Coronavirus As An Opportunity
Reboot Humanity And Change Security Thinking, Policies.
What Change Toward a New Necessary Normal Will Have to Look Like.
Connecting dots is neither the trend of our times nor of day-to-day political decision-making. Over the years, time, space, and intellectual focus has shrunk. It’s deplorable and dangerous for an increasingly complex world facing increasingly existential challenges.
For instance, during the European refugee crisis, the dots between wars and refugee movements were hardly ever made. The focus was on how to limit refugees getting into Europe but hardly ever on the wars from which they fled. Western wars are untouchables.
The lack of connections between the dots of the Corona and security – human security in particular – would be another example. The present author would see the handling of the Corona pandemic as the most fundamental documentation of the fact that not a single government has practiced security the right way: billions of taxpayers’ dollars have been spent on weapons (that de-crease security in most cases), while there was nobody who had thought of face masks, thermometers, hospital equipment, and facilities – for what must be called a perfectly predictable security challenge.
Instead, the Corona crisis has been seeing as a failure of the health system and other systems – but hardly ever as a fundamental failure of everything termed security politics. There ought to have been a global uproar by citizens against their governments’ de facto contempt for their security.
Another non-connection could be the one between military expenditure levels, on the one hand, and security and peace, on the other. A link is usually made which emphasizes – monotonously and thoughtlessly – that higher expenditures create higher security and more sustainable peace. The truth – that most can see but not those of the MIMAC (Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complex) – is that there is no such link; or, rather, there is one but it goes in the exact opposite direction: By and large (but not as a law), the higher the military expenditures, the less secure and peaceful it is – US/NATO being conspicuous examples. (Whether there is a U-curve relation between the two or some other pattern can be discussed but we leave it here).
A final example would be this: The Corona adds a new depth to the global crisis of economic performance, of the science of economics and to economic politics. We knew that the world was in a systemic crisis before this – not the least in terms of mal-development (including inequality, poverty, hunger, and tremendous, growing class differences) and Man-Nature relations – and the tremendous resources would need to change the global course. With the Corona as a manifest, added long-term problem – one must ask: Where are the reservoirs of capital that could be channeled and re-directed to solve this complex of global challenges? Yes, you have guessed it: From the global US$ 2000 billion+ de facto military budgets.
But not a single government has connected those two dots: Military expenditure reduction as a way of freeing desperately needed human and other capital and put them to work for genuine global problem-solving, for the common good.
The US Congress recently voted about a proposal to reduce the – perversely high – military expenditures by as little as 10% and move those resources into human needs related activities in the US society. 0 Republicans voted yes, 92 Democrats voted yes and 139 no. Thus, as David Swanson points out, both parties are disasters.
It’s one of many tasks of the intellectual to connect dots, not the least in times when the focus has a very limited space ”me”, ”I”, ”my nation” and time is defined by politicians hardly knowing what they want to achieve next week. (Try and ask a leading Western politician what she or he wants the world to look like in 50 years from now. Prediction is that you would not get anything worth discussing).
Four Major Things to Do
1. Get a vision and a constructive program: Look at solutions first!
Crudely stated, 99% of humanity spends about 99% of their energy on analyzing, discussing and criticizing what is wrong with the world – and whose fault it is. The vast majority or articles, reports, books, and videos today are about Diagnosis and Prognosis (some fake/omission, some genuine) – very little on Treatment or Problem-Solving.
This applies particularly to the West, visions of the good society has vanished, been imprisoned by the foci everywhere on ongoing crisis-management. There are more Dystopias than Eutopias around. That even applies to the peace research and movements which, with few exceptions, are anti-violence/war/weapons rather than pro-peace movements and with a very weak future and problem-solving orientation.
Otherwise with the Chinese. Since the late 1970s, they pursued a vision of a better society and the opening op to a better world. They used eclecticism creatively and combined bits and pieces of socio-economic development that the West thought was either/or, not both/and.
Whether authoritarian or not – and Western concepts will anyhow never help us understand China – it worked. Simply. So, while not imitating, it would be wise of the West in this stage of its decline to stop mastering and threatening and, instead, explore whether it could learn something from China.
Tragically, however, we all know where the US is moving now – self-destructively: Towards yet another Cold War, first with Russia and now with China. It will be suicidal for the US and its allies and friends, NATO and the EU and others – but not even the Corona crisis has caused any Western government to stop and re-think. There is still a Back to Normal wishful thinking and the stubborn idea that the West shall teach and rule and not be a partner among equals.
So, the first thing to do is to recognize that anyone at any level who does not embrace change as the only constant and are also not willing or able to outline a long-term vision for itself and the world, is bound to fall.
2. Take from the military and give it to global civil problem-solution: The Necessary New Normal
As stated, world military expenditures range around US$ 2000 billion dollars, the highest ever. Perhaps this incomprehensible sum would be justified if the world as a whole experienced solid defense, security, and peace. But the fact is that there are more tensions, hatred, dominance attempts, new kinds of wars added to old ones, and one country after the other has been destroyed since the end of the First Cold War in 1989-90. The US, in particular, see everybody else as anything from mortal dangers to friends it can’t rely on – while its military is bigger than the ten next military spenders in the world.
Paranoid and self-inflicted threat, autism, and exceptionalism coupled with rampant militarism has decades ago substituted analyses and rational decision-making. The US/NATO system seems unable – simply – to live without enemies.
That’s also why there is a new, albeit different, cold war in Europe now and, while writing this, China is the object of yet another Cold War drive – ad absurdum and well-coordinated with the media and leading the US and other think tanks.
Imagine every country in the world would reduce its military expenditures by 50% and you would have US$ 1000. Is it a large or small sum? That sum was what China in 2013 put behind the Belt and Road Initiative, BRI – a cooperative effort around infrastructure, fast physical and digital communication, sea and land transport, education and cultural exchange, and much more. Today it involves around 80 countries, some of all continents and it is open to everyone.
Beyond any doubt, this is the largest – and most positive – cooperation project in the world and it is the project that will give birth to – if it has not already? – a new multi-polar world order based more on cooperation than confrontation.
There is, in summary, no doubt that a substantial conversation of, say, US$ 1000 billion from the military to the solution of humanity’s common problems would imply a desperately needed boost for the common good. (This argument does not rest on any assumption that money is the main tool to solve problems; that takes lots of non-material qualities. But with economies falling apart at a moment when each and every economy needs funds for ”rebooting humanity,” this is one simple thing to do with a rather large bang for the buck).
Additionally, lots of manpower, resources, knowledge, experience, and equipment today owned by the military could be converted and put to civilian tasks. It would not create unemployment, it would boost employment.
Imagine that NATO – a clearly obsolete organization – could be converted to the world’s most important, largest and fastest civilian emergency and humanitarian aid transport organization under UN leadership. Take its weapons away and you have thousands of highly qualified people who could be transferred to civilian jobs and do something good for humankind instead of their destructive, wasteful activities today.
Isn’t it reasonable to assume that the far majority of NATO’s staff members do not want war but are only doing their job – and that, like you and me, they would love to contribute to a more peaceful world? Imagine what such an organization could have done from Day One with its communication, transport, and coordination capacities to help when the Corona broke out – or when the huge explosion occurred in Beirut!
3. Implement the old concept of human security – from the individual to the global
Among that Commission’s members, you find mostly diplomats and former ministers, plus people with a background in the Rockefeller Foundation, Goldman Sachs and the US administration.
This explains to a large extent, one can safely assume, that their concept of human security is what I would call compensatory, or supplementary and does not fundamentally address, challenge or attempt to change the Realpolitik military national security concept.
As far as the present author is aware, the first time ever the term human security is used is in a research report from 1978 entitled “The New International Military Order – The Real Threat to Human Security”. An Essay on Global Armament, Structural Militarism and Alternative Security” and written by me. It was part of a collaborative research project by the Lund University Peace Research Institute, LUPRI, and the Chair in Conflict and Peace Research at Oslo University directed by the holder of that chair, Johan Galtung. (Papers Nr. 65). (And with this mention here, my tribute to him on his upcoming 90th birthday on UN Day this year!)
There we defined human security as increasing freedom from the risk of direct as well as structural violence. As a survival, in other words, and as security for, by and with the people, the citizens – built into things/production, systems/distribution and structures/transformations and Nature/cyclical utilization.
It was meant as an alternative to classical Realpolitik ”national security” and not as a supplement to it. Of course, it was much too radical and ”unrealistic.” Now 40 years later, the Corona and other facts tell us that, perhaps, it would have been a good thing to try – in addition it would have reduced military expenditures and made the world safer today.
4. Common security through alternative civil-military, defensive defense
It was the Palme Commission report of 1982 that stated, for the first time in the domain of politics, what should be the obvious: We can have security only if ’the other’ also feel secure with us.
That’s important even today where we have learned that all the confrontation and dominance policies based on offensive, long-range weapons – including nuclear ICBMs – have not made the world safer at all.
And to realize this we need to re-conceptualize defense and security in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter: as useable only for defense. The present idea is that ”I can kill you with my long-range weapons but I have not intention to” should be scrapped simply because it is a foundation stone of never-ending arms races: How and why should the opponent believe us when we say that – we could change intentions tomorrow. And why do we possess offensive long-range weapons if they would never under any circumstance be used?
The only ones to gain security from this is the mentioned MIMAC elites…
So in post-Corona times, the goals should be human security from the individual to the global accompanied by the defensive defense (with a military component to democratically accommodate those who think we need that, but then also defensive, i.e. short-range and limited destruction capacity because only used on one’s own territory).
And the rest would consist of a much needed intellectual and moral armament process: conflict-analyses, conflict-resolution/transformation, reconciliation, and forgiveness – closure – so that the same conflict never turns up again.
In this way, we would achieve two important things: Having first laid the foundation of peace and then secured it without embedded arms race dynamics. Two, create a guarantee that violence will always be the last resort – when everything else has been tried.
You may read more about this is my series, The Corona – An opportunity to replace militarist security with common and human security
In Lieu of Conclusion
Naturally, there are many more things to be done than these four. When they have been decided and implemented worldwide, we can go on with all the other things. But hardly before. For the West to continue to operate the way it has for centuries and particularly since 1945 means either a new world war and the end of the US Empire and perhaps the US itself. Or simply going down with a whimper rather than a bang – a weak, uncooperative, and marginalized actor in the world.
If we could do the four things above, we could also reboot humanity with the recognition that change is the only constant.
And learning the peaceful means the only way to realize the goal of a more peaceful, liveable, and convivial world.
Prof. Jan Oberg, Ph.D. is director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, TFF and a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment.