the first step to
change is the
change is needed
War, we are often told, will always be with us, it's human nature, it's how things are; aggression is natural. This depressing and fatalistic view of ourselves has many proponents and it is worth asking why they are so attached to a view that sees you and me and the rest of humanity as natural born killers.
Wars are not the result of innate aggression. Neither guns nor nuclear weapons are built by people driven by an aggressive instinct. They are built by men and women who simply want to earn a living and don’t give much thought to or don’t care about the potential (and often real) misery their daily work will cause.
Killing strangers whether by pulling the trigger, pressing the button, making the weapon, sending out the invoice or acquiescing in a social system that results in the death of strangers need not be our inevitable future.
Wars and violent conflicts have many causes, crucial amongst them the conscious, deliberate decisions taken or not taken by the antagonists. Wars also have a long build up during which many choices and actions can be taken and only some will result in violence.
What is ‘security’? If a country or community is ‘secure’, it’s likely that its government is efficient and its business dealings are successful. Its people are reasonably well looked after: they have access to basic needs such as clean water, housing, power supplies, food, education, health care, and work. They are able to make their views heard by the people they work for, by the people who run the social systems providing their needs, and by their government. The police and the justice system are efficient and fair, and crime is kept to a minimum.
For all that to work well, people have to be tolerant and understanding. If everyone’s human rights are to be respected, people must respect each other, even when some make it very difficult. There are communities all round the world which manage to live in social harmony. These citizens solve their problems and disputes with understanding, imagination, and the will to get things right.
But to be really secure a country or community needs other things as well. It needs to have good relationships with other countries and communities. And all countries and communities need to respect the planet and the atmosphere that surrounds it: all the parts of Earth in which living things plants and animals as well as humans are found. Living organisms are dependent on each other in all kinds of ways, and the natural world must be cared for by us. Humans have been too eager to exploit the planet’s resources, indifferent to the harm they cause.
For some people ‘security’ means ‘national security’: a system providing armed forces against an aggressor. But what does this kind of ‘security’ mean to people who are starving, or living in an area where the ground or the air is polluted? What does it mean to people who are afraid to go out at night, or who have been made homeless by crime and war? What does it mean to people ruled by an oppressive government, or who are badly treated simply because of their beliefs, their ethnic roots, or their particular way of life?
And what about the others, the people who are well-off and well-protected? can any of them think themselves truly ‘secure’ when the very activities that make them rich are taking jobs and land from others, causing conflict and also seriously harming the planet?
There’s no escaping the fact that when people are treated unjustly, or when they are deprived of what they need (it may be a piece of land, or somewhere to live, or a job, or citizenship, or fundamental human rights such as freedom, or even hope itself) the results are disastrous. Even greater suffering and bitter conflict follow. Armed forces police, paramilitaries, armies are specially trained and encouraged to suppress rebellion with brute force. Governments become dictatorial and oppressive. Social systems and supplies of resources become erratic and may collapse. In these conditions societies are divided, the economy fails and poverty grows.
Too many people, groups and leaders are driven by ambition to get rich and stay rich. In doing so, they exploit other people and devastate the environment. Conflict is the result of this, too.
And increased conflict means more armed forces and armed violence. The very existence of huge armies and vast supplies of weapons and other machinery of war creates dangers to society and to the environment dangers that can do even more damage than war itself.
From all these facts it is clear that ‘security’ and the problems that create conflict are inescapably intertwined. None of these problems can be solved by itself: the others have to be solved too. Countries and communities cannot ‘develop’ become more prosperous, efficient and caring of their people without development of those qualities everywhere else as well.
In fact, without such global development, there can be no real security anywhere. Without such development, the world cannot become less violent and more just. But global development is hard to achieve (let alone sustain) when wars continue, leaders oppress their people, and wealth-seekers exploit the poor. In short, ‘security’ policies created in these conditions actually keep insecurity alive.
Some people are lucky enough to live in a country that is relatively secure. But their particular security is never free from risk. For example, famine in one part of the world leads to over-working the farmland locally, and so creating deserts. Earth’s climate is affected by such changes, which can alter the climate elsewhere in the world.
Another example: wealth-seeking businesses and organisations can take advantage of poverty and repression in one region to exploit people elsewhere. The world’s finances are affected by moves like this. Social support systems run out of resources, and people suffer. With the growth of armed force and poor administration of justice, conflicts break out, causing more problems: disrupted populations, money spent on war instead of necessities of life, and continued damage to the environment. Insecurity spreads like a disease.
So what is the answer? It has to begin with thinking differently about the world. Everyone on the planet depends on its atmosphere and resources to be alive at all. So far we have treated the planet with too little respect, greedy for its resources and reluctant to share them around. Because of this the global system is threatened, which means we are all threatened too. We risk losing fresh air, fresh water, unpolluted land, a tolerable climate we risk losing land, homes and life itself.
Recently the Nobel Peace Prize committee showed that they recognised this truth. They awarded the Prize to a Kenyan environment specialist, Wangari Maathai. She challenges people ‘to see things differently’, urging us all to understand the importance of the close relationship between protecting the environment, empowering the people, and creating peace. Leaders, she says, should create a social environment in which people are able to take action for the good of everyone. She also reminds us that ‘progress’ too often means the pursuit of wealth, when what really matters is ‘quality of life’. Quality of life has less to do with possessions and more to do with basic necessities, human rights, and good relationships.
Only global action by all countries can hope to save our global environment. People have to work together, with a shared determination for a shared survival instead of a shared extinction. Security can only be stable when it is universal ‘common’ to us all.