Assured Mutual Dependence

LONDON – During the Cold War, the certainty of “mutually assured destruction” steered the nuclear arms race away from catastrophe: a would-be attacker would face immediate retaliation, inevitably ending in both sides’ annihilation. Today, a very different race is taking place – a race for the earth’s vital resources, and it threatens to undermine stability in key regions of the world. The growing dependence of countries on one another’s food, water, and energy requires that the global response to sustainability is taken to the highest political level.

Unlike the nuclear arms race of the twentieth century, the resource-security agenda is not linear. Mutually assured destruction was explicitly acknowledged during the Cold War in statements from both sides. In the race for resources that defines the twenty-first century, no actor is directly or indirectly threatening other players to curtail food or energy exports, but all bear the systemic risks.

Countries have become unavoidably interdependent, and climate change, water stress, and the loss of ecological resilience all increase the volatility of this mutual dependence. In a world of limited and scarce resources, countries and companies will be forced to make decisions that affect one another’s security.

In order to navigate this interdependence, the Earth Security Index 2014, produced by the Earth Security Initiative, shows countries’ combined vulnerabilities that might increase the risk exposure of governments and companies, unless more strategic approaches and sustainable investments are put in place. The ESI identifies four areas of mutual dependence that will likely shape global security in the coming decades: