a world of competing nationalisms. Neither the NPT, which applies to non-nuclear-weapon states, nor the Nuclear Terrorism Convention together with UN Security Council Resolution 1540 which seeks to prevent terrorist groups acquiring weapons of mass destruction, can hold this demand in check as long as nuclear weapons are held by some states and vast amounts of enriched uranium and separated plutonium lie around.
The second is climate change caused by our consumption patterns globally, the prevailing structure of international trade and the need for cooperation in the search for new environmentally friendly sources of energy.
Ultimately, the response to the three ‘-isms’ is another “-ism” – multilateralism. Effective and cooperative multilateralism.
(Jayantha Dhanapala is a former U.N. Under-Secretary-General and a former Sri Lanka Ambassador. He is currently the President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs and the Chairman of the U.N. University Council. These views are his own.)
6 months ago