Notes from the ORG Supporters Meeting on 29 February 2012 with presentations from Ben Zala, Paul Rogers and Stewart Wallis1
What are the Implications of the Financial Crisis for Peace and Security?
While overall global wealth has increased, the benefits of this economic growth have not been equally shared. The current system of patchy economic growth is not sustainable. 20% of the global population now forms a global elite – including 100 million people in India and a similar number in China (or more). This elite operates trans-nationally and owns 80-90% of the world’s wealth. However, with the rise of education, literacy and instant communications, the people on the margins have become well aware of their position. Riots and strikes involving marginalised migrant workers are common in China today. India - largely unreported in western press – is experiencing the Naxalite rebellion, which now involves nearly half the country. Six years ago, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the Naxalites "the single biggest internal security challenge faced by our country." Marginalisation and the rich-poor divide are posing a key and intensifying global security risk.
At a time when the world is living beyond defined environmental limits, including resource depletion, it faces the even greater issue of climate change, as well as competition over resources. Unless the dangerous impact of climate change is minimised, we face a world of deep socio-economic divisions, in which those divisions are exacerbated by environmental factors affecting the marginalised majority.
On present trends, a new generation will not be able to live as their parents did – the potential for conflict is considerable with the stress on resources through population growth and climate change. The traditional approach to insecurity is the control paradigm – what Oxford Research Group (ORG) calls “liddism” - putting the lid tightly on the pressure cooker and only dealing with the symptoms, rather than addressing the root causes. By definition - the steam builds up under the lid and the problem escalates.
The fear is that it has to get hugely worse before we can take the steps to make it better. ORG’s question is: Can we make the changes before it gets worse?
Within the military, there are smart people analysing the long-term trends – the Development Concept and Doctrine Centre of the British Military produces insightful analysis of what it calls the risks of creating “the losers of globalisation.” It’s the same in the US – the security elite do now look ahead to 2025/2040. Other leading members of the US defence establishment – not least former US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, who supported the protection of the USAID budget in a leaked letter – have explicitly linked the continuation of aid and development work despite the economic downturn to national security imperatives.
In Britain, former British Defence Secretary Liam Fox, himself no mean “leaker” of letters on sensitive issues, leaked a letter raising his concerns over the aid budget, challenging the Government’s commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international development. Ironically, it was a former soldier, the International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, who came to the defence of the UK’s growing aid budget. Another military person, the Chief of the British Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, has discussed the need to address marginalisation as a factor in turning national security problems into global ones. He too has described the ‘Naxalite’ rebellion in India, describing it as having “a sense of hopelessness and economic envy at its core” and has said that “these are powerful instincts that today can be inflamed and communicated to similarly disposed groups across the world at a touch of a button.”
What has been remarkable is that now even the business world has started to “catch up”. The 2,000 members of the top global business leaders, who meet in the Swiss ski resort of Davos every February, have highlighted in their annual Global Risks Report 2012 what they call the “seeds of dystopia”- as one of the top global risks. In plain language social exclusion is seen by business leaders as the top global risk to international stability. The global elite that has benefitted so much from the neo-liberal economic consensus has now written, in its own language, a telling analysis of how the neo-liberal consensus has sown the seeds of its own dystopia! They have borrowed ideas and terms such as the phrase “Global Transformation – but it is a compelling example of a shift in ideas. The Occupy movements and the Indignados have made similar points of course.
What is fascinating here is not what’s being said, but who is saying it, as Ben Zala, Director of ORG’s Sustainable Security programme, has written in a commentary on the Davos report. We are at a really interesting moment as parts of the military, intelligence and business worlds grasp the consequences of global inequality. The term anti-globalisation is a misnomer: The word globalism as a term has been wrongly associated with economic liberalism - what used to be known as the Washington Consensus. This is a toxic brand of unfettered free market capitalism of the sort advocated by the International Monetary Fund and traditionally celebrated by the “masters of the universe” at their World Economic Forum in Davos.
ORG’s job is to ask the difficult questions: What are the drivers of insecurity? What do we do to address them?
In general, the civil service is not prepared to ask difficult questions such as: How did this come about and what are the creative steps that need to be taken?
ORG’s analysis of international security is shared by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) www.neweconomics.org. The key is to come up with systemic solutions. NEF looks at four systemic problems - economic systems that are:
- unstable and make us
Unfairness is shown by the exponential growth in inequality. From 1980-2005, 80% of US wealth was generated by 1% - what NEF calls “hoover up economics.” Opinion polls show that trust is at its lowest in the UK - among all the G20 richest group of countries. The August 2011, riots are a symptom of this. We run faster to burn up our planet faster. The result is social inequality.
Articulating the need for a ‘great transition’ is about how we get out of the systemic problems we face. If we go on as we are, we are burning up the planet – but if we put the brakes on too fast, we’ll also have problems of a different kind. That’s why measuring well-being - quality of life - as well as GDP - is important. This advocacy work requires real data to buttress economic arguments - so that conventional economic experts have to take note. It also means asking the “what if?” questions. NEF has produced the first ever economic model, which includes ecological limits as a baseline. It includes the financial sector to 2050.
To make change happen it needs a nexus of people: It needs 10% of the people to act – to set up effective networks for change. In 1858 “the great stink” led to protests that then led to the building of London’s sewers – which are still in use today thanks to Joseph Bazalgette’s thoroughness. The point was that, when crisis came, people had already done the required thinking and planning. This is why thinking now about the trends that are visible today and what their implications might be in decades to come is so important, from economics, to social issues, to global security. The Jubilee Debt Coalition, the campaign to ban landmines, or the public consensus that led to the Clean Air Acts in the 1950’s, are other examples of effective social action.
ORG’s ‘Dialogue with Decision-makers’ in the 1980’s is a great case study of how to engage with civil servants, who tend to be institutionally cautious. When engaging with civil servants, it is essential to spell out the costs of inaction. One needs to be bold. In its engagement with the Chinese military establishment from 1986-2005 - ORG found that one of its interlocutors, who one of the top seven Generals of the Peoples’ Liberation Army, was a Quaker. Engagement is critical, but we have to be realistic about the results. In its work on nuclear ‘no first use’ and on a nuclear weapons convention, ORG has evidence of the impact of engagement on the internal discussion in China, but it is not aware of any policy shift.
One way to frame the economic sustainability debate is on a “better life” – with a “happy planet index” – as a measure of well-being – high longevity and low planetary means. Costa Rica is a potential example of a state that’s abolished its army and defence spending to invest in health and education.
1We’d like to thank Prof Paul Rogers (ORG’s Global Security Consultant), Ben Zala (Director Sustainable Security Programme), and Stewart Wallis (Executive Director of NEF for their presentations).
This meeting is the first series of events on the top issues of our time, convened by ORG to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2012/13. If you’d like to engage with ORG, please contact Chris Langdon email@example.com.