The world is entering the third millennium of the Christian era trailing a host of daunting problems. It appears to be heading for a point where quantitative changes (not always for the better for most people) will culminate in a qualitative leap that will face Homo sapiens with the stark question of survival.
The existence of the “thinking man” has always been determined by two key parameters: dependence on the environment and relations with members of his own species. Tensions are growing in both areas. The combination of old and new threats to civilization forms a synergy which suggests that the present crisis is of a systemic nature.
An incredible amount of sophisticated means and devices, designed purely for killing, has been accumulated on the Earth. It is hard to tell what is the most lethal (and here we must take into account not only the destructive potential but also ease of access), a nuclear charge or a high-precision conventional weapon, sources of radiation or bacteria.
Efforts to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction are failing. Meanwhile, the weakening of regimes and frameworks designed to limit the arms race make it a much more complex task than it was in the period of confrontation. That is sinister enough in itself, but the problem has acquired a qualitatively new character since organized international terrorism entered the world stage.
The interconnection between the hideous metastases of terrorism and the changing reality is becoming ever more evident. The danger is compounded by global interdependence which is an inherent feature of our civilization. Moreover, terrorists have no difficulty in identifying the main targets, as the number of information and innovation centers in the world shrinks as a result of the process of globalization. In fact, all such centers are located in what we term Western countries. In confirming its technological superiority, the West has dramatically increased its capacity to influence the rest of the world. In one form or another it is implementing the principle of “getting its fair share without leaving anything to the others.” Thus, a fifth of the human race appropriates 80 percent of the world’s riches. While in the late 19th century, per capita income in the wealthiest states was nine times that in the poorest countries, today that ratio is a hundred to one.
But is poverty and unequal distribution of wealth the only cause of international terrorism?
Terror almost always thrives on despair and humiliation and a sense of impotence, especially where ignorance reigns; the more so ignorance leavened with intolerance and a fanaticism that has been deliberately cultivated for many decades. For example, the ruling circles of some Arab regimes have encouraged the darkest aspects of Islamic fundamentalism in order to deflect the threat of social discontent and channel it against an external enemy.
One cannot escape the impression that the root of the problem is a combination of economic factors and deliberately fostered religious fanaticism. This combination has produced an explosive mixture, which we can call “international terrorism,” symbolized by Osama bin Laden who comes from Saudi Arabia.
The economic picture of the world as a whole is bleak. The gap between poverty and wealth is colossal and, most importantly, wealth has been achieved at too high a price in terms of resources consumed. Only 20 percent of the world’s population can consider themselves to be well off, whereas if the remaining four-fifths were to achieve comparable living standards they would have to consume the resources equal to four planets the size of Earth.
The new technologies that are developing in the process of globalization undoubtedly open up new opportunities. But one side effect has been the burgeoning of the shadow economy. Globalization has opened additional points of access to the “official” economy, and the shadow economy can only exist through symbiosis with the latter, including the business of money laundering.
According to German scholars, almost half of the people on Earth live within a kind of “informal” (essentially criminal) economy. They pay virtually no taxes, which is one proof of the weakness of governments. In other words, all processes are being globalized, including the negative processes such as the shadow economy, degradation of the environment and terrorism. To involve a much greater number of participants in the global processes today requires new revolutionary managers and new ground-breaking approaches. Thank God, there is no scarcity of international economic agencies called upon to organize the division of labor.
Profligate exploitation of nature has, over the centuries, inevitably depleted the Earth’s resources. We are no longer surprised by distressing statistics such as an area of tropical rain forests four times that of Switzerland being burned or cut down every year. There is a growing shortage of drinking water: after 2010, 40 percent of the world’s population, or three billion people, will have no, or limited access to water that meets sanitary standards. By burning solid fuel we contribute to climate change which may turn out to be catastrophic.
Is humanity capable of coping with the avalanche of problems that has deluged it? The fact that civilization is still alive is no guarantee that the present crisis will be overcome successfully. But one exceptionally important step has been taken: the political elites and the leaders of the states which can still influence the evolution of the world have become aware of the nature of the threat.
Not so long ago a distinguished group of scientists prepared a catalog, commissioned by the United Nations, of 53 emergency situations. They have drawn a very important conclusion: technologically, all these threats can be handled. Scientific thought has found or is close to finding solutions to the global problems. It now remains to try to unite all the reasonable forces interested in saving civilization. One need hardly stress the importance of achieving a harmony between national interests and moral principles or universal human values.
But there again the question arises, who will undertake it and how? The world is becoming less and less governable because globalization is being superimposed on another major historical process, the disintegration of the system of international relations that took shape after World War II.
During the Cold War each of the two power centers sought to run the world in its own way. While they engaged in a tug-of-war the world teetered on the brink of disaster (suffice it to recall the Cuban crisis). Gradually, certain rules of behavior were established between the powers, with the Third World and Non-Aligned Movement making a significant contribution. That code of behavior included the entire body of agreements reached between the states, plus the established custom and practice of complying with them. Most of them are reflected in the UN Charter which came to be regarded, albeit not immediately, as the fundamental body of international laws, and the UN itself became the main controlling authority.
