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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 1: A Framework for Analysis

The central thesis of this book is that the seemingly secure societies of the North are increasingly vulnerable to events in the less secure and hence underdeveloped regions of the globe, in a manner that conventional international relations and development theory have failed to account for. More than ever before in human history we live in a world of mutual vulnerability (Head 1991) - a multifaceted systemic echo of the mutually assured destruction (MAD) premise of the era of nuclear stalemate. Mainstream development theory as well as dependency theory, although apparently at opposite ends of the ideological debate, postulated that backwardness was either the legacy of a traditional society to be overcome by modernization or the negative consequence of Western domination over the Southern periphery. In other words, irrespective of whether the West was construed as the "problem" or the "solution" to the Third World predicament, development and underdevelopment were perceived as being at opposite ends of a unidirectional and irreversible historical continuum: developed regions were "secure," insecurity being the trademark of the "other world."

We are suggesting, quite to the contrary that, in an increasingly interconnected system, there is neither invulnerability, nor developmental irreversibility. Rather, the weakness of the periphery increases the exposure of the centre, making the entire configuration, including the centre, more unstable. Interconnectedness means that dysfunctions in the weaker components of the global fabric result in self-reenforcing, reciprocating and destructive vicious cycles of planetary magnitude. Given the retrofeeding nature of these trends, no region of the world can be immune to impending crises of potentially catastrophic proportions (Head 1991).

This chapter outlines a theoretical framework to study global transformations. The epistemiological premise here is that the complex changes currently going on can only be adequately understood from the vantage point of an equally complex yet intelligible as well as comprehensive and dynamic conceptualization. The approach followed is both historical and systemic. It provides a long-range (Braudel 1980) and holistic point of view rooted both in "historical sociology" (Stern 1959) and in International Political Economy (Staniland 1986). In it, the general and the specific, the micro and the macro, the short run and the long run, the parts and the whole are analytically interrelated, while emphasizing the changes and continuities of structures over time.

Although the framework focuses on the intersection between international relations and development studies (Helleiner 1992), the perspective chosen is essentially inter- and transdisciplinary, straddling the rigid and often artificial boundaries of existing, vertically compartmentalized disciplines, such as economics, political science, history, and sociology. The construct used in this type of analysis encompasses a much greater range of interactions, as well as issues, than those examined by the theories that question realism and dependency (Keohane and Nye 1977), namely "complex interdependence" and "dependency reversal" (Modelski 1983).

The Concept of World System

A useful heuristic device to understand the present crises in their context is the notion of world system (Cox 1978; Galtung 1980; Wallerstein 1980). This construct encompasses historical, structural, and functional features which make it possible to analyze and reassess changing global conjunctures irrespective of the type of polarity in the system. A world system refers to a dominant and integrated pattern of global production and distribution and power whose foundations were laid down in the 17th century, but whose expansion and consolidation has evolved during the last two centuries (Wallerstein 1980; Bergersen 1981). It involves an unequal and asymmetrical exchange between a developed core and underdeveloped semiperipheries and peripheries, where systemic and subsystemic development and underdevelopment are functionally and historically, but not deterministically interrelated.

Core, Centres, and Peripheries

Despite the use of geographic and spatial concepts, relations in the present system are not so much those between territorially defined centres and peripheries (nations, regions, and settlements), but rather among concrete social actors: groups, classes, and individuals living in both the North and the South. "Core" and "centre" are different concepts. Core refers to socioeconomic elite groups, already transnationally integrated. Centre, on the other hand, refers to the developed geographic regions, which contain, as do peripheral regions, their own elite "core" and a nonelite "social periphery." Development and underdevelopment are conditions experienced by people, not abstract aggregations that define the totality of a territory. The idea of developed and underdeveloped nations, First and Third Worlds, North and South, obscures the fact that in any society there is a signifîcant degree of transnational integration of its dominant groups as well as effective marginalization of the bulk of its inhabitants. As an historical model, the notion of world system avoids the more simplistic and often mechanistic applications of international stratification and dependency theories; or for that matter, the neofunctional fallacy of global and complex interdependency. It also looks at the underlying logic that links cores, semiperipheries, and peripheries as part of one single structure and process, both at present and in the longer historical perspective.


A world system presupposes the existence of regimes, or mechanisms of governance with structures of decision-making, rules and influence (Keohane and Nye 1977; Hopkins and Puchala 1978). Unlike institutions or "international organizations" which presuppose the existence of differentiated, formally sanctioned norms and mechanisms of governance, regime alludes to the actually existing arrangements for the handling of a particular cluster of issues. Regimes are subsystems of the larger global system. Some are highly institutionalized, with clear boundaries, and enjoy a notable degree of concentricity. Others are loose and without a recognizable authority structure. They also vary considerably in terms of their effectiveness in managing the issues falling within their areas of concern. We will examine these regimes in more detail in subsequent chapters.

Power and Governance

One important empirical aspect in the analysis of regimes is to ascertain who governs, since real power structures are not always formalized nor transparent. Power, understood as the ability of one actor or cluster of actors to induce compliant behaviour in other actors who would not have done so otherwise (Dahl 1970) is, therefore, at the very essence of the global system and its constituent regimes. So is powerlessness. But such ability, or inability, is essentially dynamic and multidimensional. For one thing, power entails a fluid and dynamic relationship between ends (what for) and means (with what) and is much more than the sum total of the resource capabilities, or even possible resource commitments on the part of an actor or alliance. In the last analysis, effective power can only be assessed in terms of outcomes, vis-à-vis objectives pursued and resources utilized. In this sense, authority, in the Weberian (1947) sense of legitimated power, requiring minimal amounts of coercion (or conversely, rewards) is both an efficient and effective element of regime governance. The latter involves essentially the ability for conflict management by both the government and the governed, limiting the use of violence and coercion.

Power and Metapower

A second important aspect in analyzing regimes is the distinction between power and relational control, or metapower (Baumgartner et al. 1977). The latter refers to the ability to affect the outcome of decisions, nondecisions, actions, and inactions in a given regime by altering the rules of the game. Metapower can be associated with three fundamental concepts, representing diverse intellectual traditions in political analysis. One is the abovementioned idea of legitimation on grounds of tradition, charisma, or legal-rational calculation, as developed by Weber; another is Gramsci's notion of hegemony (Cox 1978) and the third is crozier's (1964) observation regarding the relationship between power and uncertainty. Very few actors at any given time possess legitimacy, or can articulate hegemonic discourses or have established control over the sources of uncertainty. More often than not, those who are able to affect the outcome of the interaction, both within specific functional or regional regimes as well as in the global system are elite sectors within the core.

The Elements of the System

Conceptually, a system can be seen as comprising five major elements:

· There is a context, both structural and historical, that defines its basic paramenters or circumstances.

· It possesses a culture, or various ideological perspectives, cognitions, feelings, and judgements which give the system value, meaning, and orientation.

· The system has a structure of actors with resources that compete and coalesce in the pursuit of valued outcomes.

· Fourthly, there are the processes, or dynamic cooperative and antagonistic relationships by which actors attempt to pursue their short- and long-term goals.

· Finally, there are the effects: the intended and unintended consequences of actions, inactions, and processes (Nef 1985).

For the sake of simplicity, the global system can be seen as a juxtaposition of five major subsystems: the ecology or environment, the economy, the society or sociodemographic system, the polity, and the culture. Each subsystem is structured around a cluster of relatively homogeneous and recognizable issues; it reflects the specific nature of its constituent elements (context, culture, structure, processes, and effects), and is governed by a particular regime. They are also interlinked.

The Global System VariablesEcology (life) Economy (wealth)Society (support: well-being, affection, respect, rectitude)Polity (power)Culture (knowledge, skill) ContextNatural setting: the biophysical surroundings of social action Styles of development: economic models Social expectations and traditions Internal and external conflicts: capabilities/expectations elite/mass, sovereignty/dependence Images of the physical and social world and collective experiences Culture Ecoculture: place of environment in cosmovision Economic doctrines: ways of understanding the economy Social doctrines: Values, norms and attitudes; identity and modal personality Ideologies: the function of the state and its relation to the citizen Philosophy (axiologies, teleologies, and deontologies), moral and ethical codes Structures Resource endowment and spatial distribution: relation between environment and resources Economic units: consumers/producers; labour/capital Status and roles: social structures, groups, classes, fractions Brokers and institutions: interest groups, parties, cliques, governments, bureaucracies Educational structures, formal and informal: schools, universities, learning institutions Processes Depletion/regeneration of air, water, land, flora, and fauna Production and distribution of goods and services Interactions: cooperation, conflict, mobilization, and demobilization Conflict-resolution: consensus, repression, rebellion, stalemate Learning: building of consciousness, cognitions, basic values, procedures and teleologies Effects Sustainability/entropy Prosperity/poverty Equity/inequity Governance/violence Enlightenment/ignorance

Regimes, as stated earlier could be highly institutionalized, with formal rules and a recognizable authority structures or be loosely integrated in intermittent networks, or even be marred by internal conflict so as to render them ineffectual. In the classical balance of power system, shifting alliances among ruling elites theoretically produced overall stability, by preventing one national actor to become hegemonic. Conversely, in the multilayered bipolar order of the Cold War, with entangling collective defence alliances and weak universal organizations for collective security, nuclear stalemate created conditions of strategic stability by default. In the former, the multipolar interplay among sovereign nation states created equilibrium, while in the latter muted bipolarism defined "world peace." In the postnational and post-territorial context there is a "different" kind of world order; one, based upon simultaneous interaction among various functional regimes. The interplay among transnational, national, and subnational linkage groups gives specific direction and content to each regime, as well as to the broader regional and global orders. The hypothetical relationships among the aforementioned variables could be represented as follows.

The dynamics of the system involves both the actions and the interactions (Holsti 1972) of actors pursuing goals, using resources in - as well as having effects over - a given context and upon the system's internal configuration. Changing circumstances, in turn, generate feedbacks. Dyfunctions produced at the dominant core not only have negative impacts on the subordinate actors, but also have a delayed and secondary reaction upon the centre itself. Conversely, cumulative dysfunctions in the periphery are bound to flow "upstream," increasing the uncertainty and instability of the centre and of the entire system of global relations. In this sense, contrary to commonly held beliefs, an increasingly integrated world is also one of mutually assured vulnerability. More than a "zero-sum game" (Deutsch 1968), we are confronted with the opposite of the "prisoner's dilemma": the possibility of a negative-score game where all players stand to lose.

The Present World System as a Complex Conglomerate

Since World War II, the nature of international relations has changed dramatically. It is impossible to see the global scene any longer as just the meeting place for the foreign policies of individual nation states representing monolithic "national interests" (Mansbach et al. 1976). Although the issue of survival remains the base value of global politics (indeed, of all human agency), its manifestations have varied. More traditional questions of peace and security, as systemic purposes (teleologies) of war prevention and containment of "aggressive states," have increasingly been replaced by development, human rights, enviromnental, peacekeeping, trade, and equity issues. We can see this in the changing and still uncertain role of alliances such as NATO, or regional organizations such as the OAS.

As teleologies change, so do the instrumentalities for crisis management. The limited success of reactive instruments of contention has highlighted the need for proactive mechanisms emphasizing prevention. Two dramatic examples are in the areas of epidemics and famines, but other issues such as environmental degradation, limited international conflict, refugees and domestic strife can be seen in a similar light. However, old ideas and clichés die hard. Many seemingly new concepts are simple translations or relabelling of past Manichean categories: North/South, civilized/uncivilized, us/them. Changing attitudes and perceptions among analysts and decision-makers has been a slow and inconsistent process, still unfolding and surrounded by uncertainty.

The End of an Era

The year 1989 marked the end of a world order begun 45 years earlier at Yalta, Bretton Woods and San Francisco. The menus and the priorities of world politics were thrown into disarray. Systemic boundaries are nowadays much less territorial or ideological and more functional than at any time since the emergence of the modern nation state. They are also much more permeable and imprecise (Kaplan 1994). The notion of collective defence as a system of alliances against a would-be external aggressor was predicated on the solution of continuity between "passive" (deterrence and defence) and "aggressive" strategies (compellance and offense). This way of looking at the instrumentalities of global politics was challenged by the end of the Cold War. Increasingly new issues, such as those related to human rights, environment, trade and equity mentioned above, jumped to the forefront of the agendas, making strategic studies less relevant for understanding the world. The very idea of national security, under the umbrella of collective defence and centred on a single actor, the nation state, in an eminently bipolar world, has been replaced by the need to cope with a much different kind of collective and cooperative security. Nor it is possible to assume a resurgence of pre-World War II multipolarity. The new type of security is a much more complex varied and nuanced concept. Ethnic conflict, cultural diversity, national disintegration, civil war, systemic and subsystemic restructuring have become paramount. Issues of poverty, trade, finance, health, environment, gender, communications, resource depletion, population, migration, technology, drugs, human rights, and refugees are also part of the equation; and the list could go on.

A significant rearrangement in the structure and the functioning of the world order has taken place. The shape of global power structure has changed from muted, yet fundamentally rigid, bipolarism to diffuse monocentrism. The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Treaty are no more. The end of the Cold War has also meant a loosening of the collective defence ties in the Western Alliance. Substantively, the fulcrum of systemic relations has shifted from geopolitics to geoeconomics. A comparison of defence spending and military forces between 1985 and 1992 among the major contenders in the East–West conflict is quite illustrative of the end of this era in human history .

Note: Figures for 1985 include all the Soviet republics. Those for 1992 include the Russian federation only.

New players, such as transnational corporations and NGOs, have gained a relevant foothold. These coexist side by side with functional and regional international governmental organizations (IGOs, such as the UN and regional systems) and a few powerful national actors, like the USA, Japan, Germany, France, and various semiperipheries including the four "little dragons" and the overwhelming presence of China. With the shift to geoeconomics, the geographic axis of world politics has experienced a noticeable displacement from the North Atlantic to the Pacific Rim.

The two central polarities that have emerged since the Second World War among national actors - between North and South and between East and West - were replaced, after 1989, by a single core–periphery axis of relations. The Western core, the First World remained as it was: an interdependent and stratified bloc of dominant trading partners. Yet, the other two worlds collapsed into one heterogeneous conglomerate including "newly industrializing," "developing," "poor" and the "transitional societies" of the former socialist camp. As said earlier, the core–periphery conflict occurs mainly between social sectors within both the developed and the less developed societies. It takes place between transnationally integrated and affluent elites and their related clienteles and a large, fragmented mass of subordinate sectors at the margins of the modern and integrated global society (Sunkel 1973). Core–periphery conflicts can remain latent, become open and manifest or evolve into more institutionalized, asymmetrical regimes.

The end of military, economic and ideological bipolarism did not produce either multipolarity or polycentrism. The present complex conglomerate is made up of a multiplicity of issues, arenas, and actors. The latter include subnational, national, international, and transnational groups: ethnic and linguistic minorities, insurgents, NGOs, heads of state, diplomats and functionaries, UN, regional organizations and transnational corporations. This heterogeneous and uneven set of participants operates in an unpredictable and fragile milieu. There is an identifiable and dominant core, centred in the ruling elites which enjoy a significant degree of relational control within the Group of Seven. Despite its hegemonic pretensions, this global alliance lacks institutional legitimacy and concentricity other than in articulating the common interests of the dominant fractions of international capital. Nor is it always effective. In their transactions, whether cooperative or conflictual, the players end up being closely interrelated in an increasingly unipolar web of interactions, with US paramountcy. This loosely unipolar system is both mutually interconnected, turbulent, and inintrinsically unstable. It is also highly stratified and differentiated, with hegemonic actors, "power blocs," and subordinate levels interacting in an assortment of overlapping jurisdictions and regimes. The dominant leit-motif, as well as discourse, presented as a categorical imperative in the contemporary world order, is no longer military but investment security. With the disappearance of the Soviet "menace," the security of capital, especially finance capital - and that of the social sectors associated with its ownership and management - has become openly the world system's prime directive.

* The main ideas in this article resulted from a series of meetings of a special presidential committee on South–North relations at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Ottawa between the Fall of 1988 and the Winter of 1989. In October 1988, I prepared a background document, South–North: A Framework for Analysis, synthesizing - and elaborating on - a number of propositions contained in five of Ivan Head's speeches and presidential statements. Subsequently, Ivan Head's ideas were developed in his book, On a Hinge of History: The Mutual Vulnerability of South and North (Head 1991). I first coined the term "mutual vulnerability" during these meetings. It was the central proposition of my 1988 South–North paper, constituting the main thesis of the seminar and of Ivan Head's book (pp. xi–xii, 2–22).