Financial crisis is now greatest threat to international security

Oxford Research Group’s 2008 International Security Report, The Tipping Point?, published on 13 November, points to some improvements in security in Iraq in the past year as well as the potential for major changes in US policy in South West Asia with an incoming Obama administration. 

It also finds that the recent deterioration in East West relations after the Russian intervention in Georgia in August can be reversed, but its main conclusion is that it is the global financial crisis that is now the most dangerous threat to international security.

With the G20 meeting due in Washington on 15 November, all the indications are that the response to the crisis of the most powerful states will be to focus narrowly on immediate issues, with calls for improvements in international financial cooperation involving:

•    An effective early warning system.

•    A more effective framework for transnational responses.

•    An independent “college of supervisors” to provide systematic monitoring of the world’s major companies and financial institutions.

These may well be useful responses to the immediate crisis but they have little or no relevance to the wider global predicament.  Instead, the opportunity should be taken to introduce fundamental economic reforms which reverse the wealth-poverty divisions that have got so much worse in the past three decades.

Most of the benefits of these decades of economic growth have been concentrated in the hands of a trans-global elite community of about 1.2 billion people, mainly in the countries of the Atlantic community and the West Pacific, but with elite communities in the tens of millions in countries such as China, India and Brazil.

At the same time, improvements in education, literacy and communications in recent decades have increased the awareness of many marginalised people of this unjust distribution of wealth.

On present trends many hundreds of millions of people among the poorest communities across the world will suffer most.  This is likely to lead to the rise of radical and violent social movements, which will be controlled by force, further increasing the violence.   The intensifying Naxalite rebellion in India and the substantial problems of social unrest in China are early indicators. 

Responding to the crisis in a manner which places emphasis on improving emancipation and reversing the widening of the global socio-economic divide is therefore the most important task for the next twelve months.

Trade reform aimed at improving the economies of third world states, coupled with debt cancellation and substantial aid for sustainable development are all required as a matter of urgency if we are to avoid a much more divided global system in which the majority of the world’s population is marginalised, and increasingly resentful and bitter.

We can either respond as a global community or as a narrow group of rich and powerful countries.  The choice we make in the next few months will do much decide whether the world becomes more or less peaceful over the next ten years.

Paul Rogers is Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University and Global Security Consultant to Oxford Research Group.