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close this book Human Security and Mutual Vulnerability
View the document INTRODUCTION
View the document Acknowledgements
View the document Chapter 1: A Framework for Analysis
View the document Chapter 2: Environmental Insecurity
View the document Chapter 3: Economic Insecurity
View the document Chapter 4: Social Insecurity
View the document Chapter 5: Political Insecurity
View the document Chapter 6: Cultural Insecurity
View the document Conclusion
View the document Bibliography

Chapter 5: Political Insecurity

Until 1989, the functioning of the international conflict management regime was based upon the intersection of two patterns of confrontation. The primary contradiction was a bipolar and seemingly symmetrical stalemate between the US and the USSR and their First and Second World allies. The principal source of global insecurity in the East–West confrontation was the nuclear arms race underpinned by contending ideologies, economies and political systems. The bipolar global order had defined spheres of interest and influence. Collective defence agreements, such as NATO or the Warsaw Treaty gave an institutional basis as well as military muscle to the global divide. The secondary worldwide contradiction was that between a developed "North" and an underdeveloped "South." The latter constituted the Third World of "developing," "new" and "nonaligned" nations, or more specifically, their ruling elites attempting an uneasy balance between the two blocs. More often than not this allegedly independent stand was an illusion. Despite rhetoric, nonalignment for most of Latin America, the bulk of South and East Asia, Africa and the Middle East, was conditioned by neocolonial patterns of trade and military ties with the West. Some of the new radical regimes, such as Cuba, Vietnam, Angola, or Mozambique experienced a client relation with the USSR. In fact, only a few large states (including India, postrevolutionary Iran, China and Iraq) played an intermittent nonaligned role, but with no common bonds among themselves. In other words, the Third World was more a systemic feedback of the confrontation between the First and Second worlds than a consequence of the effort by their leaders to ascertain the sovereignty of their respective nations.

The international system involved a wide array of linkage groups connecting both centres and their respective cores with their peripheries and semiperipheries. This constellation of clienteles found expression in the functioning of formal international institutions. The latter comprised a gamut of organizations: from the General Assembly of the UN, to the Security Council, to the main functional agencies and the regional bodies (e.g., the OAS, the OAU, ASEAN, the Arab League). Although penetrated by the entangling alliances of the Cold War and by the hegemonic vocations of both superpowers, nation states remained the dominant actors of political interactions, both in the global and the domestic scene, as has been the case before the Second World War.

Without bipolarism, the above-described interstate mode of conflict management came to a sudden end. Despite the practical elimination of the possibilities of all-out systemic confrontation between nuclear superpowers, the emerging structure is inherently unstable. Major security threats, though basically subsystemic, are today much broader, unpredictable and fractal. The global political configuration in the 1990s is essentially asymmetrical. In conventional security terms, it is one of loose unipolarism (with OECD and US dominance). The rapid disintegration of other forms of systemic associations, such as the East European bloc, the Non-Aligned Movement and the very idea of the Third World left a systemic vacuum. On the surface, there is a formal multilateralization of US hegemony in a Western-controlled UN system combined with growing economic polycentrism within the developed world. The latter manifests itself in two directions. One is the emergence of strong economic blocs, namely in Europe (the EC), Asia-Pacific (APEC) and now NAFTA. The other is the apparent decline of the United States as an industrial power vis-à-vis Europe and Japan.

But this polycentrism is deceiving, since US military and economic might within the centre and globally, is still quite formidable. Susan Strange (1988) uses the term "structural power" to refer to this American paramountcy under a new constellation of global interests which now includes European and especially Japanese elites. Power, in this new world order is functional rather than territorial. Underpinning the geographic poles of growth in Asia-Pacific or Europe, or even in the semiperipheries, there is an expanding concentration of force and wealth in the hands of a global ruling class whose economic and organizational commonalities are stronger than any traditional definition contained under the concept "national interest." In fact, transnational integration and territorial decentralization, as in the case of the globalization of production, trade and accumulation, have gone hand-in-hand. The main consequence of this has been a profound weakening of the sovereignty of the nation-state.

The Global Political Crisis and its Manifestations

Thus, the contemporary political crisis entails the juxtaposition of two macro processes. One is the transformation of the global political order at the end of the Cold War leading to the emergence of a new correlation of forces; the other is a profound alteration of the state itself as a mechanism for conflict management and for the authoritative allocation of valuables. Five major dysfunctional manifestations emerge from the abovementioned juxtaposition. The first is the spread of subnational "low-intensity" conflict and civil strife. The second is the pervasiveness of extreme forms of violence, such as terrorism. The third is the increasingly endemic decline of the rule of law, expressed in soaring rates of crime. The fourth is the breakdown of the nexus between state and civil society brought about by neoliberalism and the receiver states (Nef and Bensabat 1992). Last but not least is the rise of neofascism. We will briefly discuss each one of these manifestations and their impact on human security.

The Spread of Conflict

In an interconnected world, conflicts cannot be easily contained within national boundaries. Rather, they have a proclivity to become globalized, almost inevitably drawing in external actors. Involvement and intervention, especially on the part of paramount participants, such as the US or Europe, often mean entangling and costly operations, such as in Kuwait or Somalia. Peacekeeping, developed for the prevention of escalating local conflicts contemplated in the specific mandate of the United Nations Security Council in the bipolar era has given way to a less focused and less transparent, broader and more unilateral notion: the idea of "peacemaking." The latter consists of a particularly American approach for multilateralizing unilateral actions by means of the legitimation provided by a UN Security Council, where the veto of the former USSR has disappeared.

Not only are interventions brought to the living rooms of the virtual global village through the First World media, but their repercussions in terms of internal security threats and possible retaliations affect the everyday life of ordinary citizens in a very concrete way. As conflicts expand in scope and intensity, they may involve theatres other than the primary arenas of confrontation. Even under the restraint of bipolarism, primarily local confrontations, like the Korean or Vietnamese civil wars, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, civil strife in Central America or power struggles in Afghanistan, showed a tendency to become regionalized and internationalized. Today, without the dangers of unintended superpower head-on collisions, the possibilities of widening local wars have increased. A recent UN report gave a sombre assessment of a world at peace but not in peace:

Civil wars and internal conflicts have become the principal causes of violence, destruction and the displacement of peoples as conflicts between nation States and rivalries among major military powers subside.... During the period 1989–90, there were 33 armed conflicts in the world, only one of which was between nation states. Some 2 million people have fled former Yugoslavia as refugees or displaced persons. (UNDESD 1993)

To put these figures in perspective, in the 45 years since the Second World War, there have been some 150 regional wars, with approximately 20 million deaths, mostly among civilians (Roche 1993). This suggests that, while bipolarism prevented an all-out nuclear confrontation between the Western alliance and the Warsaw Treaty, it was not as effective in controlling brushfire wars, especially in impoverished regions in the periphery. It also suggests that the incidence of armed conflict has multiplied five-fold in the years following the end of the Cold War. Given the fact that lethality expands with technology, we may expect the number of casualties to grow accordingly.

These conflicts are intensified by external economic and political interests, permeable boundaries and by the pervasive and massive access to arms supplies. The latter, "in and of itself increases the instability of unstable situations around the world" (Winter 1993). The "arms trade constitutes a considerable burden on the already weak economies of developing countries" (Kiana 1991). It accounted for between 80% and 90% of the value of all the world arms imports between 1977 and 1987 (SIPRI 1988). For comparative purposes, while the total volume of arms transfers to developing countries between 1961 and 1980, expressed in constant dollars was above $143 billion US, the total volume of economic aid was less than $48 billion (Maniruzzaman 1992). This transfer has contributed in no small manner to the emergence and perpetuation of repressive regimes and to the tragic and all-too-familiar cycle of dictatorship, rebellion and superpower entanglement in the South.

There are also latent threats to political security. Perhaps one of the most destabilizing but largely unmentioned and underrated developments in the current international scene is the breakdown of the East European, and particularly the Soviet and Yugoslavian military establishments. Before 1989, upwards of 16% of the GDP of the USSR was destined to feed its military machinery (by comparison, the US proportion was about 7% and Germany's 3.2%; Canada's was slightly over 2%). By 1991 it had dropped to 11% - an annual rate of decline of over 20% and 31% overall. In terms of personnel, the rate of demobilization for the same period was nearly 25%: from over five million to under four million (IISS 1993). With it, an enormous reservoir of hardware and knowhow, including highly sophisticated weapons and trained manpower has become available to world demand.

The wholesale availability of sophisticated arms at discount prices and equally cheap accessible manpower heighten the prospects of bloody civil and international conflicts. The disintegration of the of Eastern European armies, especially in the former Soviet Union, in the midst of a collapse of authority has potentially deleterious effects on global security. It has been estimated that the former Soviet republics posses over 13 thousand tanks, an equal number of artillery pieces, over 20 thousand armoured vehicles and likely hundreds of thousands of assorted smaller weapons (Borewiec 1993). A good deal of this hardware is finding its way into Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova (Nelson 1993), where civil wars have produced thousands of casualties and have created a flow of refugees and displaced persons numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

Yet conflict regions of Africa and elsewhere are also receiving this influx of military hardware. Whether this threat becomes a wider and painful reality will depend to a large extent on the weak and problematic prospects for peace, development and the establishment of legitimate government in the Russian Federation and in the former Soviet republics. For as long as the economic and political situation in Russia and in the now independent members of the Union continues to deteriorate, global security will remain in serious peril.

But the possibilities of expanding conflict are not confined. to the disintegrating East European region. In Western Europe there is a rather conventional and reciprocating security threat re-emerging from the collapse of the "old order." This is the scenario posed by German rearmament and a French nationalist drive to pre-empt German paramountcy, especially under the present conditions of reunification. The latent pressures could manifest themselves from many sides. They could come as a result of a reorganization of NATO or as an unilateral action should a crisis in NATO occur. Rearmament could be a consequence of instability in the Balkans or the Caucasus, or it could be a reaction against an unstable, neoisolationist and ultranationalist Russia. It could come too as a populist gamble to unify an increasingly polarised society. In any case, a German superpower and a French drive to keep such ascent in check would have highly destabilizing regional and global effects.

It should be remembered that in 1993 France had the largest military establishment in NATO-Europe, with 506,000 regulars. It possesses also a significant independent nuclear force. Germany, though nonnuclear, has the second largest military contingent, with over 398,000 troops in 1994 (Sivard 1993, SIPRI 1994) and nearly an equal number of reservists. In the period 1988-92, France was the third largest exporter of major conventional weapons, behind the USA and Russia, while Germany was a next fourth (SIPRI 1993). Germany's export of weapons to the developed nations, a good indicator of military production, increased by 70% between 1988 and 1992, and overall weapons sales by 46% (this is an average growth ranging between 11% and 17% per year), surpassing France's lead in 1991 and 1992 (SIPRI 1993). Under these conditions, a military build-up would not require a momentous effort.

Furthermore, German nationalism, despite its suppression by past occupation and forceful partition, is not dead, particularly in the former GDR. French nationalism, in turn, has always been a significant factor in French politics, even with the former Socialist government of President Mitterand. The 1995 election brought Gaullist candidate Jacques Chirac to the helm of power, with a highly nationalist rhetoric and agenda; one bowing to the pressures of the extreme right. In sum, chauvinism in both countries retains a strong political appeal. It is an option available to countervail external threats, internal conflicts and has been used in the past as a way to spearhead economic recovery. Without the external checks-and-balances of its American NATO ally, with a declining British presence, and with the vacuum left by the disintegration of the Soviet Union, militaristic revivalism (and rivalry) in France and Germany is by no means a dismissable proposition.

Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism

With the spectre of nuclear holocaust resulting from super-power confrontation gone, new security threats have to be reassessed. Nonconventional forms of violent struggle, such as low intensity conflicts, drug wars, and terrorism (Wardlaw 1989) are increasingly fought in the global stage. Data on terrorist attacks is vague and purposely manipulated. What is clear is that the semantics of terrorism are much more important than the acts themselves. Differences between some of the major producers of data on the subject - the US State Department, the CIA, the Rand Corporation and organizations with different types of affiliations and clienteles - show ranges of discrepancies of 300% and 400% (Jongman 1993). For instance, while Risks International, a private thinktank, has recorded a total of 35,150 incidents between 1970 and 1988, the US State Department's figure is 13,572 for the period between 1968 and 1991. Such fundamental differences are related to the type of incident recorded, the nature of the group involved and the political intent of the producer of the data. The US government and its agencies, have consistently attempted to minimize the impact of, "wholesale," state-sponsored terrorism (unless perpetrated by communist and those defined as "crazy" states: Libya, Cuba, North Korea) while overemphasising both international as well as "left-wing" terrorism. There is also a proclivity to inflate the incidence of such terrorism in the West, by presenting very selective frequencies without reference to population. A 1992 US State Department study indicated that between 1983 and 1992, over 50% of the registered incidents occurred in Latin America, 31.5% in the Middle East and 7.8% in Europe. The remaining 10.7% took place in Africa, Asia and North America (US State Department 1992).

