Millennium Global Challenge No. 10. How can shared values and new security strategies reduce ethnic conflicts, terrorism, and the use of weapons of mass destruction?

Reference: The Millennium Project

Although the vast majority of the world is living in peace, half the world continues to be vulnerable to social instability and violence due to growing global and local inequalities, outdated social structures, inadequate legal systems and increasing costs of food, water, and energy. In areas of worsening political, environmental, and economic conditions, increasing migrations can be expected. Add in the future effects of climate change, and there could be as many as 400 million migrants by 2050. While inter-state conflicts decreased, internal unrest is increasing. The UN estimates that 40% of the internal conflicts over the past 60 years were natural resource–related. As growing populations and economies increase the drain on natural resources, social tensions are expected to increase, triggering complex interactions of old ethnic and religious conflicts, civil unrest, terrorism, and crime. Substantial technological and social changes will be needed to prevent this; countries will need to include non-traditional security strategies for addressing the root causes of unrest. Since many countries affected by conflict return to war within five years of a cease-fire, more serious efforts are required to dismantle the structures of violence and establish structures of peace.

Conflicts have decreased over the past two decades, cross-cultural dialogues are flourishing, and intra-state conflicts are increasingly being settled by international interventions. Today, there are 10 conflicts (down from 14 last year) with at least 1,000 deaths per year: Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, NW Pakistan, Naxalites in India, Mexican cartels, Sudan, Libya, and one classified as international extremism. Yet the 27.5 million internally displaced persons is the highest total since the 1990s. The probability of a more peaceful world is increasing due to the growth of democracy, international trade, global news media, the Internet and new forms of social networks, NGOs, satellite surveillance, better access to resources, and the evolution of the UN and regional organizations. The U.S. and Russia signed the new START nuclear arms reduction treaty, and new arms races are being preemptively addressed. Yet the Global Peace Index’s rating of 144 countries’ peacefulness again declined slightly, reflecting intensification of some conflicts and the economic crisis.

In 2011, there are 122,000 UN peacekeepers from 114 countries in 15 operations. Total military expenditures are about $1.5 trillion per year. There are an estimated 8,100 active nuclear weapons, down from 20,000 in 2002 and 65,000 in 1985. However, there are approximately 1,700 tons of highly enriched uranium and 500 tons of separated plutonium that could produce nuclear weapons. The nexus of transnational extremist violence is changing from complex organized plots to attacks by single individuals or small independent groups. Mail-order DNA and future desktop molecular and pharmaceutical manufacturing, plus access (possibly via organized crime) to nuclear materials, could one day give single individuals the ability to make and use weapons of mass destruction— from biological weapons to low-level nuclear (“dirty”) bombs. The IAEA reports that between 1993 and the end of 2010 the Illicit Trafficking Database confirmed 1,980 incidents of illicit trafficking and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and other radioactive materials. During 2010, the IAEA received reports of 176 nuclear trafficking incidents (compared with 222 during 2009), ranging from illegal possession and attempted sale and smuggling to unauthorized disposal of materials and discoveries of lost radiological sources.

Governments and military contractors are engaged in an intellectual arms race to defend themselves from cyberattacks from other governments and their surrogates. Beyond defense, the rules of engagement for responding to such aggressors are not clear. Because society’s vital systems now depend on the Internet, cyberweapons to bring it down can be thought of as weapons of mass destruction. The security requirements for deterring single individuals from making and deploying WMD is unprecedented. We have to develop mental health and education systems to detect and treat individuals who might otherwise grow up to use such advanced weapons, as well as using networks of nanotech sensors to alert authorities to those creating such weapons.

Military power has yet to prove effective in asymmetrical warfare without genuine cultural engagement. Peace strategies without love, compassion, or spiritual outlooks are less likely to work, because intellectual or rational systems alone are not likely to overcome the emotional divisions that prevent peace. Conflict prevention efforts should work in and with all the related factions, including conversations with hardliner groups, taking into consideration their emotional and spiritual sensibilities. Massive public education programs are needed to promote respect for diversity and the oneness that underlies that diversity. It is less expensive and more effective to attack the root causes of unrest than to stop explosions of violence.