The end of the Cold War marked the end of ideological confrontation, but on the other hand it upset the military balance that had taken shape over the years. At the start of the 21st century, we see a discrepancy between the objective state of the world, which has undergone colossal changes in the past decades, and the norms of behavior which took shape after, and indeed, long before World War II. Ever since the 17th century, international law has been based on two principles: national sovereignty and the legal equality of nations. Now these principles tend to be brushed aside as outdated, yet nothing is offered to replace them. At a certain point countries and peoples were practically deprived of universal rules of behavior, something which made their already conflict-ridden life still more complicated.
As a result, ethnic and religious differences between peoples came to the fore and the imbalance of power offered greater room for them to manifest themselves in the form of conflicts. One may or may not accept the clash of civilizations theory, but there is no getting away from the fact that the challenges to security often arise today along the fault line between civilizations.
One may of course raise the alarm over instances of violations of the UN Charter, but one has to bear in mind that some of its basic provisions no longer fit the new conditions. For example, the UN Charter mainly regulates relations among states, including conflicts between countries. It continues to be an important component of international law, but it is no longer the predominant component, as before. Of the total number of wars fought in the world after 1945, only a third were wars between states, while two-thirds cannot be described in such a category. Some political scientists have spoken about “the privatization of war.” The UN Charter is of little help when it comes to conflicts within states and to ethnic clashes.
The downgrading of the role of the UN created a serious vacuum in the organization of the world based on international law. This vacuum is filled either by decisions made by a group of “highly civilized” countries (for example, the bombings of Yugoslavia), or by unilateral actions of a single power (of which there are examples galore). But can a group of countries or one state rule the world in a way that is satisfactory to all? Can it really be a safe world, including for those who run it? Is the U.S. capable of ensuring world security single-handed if it fails to ensure it in a single region, the Middle East, and even to some extent inside its own country?
The inadequacy of political thinking in the United States is highlighted by the barter arrangement it has operated for many years in relations with certain Arab regimes, an arrangement which the Americans themselves now describe as cynical: uninterrupted oil supply and massive purchases of American weapons in exchange for allowing the perpetuation of feudalism and the safety of the ruling families. Meanwhile some of these regimes have provided financial and ideological help to Islamic extremism, including terrorism.
It is only recently that public doubts have been expressed in the U.S. as to whether the right countries have been included in the “axis of evil.” For all its might, the United States is incapable of bringing order to this chaotic world. Moreover, American attempts to destroy the former system of international treaties and agreements while refusing to sign new ones bring instability.
For the foreseeable future America will have a power many times greater than the potential of the states that are below it in the world league tables. This imposes huge responsibility on the ruling class of the sole superpower. It is necessary to combine power and reason, international cooperation and a sound concept of U.S. national interests.
What can be the systemic response to a systemic crisis? Conscious building of a new world order. Henry Kissinger, the guru of international diplomacy, rightly points out that the war against terror is not just about persecuting terrorists. Above all, it is about protecting the extraordinary opportunity that has presented itself for rebuilding the international system, because, paradoxically as it may sound, terrorism has generated a feeling of world unity, something that could not have been achieved by theoretical calls for a new world order.
Former enemies in the Cold War must become seriously aware of the fact that their very survival depends on their ability to address new dangers. It is high time to stop the bickering inside one civilized family, a family which had been split along ideological lines for forty years. It was during those years that the threats to the whole human race were born and fostered. But instead we are still fighting the ghosts of the past.
In the relations between civilizations and cultures, a purposeful and systematic search is required for a common denominator that would contribute to mutual understanding between them.
In the modern world this is hardly possible without major changes, the creation of a civil society in countries with different political, religious and cultural traditions, and establishing interaction between the authorities and society. There is a close link between a developed civil society and normal relations between civilizations. The only sound approach is through developing new rules of international behavior that would be adopted by an overwhelming majority of countries. Updating the existing rules should be a component of that process.
More specifically, the ongoing work to renew the structure of the United Nations and its Charter and to improve the functions of the Security Council should be sped up. Russia could lead the way in this and, indeed, in many other areas. Even though its economic weight in world affairs has diminished, its moral authority with states – including developing countries – is still fairly high. This country has considerable experience in the field of international law and an impressive intellectual potential. Russia could come forward with proposals on ways to renew the system of managing world processes. I see a thoroughly modernized UN as the center of that system. All states of the world can contribute to the discussion of these problems.
But who should have the decisive say, including on the key issue of sanctions to use force in international conflicts?
Considering the dominance of the United States in world economics and politics, it is impossible to imagine that the new threats can be successfully countered without it. The leading role of the U.S. is indisputable, but it should not be a hegemon, but act in concert with other powers, including Russia. The mechanism of decision-making within such a coalition lends itself to regulation. One may consider, for example, a change in the rules of exercising the right of veto in the Security Council, so that it should come into force only if two or three members of the Council, and not one as at present, express a common opinion. This is not yet a world government, but it is something approaching one.