Although most terrorist activity takes place in the periphery and involves generally unreported acts of state terrorism, core regions are not "off-limits" to such activities. The once perceived security offered by Western societies has been rendered porous by dramatic events such as the destruction of Pan-Am flight 103 over Lockerbye or the bombing of the New York Trade Centre. While terrorism is a tactical expression of many ideological strains, ethnic, religious, linguistic and other forms of irredentism are the most frequent source of terrorist activity. The solution of some of the enduring national and territorial questions (as in Palestine and Northern Ireland) will likely bring to an end the violent spate begun in the 1970s. However, in a world of disintegrating nation-states, the spectre of nationalist, criminal, radical, vigilante or government-sponsored terrorism remains an ever-present security threat.

The menace to democracy posed by the "war of the flea" lies not only with the "disease," as an obscene symptomatic expression of violence. Objectively, the numbers of direct casualties resulting from terrorist acts are disproportionately small in relation to the psychological and indirect impact derived from their brutality. The study referred to above indicated that in a 9 year period (1983–92) fatal attacks involved slightly over 12% of all registered cases; more than half of those in Latin America. Only a handful of these reported cases occurred in Europe and North America (respectively 8.1% and 1.1%). If population is factored in, despite the image of a "world at bay," the relative incidence of terrorism in Western societies is quite negligible. This is not to say that the systemic impact of terrorism on everyday life is insignificant. Quite the contrary. The very logic of terror creates a radically altered social and political environment.

In this systemic sense, a real threat posed by terrorism to political security lies in its "cure." In many instances counter-terrorism means hardly more than terrorism with a minus sign in front. It nurtures secrecy and a proclivity to circumvent civil liberties, due process and all those institutions that counterterrorist measures are supposed to protect (Schmid and Crelisten 1993). In the recent past, many policies designed to fight "subversion," had the unintended effect of multiplying insecurity in both the periphery and the centre. In the lesser developed societies, antiterrorism, often in the form of death squads and vigilantism, means the exacerbation of violence and the development of unabashed state terrorism (Chomsky and Herman 1979). In the West, policies proclaimed in the name of antiterrorism have enhanced both, antidemocratic predispositions and government by deceit. A similar danger can be found in the "moral entrepreneurship" of the war on drugs and other public safety campaigns which today replace the counterinsurgency and counter-terrorist discourse of the past. The globalization of enforcement, combined with the transnationalization of the state, reduce the latter's power and legitimacy. These tendencies increase North–South entanglements and in the long run weaken global and domestic security.

Crime and Counter-Crime

The growing incidence of criminality, violent or otherwise, in the midst of a deepening economic crisis constitutes a related security threat. The latter manifests itself in two ways. The first is the ostensible erosion of the ethical bonds, trust and consensus that link political systems together. Without those, neither governance nor security are possible. A true "crime epidemic" appears to have swept many regions of the world; from the poverty-ravaged cities of Africa, to the drug-exporting regions of Latin America, to the disintegrating societies of Eastern Europe, to the North American inner cities. It affects the poorest slums as well as the highest offices. Some of its milder expressions involve increased corruption, venality, abuse, theft and vandalism. Its nastier manifestations include alarming increases in violent crimes in the streets, in schools, the workplace and at home. Violence, especially that affecting the equation of human security and mutual vulnerability, is on the rise. This violence is desensitized, glorified and even legitimized, by mass culture and its media. Depressed economic conditions makes crime a lucrative opportunity for some and the only opportunity for many. Once internalized as a social practice, crime becomes part of the culture and a persistent systemic condition.

The drug problem is a case in point. The links that tie the drug trade together begin with peasant producers in remote Third World regions, continue with corrupt officials in the periphery, crime syndicates both in the exporting and importing areas, functionaries "on the take" at the centre, retailers and First World users, ranging from the destitute to those of higher social standing. Being essentially a consumer-driven market and operating on the purest market logic, its containment requires addressing its social and economic causes - including the roots of addiction - rather than exclusively treating its symptoms.

The second security threat is the way in which criminality is being handled, chiefly the dramatic expansion in enforcement and containment measures, including authoritarian controls to protect property and maintain law and order. As with terrorism, there is a dysfunctional dialectical relationship between the problem of crime and the "technical" solutions to deal with it. Almost as fast as military demobilization is taking place and public expenditures in social services are shrinking everywhere, internal security allotments have soared. So has the institutional empowerment of enforcement agencies, both public and private, and vigilantism. In increasingly polarised and fragmented societies, enforcement agencies end up taking sides and becoming politicized. The nature of intervention becomes more and more focussed on specific clases or groups of individuals who are labelled as potential "law breakers" (the poor, minorities, the young, nonconventional lifestyles). The expansion of internal security establishments worldwide has more to do with the bureaucratization of social dysfunctions than with their effective solutions. Nor does such growth correlate with a reduction of crime. Without denying the seriousness of the problem and the need for crime prevention in all societies, this trend is a wide-ranging threat to democracies. It raises questions of public scrutiny, accountability, uncontrolled red tape, goal displacement, "moral entrepreneurship," the emergence of a professionalized siege mentality, corruption and control by antidemocratic forces.

The above is particularly disturbing given the worldwide resurgence of racist, ethnic irredentist and neofascist movements, rising precisely from the present crisis and finding themselves in a position to influence enforcement functions (Golov 1993). Moreover, "law and order" have become synonymous with an extremist political stand. This raises the possibilities of police states. Important as they are, policing issues are hardly debated at any level of government. Enforcement agencies are "sacred cows" in contemporary society; their role and modus operandi often obscured by secrecy and media manipulation. The case of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover is a telling example of this breach of public trust, one against which Western democracies are not protected. The action of special agents and paramilitary forces within the FBI and other bureaus in the bloody Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents raise significant questions about procedure, coverups, accountability and public safety. The dialiectics of crime and countercrime create a self-fulfilling prophecy: most social or political activity becomes in one way or another "criminal." When this begins to happen, the very legitimacy of the enforcement agencies and the law they attempt to enforce are brought into question. The consequences are increased personal insecurity, devaluation of authority and the perpetuation corruption, addiction, alienation and all the other social scourges crime prevention is supposed to address.


A related and potentially antidemocratic trend throughout the globe is the effort by socioeconomic elites and their institutional intellectuals to circumvent established democratic traditions and make politics "governable." The trend toward creating "limited" democracies, able to respond to "market" (that is elite) forces, constitute an attempt to reduce participation and depoliticize politics. The challenge presented by the 1975 report on The Crisis of Democracy (Huntington et al. 1975) was how to reconcile market politics, built upon the premise of equality with market economics, centred precisely on the opposite: the idea of unrestricted private accumulation, leading to monopoly. The neoliberal solution has been to limit the role of the state to stronger enforcement and to the facilitation of private accumulation, while reducing the scope and salience of popular participation, all this in the name of freedom. Elite politics offer very few real options and transform the state's populist and welfare functions into mere symbolism. Without the legitimizing trappings of welfarism, a strong connection develops between neoliberal policies, the deepening of law and order and the possible emergence of police states.

The implementation of this project involves essentially redrafting the implicit social contract among the various social actors which regulates the pattern of labour relations (and income distribution) in society. It also relates to the defniition of what social actors, especially nonelite actors, are considered legitimate. The neoliberal project is distinctively exclusionary and heavily biased in favour of business elites. The so-called "leaner but meaner" state resulting from structural adjustment and debt-reduction policies has built-in limitations to prevent possible redistributive policies resulting from "irresponsible" majority demands and "overparticipation." The choices of citizenship are stripped of substance. Monetarist economic policies and those referred to as macroeconomic equilibrium are effectively taken away from public debate. They remain confined within "acceptable" limits by means of transnationalized regional trading agreements, central banking mechanisms and bureaucratic expertise. This elitist tendency to facilitate the "governability" of democracies reduces the governments' capacity for governance, as an expression of sovereign national constituencies. It also produces an effective loss of citizenship.

In the last analysis, from such a restrictive perspective, the only possible outcome is the creation and/or maintenance of an inequitable socioeconomic status quo. Attempts to resist the "inevitability" of this regressive order bring in the "seamy side of democracy": the application of "authorized" force and intimidation as an insurance policy against dissent. Critics and dissidents end up being labelled "subversives" and are subjected to numerous security regulations. As John Sheahan (1987) commented, the neoliberal policy package is "inconsistent with democracy because an informed majority would reject it. The main reason it cannot win popular support is that it neither assures employment opportunities nor provides any other way to ensure that lower income groups can participate in economic growth." In fact, the economic policies charted under this economic doctrine have been better suited for authoritarian political regimes, such as Brazil under the generals, Pinochet's Chile, or some of the Asian "miracles" in South Korea, Taiwan or Singapore than for Western-style democracy.

The juxtaposition of economic "freedom" with political repression is the essence of the formula known as "authoritarian capitalism," which preceded the current "democratic opening" in Latin America. That is, there is a defmite solution of continuity between the authoritarian and the electoral phase of neoliberalism. As the national security regimes retreated in an orderly manner into their barracks, restricted democracies with neoliberal economic agendas have emerged. A similar trend towards liberalization is observable in many of the former socialist republics of Eastern Europe. These new democracies are receiver states, based upon restricted participation and a peculiar consociational arrangement: a pact of elites. The key role of this state is to secure macroeconomic equilibrium, private accumulation, privatization and deregulation. These goals are accomplished via debt service and the execution of the conditionalities attached to the negotiation of such service.

However, receiver states are not circumscribed to the periphery of the Third and former Second worlds. Nor is a large foreign debt one of their intrinsic characteristics. Western elites have been applying a similar political agenda in their own societies. Its manifestations have been Thatcherism, Reaganomics and the supply-side policies applied in Canada for over a decade and repudiated by the electorate in 1993. These socioeconomic policies have been rationalized on grounds of keeping inflation down, reducing the tax burden, or more recently the current internal debt crisis. Economic "restructuring" and the new social contracts are their programmatic expressions.


Last, but not least in the list of emerging threats to political security is the upsurge of neofascism (Fakete 1993). With pronounced declines in living standards affecting the once secure bastions of the middle and blue-collar sectors in the First and the former Second World, sociopolitical conditions similar to those of post World War I Europe have been created. The unemployed, alienated youth and an economically threatened middle class constitute a propitious culture for "extremism from the centre." These symptomatic trends have become more pronounced in recent years. There are full-fledged Nazi organizations in areas of continental Europe which have experienced a large influx of immigrants and refugees, chiefly in Germany and Austria (Roberts 1992). (In 1993 there were some 40 thousand right-wing extremists in some 77 political organizations.)

Neofascism is also rampant in the former Eastem Bloc; in Russia, Rumania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and in the remnants of the former Yugoslavia (Fakete 1993). Established democracies, such as France and Italy have seen a recurrence of xenophobic movements as with the National Front and the older Italian Social Party (PSI), an heir of Mussolini's fascists. The Front has fared relatively well at the polls (having increased to nearly 13% of the vote), while the PSI had a poor showing in the 1993 Italian parliamentary elections, after having held 34 parliamentary seats since 1992. Nonetheless, the fact remains that neofascists have come out into the open as recognizable contenders in the official arena (Husbands 1992). It should be borne in mind that electoral politics have always been but a minor component in past fascist movements and therefore a careful analysis of their alternative, extraparliamentary strategies is essential to ascertain their full potential.

Marked racist and protofascist tendencies are also increasingly evident in the Americas, having found home in a number of fringe organizations with a high capacity to penetrate mainstream movements and public institutions, such as political parties, the bureaucracy, the police and the military. Contemporary fascism is perhaps less nationalistic and more anti-left than its historical counterparts. Nor it questions, as classical facism did, the tenets of liberalism. In this, it largely reflects the nature of contemporary globalization and the collapse of communism.

Today's fascism is primarily defused by xenophobia and racism rather than by a coherent sociopolitical doctrine (e.g., corporatism) or a national project. It constitutes an appeal to action, especially to the young and to those displaced by economic dislocations, uncertainty and the trauma resulting from the loss of community and identity (Bunyan 1993). In this sense, the skinhead phenomenon in Germany, the United Kingdom and elsewhere (B'nai B'rith 1990) deserves particular attention. Most importantly though, is the fact, rooted in the historical evidence of pre-World War II Europe, that in periods of crisis, the fascist syndrome is more pronounced among the "respectable" white-collar middle classes than in other sectors of society.

These extremist movements are on the rise. Potentially, they have the capacity to affect policy in an indirect, but also in a more direct and forceful way. Key areas are language, education, welfare and especially immigration. In a poisoned political atmosphere, governments, as in Germany, Austria and France, have been already hard pressed, yielding to fringe demands to restrict policies regarding asylum and immigration (Nagorski and Waldrop 1993). There is also the possibility of neofascist movements coming to power in the not so distant future in a number of countries, either by themselves or in coalitions. This latter scenario is foreboding not only for the safety of democracy. It poses a threat to peace to the larger society and to the global order.

The Global Political Regime

The world system is undergoing a rapid transition from bipolarism to a form of highly stratified globalism. In it micro politics coexist with conventional interstate relations, as well as with collective defence and security arrangements. Therefore greater eccentricity and volatility prevail. Local power conflicts, economic instability and social turmoil are still cast, as before, upon a broader regional and transnational context. But without the containment effects of past military, economic and ideological bipolarism the effectiveness of existing mechanisms to control ethnic irredentism and national breakdown is minimal.

