Peace And Sustainable
Will Rise or Fall Together
by David Krieger*, August 15, 2002
It is not likely that peace can be maintained in
the longer term without sustainable development. Similarly, it
is unlikely that sustainable development can take place in a climate
dominated by war and the preparations for war.
In order to assess the prospects for both peace
and sustainable development, we must take into account the broad
global trends of our time: political, economic, military and cultural.
I will attempt to provide some perspective on these trends.
In the aftermath of the Cold War, there was a breakdown
of the post World War II bipolar balance of power. The United
States emerged as the dominant global power, while the Russians
have struggled to maintain their economy and their influence.
Instead of extending a gracious hand of support to the Russians,
as the United States did for Western Europe, including the vanquished
nations, and Japan after WWII, the US has sought to extend its
global reach and, in general, forced the Russians to accept compromising
positions, such as the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe.
At the same time, the United States has generally
opposed the expansion of international law, including human rights
law, and has withdrawn its support from many key treaty commitments,
including the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty, the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Accords
on Climate Change, and the Protocol to verify the Biological Weapons
Convention. Almost daily there are reports of new US assaults
on international law.
As the United States has sought to extend its power
unilaterally, it has undermined the international political process
established after World War II that operates through the United
Nations. The US has withheld economic support from the United
Nations and only sought to use it when the US perceived that its
own interests could be directly advanced, as in the cases of the
Persian Gulf War and the more recent US-led war on terrorism.
In the past, new coalitions have formed to provide
a check on one country asserting global dominance. It is perhaps
too early to see clearly the shape of a new coalition that might
arise in response to US dominance, but if history is a guide there
will be one. Even without any major coalition of forces arising,
however, the US will remain challenged by terrorists seeking to
avenge themselves against the US for policies that have adversely
affected their lives, cultures and countries.
The US has promoted the forces of globalization
that have opened the doors for capital to move freely to countries
where the costs of labor are cheapest and the environmental regulations
are most lax. Despite claims by Western leaders that benefits
would accrue to the neediest, this “globalization from above”
has continued to shift economic benefit from the poor to the wealthy,
and has not provided substantial increased benefit to the poor
of the world. Nearly half the world’s population continues
to live in conditions of poverty, characterized by inadequate
food, water, shelter and health care. These conditions create
a fertile breeding ground for terrorists committed to the destruction
of US dominance and its imperial outreach.
Further, global military expenditures are approximately
$800 billion per year. These funds are largely used to repress
and control the poor, when in actuality, for a small fraction
of these global expenditures, the conditions of poverty could
be largely eliminated. Of the $800 billion spent worldwide on
military forces, the US spends approximately one-half of the total.
This trend has been on a steady rise since the Bush administration
came into power.
The rich countries of the world have done little
to alleviate the crushing burdens of poverty or to aid in redressing
the indignities and inequities still existing after long periods
of colonial rule. There is much cause for unease throughout the
developing world, which is giving rise to continued low intensity
warfare as exemplified by the Palestinian struggle against the
Israelis and events such as the September 11th attacks against
the United States.
In the post-Cold War period, the US has pulled
far ahead of the other nations of the world in terms of military
dominance. The US is able to control NATO policy and has used
NATO as a vehicle for its pursuit of military domination. In addition
to dramatically increasing its military budget in recent years,
the US has announced plans for high-tech developments that include
missile defense systems, more usable nuclear weapons and the weaponization
Despite its push for global military dominance,
however, the nature of today’s weapons limit the possibility
of any country having unilateral dominance. Nuclear weapons, for
example, are capable of destroying cities, and there is an increased
likelihood in the aftermath of the Cold War that these weapons
could fall into the hands of terrorists capable of attacking largely,
if not completely, with impunity. Thus, the most powerful weapons
that have been created have greater utility for the weak (if they
can get their hands on them) than they do for the strong (who
may be reluctant to exercise such power and also unable to if
they cannot identify and locate the source of the attack).
The world is definitely experiencing a clash of
cultures, but not along the fault lines of civilizations as Samuel
Huntington has suggested. The opposing cultural trends that are
most dominant are between those who define the world in terms
of the value of massive accumulation and immediate use of resources
(powerful individuals, corporations and the national governments
that provide a haven for them) and those who define the world
in terms of shared rights and responsibilities for life and future
generations (most of the world’s people). The former values,
reflected predominantly by the economic elites in the United States
and many other countries and constantly on display through various
forms of media, do not promote sustainable development, wreak
havoc on the poor of the world and invite retaliation. The latter
values are reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
and the growing body of international human rights law that has
developed since World War II.
The dominant world trends today are:
- Unilateralism by the United States and a downplaying
of collective political responsibility;
- Growing and increasingly desperate economic
disparity between the world’s rich and poor;
- A push for military dominance by the United
States in particular and the Western states through NATO more
generally, offset by the flexibility of terrorists who may obtain
nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction; and
- The cultural dominance of greed and selfishness
portrayed by global media on a broad screen for all, including
the poor, to see from throughout the world.
These trends are destabilizing and unsustainable.
They can change by democratic means from within democratic states
or they can continue until the world is embroiled in conflagration.
That is a choice that is available to us for a relatively short
period of time as the trends are already quite advanced. The changes
- A shift to multilateralism, involving all states,
through a reformed and strengthened United Nations;
- Implementation of a plan to alleviate poverty
and economic injustice throughout the world;
- A shift from US and NATO military dominance
to the implementation of the post World War II vision of collective
- A shift toward implementation of international
law in which all states and their leaders are held to high standards
of protecting human rights and the dignity of the individual.
The United Nations World Summit on Sustainable
Development, set to take place in Johannesburg, South Africa in
August 2002, will fail dramatically unless it takes into account
these dominant trends and the need to shift them in more sustainable
and peaceful directions.
*David Krieger is president
of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the Deputy Chair of the
International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility.