Peace, Security and Human Rights in the Emerging Geo-political Contexts

Mathews George Chunakara[†]

Peace and security is a legitimate and fundamental human need that will protect human rights and human dignity at all times in history. The complexity of the challenges of the world today has sparked renewed international attention and reflection on peace, security and human rights.  Since the end of the Cold War, the world has been witnessing new trends of international relations as well as changing paradigms of peace, security and human rights in the globalised world. The end of the Cold War eroded the bipolarity model of international relations and since then international politics has moved away from bipolarity. The world has become more globalised and multilateralism has become the system of the day and this system faces varied trends that have emerged in the new global order. The emerging trends also give opportunities for us to reflect on emerging security concepts and international relations in the contexts of new geo-political realities. Security has traditionally been defined as national security and military defence of territory, but in today’s global context it is becoming more relevant to address security within the conditions of essential general wellbeing for human welfare.  It is in this context that we need to review issues related to peace, security and human rights as all these three issues are interrelated to the context of an emerging global order. This also raises further questions about the impact of emerging geo-political trends on the future of global security, especially human security, an essential component for ensuring peace with justice and human rights to uphold human dignity. 

Although the world has witnessed many changes during the past two decades, the quest for security and peace remain only as a dream for millions of people in this world as their vulnerability fosters a climate of fear which undermines security at all levels in their day to day lives. It is in this context that the United Nations High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change called for a new security consensus “between alliances that are frayed, between wealthy nations and poor, and among peoples mired in mistrust across an apparently widening abyss.” This highlights the indivisibility of security, economic development and human freedom and the idea that “we all share responsibility for each other’s security”. Here, the essence of peace and human rights is based on the cardinal principle of human security. Human security is “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear”.

Emerging geo-political trends

The challenges to peace and security in today’s world are faced with complex issues and implications in the emerging geo-political contexts. As a matter of fact, geo-politics and geo-economics of the emerging World Order has been shaping the peace and security architecture of the world today. The decline of the authority of the dominant power as well as the emergence of new powers is playing different roles in this process. There are several significant trends being emerged, we see more precisely in the context of the new global order and in the context of current geo-political realities. One such trend becomes more evident as we see the decline of the “U.S. influence” and the “rise of new power blocs”. The rise of new power blocs poses threats to economic, political and strategic interests of the U.S. This emerging trend points to various other factors: the power shift taking place at the world level, the decline of the U.S. and other countries in the West in a context of high interdependence among nations, the impact of the growing role of religion in a globalized world, especially due to the consequences of politicisation of religion, the decline of the secular concept to the handling of public affairs as well as international relations. Another significant trend is the increasing level of state actors participating in the institutionalised international system. The number of state actors has multiplied by more than four times since the founding of the UN in 1945. States alone are not the only influential actors who can exert any weight in the international system, but a number of transnational forces such as multinational companies, non-governmental organisations and international agencies are also capable of influencing the international systems today. 

A more specific question on the role of the U.S. in the emerging global context was raised by Bruce Jones, director of  the Managing Global Order initiative. In a paper published last year in Foreign Policy, under the title ‘Managing a Changing World’,  Jones raises the question: “Did American overstretch amplify the impact of the rise of the "emerging powers?”. It is a fact that “while America's resources were bled by two wars, new potential rivals are growing around their spheres of influences whether in the form of economic, political or military might”.

In 2004, Charles Krauthammer one of America’s foremost political analysts and columnists projected a manifesto for "American Foreign Policy for a Unipolar World" and he boasted:

It took three giants of the twentieth century to drag us into its great battles: Wilson into World War I, Roosevelt into World War II, Truman into the Cold War. And then it ended with one of the great anticlimaxes in history. Without a shot fired, without a revolution, without so much as a press release, the Soviet Union simply gave up and disappeared. It was the end of everything--the end of communism, of socialism, of the Cold War, of the European wars. But the end of everything was also a beginning. On December 26, 1991, the Soviet Union died and something new was born, something utterly new-a unipolar world dominated by a single superpower unchecked by any rival and with decisive reach in every corner of the globe.