Context With the fading away of Cold War bipolarism, national elites at the core enjoy greater room to manoeuvre, but they are also faced with greater uncertainty. The global context has become radically altered. In the case of the underdeveloped societies (and the underdeveloping nations of Eastern Europe), the impact has been dramatic. For the Group of 77, the disappearance of the Second World as an alternative source of support, the debt crisis and a new international trade regime have set the parameters of a more entangling dependency and peripheralization. While there are fewer constraints for unilateral actions than under bipolarism, this untangling is more prevalent where the former Soviet Union had a significant presence. Without the restraining influence of his former Soviet ally, it may have appeared as an attractive choice for Sadam Hussein to attempt to annex Kuwait. There are also fewer constraints for the USA. It was also relatively uncomplicated for US President Bush, largely on account of internal electoral considerations, to assume the role of global UN enforcer and only then seek international consensus. Operation Desert Storm did not face the dangers of escalation resulting from a client relation between Iraq and the other superpower. "Peacemaking" has substituted for the peacekeeping functions of the past. This approach to collective security entails a globalization and mutilateralization of Washington's self-proclaimed role as protector of the Western hemisphere, known as the Monroe Doctrine (Nef and Núñez 1994). The global policing sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council in both the Somali and the Kuwaiti episodes is at odds with the established practices of peacekeeping and conflict management contained in the UN system. Nevertheless, it has become a feature of the present order whose broader hnplications are yet to be seen.

But the context of contemporary politics goes deeper than a rearrangement of the global configuration. It also manifests itself in the manner in which contradictions between capabilities and expectations and between elites and masses within nation-states are shaped. With an expanding and deepening economic crisis, as outlined in the preceding chapter, the possibilities for consensual mechanisms of conflict management have manifestly declined. The same is true with the resurgence of acute conflict between different social strata. The nature of the state both at the centre and the periphery has changed. There is a greater proclivity for institutionalized repression or for protracted stalemate cloaked in the garments of liberal democracy, elections and the like. Politics has become ever more crudely an act of elite domination disguised in the language of legitimacy.


With the end of socialism and the nonaligned hybrids which vainly attempted to straddle ideological bipolarity, one dominant Western world view with seemingly universal claims has emerged triumphant. This is the abovementioned neoliberal discourse, with its emphasis on procedural democracy and market forces. Whether its roots are strong or not, or whether it takes the form of window dressing wrapped in debt management and trade conditionalities, neoliberal discourse so far exhibits hegemonic characteristics among the elites in the centre and the periphery. Alternative political cultures are to be found not in the utopias of noncapitalist social orders but in more traditional strains. Ethnicity, culture and religion have substituted for the secular ideological conflict of the Cold War. Despite the disintegration of numerous nation-states, and partly as a result of it, nationalism is still a significant force in global affairs. One of its current manifestations is the micro nationalism of once submerged and supressed nationalities, seeking to break free from central rule: Tamils in Sri Lanka, Sikhs in India, Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and Iran, and the irreconcilable ethnic strife in Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi are among the many instances of violent ethnic insurrections not yet crystallized in formal partitions. Spain and Canada are equally faced with linguistic and ethnic separatism, the long-term outcome of which is still uncertain.

Nationalism is often connected with tribal, ethnic or religious irredentism. In many instances, it can be a reaction to Westernization. An example of this was the Ayatollahs' Islamic Revolution in post-1979 Iran, with its current projection into Algeria, Egypt and the Arabic Peninsula. As national disintegration accelerates, ultranationalist and virulent strains based upon the myth of past or future grandeur are also likely to surge at the centre of the disintegrating multiethnic states, representing the dominant ethnic group. A probable future pole for strong recentralizing tendencies is Russia, where the Zhirinovsky syndrome has been the consequence of acute centrifugalism. Vicious yet more conventional nationalism could re-emerge in the uneasily unified German republic or in France, as mentioned above; or in an economically threatened Japan. The USA itself has never been above flag waving and aggressive jingoism, especially in the present conjuncture of perceived power deflation. While it appears ostensibly as the victor of the Cold War, it is experiencing a deep internal and external crisis. Should the present economic decline and "retreat from empire" become pronounced and manifest, translating itself in serious unemployment and turmoil, US political elites, as elites elsewhere, may see fit to resort to extreme chauvinism to avert a crisis of hegemony. In this context, the possible breakdown of Canada, following an eventual separartion of Quebec may provide an enticing invitation for territorial expansion. So does the expansion of a free-trading area in the Americas. Paradoxically, in a free-trading world where economic blocs such as Pacific Asia, North America and Europe are becoming the very negation of such free trade, imperial proclivities are bound to emerge.


