Friday, November 27, 2009

A world more secure

“There has been on this planet a science of total war and innumerable war strategies. But there has never been a science of total peace …. Nor there have been well thought out, determined peace strategies.” These remarks by Dr. Robert Muller, Chancellor United Nations University for peace were ominous as no era before the twentieth century had witnessed such dramatic tumultuous and often tragic changes in the lives of countless millions of people on a global scale. Thus human existence is concerned with the positive existence of human race: positive as distinct from bare existence meaning survival in a sustainable ecosystem permitting desired political stability and individual fulfillment and growth. During the last few decades unprecedented threats to positive survival have emerged due to political growth and developments as well as concomitant exponential growth in science and technology.
One distinct threat is the ability to destroy mankind through global terror and war. Another threat arises from the overenthusiastic and unregulated application of technology in the face of an expanding world population, communication, financial, electronics and biotechnology revolutions. The planetary control feedback mechanism of the biosphere is greatly threatened due to humans and it appears for the first time that unless the process is checked or reversed, the system will likely collapse. We should be reminded that peace is much more than the absence of terror and war. Therefore, these new “first order” threats can duly be countered by collaborative efforts among humans and between humankind and the natural world. Collaborative effort is also essential for resolution of other major but “second order” problems, that do not threaten survival of the biosphere directly, but which afflict large section of the world’s population such as epidemics, mass under nourishment and illiteracy and also religious, racial, ethnic and socioeconomic imbalances. Collective collaborative strategy is possible due to spectacular advances in science and technology which has provided the means of acquiring, processing and integrating vast amounts of information, and for disseminating the finding to individuals, institutions and government.
The on rush of technology has affected not only the individuals consciousness and health but also the welfare and the implicit social contract between the governed and the governments. The information technology revolution has now made it possible for the individual to be exposed to knowledge in unprecedented volume and variety at both local and global levels. Due to the globalization of world money has radically altered the nature of internal markets and economics. Thus these developments threaten both the actual security of individuals as well as the society. This being a world wide phenomenon only an active collective response by individuals can help avert catastrophe by empowering myriad, newly in formed actions. But if knowledge paralyses the individual, including denial of the problems as a means of personal, psychological protection, the pattern of destructive synergism arising from the individual and collective assault on the biosphere will continue. Therefore global existence and security embrace issues at smallest scale of the individuals’ perception, health and living standards to the largest scale of biosphere, sustainable development and the new international political and economic order. Global existence to denote transnational problem with global implications which can only be solved through collaborative endeavor, ‘security’ means freedom from all dangers. The concept of global existence goes beyond the older established concept of national co-existence and its newer extension, international co-existence or security. Its focus is on the transnational problems that affect all human kind. Global security for the frontline existence of human race should be concerned to identify threats to the human race, society and the biosphere, and also devise and develop ways to counter or ward off such dangers. Let us discus a few of these:
1.        Biosphere and Environment      
            The security of the biosphere being a techno rectified problem in environmental studies does need a socio political and historical dimension as well. The ambit of global co-existence and studies should include regional issues that have global implications, such as the future of the Brazilian rain forest or the Antarctic continent. A collaborative approach similarly to issues of biodiversity and genetic engineering safeguards should be concerned with planetary control mechanisms. Today there is widespread realization that technology alone cannot solve environmental problems, weather it is the loss of forest cover, land degradation or the pollution of our air, water and soil. In the developing world these are linked to the problem of meeting human needs that includes the availability of drinking water, food and shelter for all. But, can there be a sustainable future for a global society that is divided into rich and poor? Much of the problems have arisen from unsustainable patterns of consumption and production beyond the capacity of mother earth. While we cannot roll back with time and tide, however, we should at least moderate its flow. Problems like the origins and sources of global warming, the reduced capacity of oceans to absorb carbon dioxide, ozone depletion, global warning and climate change, acid rain or marine pollution do need collective thinking and resources. In order to ensure global participation, availability of financial assistance, transfer of technology and the removal of trade imbalances we need an international response that is crucial under a just international order.