Not too long since Krauthammer claimed about America’s unique role  in a post-Cold War global context, Fareed Zakaria, then Editor of the Newsweek  reflected upon ‘The Post-American World’ and  the consequences of America’s miscalculations. While analyzing the reasons for the decline of  American power and the anxiety of Americans, Fareed Zakaria said Americans  see that ”a new world is coming into being, but fear it is one being shaped in distant lands and by foreign people”. Giving a long list of areas where the U.S has been pushed aside or declined from its original top rank and domination in the economic and political arena, Fareed Zakaria said, “only ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories”.

Robert B. Zoellick, President of the World Bank Group, in a speech at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Centre for International Scholars last year argued that the Third World has come to an end. It was actually an acknowledgement, rather a belated one, of the fact that the geo-political configuration of the world has totally changed from what it was in 1944, when the Bretton Woods system was born. He promoted the idea that there should be an advocacy of “modernising multilateralism for a multi-polar world”. He was also focussing on the urgent need of reforming the World Bank and the IMF before the Bretton Woods System becomes a total failure. He further elaborates about the end of the "Second World" with Communism's demise in 1989 and the end of the Third World with the global economic crisis of 2009. The First World has declined. The old world of fireside chats among G-7 leaders is gone.

The emergence of the multi-polar world, which Zoellick celebrated in his speech, is the geo-politics of the post-American Century world, in which the restructuring of the architecture of the world economy takes place to make it compatible with the new geo-politics. He emphasises the need for the ‘rebalancing’ of the world economy, and the danger of the political gravity dragging countries back to the pursuit of narrow interests. The new world, according to Zoellick requires identifying mutual interests, negotiating common actions, and managing differences across a much wider spectrum of countries than ever before. He strongly advocates modernisation and reforms of the World Bank Group to "represent the international economic realities of the 21st century." Whether the performance of the World Bank, under Zoellick's leadership will match his rhetoric, is a different matter. However, what was stated and drew world attention to was the prevailing mismatch between the world economy and the emerging geo-politics. It is in this context that the call for the restructuring of the architecture of the world economy in order to make it compatible with the new geo-politics needs to be relevant.

What we observe today is a situation where China, India, Brazil and the Asian financial centres started posing new weight. This is more evident when the global financial crisis drained the U.S. treasury further in recent times. The rise of “emerging powers” – under the umbrella grouping of the  BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China)  which sometimes includes more broadly South Africa, Mexico and other nations – is reshaping the global economy and, more gradually, international politics and international relations. As the economies of these countries are growing much faster than the rest of the world, they are now in a position to change the structure of international production and trade, the nature and direction of capital flows, and the patterns of natural resource consumption. The rapid economic growth of these countries is beginning to shift the global distribution of power, forcing the great powers to come to terms with the reality that they will need to share the management of international rules and systems in the coming decades. The consolidation of the strength of some of these emerging powers was demonstrated during the global climate negotiations in Copenhagen which proved that the era of Western global hegemony has passed.

Bruce Jones points out that the emerging powers’ relative political and military weight within regions is far greater than global rankings suggest. This enables them to block or constrain U.S. initiatives on major geo-political questions. The military capacity of the U.S. dwarfs India’s, but India’s influence in Myanmar and Iran rivals or exceeds that of the U.S, as does China’s on North Korea. Brazil’s deployable military capacity is minuscule, but it carries substantial clout in Argentina and Venezuela. According to Jones, the trajectory of the rising powers is uncertain, but their current influence is a central fact of geo-politics. The financial crisis, the Copenhagen climate negotiations, and the Iran sanctions dust-up have already illustrated the potentials, the pitfalls, and, above all, the centrality of the relationships between American power and the influence of rising actors. The emerging powers cannot dictate the shape of the coming era, but they can block and complicate the U.S. initiative. From its new position, the United States confronts not a rigid bloc of emerging powers, but complex and shifting coalitions of interest. He argues, the U.S. is no longer the CEO of Free World Inc., the U.S is now the largest minority shareholder in the Global Order LLC - Limited Liability Company, a business structure allowed by state statute.