The global political regime is, at best, a loose conglomerate of interactions dealing with local, regional and international conflict management, bound together by limited rules, practices, correlation of forces and institutions. The latter two make up the what can be called global political regime. International law and organizations, such as the United Nations, the numerous regional arrangements, and the now swelling body of international conventions, bilateral agreements, jurisprudence and regulations, give the system a superficial semblance of order and authority. But this image is deceiving, for the real power regime rests with a small number of national and transnational actors, primarily among the elite core in the OECD countries. The existing mechanisms for global conflict management, such as the UN Security Council, have become tools of the foreign offices of few countries; especially the US State Department.

These institutions of the global regime project the interests of a bunch of paramount economic elites within the West; in other words, the global political order is increasingly subservient to the transnational economic regime. The IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization which emerged from the GATT negotiations are at the centre of the global political regime and configure a de facto mechanism for global governance. It is in the latter where effective policies and regulations governing the world order are to be found. All other manner of policymaking formally rests within the confines of the over 170 heterogeneous states that comprise the official roster of the UN General Assembly. The implementation and enforcement of those regulations occurs more readily in the economic realm than in the formal structures of government and international organizations.

The internal structure and operations of states have also been significantly transformed in recent years. With the advent of receiver states, financial decision-making has displaced other forms of "high politics." The world over, ministries of finance, treasury boards, central banks and the like have become the heart of governance, subordinating other functions, ministries and agencies to the implementation of structural adjustment agendas of fiscal management. It is these globalized agendas, not national priorities or popular demands that determine government policies.


With the fading away of territorial sovereignty, persistent centrifugal tendencies (ethnic, linguistic or subregional) are more pronounced and the political process has increasingly fragmented. Subnational conflict is at the same time endemic but also highly transnationalized. This generates overall systemic instability. Many nation-states have shown unequivocal signs of disintegration and territorial secession. The most dramatic and multisided examples are those of the former Soviet Union - with the subsequent fracturing of many of its former republics - and Yugoslavia. To these one should add the peaceful, but definite division of Czechoslovakia, with India and Canada exhibiting strong centrifugal tendencies.

As conflict becomes more acute, the possibilities for consensual solutions to long-drawn out confrontation have diminished. The policy process has evolved into a fragmented one, progressively devoid of effective checks and balances, as well as meaning. This translates into deadlock mixed with superficial consensus and an entrenchment of the status quo, above and beyond the short-term equilibrium of shifting correlations of forces. In the new configuration, indecision and paralysis prevail. Disillusionment and alienation with politics on the part of the public is a common feature in the developed and the underdeveloped world; in the Western democracies as in the post-Communist societies of Eastern Europe, in the postauthoritarian regimes of Latin America as well as in the chaotic complexity of Africa, the Middle East or part of Asia. Rates of electoral abstention are about 70% in the USA, as in Colombia, while the trend of deteriorating civil confidence and alienation increases practically everywhere.


These developments are likely to have an long-term impact on human security, well beyond the sphere of the political. Environmental, economic, social and cultural security are equally at stake. One way of looking at these consequences is concentrating on human rights. Bearing in mind that their specific content is changing and evolving, the political trends discussed so far point to a deterioration of human dignity on a planetary scale, irrespective of the standards of measurement. Whether ethnic "cleansing" or killing fields, torture chambers, discrimination and oppressive conditions denying people their humanity, the picture is far from optimistic:

In every region of the world, it seems that human rights are being rolled back. Frustration and bitterness are fuelled by economic policies which make the rich richer and the poor poorer. And governments seem unwilling or unable to do anything about it.... But they are prepared to go to great lengths to cover up their crimes. They know that a blood-stained human rights record will damage their mternational relations.... Some turn to "arm's length" ways to achieving their aims. They set up or back death squads and civilian defence forces to do their dirty work. Long standing democracies such as India, and newer ones such as the Philippines, proclaim the sanctity of human rights while in the streets people are being extrajudicially executed by government, or government-backed forces. Every year thousands of people are assassinated in Brazil and Colombia - even children whose only crime is their homelessness. (Sané 1992)