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Futility of War : Andrew Simms


Room 1, Afghanistan, 2002. Photograph: Paul Seawright/Imperial War Museum

Room 1, Afghanistan, 2002. Photograph: Paul Seawright/Imperial War Museum

Peace is impossible in an unfair world.

from Resurgence issue 218



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GLOBAL POWERS HAVE been bombing countries that annoy them, using any excuse, almost since the invention of the aircraft. But bombs don't bring security, as we are promised: they just blow things up. As governments try to obscure the real reasons for conflict, it's even more important to remember that conflict and insecurity are rooted in hunger, destitution, poverty, oppression and environmental degradation. This means that to oppose war we have to propose an alternative to the current damaging pattern of economic globalisation. It's an analysis no longer held by just a radical niche. It has some surprising friends.

Early in 2003, Britain's Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt, said, "If we in the West don't create a system of world trade that is fair as well as free … we will pay a price in increased terrorism and increased insecurity."

Of course not everyone agrees. After the horror of the attacks on New York in September 2001, Peter Sutherland, founder of the World Trade Organisation, said we should not "exaggerate the connection between current events and globalisation per se". Yet Sutherland's view is increasingly isolated. James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, toured global capitals, contradicting him. He explained how, in a world where twenty per cent of the population has eighty per cent of the wealth, instability "will convey itself through migration, through wars within countries and through crime and terrorism," later adding, "if you have instability and inequity, then you lack peace." eu Commissioner Chris Patten agreed that "the issues we have to tackle include those of a global imbalance in resources."

In February 2000 the retiring head of the International Monetary Fund, Michel Camdessus, made the kind of speech he would not have dared to make at the height of his career. He said, "The widening gaps between rich and poor within nations, and the gulf between the affluent and the most impoverished nations … will undermine the fabric of our societies through confrontation, violence and civil disorder." Nearly everyone agrees why we're in a mess, and that war can't solve it. History shows that conflict simply creates more poverty.

But why, with all this agreement, has the response to terror been to intensify calls for more of the same rapid economic globalisation that has generated the gaps between rich and poor?

LOOK FOR TROUBLE or terrorism anywhere around the world and economics is either leading it by the nose or treading close behind. One of the most important factors for sustainable development is stability and the ability to plan for the medium to long term. Yet for the last two decades the policy paradigm for development, set by the United States and other major industrialised nations, has done the opposite, creating instability in its wake. Its focus on capital and trade liberalisation has caused havoc for poor countries. Money has washed in and out of them with the destructive power of tidal waves, whereas the prices of the commodities on which they most depend have hit record lows. Low prices have been fuelled by the economic advice that encourages poor countries to produce more of the same goods to trade, further depressing prices, in order that they can 'grow their way to recovery'. The problem for less developed countries today is that 'free trade' is compulsory.

Since the 1960s, every attempt by developing countries to engage with the global economy on terms that would help them develop, such as managing their investments, regulating foreign multinationals and stabilising commodity prices, has been resisted and opposed. One of globalisation's great crimes has been the way it destroys political and social structures without replacing them with anything that can guarantee either social or economic security.

THE GROUND FOR increasing worldwide instability was prepared by decades of neglect. The special committee of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) that reports on the aid performance of its members concluded, in a review, that "If more donors had met the official aid target (0.7 per cent of GNP), the mass poverty and humanitarian emergencies which persist in many parts of the developing world today might have been largely avoided."

International debt relief, too, has failed, according to the Jubilee Research unit at the New Economics Foundation. Nearly all heavily indebted low-income countries are in danger of their debts becoming once more 'unsustainable'.

Yet, peace can be cheap if you spend on the right things. A recent figure from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) showed that "effective care for children between birth and the age of eight is the crucible of sustainable human development." It priced achieving that goal at "a modest additional global expenditure of US$70 billion to $80 billion each year". This is less than a quarter of annual us military spending alone.

Instead of the contradictory and accidental internationalism that the United States and Britain have fallen into in their war alliances, we need a coherent and positive internationalism that stifles the forces of alienation and creates an economy in which everyone can meet their needs and nurture their hopes. That means practical steps to share global economic opportunities.

It means things like fair and transparent debt relief, and a trading system that is a means to a better world, not an end in itself. It means supporting democracy at the local and national level, rather than undermining it, as the IMF does.

As climate change starts tearing apart livelihoods around the world and forcing migration, it means having enough funds to help those who need it, and a plan for the logical and equal sharing of the planet's life-supporting eco-systems, set within the limits of their tolerance. It means having a global economy founded on the principles of justice, democracy and sustainability. It means an economy that builds trust and the fabric of community, rather than the one that devours them for the profit of a few.

The most undermining thing that grows in the gap between rich and poor is humiliation. The denial of rights coupled with the denial of economic opportunity is what breeds disaffection and violent reaction. In the long term, peace is impossible in an unfair world.

Competitive winner-take-all market economies cannibalise the fabric that holds communities and societies together. More of the same is no solution. What would an alternative look like?

FIRST, HISTORY TELLS us that to reconcile deeply-held grudges and feelings of injustice, a process of arbitration is an essential part of the healing process. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a good example. The condition of Afghanistan - bombed on and off for much of the last century - is a glaring example of the continuing legacy of colonialism, ancient and modern. Perhaps it is time for a wider reckoning and a Global Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the morass of accumulated abuses of the past and present.

Secondly, it is clear that new mechanisms are needed to reduce the instability of the global economy, redistribute its benefits, and make the economy work within environmental limits. New definitions of security will usher in capital controls such as the currency transactions tax, and demand that developing countries are guaranteed a fair and stable price for their resources. The new meaning of security will define as reckless lifestyles that put more than their fair share of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and thereby threaten international peace and security.

The future will be found by asking a different question: what is the right level at which to organise all the different aspects of our livelihoods: in the neighbourhood, or at the regional, national, bio-regional or global level?

The answers to this question in terms of food production, manufacturing, retailing, travel and culture will describe a sustainable new world order. It will be about localisation, not globalisation. It will be a planned internationalism where we do globally what we must, and locally what we are able. George Orwell's dystopian classic 1984 warned that governments would use 'permanent war' to frighten, distract and control their people. George Bush's open-ended 'war on terrorism' is an invitation to our own oppression. We have to reject it, because we have a better destination to go to where we are going to celebrate life, not the ending of it. o

Andrew Simms is Policy Director of the New Economics Foundation.

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