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2 Mar, 2008

Is globalisation really making the world safe?

Originally Published: 2 Mar 2008

In spite of all the “progress” made in science, technology, telecommunications, economics, medicine, environmental science and many other fields of study, does the average human feel any more safe and secure than before?

The yearning to feel safe, secure and at peace is as much a part of human psyche as hunger, thirst and love. “Shelter” does not only mean having a roof above one’s head.

Whereas in prehistoric days, insecurity was determined only by the hunt for the next meal or avoiding becoming another predator’s next meal, today it ranges from personal and personality traits to national security and geopolitics.

Private insecurities make us victims of our looks or our status or income levels. The pursuit of “wellness” has become a big business as people adopt a preventive approach towards warding off disease and sickness.

In turn, countries worry about the impact of rising oil prices, natural disasters, social and political disturbances, and many more. At a broader level, tangible fears exist about health pandemics, economic and environmental crises, rogue currency traders, terrorists, drug dealers and organised crime syndicates, among others.

Although humanity has more to worry about than ever before, it is really only the scope of the threat that has changed.

Indeed, a fundamental marketing pitch of all religions has been that they help ward off these insecurities – the belief that being “good” will save us from the forces of “evil” and/or the peril of damnation. Jesus Christ is not known as the “Saviour” for nothing.

Within every country, community, company and individual, the dynamics of insecurity are omnipresent. All forms of power and strength, supposedly intended to enhance “security,” are only temporary phenomena, destined by the law of nature to ebb and flow.

Yet, the struggle goes on globally. For example:

  • Europe – An ageing society, with few natural resources. Once formidable colonial powers which ruled the world, now seeking other means of extending the domination by exporting its standards and systems.
  • Japan – Another ageing society, an archipelago with few resources and prone to disastrous earthquakes. Also a former world power which reinvented itself as a technological giant but now fears growing competition from China, Korea and India.
  • The U.S. – The reigning Number One power but also conscious of the rise of India and China and the worldwide opposition to its dominance and policies. Now clearly feeling the weight of carrying the world on its shoulders. The more it seeks to boost its security, the more it exposes its own paranoid insecurities.
  • Russia – A once formidable power which lost the Cold War, and virtually dismantled its entire military in its aftermath. Now seeking to regain its erstwhile power, even while managing the borders of the world’s largest land-mass.
  • India – Experiencing a technological and economic sunrise but knows well that its heavily agricultural base is at the mercy of the next monsoon rains. Desperately short of energy, it is struggling to manage its divisive democracy, its most important asset as well as its most formidable liability.
  • China: Has shown that political socialism and capitalist economics can co-exist under the one-country, two-systems philosophy. Unsure about how to handle that renegade “province” of Taiwan. Like India, facing potentially explosive income-distribution disparities.
  • Australia – A massive land-mass with a low population density and huge natural resources but recently struck by a debilitating drought. Lives with a perpetual identity crisis. An apology to its indigenous peoples cannot change the fact that it is largely a “Western” country located just south of the world’s most populous “Asian” countries.
  • Israel: A hugely insecure land, with no natural resources and surrounded, as it often reminds everyone, by all those Arabs, a David vs Goliath scenario that allows it to market itself as an underdog and victim living under a perpetual state of threat.
  • The Gulf sheikhdoms – Arguably the world’s most insecure peoples. Small populations, former fisher-folk who became rich overnight, and entirely dependent on oil for income and foreign labour for their basic needs. Caught in the pincers of power between all those who covet that oil.

The list can go on. Every country has to live with its own insecurities and find ways of addressing them. Today, these insecurities are being exploited at a global level in two ways.

At the geopolitical level they are a part and parcel of the politics of fear which can be, and are being manipulated to the hilt. Creating a problem and then marketing oneself as the solution is a cunning and, so far, winning strategy.

At the economic level, the mantra of “increasing competitiveness” locks countries into a ceaseless cycle of pursuing competitive advantage, even though they may clearly lack the physical, financial or natural resources to do so.

Both these strategies, otherwise known as divide and rule games, were extremely well played by the colonial powers, and still are.

At the same time, offering protection against insecurities has become a big business.

Creating and playing up a “threat” certainly benefits the gargantuan global defence industry. It helps sell insurance, and forces countries to constantly buy and upgrade new technologies designed to prevent, manage or combat the threat, whatever its shape or form.

Which raises the bottom-line question: Is globalisation really making the world safe? Quite the opposite, it would seem, as countries are no longer in control of their own destinies. The ripple effect of financial crises has verified the truth of that.

Past empires hit their zenith only by encouraging creativity and freedom to grow and prosper without pandering to the lowest common denominator or developing an arrogant superiority complex.

The same applies to companies, countries, associations, communities or families. As long as they provide space to grow in an atmosphere of mutual respect, justice, transparency, fair play and rule of law, neither the leaders nor the peoples have any reason to feel threatened or insecure.