2.        Economics and Development
         The U.N. Conference on Environment and Development held at Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 was unique in having united the countries of the world through global conventions on biodiversity and climate. Above all, a plan of action for promoting environmentally sustainable development known as Agenda 21 was also adopter. This is a blueprint for economic development without environmental destruction. The growing number of ethnic and economic conflicts indicates that development, even if environmentally benign, will not be socially sustainable if it ignores equity.  In others words, a better common present is better than an unknown common future. The issue of equity in economic terms was discussed at the U.N. Social summit in Copenhagen in March 1995. Equity in gender terms was discussed at Beijing later in 1995 followed by the International Conference on Population and Development held at Cairo where real issues such as infant and maternal mortality rates, literacy, the status of women and poverty and livelihood insecurity were sidelined and attention diverted to contraceptive technologies including abortion. Let us have a peep at the much flaunted Millennium Development Goals. “Time is short. We must seize this historic moment to act responsibly and decisively for the common good.” With only six years until the 2015 deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently chose these words to strongly urge Governments to engage constructively in the preparations for a high-level meeting in September 2010 to review progress towards the MDGs and other international development goals. Although development assistance rose to record levels in 2008, donors are falling short by $35 billion per year on the 2005 pledge on annual aid flows made by the Group of Eight in Gleneagles, and by $20 billion a year on aid to Africa, according to the 2009 Report of the MDG Gap Task Force. The Task Force brings together more than 20 UN agencies, the IMF, World Bank, WTO and OECD to track progress on the development partnership called for in the eighth Millennium Development Goal. It is pertinent that more than halfway to the 2015 deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), major advances in the fight against poverty and hunger have begun to slow or even reverse as a result of the global economic and food crises. An assessment, earlier launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Geneva, warned that, despite many successes, overall progress has been too slow for most of the targets to be met by 2015. Thus none of these social summits have lead to any discernable reductions to halt the growing rich poor divide. Successive UNDP Human Development Reports points out that at present 84 percent of the global annual income goes to 20 percent of the population, while another 20 percent lives on 1.4 percent of the world’s income. How can such skewed income distribution be reversed and how can the poor have access to a better quality of life? Over 100 million people mobilized under the slogan “Stand Up - Take Action” at events in more than 100 countries around the globe between 17 and 19 October to demand that world leaders do not use the financial crisis as an excuse for breaking the promises they made in 2000 to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. It is now imperative that a holistic approach and a broad vision to tackle the problems for a world more secure be adopted. To achieve this end an Agenda 2020 be prepared and the socio demographic charter should address the following components:
(a)      Poverty eradication commitments, gender equity and problems relating to women and children including sex Ratio, crèches and child care facilities.
(b)      Habitat, including environmental hygiene, garbage and sewage  recycling and housing and management of common property resources.
(c)      Education for all at school level.
(d)      Health security including reproductive health of women and availability of quality contraceptive services.
(e)      Environment with particular attention to human carrying capacity of land and water and conservation of false and fauna.
(f)       Access to balanced diets safe drinking water.
(g)      Opportunities for skilled employment in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of economic activity.
(h)      The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) though a remarkable work could have removed discriminatory clauses like the Article 22 which permits most favored nation treatment and the one on intellectual property rights. These has lead to the creation of several trading blocks or arrangements in the world, being not only detrimental to the concept of global security but have also led to a form of neo economic imperialism.
(i)       Protection of the atmosphere (climate change, depletion of the ozone layer, global warming, trans boundary air pollution).
(j)       Protection of land resources (combating deforestation, soil loss, desertification and droughts).
(k)      Conservation of biological diversity.
(l)       Protection of oceans, seas, coastal areas and fresh water resources.
(m)     Environmentally sound management of biotechnology and hazardous water.
           Although the UNCED had produced – an ‘Earth Charter’ to embody the basic principles to govern the economic and environmental behavior of people’s and nations for a “Common Future”, it does not recognize equity in the imposition of new conditional ties in trade and disparities of the 1st world and the 3rd world. Similarly, ‘Agenda 21’ a blueprint for action in all major areas affecting the relationships between the environment and the economy in the next few decades deserves to be more democratic in approach as the developing world requires neither colonialism nor charity.          
                        These ethos are reflected in our ancient treatise, “this universe is the creation of the supreme power meant for the benefit of all his creation. Each individual life form, must, therefore, lean to enjoy its benefit by forming a part of the system in close relation with other spices. 
            "Let not any one species encroach upon the other’s rights”: Ishopanishad (2000 year back) 
            “What of the I dig out, let that quickly grow over, Let me not hit thy vitals, or thy heart”: Atharva Veda However, Gandhi summed it up best: “There is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed”.
3.        Human existence and the new international order:
            The new international order should be concerned with the dangers of a global war or major conflicts in contrast to the traditional approaches to international relations, focusing on future wars and its causes and ways of averting them rather than on the role of military power as an instrument of foreign policy. Not withstanding the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from the cold war, greater world order remains as the crucible for social, political and environmental change. The models on the existing world order in the classical sense may historically be classified as:
(a)      The classical model:
            This includes those essential ingredients of power which have endured through the ages such as population resources, land resource and national resources with which a nation is endowed. Only a few states qualified for this potential, whereas the rest good enough to acquire the ingredients of power such as the state of industry, technology and political organization were condemned to be medium or small powers. These latter groups did play down the lack of natural attributes to the acquired ones. It is the effort and its success or failure that is now the stuff of history.
