Reform of the Global Order Seems a Long Way Off

2009 was a year of promise with President Obama's memorable speech in Prague, the nuclear arms negotiations between the United States (U.S.) and Russia and many other hopeful signs. It was springtime of hope – but many asked then, cautiously, having lived through several false dawns, whether we were going to see a summer season for disarmament.

In January 2010, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the minute hand of its famous "Doomsday Clock" one minute away from midnight citing a "more hopeful state of world affairs". The Clock is now at six minutes to midnight. Many of us felt, as the Bulletin did, that "We are poised to bend the arc of history towards a world free of nuclear weapons".

2010 saw some fulfilment of those hopes with the signature and the eventual ratification of the New START treaty between the U.S. and Russia; the Washington Nuclear Security Summit; the new Nuclear Posture Review of the U.S. and the successful adoption of a final document at an Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference after 10 years with significant decisions on a weapons of mass destruction free zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East.

2011, I fear, could signify a return to business as usual. Indeed a significant drop in the momentum of multilateral activity on disarmament issues is noticeable. Civil society organizations must ensure that this does not happen despite the compulsions of an election year in the U.S., Russia and other places that loom ahead. Peace and disarmament in the world cannot be held hostage to any nation's domestic political processes.

The agenda for disarmament and in particular, nuclear disarmament contains a welter of unfinished business. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has still to enter into force and the U.S. administration must ensure its ratification by the U.S. Senate paving the way for the other 8 countries to follow their example.

In Geneva, the single multilateral negotiating forum-the Conference on Disarmament (CD) goes into a second decade of paralysis. It is simplistic to blame one country for that state of affairs when there are so many topics crying out for negotiations immediately if only the membership agreed to do so.

Some 200 NATO tactical nuclear weapons remain deployed in 5 countries in Western Europe despite the declared policies of some of these countries and their public opinion. NATO-Russian relations have still to address many difficulties that lie ahead and further U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions have to be negotiated along with understandings on the deployment of BMD systems. Risks of a space war and cyber war remain ominous. The problems over the nuclear programme of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) remain daunting.

Similarly with Iran, negotiations with the P5 +1 have not brought the desired results. We can be hopeful over the progress being made in negotiating an Arms Trade Treaty if vested interests do not intervene. Complicating all this is the persistent impact of the global economic crisis of 2007-2008.

Outside these sombre facts is the larger global landscape with the continuing impact of the 2008 international financial crisis lingering on in many countries and the gradual shift of the centre of gravity in political and economic terms. The influence of non state actors and new global and regional powers is also taking place at a time when the global security structure is exposed as being weak, outdated and inefficient.

The institutions, the treaties and the processes that we had established after World War II have to be revisited and revised. We have to learn the lessons from the recent economic crisis. I quote the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon who said, "While recently we have heard much in this country about how problems on Wall Street are affecting innocent people on Main Street, we need to think more about those people around the world with no streets. Wall Street, Main Street, no street – the solutions devised must be for all."

An official U.S. Commission established to investigate the causes of this economic collapse, came to the following conclusions in a report presented this year:

-      The financial crisis was avoidable.

-      Widespread failures in financial regulation and supervision proved devastating to the stability of the nation's financial markets.

-      Dramatic failures of corporate governance and risk management at many systemically important financial institutions were a key cause of this crisis.

-      A combination of excessive borrowing, risky investments, and lack of transparency put the financial system on a collision course with crisis.

-      The government was ill prepared for the crisis, and its inconsistent response added to the uncertainty and panic in the financial markets.

-      There was a systemic breakdown in accountability and ethics.

-      Collapsing mortgage-lending standards and the mortgage securitization pipeline lit and spread the flame of contagion and crisis.

-      Over-the-counter derivatives contributed significantly to this crisis.

-      The failures of credit rating agencies were essential cogs in the wheel of financial destruction.

That is a damning indictment of the financial institutions in the richest country in the world. It is an acknowledgement of the irresponsible management of economic power with appalling consequences for the rest of the world hurt by the contagion that spread throughout the global system in a highly accelerated process of globalization. We are still recovering from this. But let us draw lessons from this. A more serious crisis threatening the survival of humankind is waiting to happen.

We, in the political and security arena have got to address the international security governance system. It has to include much needed reform of the Security Council if we are going to ensure that the changing power equations are going to be accommodated smoothly. There has to be the replacement of hard power both in military terms and in economic terms and an evolution of smart sustainable power. Only then can we have a more secure world at lower levels of armaments ensuring that the bottom billion of our global population who now live below $ 1.25 per day are lifted out of the indignity of poverty.

The new Yearbook of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute tells us that global military expenditure was at an all time high of U.S. $ 1630 billion. Bruce Blair estimates that the full cost of nuclear weapons alone is $101 billion this year and that for just one nuclear weapon we could provide health care to 36,000 people, textbooks for 43,000 students or convert 64,285 households to renewable energy.

With regard to the Security Council, it is curious that Security Council resolution 1973, is adopted by a simple majority with 2 permanent members abstaining, and is thereafter interpreted as legal authority for a massive onslaught on a country for having caused civilian causalities while the NATO bombing itself results in civilian deaths. Likewise, the "Arab spring" which has given the world so much hope is being snuffed out in some countries with foreign intervention while the Security Council looks on. The selective application of the "Responsibility to Protect" concept vitiates its very objective.


The 2011 UNDP Human Development Report stated:

"Putting people at the centre of development is much more than an intellectual exercise. It means making progress equitable and broad-based, enabling people to be active participants in change and ensuring that current achievements are not attained at the expense of future generations. Meeting these challenges is not only possible-it is necessary. And it is more urgent than ever."

With development and security – both national and human – so closely intertwined, that perspective is no different from the humanist message of the Einstein-Russell Manifesto and the central philosophy of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. Let us never forget that.

Jayantha Dhanapala is the President of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs and was UN Under Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs from 1998 to 2003. This article is based on a Presidential address made on July 4, 2011 at the 59th Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs in Berlin. (IDN-InDepthNews/21.07.2011).  

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