Global security: Is there a rich man´s and a poor man´s agenda?

Alyson J.K. Bailes, Director, Stockholm International Peace Research InstituteFirst, an apology for the title. It is not only a bit sensationalist but also a bit ambiguous. Within every society and nation, and even in Sweden, there are some ‘rich’ and some ‘poor’ men who very probably have different security agendas (not to speak of the different agendas of poor men and poor women!). Because I am going to talk about international security problems I will have to ignore this complication and classify whole countries and even whole regions as standing on one or the other side of the divide. But talking about the poor/rich dialectic at global level also carries another risk of confusion. There is a tendency to identify the poor world, or the ‘Southern’ world, too directly with what we like to classify as bad and ‘primitive’ security behaviour, whether that means weak states, old-style conflict, terrorism, corruption, the breeding of new diseases or whatever. Or if we have the mind-set of sympathizing with these poorer countries and are more inclined to see them as ‘victims’, we may picture them all as being exposed and passive in face of our own security sins, whether that means aggressive arms marketing, stealing countries’ natural resources, conniving at conflicts or fighting in them as mercenaries, propping up dictators, keeping the monopoly of over-priced drugs or whatever. Of course, both these images are exaggerated and misleading. Many of the world’s poorest developing countries have exemplary external security policies while the most dangerous terrorists are bred by some of the richest ones. WMD proliferation and extreme poverty only coincide in one very special case, that of North Korea. The developing world has its own big companies who may have both good and bad security policies: let’s not forget that the company controlling most of the diamond trade comes from South Africa and that huge oil profits are made in the producer countries as well as by Western companies. Finally of course, the geographical ‘South’ includes such rich democracies as Australia, New Zealand and the leading ASEAN states. In the rest of my talk I probably will fall back into using labels like ‘rich’ and ‘poor’, ‘North’ and ‘South’ in ways that are simplistic and unfair: but I hope that you will be able to keep these opening points in mind and mentally correct me when necessary.

In the rest of this talk I will try, in necessarily very brief and general terms, to do four things:

consider the possible general meaning (meanings?) of the notion of different security agendas for the world’s ‘rich’ and ‘poor’;

discuss ways in which the shift in the developed world’s security agenda since 11 September 2001 has affected and may affect North-South security relations;

add some reflections on the role of the private sector in all this;

end up with some speculation on ways in which the last couple of years’ dramas and mistakes might actually end up by making things better, if we can seize the lessons and opportunities arising.

(a) Why should security agendas differ?

First, let’s note the important difference between agendas that diverge because each side doesn’t understand or sympathize with the other side’s concerns, and a situation in which the two sides actually have opposed agendas and are (at least in part) the source of each others’ problems. A third more subtle variant is where the two sides claim or appear to be following the same agenda, but there are important differences of motivation, role and impact which mean that their interests are not actually being served in the same way or in the same degree. Examples of all these models could be found in the security relationship between the North and South, or the developed and developing worlds:

Cold War period: West and East recruiting strategic/ideological allies and proxies in developing regions, but in the end exploiting rather than helping them or treating them as equals (NB ‘left-over’ problems of arms, governance, local divide-and-rule etc)

The interpretation of the North-South economic (and/or environmental) interaction as an ‘opposed agenda’ (and a zero-sum one)

The rich-man’s-eye equivalent: clash of civilisations’, or immigration threats

Various versions of the diverging/mutually incomprehensible agendas model (apparently contradictory but actually coexisting):

– developing world more subject to old-style conflict and uncontrolled arms build-ups, i.e. ‘pre-modern’ security conditions

– developing world more harshly exposed to and aware of non-military, ‘post-modern’ threats e.g. AIDS as a matter of social/national survival, climate change and resource exhaustion

– in developing world, the very basic necessities of life (food, water, fuel) can become a life-and-death security issue because of shortage and maldistribution, and the actual conflicts they can lead to.

(b) Impact of 9/11 and Ensuing Policies

Immediately after 9/11, reason to believe that the surge of concern about transnational, ‘asymmetric’ threats might actually foster ‘one world’ feeling and a more constructive interest by the richest states in developing world security:

universal condemnation of methods used (at least, virtually no states could afford to be seen to support them)

USA and other ‘rich men’ made aware of own vulnerability and interdependence

specifically, new realization of how conditions of globalization allowed hostile networks to spread across all types of states and over long distances, demanding very wide and comprehensive international cooperation to stop them

surge of interest in understanding motives and tackling ‘roots’ of terrorism: new spur to review adequacy of Western aid, including to less ‘attractive’ recipients like weak and ‘rogue’ states

high-minded concern (see e.g. first EU declaration) not to let reactions drift in direction of xenophobia or universal condemnation of Islam: interest in working with more ‘reasonable’ Arab/Islamic powers

more practically: economic effects notably in fields of trade and tourism hit very widely and damaged both richer and poorer states.

However, as we know, US policy (and to lesser extent that of Western organizations in general) developed most actively along unilateral, interventionist and ‘exclusionist’ lines. The US repudiated institutional and legal constraints and defied the authority of the UN on the key point of invading Iraq. The West was split and, for a period, almost entirely eaten up by its own disputes (though the UK did find time to intervene in Sierra Leone and France in Côte d’Ivoire). For this and other reasons, very little in the way of new initiatives/resources emerged for aid to ‘fight causes of terrorism’, even from among the US’s loudest critics. While certain lines of truly global cooperative action did persist (e.g. activities of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee trying to develop universal good practice in blocking terrorist finance), one would have to draw a pretty negative balance of the overall effects on North-South understanding and harmony in the security field.

So many specific problems that they can only be handled by groups or categories:

Macro-political and Macro-security:

The whole notion of “asymmetric” threat pictures the poor, weak, strange person as a danger and inevitably encourages paranoia about other cultures: forgetting that threats like terrorism and wrong weapon use actually hurt far more poor than rich people, and that the rich are strong precisely because the old “symmetric” threats (in the Cold War confrontation) have been overcome. Picturing anti-terrorism as a “war”, quite apart from all the other objections, also puts the emphasis in countering it on the factor of traditional military strength in which the US (and allies) now have a huge asymmetrical advantage

Looked at from the other side, the developed world’s readiness to use military coercion linked (thanks to the neo-cons) with an explicit emphasis on regime change and culture change makes it easier for any even partly disaffected “poor man” to see Western power as a threat to all he holds dear, thus only encouraging terrorism, desperate efforts to build up defences against such interference, and even WMD proliferation (to the extent that countries like North Korea are seen as being protected from direct attack by their bombs and their recklessness)

The Bush Administration’s explicit preference for bilateralism (both political and economic) and disdain for institutional frameworks has had a divide-and-rule, polarizing effect on individual regions (not least Europe in the first half of 2003!), while its highly selective military aid policy (withdrawn from those who wouldn’t sign ICC exemption agreements, multiplied for regimes seen to be tough on terrorism or providing useful strategic facilities – regardless of their democratic credentials) risks aggravating local tensions and even provoking arms races

One effect is to make Western advocacy of ‘democracy’ and the use of democratic regime change as a justification for intervention look even more hypocritical and inconsistent in developing world eyes: evident contradictions like Guantanamo Bay, impact of (excessive) internal security concerns on civil liberties: in non-western countries who ‘buy’ the agenda, the anti-terrorist focus coupled with the new US aid policy can halt and even reverse democratic Security Sector Reform (SSR)—NB UNDP report on manipulation of anti-terrorism arguments to further reduce political/cultural liberties in Arab world

Impacts on developing-world conflict: excessive/misplaced intervention in conflicts where terrorism seen as part of problem (sometimes causing escalation); polarization —> increased difficulty of peace settlements; relative neglect of ‘other’ conflicts

Other dimensions of neglect/diversion of effort:

away from genuinely shared threats, disease, environment etc

away from security concerns proper to poorer regions e.g. poverty, food and fuel shortages, AIDS, development blockages …

Macro-Economic (briefly, for lack of expertise):

Increased armaments expenditure in developed world, boost to (especially hi-tech) weapons production, risk of copy-cat or countering arms races in poorer regions

Huge US budget and trade deficits —> instability, also more pugnacious US attitude to developing-world suppliers (China)

World trade system weakened by combination of US/Europe antagonism and US unilateralism/bilateralism; to what extent developing-world trade militancy (Brazil etc.) fanned by resentment against security policies …?

(Speculative): Increased suspicion and caution —> protectionist pressures, increased worries about dependency, thus no mood for generous gestures from West.

[NB ‘dog that didn’t bark’: no sudden drop in oil prices]

Micro-political/Individual Level

Suspicion/discrimination within multi-ethnic ‘Northern’ societies; divisive pressures on resident ethnic/religious communities

Tougher travel and visa procedures hitting non-Westerners especially hard

Knock-on effect on access to trade and business, education and training

[Linkage with?] tougher general policies in North on immigration and asylum seeking


Loss of tourist revenue, impact on other trade sectors

Imposition of complex new financial regulations: practical burden for small economies, de facto extension of Northern ‘extra-territorialism’.

