World security: the new challenge

Canadian Pugwash Group. Toronto: Science for Peace/Dundurn 1994

By Newton R Bowles (reviewer) | 1995-03-01 12:00:00

Amidst the flutter of retrospective platitudes on reforming the United Nations cluttering my desk, how refreshing it is to come across a book that not only combines rational urgency with informed insight, but also reads well. There is a lot of juice in the Canadian Pugwash Group, which authored these 13 essays on aspects of future "world security." The essays are somewhat arbitrarily put into four categories: Toward a Sustainable Peace, Toward a Sustainable Society, Toward a Sustainable Environment, and Costs and Benefits. It is clear now that regardless of which piece you pick up, you are dealing with one big world puzzle; you must have some vision of the whole to understand the parts.

A broad perspective is what Douglas Roche is seeking when he writes "From Conflict to Community," the first chapter. Former Ambassador for Disarmament Roche is troubled by the disillusionment and disorientation of so many thoughtful people, especially the young, in a violent and unjust world. He says that while some good things are happening--such as more peacekeeping entrusted to the U.N., steps toward minimizing the nuclear threat, and democracy spreading--we lack the shared vision that would turn politics from war-making to peacebuilding.

Mr. Roche, like the rest of us, tries to understand why this is so. He asserts that humans are not inherently violent, that "civilizations clash ... over resources and land," yet he goes on to invoke what he calls "the new recognition that peace must begin in our minds." After reviewing recent advances toward a deeper understanding of "human security" he concluded that our times demand an ethical perspective leading eventually to some form of global governance.

In "Reflections on Myths and Politics," Carl Jacobsen is hard put to find a historical base for optimism: nations tend to replay their past, refurbishing old myths in new jargon. Mythology delivers and obfuscates, serving as validation of arbitrary violence: in Russia, Tsars/Stalin; in China, Emperors/Mao; and in the United States, the myth of invincibility/Vietnam (expunged by the Gulf War). More questionable is Jacobsen's analysis of the ongoing strife in ex-Yugoslavia, leading him to conclude that too much blame has been heaped on the Serbs for pandemic atrocities. He seems to defy history in saying that a New World Order "must ... transcend the nation state" with a "transcendent authority," a strong and representative U.N. Security Council. Heis not at all sure that the world will get what it needs: "Maybe the achieving is in the striving."

In discussing military policy for the twenty-first century, Leonard Johnson starts with the assumption that major inter-state conflicts are a thing of the past, and goes on to observe that humanity's real problems, especially poverty, have no military solution. Yet, "these global ... threats cannot be met without military security," he maintains. Apparently this means U.N. peacekeeping, so that the world's armed forces may cooperate "to keep future generations from the scourge of war." Whether from altruism or survivalism, this is where Canada's armed forces are going. Can nations abandon their irrational habit of going to war like macho adolescents?

David Parnas's expose of Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" is scary and revolting. Cynical lies were sustained by money moguls and prostituted scientists who fed at the multi-billion dollar trough. Parnas reminds us that the huge arms industry had, and still has, a powerfully organized drive to keep "Cold War" money flowing, under whatever fantastic pretext. Canada is intimately tied into the U.S. arms industry. Parnas is confident that massive and enlightened opposition by all good people can change this.

From his crow's nest at the U.N., William Epstein has contributed two authoritative pieces: the first on nuclear weapons control, the second on U.N. peacekeeping and peacemaking. He gives us a brilliant recap of the history of bilateral and multilateral negotiations to diminish the threat of nuclear war, to reduce nuclear arsenals, and to avoid their proliferation: the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). He explains the bargain between the nuke haves and have-nots that was the basis for the NPT: the haves would reduce (eventually eliminate) their nukes while the have-nots stood still. With the NPT due for renewal (extension) in 1995, the have-nots need reassurance: a complete and permanent ban on nuclear tests is critical. (David Parnas says the nuclear powers never intended to use nukes against each other, but only to control everybody else. But why then did they aim their nukes against each other?) Epstein does not discuss the implications of China's rejection of the moratorium on tests nor does he identify Israel, India, and Pakistan in the intransigent line-up. What he says is that regional problems have to be solved in the regions, not from outside. Is any nuclear threat a regional problem?

In his second piece, Epstein discusses the important advances in U.N. peacekeeping and peacemaking that have been made by the Security Council since 1992, despite grudging financial support. Conflict prevention, he observes, implies real disarmament. He warns against moving from military to economic "Cold War" but has little to say about the nation-building role of the Security Council (e.g., in Cambodia and Mozambique) with its important implications for the U.N. as a whole (Security Council versus General Assembly).

This takes us halfway through the book. The seven chapters that follow touch on population, energy, restructuring democracies, global governance of development and what it will cost. Digby McLaren in effect gives a preview of the recent Cairo International Conference on Population and Development. He shares the dominant conviction that unchecked population growth spells disaster for the environment (he prefers "ecosphere" as more precise) and for all humankind. Read this for a masterful analysis of this emotional issue. His prescription for stabilizing population, centered on making women full partners in a society that supports maternal and child health, is reinforced by Colette Frances's expose of the compelling case for investing in our future generation, our children.

Eric Tollefson and David Scott clear away the mists shrouding our understanding of present energy usage and its threat to the ecosphere. They give encouraging proposals on feasible ways out. Vast reforestation and many alternatives to fossil fuels would be sustainable and would stop stoking our planetary furnace.

Unique in this volume is Metta Spencer's exploration of how better constitutional and electoral arrangements in democracies can more flexibly reflect minority concerns. She thinks that "separatism"--the break-up of multicultural nations--is accelerated by majority domination over minorities in territorially-based electoral systems. Two parallel electoral systems--one functional, the other territorial--would give minorities more power in government. This is an ingenious idea whose practical application is worth exploring. At the same time, however, is it not at least as important to build on what all have in common as it is to institutionalize their differences?

To my mind the crowning piece in this section is Morris Miller's authoritative "Global Governance to Address the Crisis of Debt, Poverty and the Environment." Miller, who was with the World Bank, begins by analyzing the institutional arrangements and derangements that have led to the present chaos in the international economy. A new Bretton Woods is needed where a bloc of middle powers can restrain Uncle Sam, redressing financial and trade terms so as to give a break to the "South," putting people ahead of property and reversing the process that keeps one-fifth of humanity in dire poverty, even within industrialized countries. Here is a humane economist who knows how things are going now and understands what must be done to turn things around.

The last chapter presents two estimates of what it would cost to get at the big world problems--poverty, population, protecting the environment: an annual outlay of $125 billion to $225 billion. At Rio, Maurice Strong asked for $125 billion. I assume these figures include national as well as international investment, although this is not clear. They indicate an "order of magnitude" that this planet can well afford. How much more booze, green grass, and lipstick can we endure?

Missing from this volume is a serious discussion of why people behave the way they do, individually and in groups; and how behavior can be manipultated in the short run and changed in the longer term. Or can it? Pugwash would benefit from the participation of "behavioral scientists," even wide-lens psychiatrists, and some media hucksters. Even so, this book tells me that Pugwash is finding a new identity, an identity that includes and transcends security, a modern pilgrimage toward the commonweal of all peoples.

Newton Bowles is the UN representative for the Canadian UNA.

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1995

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