Early warning systems of governments and UN agencies could better connect with NGOs and the media to help generate the political will to prevent or reduce conflicts. User-initiated collaborations on the Web should be increasingly used for peace promotion, rumor control, fact-finding, and reconciliation. Backcasted peace scenarios should be created through participatory processes to show plausible alternatives to conflict stories (see CD Chapter 3.7). It is still necessary, however, to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes and to support the International Criminal Court. The Geneva Convention should be modified to cover intra-state conflicts. Some believe that the collective mind of humanity can contribute to peace or conflict, and hence we can think ourselves into a more peaceful future. Meanwhile, governments should destroy existing stockpiles of biological weapons, create tracking systems for potential bioweapons, establish an international audit system for each weapon type, and increase the use of non-lethal weapons to reduce future revenge cycles. Networks of CDC-like centers to counter impacts of bioterrorism should be also supported. Challenge 10 will be addressed seriously when arms sales and violent crimes decrease by 50% from their peak.

Regional Considerations

Africa: The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions and Libyan internal fighting open North Africa and the wider Arab world to a variety of scenarios. Some believe the death of Osama bin-Laden decreases Al Qaeda’s role from Mauritania to Somalia, while others see a rising Muslim Brotherhood. Sub-Saharan Africa has slowly decreased conflicts over the past 10 years. South Sudan has achieved independence. In 2010 there were more than 250,000 Ethiopian IDPs, and there are 300,000 Somali refugees in a Kenyan camp. Serious unrest has broken out between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, where $22 billion in oil revenues has vanished into local treasuries. Youth unemployment and millions of AIDS orphans may fuel a new generation of violence and crime.

Asia and Oceania: The popular uprisings have spread from North Africa to Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen. With the potential for the collapse of Yemen, oil piracy along the Somali coast could increase. An internationally acceptable solution to Iran and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions is still lacking, and Pakistan’s internal instability and uncertain relationships with India and Afghanistan hinder the peacemaking and counter-extremist efforts in all three countries. The $7.5 billion in civilian aid given to Pakistan over the past five years has been largely ineffective. There is no clarity on a NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Iraq’s future stability is in doubt. India is facing spreading Maoist violence. Muslim populations from Chechnya to the Philippines are struggling for political and religious rights. Young Palestinians are using online social networks to form a movement separate from Hamas and Fatah to promote the vision of a future Palestinian state. Kurdish aspirations are still a cause of unrest in Turkey and Iraq, but 300,000 Kurds received Syrian citizenship. Relations between North and South Korea have deteriorated. China’s internal problems over water, energy, demographics, urbanization, income gaps, and secessionist Muslims in the northwest will have to be well-managed to prevent future conflicts, while tensions with Taiwan are easing.

Europe: The EU has created a unit of the External Action Service to actively prevent conflicts. Poland, joined by the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, has set up the Visegrad Battle Group, a mini-analogue to NATO. The large numbers of migrant laborers entering the EU will require new approaches to integrate them better into society if increased conflicts are to be prevented. This is aggravated by the new surge of immigrants from the Arab uprisings that Italy has taken in but other countries are unwilling to accommodate. The Roma population continues to be a challenge across the continent.

Latin America: Although national wars are rare in the region, internal violence from organized crime paramilitaries continues to be fueled in some areas by corrupt government officials, military, police, and national and international corporations. Mexico’s war against organized crime has accelerated, with 35,000 deaths over four years (10,000 of them in 2010). Recent political changes have begun to improve opportunities for indigenous peoples in some parts of the region, while political polarization over policies to address poverty and development persists. Colombia plans on returning to the rightful owners 2.5 million hectares of land seized by gangs. Violence is impeding development in Central America.

North America: As Arctic ice continues to melt, vast quantities of natural gas and oil will be accessible where national boundaries are under dispute. This could be a source of U.S.-Canadian tension, along with Russia, Norway, and Denmark. The U.S. Institute of Peace’s SENSE multi-person training simulation has educated thousands of participants worldwide in the fundamentals of decisionmaking, resource allocation, and negotiation in post-conflict situations. Cooperation on environmental security could become a focus of U.S.-China strategic trust.

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