( c ) A Digression on the General Question of the Private Sector

Private sector roles already well studied in field of development theory and North-South affairs: not just general ‘globalization’ debate, but detailed analysis of corporate roles in conflict (bad e.g. mercenary companies, accusations against extractive industries, good e.g. role in post-crisis reconstruction, Kimberley process on conflict diamonds.) These issues actually more debated than security role of business within our own societies. 9/11 was a turning-point also because of way it illuminated the latter: business as target of terrorism, business as part of the problem through terrorist financing or careless/illegal technology exports, business as necessary ally for CTC-type measures and tougher export controls. Subsequent shift of attention to infrastructure security issues pushes further in same direction. Result is new awareness and debate on need for public-private sector dialogue and partnership for comprehensive security of societies as well as states: but still very inchoate and inconclusive, and intellectually weak i.a. in that it has so far been a rather West-West dialogue with little attempt to recall or link up with earlier North-South agenda. Without being able to do justice to that here, will raise just a couple of points for reflection about how 9/11 and consequences may have altered business’s image and stand vis-à-vis developing countries:

2 negative points:

Conspiracy theories and evidence of profiteering in Iraq, coinciding with continuing spate of corporate governance scandals, bound to feed distrust of largest (and US-based) companies in particular

New pressure for tighter (especially anti-WMD) export and technology controls: new obstacles to cross-regional cooperation, and perhaps even to multi-ethnic S+T, R+D teams

2 possibly more positive:

Business generally sceptical on anti-terrorist hysteria, has wider and more balanced threat picture, i.a. because operating closer to realities in non-Western regions, hence likely to prioritize ‘Southern’ security concerns higher if only for selfish reasons (e.g. AIDS)

Large sectors of business (even or especially in USA) have stood up against intrusive and discriminatory post-9/11 security measures: visas, aviation safety, container inspections etc; large business associations in USA even opposed Congress’s ‘Buy American’ proposals

Big unknown: impact on and future role of business within the developing world. Important that it should have a say notably in design and implementation of new financial regulations and import/export controls. (NB new UN Conventions on bribery and money-laundering for crime also falling to be implemented at same time.)

(e) Is There a Bright Side?

In brief: any encouraging observations/trends for future are likely to be found not in 9/11 itself or in the immediate reactions, but in the second thoughts that are now surfacing and the lessons learned from experience in 2002-3, including the growing admission of mistakes. Will just single out 5 points for consideration which, besides being prima facie positive in their own right, could push towards some reconciling or blending of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ agendas:

Lessons of failure (or, of very qualified success) in Iraq itself: limits of unilateralism, enforced pause in US ‘adventurism’, importance of regional states’ support (—> need for positive rather than ‘preemptive’ or punitive engagement with them), impossibility (or at least, high price) of forcing/distorting local democratic processes, importance after all of UN—where ‘Southern’ states are back with a voice (and NB Kofi Annan’s ongoing review of UN security principles);

Incentives to clean up conflicts without, or in order precisely to avoid, US coercion: examples round world; also efforts to tackle specific WMD problems in different ways, working with more than against local players: Libya, Iran, North Korea;

Focus back on genuinely shared risks (and acceptance of multilateral, institutional solutions) in field of disease: AIDS, SARS, bird flu;

Stimulus to non-US multilateral/regional groupings: EU itself, AU/African sub-regional groups, ASEAN/ARF, MERCOSUR … possibly even impetus to revive Islamic and Arab world groupings rather than face an imposed ‘greater Middle East’ design? (why this is a good thing ..?)

Growing interest in extending the CTC-type model for truly universal security-related standards using local implementation—latest ideas on criminalizing WMD.

Could of course list as many or more ‘second-generation’ worrying points: e.g., implications of NATO’s own ‘Southern’ activism (if seen as driven mainly by intra-North imperatives of bridge-building); new fragility of Kyoto (and unpredictability of Russia’s game in general). Still yawning absence of anything more than rhetoric on ‘tackling causes of terrorism’ or (genuinely) ‘building democracy’ in non-Western conditions. However, picture looks much more complex and open now than on 12 September 2001 which is a good thing in itself. Those who want to work for something better need both to be more specific and practical in their criticism of what went wrong, and more energized by counting the positive. History might just show that this was one of the cases where things had to get worse before they could get better!

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