While commenting about the role of rising powers, a person like Condoleezza Rice argues that “the essential point of context is that China, India, Brazil and others' phenomenal growth in the past two decades was a function of their integration into a U.S.-backed system of global economics, finance and trade, and these rising actors are fundamentally status quo powers: that is, they seek to profit and gain influence within the existing order, not to overturn it”. However, the fact remains that the emerging powers' growth and growing influences in different parts of the world not only have economic impacts, but also have security implications. When rapid economic growth of rising powers is generating more demands for supplies of energy and consumable resources which are already depleting, it poses many problems too. For example, China's economy has trebled in the last two decades, but its energy and food consumption have risen even faster, as has India's. The increasing trend of competition of China and India in the African continent, whether it is for exploiting natural resources, oil or land for their agribusiness corporations, brings to African soil all kinds of problems which threaten the peace and security of people. Vast new middle classes of the newly rich countries are driving rapid growth in demands as their consumption patterns start to reflect those of the west - with energy-hungry cars, luxury goods and high calorie diets. Massive competition and dynamics are taking hold in the Middle East, Central Asia, Latin America and Africa in search of energy, minerals and food as well as the land and water. This will make some supplier countries rich and destabilize others. The emerging powers try to increase their economic capacity and to assert their ambitions for expansionism and higher economic growth. The rising powers are trying to alter the global and regional terrain and starting to act like every other new power - throwing their new political weight around within their regions. The conflict in Sprately Islands in recent times is an example where China, Vietnam and certain other South East Asian countries are engaged in competition and claims for the islands. When several countries in the Middle East and North Africa are facing upheavals, two former imperial powers - Turkey and France - are now vying for their influence across these regions. They are striving for lucrative business ties as well as new opportunities to mould a new generation of leaders in countries where they once controlled. In the new era when Turkey is experiencing record breaking economic growth, Turkey is also emerging as a regional power. Since Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, France and Turkey have competed for dominance in the Middle East. Now that Turkey poses threats to France in the emerging context, especially due to its economic growth and growing political weight in the Middle East. However, France will remain a military and cultural power and will continue to attract Arab elites, even Islamist ones, seeking weapons and luxury goods. The interests of these powers are not to contribute to ensure security and peace, but they compete with each other to protect their own economic interests.

During the past few years, the world has been confronted with a series of unparalleled crises which have direct impacts on peace and security: from the environmental crisis, to the energy crisis, the food crisis, and economic and political crises. In this context, we may raise the question of the role of the emerging powers as well as the dominant powers in various contexts, especially in the midst of various crises that are precipitating in the world today.

Changing security paradigm

When we talk about security, there is a general and traditional notion of defining security within the framework of national security concepts. Often we tend to think in a traditional way that disarmament is the solution in this world to ensure peace and security. This approach does not take into consideration a wide range of issues related to threat to human security which is essential to peace. The security paradigm has been traditionally referred to as realist construct of security in which the referent object of security is the state. When this idea became predominant during the Cold War, it also became instrumental in negating peace and security of people. When the mantra ‘security of the state or national security’ became the paramount notion of the rulers in many countries, human rights of citizens have been violated systematically. Those who questioned the human rights violations were branded as anti nationals. “National Security Acts” and “Maintenance of Internal Security Acts” have been introduced to handle those who criticized the rulers. The interests of the state are paramount, and the welfare of its citizens was only secondary to the interest of the state was the approach that followed during those days. The major powers of the world emphasized this kind of a security paradigm for almost half a century. The security concept, presented by John H. Herz, a German scholar in 1950s, that no country can claim or achieve security through its own efforts alone, was another concept predominant for years which upholds the concept of interest of the state. Herz argued that “a structural notion in which the self-help attempts of states to look after their security needs tend, regardless of intention, to lead to rising insecurity for others”. This notion kept on promoting the ideology that international stability relied on the premise that if state security is maintained, then the security of citizens will necessarily follow. This traditional ideology also justified the theory of balance of power, military build-ups and the arms race between the two super powers during the Cold War era - the United States and the Soviet Union, and also the principle of the absolute sovereignty of the nation state. In other words, security was projected with emphasis on protection from invasion, for which proxy conflicts using technical and military capabilities was justified.

The traditional state-centric notion of security has been challenged since the Cold War tensions receded. In the emerging global order, cooperative, comprehensive and collective measures, aimed to ensure security for the individual and, as a result, for the state, became the major thrusts. In his article on “The Future of Globalized Security”, Dr. Nayef R.F. Al-Rodhan, a senior scholar of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy illustrates an alternative to traditional security theory, which emphasizes the principle that “security be attained through justice for all cultures and nations” based on a concept of  “justice based penta-security principle”. It suggests, “in a globalised world, security can no longer be thought of as a zero-sum game involving states alone. Global security is a pentagon of human, environmental, national, transnational and transcultural security, and global security and the security of any one state or culture cannot, therefore, be achieved without good governance (domestic and global) that guarantees security through justice for all individuals, states and cultures”.

