During the past decade – particularly since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States – Westerners have generally considered international terrorism to be the most urgent threat to human security. Accordingly, vast resources have been mobilized and expended to counter its many forms.
Unfortunately, however, the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent invasion – without UN authority – of Iraq underscore the primacy of military solutions in the strategic thinking of affluent nations. At the same time, developing countries have continued to grapple with the persistence of mass poverty, endemic disease, malnutrition, environmental degradation, and gross income inequity, all of which have caused a degree of human suffering that far exceeds what has been caused by terrorist attacks.
We need, therefore, to revisit today’s global challenges from a Third-World perspective. Indeed, a fundamental lesson of terrorist attacks and insurgencies, we now know, is that no nation, however self-sufficient, can afford to remain heedless of whether others sink or swim.
For much of the developing world, the basic instability of international relations – owing to terrorist strikes, guerrilla warfare, and the preemptive wars that America threatens on its enemies – is aggravating socioeconomic anxieties and fueling doubts about the benefits of globalization. Certainly, we are all beginning to realize how precarious that process is – how easily market mechanisms can be rolled back by cultural resentments stemming from economic exploitation, political oppression, and social injustice.
People in the industrialized countries are already an estimated 74 times richer per capita than those in the poorest countries. Today, one-quarter of the world’s population still lives on the equivalent of less than one US dollar a day, and the World Bank says that the daily spending power of 1.2 billion people is roughly equal to the price of a hamburger, two soft drinks, or three candy bars in the West. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 815 million people, including 200 million children under the age of five, go to bed hungry each night.
Obviously, there must be an intensification of efforts to reduce global poverty, which has become a breeding ground of resentment, envy, and despair – hence, a ready producer of violence and suicide bombers.
The G-8 countries’ agreement last year to a debt write-off for the 18 poorest states – 16 in Africa and two in Latin America – is a splendid, but insufficient, beginning. The 100 most indebted countries still find the burden of servicing their collective $2.3 trillion in official debt increasingly hard to bear, leaving them hard put to finance national programs spelled out by the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s), which seek to halve global poverty by 2015.
If we are to close the global gap in personal security and economic well-being, the community of nations will need to cultivate a new ethos of mutual responsibility. The Philippine government has proposed that half of all scheduled debt payments be withheld for a specified period, to be invested in reforestation, clean water, housing, food production, primary healthcare, sanitation, basic education, farm-to-market roads, ecologically sound tourism, micro-finance, and related MDG projects. For lenders, debt could be converted, wherever possible, into equity in MDG projects with earning potential, while building up poor countries’ capacity for self-reliance.
But self-reliance will be impossible to achieve as long as the rich countries favor free markets and free trade only when it suits them. Even UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned that the unrestrained tide of globalization might not raise all boats, but only the yachts – while overturning a lot of canoes.
The most glaring injustice in this respect has been the failure of the US and the European Union to deliver substantially on their promises of market access to agricultural exports from poor countries. Bimal Ghosh, a former director of the UN Development Program, famously calculated that the daily subsidy for every cow in the EU – currently amounting to €2.50 – exceeds the daily income of millions of poor people around the world. The poor countries argue that broader liberalization in the EU, the US, and Japan alone would yield benefits worth up to $142 billion by 2015.
The G-8 nations and the global alliance that America leads must aim not merely to defeat terrorism. They must address all aspects of human security, including people’s well-being and safety in their homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces. And they must win people’s allegiance by the power of their values and their ideals – not only by isolating terrorists and extremists, but also by helping, in meaningful ways, poor countries to prosper.
Above all, those who lead us today must create a genuinely new global order in which all peoples take part – with dignity and an assurance of fairness.