Global Challenges Facing Humanity
10. How can shared values and new security strategies reduce ethnic conflicts, terrorism, and the use of weapons of mass destruction?
Although the vast majority of the world is living in peace, half the world continues to be vulnerable to social instability and violence due to growing global and local inequalities, falling water tables, increasing energy demands, outdated institutional structures, inadequate legal systems, and increasing costs of food, water, and energy. In local areas of worsening political, environmental, and economic conditions, increasing migrations can be expected, which in turn can create new conflict. Add in the future effects of climate change, and there could be up to 400 million migrants by 2050, further increasing conditions for conflict. Yet the probability of a more peaceful world is increasing due to the growth of democracy, international trade, global news media, the Internet, NGOs, satellite surveillance, better access to resources, and the evolution of the UN and regional organizations. Despite the Arab Spring/Awakening, the Global Peace Index’s rating of 158 countries’ peacefulness improved for the first time in four years.
After the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the types of warfare changed dramatically. All major forms of armed conflict have been decreasing over the past 20 years, but the past two years have seen an increase in internal conflicts, along with non-state actors like Al Qaeda. The UN estimates that 40% of the internal conflicts over the past 60 years were natural resource–related.
As growing populations and economies increase the drain on natural resources, social tensions are expected to increase, triggering complex interactions of old ethnic and religious conflicts, civil unrest, and indigenous protests, terrorism, and crime. Substantial technological and social changes will be needed to prevent this; countries will need to include non-traditional security strategies for addressing the root causes of unrest and protecting individuals as well as sovereign states. Although the degree of climate change’s impacts is certain, it would be prudent to plan to adapt to increasing floods in wet areas, increasing droughts in dry areas, falling river flows fed by mountain ice, and seawater incursions into freshwater areas. Conflicts related to natural resources and/or environmental degradation are twice as likely to return to violence or become “re-wars” within five years; hence, peace agreements should address these environmental conditions while dismantling the structures of violence and establishing structures of peace.
Conflicts have decreased over the past two decades, cross-cultural dialogues are flourishing, and intra-state conflicts are increasingly being settled by international interventions. But these have increased in the recent past. According to the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research, there were 20 wars in 2011 (with more than 1,000 battle-related deaths). This increase is mainly due to the Arab Spring/Awakening giving war status to Yemen, Libya, and Syria. Furthermore, 11 already existing conflicts escalated to war in 2011: in Nigeria (2 wars), Egypt, Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan (2), South Sudan, Turkey, Yemen, Myanmar, and Pakistan. The 27.5 million internally displaced persons is the highest total since the 1990s. Civilians continue to constitute most of the severe death toll from the worldwide struggle with violent extremism. SIPRI estimates that global military expenditures in 2011 reached $1.74 trillion, about the same as 2010. There are 16 UN Peacekeeping missions, plus a political mission in Afghanistan. These are served by 121,443 personnel from 117 countries.
At the beginning of 2011 there were at least an estimated 11,540 active nuclear weapons, down from more than 65,000 in 1985, with worldwide costs spent on nuclear weapons of over $100 billion.The nexus of transnational extremist violence is changing from complex organized plots to attacks by single individuals or small independent groups. Mail-order DNA and future desktop molecular and pharmaceutical manufacturing, plus access (possibly via organized crime) to nuclear materials, could one day give single individuals the ability to make and use weapons of mass destruction (SIMAD: Single Individuals Massively Destructive)—from biological weapons to low-level nuclear (“dirty”) bombs. We have to develop mental health and education systems to detect and treat individuals who might otherwise grow up to use such advanced weapons, as well as networks of nanotech sensors to later alert us to them and their weapons.
The IAEA database records a total of 2,164 incidents of illicit trafficking and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and other radioactive materials between 1993 and the end of 2011(up from 1,980 last year). During 2011, the IAEA received reports of 147 nuclear trafficking incidents (compared with 222 during 2009 and 176 during 2010), ranging from illegal possession and attempted sale and smuggling to unauthorized disposal of materials and discoveries of lost radiological sources.
Governments and industrial complexes find themselves under multiple daily cyberattacks (espionage or sabotage) from other governments, competitors, hackers, and organized crime. The sources of these assaults are most often impossible to identify, rendering retribution impossible. Much effort is being devoted to cyber-defense and potential countermeasures. Because society’s vital systems increasingly depend on the Internet, cyberweapons to bring them down can be thought of as weapons of mass destruction. Higher-income countries could be at a disadvantage in cyber warfare due to their massively connected society. Advanced army foot soldiers are nodes in vast networks of combat machines, with sibling combatants thousands of miles away controlling killing drones overhead.
Military power has yet to prove effective in asymmetrical warfare without genuine cultural engagement, and there is an urgent need for continuing work on making irregular warfare more humane, such as limiting the use of drones. Peace strategies without love, compassion, or spiritual outlooks are less likely to work because intellectual or rational systems alone are not likely to overcome the emotional divisions that prevent peace. Conflict prevention efforts should work in and with all the related factions, including conversations with hardliner groups, taking into consideration their emotional and spiritual sensibilities. Massive public education programs are needed to promote respect for diversity and the oneness that underlies that diversity. It is less expensive and more effective to attack the root causes of unrest than to stop explosions of violence. Some believe that the collective mind of humanity can contribute to peace or conflict, and hence we can think ourselves into a more peaceful future.
Early warning systems of governments and UN agencies could better connect with NGOs and the media to help generate the political will to prevent or reduce conflicts. User-initiated collaborations on the Web should be increasingly used for peace promotion, rumor control, fact-finding, and reconciliation. Back-casted peace scenarios should be created through participatory processes to show plausible alternatives to conflict stories (see Chapter 3.7). It is still necessary, however, to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes and to support the International Criminal Court. Transitional justice is one of major factors for success in post-conflict peace-building. The Geneva Convention should be modified to cover intra-state conflicts. The Convention on Cluster Munitions has 71 State Parties, and a treaty is being negotiated at the UN for setting legally binding international standards for the transfer of conventional arms. Better land ownership recording systems need to be introduced in developing countries to remove land grabbing as a cause of conflict.
Governments should destroy existing stockpiles of biological weapons, create tracking systems for potential bioweapons, establish an international audit system for each weapon type, and increase the use of non-lethal weapons to reduce future revenge cycles. Networks of CDC-like centers to counter impacts of bioterrorism should also be supported. Challenge 10 will be addressed seriously when arms sales and violent crimes decrease by 50% from their peak.
Africa: The Arab Spring/Awakening opened the wider Arab world to a variety of future scenarios. While the revolutions already gave rise to new systems of government and democracy in some countries, these first have to prove themselves and stabilize their territories. Some believe the death of Osama bin-Laden decreases Al Qaeda’s role from Mauritania to Indonesia, while others see a rising Muslim Brotherhood. Sub-Saharan Africa has slowly decreased conflicts over the past 10 years. Cost of conflicts fueled by imported weapons in Africa is estimated at $11 billion. The Special Court for Sierra Leone convicted ex-Liberian president Charles Taylor for war crimes. South Sudan has achieved independence, but hostilities with the North are continuing. Some 40% of the world’s internally displaced persons (11.1 million) are in Africa. Sudan accounted for more than 40% of all African IDPs. The unrest between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria has intensified and threatens to ignite wider sectarian conflict in the region. The current crisis in Mali threatens the stability of all West Africa. Youth unemployment, illiteracy of about 50% among young people,and 11.6 million AIDS orphans may fuel a new generation of violence and crime.
Asia and Oceania: Territorial disputes in the South China Sea present a long-term source of tension as oil reserves diminish elsewhere while demand increases. An internationally acceptable solution to Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions is still lacking, and Pakistan’s internal instability and uncertain relationships with India and Afghanistan hinder the peacemaking and counter-extremist efforts in all three countries. The $7.5 billion in civilian aid given to Pakistan over the past five years has been largely ineffective. NATO has finalized its plans for withdrawal from Afghanistan; Iraq’s future stability is in doubt. Russia, like the U.S., is turning its principal foreign policy attention to Asia.India is facing spreading Maoist violence. Muslim populations from Chechnya to the Philippines are struggling for political and religious rights. Ethnic and religious frictions are increasing in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Bali. In the wake of the Arab revolutions, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran fear possible aspirations for an independent Kurdistan through the Kurdish minorities in their countries. Myanmar (Burma) continues its progress back into the community of nations.Relations between North and South Korea have deteriorated under Seoul's conservative leader Lee Myung-bak and the new dictator Kim Jung Un. Upcoming leadership changes among the major players such as South Korea, China, and the U.S. are expected to affect the developments and dynamics in North Korean issues.China’s internal problems over water, energy, demographics, urbanization, income gaps, and secessionist Muslims in the northwest will have to be well-managed to prevent future conflicts. Future geopolitical tensions over control of South China Sea’s supplies seem inevitable with Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines. Alliances within the Association of South East Asian Nations can broaden the scope of the tensions, including with the United States. Demonstrations in Bahrain continue to be brutally suppressed.
Europe: Increasing youth unemployment and fiscal austerity in some of the Eurozone have been met with violent social protests. In 2012 the youth unemployment rate in Greece and Spain is more than 50%. The large numbers of migrant laborers entering the EU will require new approaches to integrate them better into society if increased conflicts are to be prevented. This is aggravated by the new surge of immigrants from the Arab uprisings that Italy has taken in but other countries are unwilling to accommodate. The Roma population continues to be a challenge across the continent, but the Basque ETA rebels have foresworn violence. Stronger and more stable institutions and further political integration are needed to keep the EU together.
Latin America: Although national wars are rare in the region, internal violence from organized crime paramilitaries continues to be fueled in some areas by corrupt government officials, military, police, and national and international corporations. Mexico’s war against organized crime has further accelerated, with nearly 50,000 drug war–related killings since December 2006 ( 12,900 of them in 2011).Recent political changes have begun to improve opportunities for indigenous peoples in some parts of the region, while political polarization over policies to address poverty and development persist. Brazil proceeds on its path toward world power status. Argentina is resuming a more aggressive stance toward the Falklands question. Violence is impeding development in Central America, a region with one of the highest crime and homicide rates of the world.
North America: The U.S. has withdrawn from Iraq and plans for withdrawal from Afghanistan are under way. As Arctic ice continues to melt, vast quantities of natural gas and oil will be accessible where national boundaries are under dispute. This could be a source of U.S.-Canadian tension, along with Russia, Norway, and Denmark. Cooperation on environmental security could become a focus of U.S.-China strategic trust.
Graph part of the 2012 SOFI computation, with “best” and “worst” values assessed by an international panel through the RTD exercise (See Chapter 2, SOFI 2012)
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