World War ? [essay on realism and ecology] : LUSENET : Running on Empty - The Coming Petroleum Exhaustion Dieoff : One Thread



This brief essay is about one of the most twisted, and most crucial, of all political notions -- realism. I bring it up because any system of "alternative security" must -- of necessity, and even more than a system of traditional security -- take first account of the world as it is, and only then concern itself with the world as it might be wished to be. This, at least to my inexpert ear, is what the term "realism" is intended to imply.

And, amid the "creative destruction" of the Asian boom, a great deal of realism is called for. The conference proposal tells us that the "ideal status quo" would be one in which "state security" and "the security of communities and peoples" are merged, and indeed, we may already have reached the point where this isn't a particularly controversial statement. At least in conclaves like this one. But note that states, on the one side, and "communities and people," on the other, are not the only actors on this stage. There are, too, the elites, particularly the economic elites. And given the frenzied nature of the capitalist revolution now sweeping Asia, they cannot realistically be excluded from any talk of true security.

Money makes the world go round, or so we are told. And if we hope for an "alternative system" of security in Asia, one with ties strong enough to bind the region, despite all, into peace, we had best hope that the tides of money circulating in Asia are creating, as they sweep, the preconditions for peace. For these tides are -- obviously -- prominent among the forces acting upon Asia. We have heard that the pattern emerging here today echos that in Europe before WWI. You will forgive me, then, if I make an obvious point -- in Europe, before WWI, the rich, like the Asian rich today, did not, for the most part, want war. Better to say that they just wanted to make pots of money, and didn't particularly care to see anything that troubled this desire.

Unfortunately, and in sharp contrast to the reassurances of free-trade ideology, it's not at all obvious that the tides of economic globalization are on the side of peace. The arms race, picking up speed in Asia as regional manufacturers break into the business, is just one key, frightening, example. The larger point is competition itself, which must be said to exhibit a certain historical tendency to get, well, out of control... If we're looking for the logic a likely post-Cold War war, we should look first not to the "clash of civilizations," or even to ethnic conflict, but to "the economy."

This point, by the way, exposes a serious problem with environmental security studies, at least as we now know it. With rare exceptions, eco-security studies accepts the terms of today's economic transformations as both given and positive. Trade, we are forever being told, ties us together, but don't look to the green security literature to be told, clearly and with an eye to the implications, that it also tears us apart.

This will no longer do. There is, at this point, too much handwriting on the wall. The roots of war are too well understood, and "globalization" -- or whatever we may wish to call the emergence of the new economy -- is too obvious, to allow an gloss to be easily laid over their linkages. Indeed, even the new economy is no longer new. The tiger economies, long the totems of capitalist vigor, no longer find expansion to be easy. On another front, it's now widely acknowledged that ecology must somehow be made central to the world economy. Indeed, it's now widely acknowledged that "development" is a problematic pursuit, and that if it cannot be made "sustainable," the likely result is what the Worldwatch Institute's Lester Brown described as "the self-reinforcing internal dynamic of the deterioration-and-decline scenario" [1]. In other words, war.

Allow me, then, to make a claim that I here lack the time to prove, or even to adequately defend -- without a profound increase in the overall level of social justice, and particularly economic justice, there can be and will be no effective response to the ecological crisis. This, today, is the core of realism.

-- Scott (, May 05, 2000


Geezzz...I really hate it when a moderately optimistic guy goes on like that and brings up things I never even thought of in my most pessimistic blue funks.

Incredible article, Scott.


-- (, May 06, 2000.

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