The contemporary concept of peace and security is based on a variety of notions, covering not just issues related to conflict and armaments but also the need to address issues such as terrorism, crime, disease, natural disasters, climate change, socio-economic phenomena such as poverty, rule of law and democratic governance, etc. At the turn of the millennium, Dr. Curt Gasteyger, Emeritus Professor of the International Graduate Institute of Geneva articulated the new dimensions of international security. Ten years later he stated, “Our concern about the changing face of international security is not entirely new. What seem to be new, however, are at least three factors: the range of the threats has become more global, the threats have become more varied, and they are more interdependent”. He underscores the proposal of Pierre Hassener that instead of referring to “war” it is more appropriate to use such general terms as “violence” or “armed conflicts”. According to Gasteyeger,”we are confronted with a threefold development. First of all, there are more actors on the global stage; secondly, they are fighting about more issues; and thirdly, they are using more means to do so”.

Gasteyeger further observes, there are now  some 500 million Kalashnikovs (a semi-automatic assault rifle widely used as a weapon by terrorists and paramilitary organizations) in the hands of innumerable actors worldwide, be they South American guerrillas, Yemeni “freedom fighters”, Black African rebels or Somali pirates. The distinction between regular armed forces here, and irregular or private armed groups or companies there, is becoming ever more blurred. One result of this ongoing diversification of armed groups is an awareness of the growing difficulties which are facing not only peace-making operations but also organisations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in applying the Geneva Conventions of humanitarian assistance. The second result has to do with the fact that in the current globalized world the number of potential issues of conflict is growing. The protection of minorities, access to ever scarcer resources – water, oil, land, resurgence of religious intolerance, drug wars, persecution and discrimination of ethnic and religious minorities. All these factors ultimately threaten peace and human security, violate human rights and negate human dignity.

International human rights norms define the meaning of security in terms of human security. The bases of these norms are articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and several international Covenants and Conventions. All these instruments and norms are meant to make human beings secure in freedom, in dignity, in peace, with equality and protection in all its forms. The global scenario of today presents the vulnerability of human security in all contexts which ultimately violates the rights of all and undermines peace and security.  The concept of human security values individuals and societies before states and is concerned about the security of life within and across borders. However, the fact is that national security and international security cannot be achieved without respect for individual security which is the core value of fundamental freedoms protected and promoted in any society. The reasons for insecurity are due to various factors that deny justice to individuals and communities. Threat to security is the result of prevailing power structures. It has been proved that socio-economic factors and human rights standards have a direct bearing upon peace and security within and between communities. Only a society that is motivated for peace with justice and human rights, that is imbued with the spirit of respect for all human beings and which upholds the values of a culture of peace can uphold and achieve human security. This also emphasizes the relevance for evolving strategies of promoting and protecting human rights in order to ensure human security and attain the ultimate goal of peace. Once synonymous with the defence of territory from external aggression, the requirement of security in today’s world is understood as to find a way to embrace the protection of individuals and communities and ensure their security.

Emerging threats to peace and security

The twenty first century faces enormous and growing political, economic, social and cultural insecurities. The emergence of new transnational and non-state actors and their role in contributing to the threat to peace and security cannot be ignored.  When most of the countries that experienced violent conflicts for many years or decades have entered into an era of peace building, they continue to face fragile security situations due to various factors. While some of the earlier challenges to peace and security continue to remain in varying degrees and numbers, peace and security in several countries continue to face vulnerability.

The Global Peace Index (GPI), founded by Steve Killelea, an Australian technology entrepreneur and philanthropist, which is being produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace in Sydney, is the world’s leading think tank helps measuring the index of global peacefulness. The GPI gauges ongoing domestic and international conflict, safety and security in society and militarisation in 153 countries by taking into account 23 separate indicators. The results of the GPI for 2011 revealed that the world has become slightly less peaceful in the past year. The deterioration is smaller than that which occurred between the 2009 and 2010 series of the GPI, when some nations experienced an intensification of conflicts and growing instability to rapid rises in food, fuel and commodity prices and global economic downturn. The 2011 GPI, which gauges ongoing domestic and international conflicts, safety and security in society and militarization in 153 countries, registered overall score increases for several indicators, the largest of which were in the potential for terrorist acts and the likelihood of violent demonstrations. The indicators in the GPI study showing the most substantial year-on-year score in terms of improvement was military spending as a percentage of GDP, reflecting the impact of the global financial and economic crisis on defence budgets. During the period under review of GPI, several countries in the world experienced improved levels of peacefulness that appear to be linked with their economic recoveries, other countries those in North Africa and the Middle East have been swept up in the political turmoil, have experienced sharp falls in their peacefulness.