(b)      The power model: 
            It was the military might in the ancient times, later coupled with the industrial revolution, technological quality which acted as a force multiplier characterized by the age of imperialism and the supremacy of the west.
 (c)     The economy model:
            The economic capability of a nation, the existing number two power ingredient overtook the military power as the numero uno ingredient amplified in the past few decades. The striking examples are the ascendancy of Japan and Germany.
            In the post cold war scenario president Bush in his preface to the National Security Strategy of the United States in January 1993 wrote, “We are indeed moving into a new era. It is an era that holds great opportunities, but also great dangers as the danger of global war recedes, the potential for smaller but still highly destructive conflicts between nations and within nations is growing. We simply do not and cannot know all the challenges that will arise in future”.
Jane’s Defense weekly  identified 26 ongoing conflicts, 23 areas of potential conflicts and tension in an additional 24 areas, making a total of 73 ‘hot spots’ across the globe. Instead of proverbially ‘preparing to fight the lost war’, we should develop an insight into the future global scenario in order to evolve a global model. Some of the revolutionary and conventionally evolutionary models are:
(a)      The Ecology based model : 
            In the aftermath of global warming, the ensuing world wide drought and the submersion of large areas of coastal and island land mass; the shortage of food, water and other resources may lead to bizarre partnership amongst nations or utter chaos. 
(b)         The demographic explosion based model : 
            In this, the prolific brown and yellow races explode inexorably and expand into low pressure areas on the globe leading to their elimination through weapons of mass destruction.
(c)          The power shift based model : 
            In this model elucidated by Alvin Toffler in his book ‘Power shift’ there is a novel comprehensive reorganization on the global as the world produces wealth. This change is comparable to the revolutionary change during the shift from the hunting society to agricultural society and later to the industrialized society.
(d)         The fault line based models :
            There are based on future fault lines or global security challenges which in a way complement each other. One is John Lewis Gaddis geological metaphor of marine shifts in the historic tectonics of human civilizations like the democratic & human right wags which reflect deep socio-historical forces that lie embedded in the world’s conscience. The other metaphor is that of fractured glass reflecting the traumatic events such as ethnic, tribal, religious and other conflicts having a shattering blow all over the global. Thus the tectonic movements accentuate the crash on the surface of the globe.   
 (i)       After the eclipse of the cold war, euphemistically called the third world war in his book ‘The Fourth World War’ by Count De Marenches & Daved  A. Andelman feels that the world is now engaged in deadliest conflict of all, the fourth world war. It is a war that defies continuous traditions for those with shaky cultural, religious and military background. It is a war waged by terrorist networks & drug cartels unassailable through commotional strategies using religious, political, social & economic facade like the Stalin’s Red Brigade, Baader-Meinhof Gang, Irish Republican army, Taliban, Corsican separatists, Spanish Basques, Turkish Grey Wolves, LeT, JKLF, ULFA, LTTE, KLF and the list goes on.
(ii)      On the nature of future conflicts Francis Fukuyama in his treatise, “The end of History and the Last Man” considers that with the end of the great ideological debate between liberal democracy and totalitarianism the war has ended for the developed world but for the developing, world ‘war of interest and war of conscience’ would continue duly amplified by the developed world.
 (iii)      Samuel P Huntington, on the other hand in his essay, “The Clash of Civilizations?” considers that conflict between nation states and ideologies including the cold war were primarily ‘western civil wars’. He states that ‘the fault lines between civilization will be the lines of the future’ implying conflicts between world civilizations. He defines civilizations as western Christianity, eastern (Orthodox) Christianity, Islam, Confucian and Hindu and predicts a tactical accommodation between the Confucian and the Islamic civilization. The Hindu may be drawn to the Western Christian for ideological as well as tactical considerations. However, in the Indian context it may be said that there is a larger Indian civilization that transcends the divides of religion. In this perspective it would be interesting to note that General K. Sundar ji in ‘Blind Men of Hindustan’ in his characteristic style argued that India should go nuclear on the theory of ‘Proportional Deterrence’ keeping in view her two main adversaries on the eastern and western borders.
 (iv)    ‘The Third Wave: War and Antiwar’: Alvin and Heidi Toffler in their treatise ‘war and antiwar present scenarios of the fast advancing ‘third wave future’ leaving behind the ‘first wave’ of agricultural  & pastoral civilization followed by the ‘second wave’ of industrial revolution 300 years ago. The third wave war predicted by the Yom Kippur war in Oct, 1973, the gulf war, the Iraq and the Afghan offensives in which 5th and even later generation of electronics, breath taking advances in information  technology were evidenced by precision warfare, iterative superior planning and coordination. Indeed what was not anticipated was the resurgence of islamic jehad terror strikes that culminated in the horror of 9/11 or the likes of 26/11 terror attacks. The book not only anticipates nuclear fault lines of countries like Pakistan, but also makes a case for brain based warfare & economy in the new world order where information is key. No wonder they predict “to survive at the dawn of the 20th century it will take more than instinct” lest we forget Leon Trotsky: ‘You may not be interested in war. But war is interested in you.