There are various other factors we see around the globe that contribute to insecurity and lack of peacefulness. Emergence of religious extremism, ethnic conflicts, organised crimes, terrorism, challenges to democratic governance and rule of law, proliferation of arms, militarization, human trafficking, etc., are factors that contribute to insecurities and preventing any progressive measures towards a new global order capable of developing a people-cantered security concept. All our experiences clearly show that poor countries in the world are mostly affected with conflicts more frequently. The poor become victims of such vulnerability, yet they are denied peace and security. For example, when millions of people suffer from the direct and indirect consequences of the proliferation of arms, the most affected victims of this heinous action of irresponsible arms trade are people in poor countries. The poorly regulated global trade in conventional arms and ammunition fuels conflict, poverty and human rights violations in developing countries. For example, the upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 have increased arms sales these days.  The Arab oil states sell Europe and America oil at exorbitant prices, and the big weapons producers—the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and now even China—sell weapons to Arabs at equally exorbitant rates. Arms bills don't begin to offset oil bills, but everything helps. When these things are happening, whose security in the world is ultimately affected and who is bothered to address the concerns of the poor and the security of the vulnerable in this world?  

‘Human welfare’: indicator of peace, security and human rights

The United Nation’s Millennium Declaration represented the international community’s aspirations and response to the development and security challenges of a changing global environment. When the world leaders declared their commitment for Millennium Development Goals, they recognized that despite the fact that the world has accumulated great wealth, many people remain mired in poverty and deprivation, thereby threatening peace and security in many ways, especially across the developing world. Poverty, hunger, illiteracy, infectious diseases, unemployment, environmental degradation, communal and ethnic conflicts, increasing militarization, violence, terrorism and counter terrorism and all other forms of social and political instabilities continue to pose daunting problems in today’s world. When these problems persist they continue to threaten human security on an alarming scale. In many contexts, poverty alone is the reason that threatens peace, security and human rights. Poverty resulted out of exploitation, oppression, unemployment and the denial of basic human needs; hence it leads to situations of armed conflicts, ethnic conflicts, political violence, and environmental degradation. When poverty continues to haunt people, they are denied of all these basic needs in their lives, hence they face denial of their human rights and human security.

The contemporary world continues to face an increasing trend of dehumanisation processes which threaten peace and security. As this trend increases it indicates the fact that basic human needs are denied for a vast number of people in this world. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control”. The basic human needs approach was reemphasised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) when it presented the Human Development Report focussing on basic economic, food, health, personal, environmental, community, cultural and political security. This concept states: “For most people today, a feeling of insecurity arises more from worries about daily life than from the dread of a cataclysmic world event. Job security, income security, health, environmental security, and security from crime – these are emerging concerns of human security all over the world”.

In the emerging global contexts what we need is a vision of a coherent and comprehensive concept of peace and security. The need for global security management has never been more relevant, yet its difficulties can rarely have been so clearly exposed and so widely taken into consideration during the past decade.  This also emphasizes the relevance for evolving strategies of promoting and protecting human rights in order to ensure human security and the ultimate goal of peace in the emerging geo-political global order. We have noted how discoursers on security were limited within the framework of national security concepts. The geo-political changes and the emerging global order presented an alternative model for security agenda in the world which affirms an approach of human security from a people-centred view, which is essential for national, regional and global stability, peace and security. This approach should emphasise the need to identify the cardinal principles of human security within in the framework of protecting people, their basic rights and freedoms and people’s ability to act on their own behalf and on behalf of others.

[*] Thematic address presented at the International Consultation on Peace and Security in Africa, held in Kigali, Rwanda from 28 January to 1 February 2012.

[†] Dr. Mathews George Chunakara is Director of  the Commission of the Churches on International Affair (CCIA),  World Council of Churches
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