‘Spaceship Earth’ is not a metaphor but a finite reality. It is indeed very crucial that we assess models both by evolution and extrapolation for future human existence not only for the year 2000 but also for the club of Dome’s project on the predicament of mankind copra also from the ‘Future Shock’ of Alvin Toffler we have seen the decline thesis of Paul Kennedy towards a unipolar moment in the new world order. In order to shape the positive evolution of human race some critical issues are identified as under:
(a)          Environmental issues are crucial for mankind’s survival which should have integrating influences. This includes technology transfer, ecological codes, resource optimization & diversification; biotechnology codes, information & computer regulations, space exploration etc. which may change not only the human behavior but also the entire fabric of present day society.
(b)         Considering that at present rates world population would double in 30 years and with finite space & non renewable resources on earth, mankind will have to seek a state of equilibrium on our planet.  This may call for a uniform social code to be enfaced universally.
(c)      Economic development issue would lead to globalization and supranational capitalism apart from increasing the ‘North’ and ‘South’ divide and the neo-economics blocs for which a global for a international economic code to be evolved by reducing inequities.
(d)      The diffusion of power and the emergence of regionalism may become compounded with the rice of ethnicity and political identity. This may assume explosive proportions due to religious radicalism wars like the ‘gulf war’ would be an exception rather than the blue and low intensity caustics would be a rule rather than an exception. Military strategy should therefore be directed to such operations rather than for commotional wars. Establishment of a counter insurgency on counter terrorism command at the national & international levels should be the need of the hour.
Mankind has to embark on a new course of human existence and evolution by concerted international measures & joint long term planning on a scale & scope without precedent by reshaping the United Nations on perhaps replacing it with a more just & equitable world body would be required. The achievement of a harmonic state of global economic, social, political and ecological equilibrium must be a joint venture based on joint conviction with the imitative from economically developed countries to avert future terror strikes, wars & catastrophes there has to be a basic change of values and goals at individual, national and world levels. I am reminded of the underlying prophecy in the words of Alfred Tennyson in ‘The Passing of Arthur": “The old order changeth, yielding place to new, And God fulfills himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world”


Thursday, November 26, 2009

A world less poor

Is there fortune at the bottom of the pyramid? The World Bank estimates reveal that there are now over 7000 microfinance institutions, serving some 16 million poor people in developing countries. The total cash turnover of microfinance institutions worldwide is estimated at US $2.5 billion and the potential for new growth is outstanding. The Micro credit Summit estimates that US$21.6 billion is needed to provide microfinance to 100 million of the world's poorest families. It has also been projected by planners that it should be possible to raise US$2 billion from borrowers' savings alone. Studies have shown that during an eight-year period, among the poorest in Bangladesh with no credit service of any type, only 4 percent pulled themselves above the poverty line. But with individuals and families with credit from Grameen Bank, more than 48% rose above the poverty line. It is estimated that worldwide, there are 13 million micro credit borrowers, with USD 7 billion in outstanding loans, and generating repayment rates of 97 percent. It has been growing at a rate of 30 percent annual growth making it perhaps the fastest growing sectors of the economy in many developing countries. It is also an irony that in the developing world fewer than 2 per cent of poor people have access to financial services (credit or savings) from sources other than moneylenders. The fact also remains that only 10 million of the 500 million people who run micro and small enterprises have access to financial support for their businesses. Some other figures remain equally interesting such as the world's seven richest men could wipe out global poverty. Their combined wealth is more than enough to provide the basic needs of the poorest quarter of the world's people. Indian Government’s estimates show that over 250 million people are without proper access to credit and are forced into informal channels for their enterprise financing – such as the village moneylenders who lend at very high interest rates. It is estimated that thousands of active microfinance institutions support 15 million micro-entrepreneurs all over India. Most of those MFIs are often created by individuals who are coming from, and living, with the underprivileged communities they serve. It is true that the shared vision and conditions between microfinance practitioners and beneficiaries allow MFIs to have a good comprehension of micro-entrepreneurs needs and concerns, but their lack of strategic, financial and organizational skills heavily constraints their efficiency and sustainability. It is imperative that micro enterprises all over the world need a strategic vision and approach concomitant with providing sustainable services to the poor who are in need of financial services to raise their capacity (esp. financial and managerial skills) capitalize on each other experiences and information, benefit from worldwide research and innovation in the field of microfinance, move from isolation to community to play a strong policy advocacy role, improve visibility and transparency to access financing, above all to think globally but act locally. The million dollar question still is who bells the cat: World Bank or the IMF!