March 9, 2013
Let us take a fleeting look at some of the pressing global challenges of our time.
According to a United Nations report, about five percent of total Syrian population – that becomes at least one million, has fled the country and only since last January, numbers of such people are around 4000,000. In its two years long conflict, more than 70,000 people have been killed. In a recent report, UNICEF says that because of the conflict, Syrian educational system has collapsed. One fifth of the schools are damaged from fighting, while others are being used as shelters for civilians who have been displaced by the conflict. Numbers of internally displaced people have crossed 2 million. About 2 million people are estimated to be internally displaced.
Colin H. Kahl, Melissa G. Dalton, and Matthew Irvine in a study conducted for Center for a New American Security (CNAS), has presumed that Saudi Arabia would respond to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons by developing its own bomb or illicitly receiving it from its close ally Pakistan. A marriage between Saudi money and Pakistani nuclear weapon program would create a disturbing global geo-political situation involving major nuclear weapon countries like USA, Russia, China, and inevitably India- Pakistan’s immediate rival. If a small-scale nuclear war erupts between India and Pakistan, even by mistake, experts say it would be the end of human civilization.
In its response to Iranian nuclear program, Israel has issued repeated claim that it would attack against Iranian nuclear facility, if the world community fails to restrain Iran. Given that Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia have nuclear weapons then it would be impossible to stop Egypt, Libya, and Turkey to own these weapons.
Seldom in history was there a small and weak country like North Korea that has been issuing continued threats to a most powerful country – United States of America and has warned that it would hit the world’s lone super power with its nuclear weapon.
Despite a new U.S., led push for stricter UN sponsored sanctions against its third nuclear test; followed by a new U.S. – South Korea military drill beginning from the beginning of March, North Korea yesterday, formally announced the annulment of the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War (1950-530 and withdrew from all the non-aggression pacts with the South.
Responding to North’s threat, a South Korean army General Kim Yong-hyun said that “If North Korea conducts any provocations that threaten the life and safety of South Koreans then it should be clear there will be strong and decisive punishment not only against the source of the aggression and its support forces, but also the commanding element”.
On the other hand, the world’s second and third largest economy – China and Japan have engaged in a fresh round of diatribe over movements of their warships near a disputed group of tiny islets known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.
This has fueled the tensions that have lasted for months between the two countries. Both China and Japan have repeatedly avowed to protect the territorial integrity. In addition it has been reported that both the countries have dispatched their warships with guided missiles destroyer and they are located at a distance of their eye sights. If the situation goes more tensed and dangerous, United States, by a treaty with Japan, is bound to join the fray that any time may turn into a global conflict. However, it is assumed that neither of them wants tensions in their relation that can escalate into a war.
Giving reference to the report of World Economic Forum Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich have stated that more than “870 million people are now hungry, and more are at risk from climate events and price spikes”. They have further, stated that by 2050 we will have other 2.5 billion populations that would make some 9.5 billion. When at current situation, we have not been able to feed 870 million people and millions annually die of malnutrition, it would not be an easy task to feed the other 35 percent increase. More population means more food, more water, and more land for farming. In addition, farming as a “major emitter of greenhouse gases, accelerates climate change”. This in consequence, would cause groundwater over pumping, seawater seeping and land salinity. This will have forced us to live with soil deterioration, reduced food supply, loss of ecological balance and ever-rising global toxicity.
On Mar 2, 2013, Reuters reported that Al Qaeda’s most active branch in the Arabian Peninsula -AQAP, has released an English-language magazine with instructions for would-be militants on how to torch parked cars and cause traffic accidents.
The magazine has also warned France to withdraw from Mali and has listed 11 public figures in the West, including author Salman Rushdie, Dutch politician Geert Wilders, Canadian-Somalian activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and U.S. pastor Terry Jones. It is feared that Al Qaeda based in Yemen – the most impoverished and lawless country in the Middle East that also a tri-juncture of three continents- Asia, Europe and Africa, can pose far greater threat to the global peace and order than from Afghanistan
Whenever and wherever there is poverty- there is crime, violence and war. Wherever there is ignorance – there is exploitation, domination, and deprivation. When people fail to elect good leaders, demand good policies, and create good and well functional institutions to represent them – they have to live with all those vices, as if they are born with them.
It is simple with bad leaders, bad policies, bad institutions, and bad voters – we have bad time for us. Similar is the case with bad neighbors, bad powers, and bad weapons.
The global financial crisis that began in 2008 has given ways to greater political crisis involving Europe – the world’s most powerful economic and political union – European Union.
Europe for more than two centuries has been the most influential global economic and political power. Although since the end of Second World War, its military influence has diminished largely, its economic and political credence has been much bigger and stronger only next to United States.
After the meteoric rise of China and the financial crisis that began in 2008, Europe has lost bigger part of its global influence. The crisis has not been limited to its global posture it has created deep divisions among its member countries as well.
German President Joachim Gauck, speaking on the prospects for the European idea on February 22, acknowledged that the largest and most powerful democratic grouping of the world has been leaving too many people a feeling of powerlessness and voicelessness.
According to President Gauck, crisis of confidence among members is not limited to its economic dimension. Growing inequality among member states is generating sense of unmistakable anger, and even increasing the risk of national humiliation, the president of the largest economy of Europe and fourth of the world, bluntly admitted.
Understandably, Europe as a political project initially envisioned by the great French Economist and diplomat – Jean Monnet in 1950, is demonstrating not a mere economic crisis but much riskier crisis of confidence among them.
Nobel laureate and one of the world’s most renowned economists Joseph E. Stiglitz has recently written a provocative article in Project Syndicate. Stating the unresolved fundamental contradictions in Euro Zone countries and perilous political divisions among them, Stiglitz presents a sordid picture that reflects, “A deep lack of solidarity”. According to him, a senior most government official of a northern European country “did not even put down his fork when interrupted by an earnest dinner companion who pointed out that many Spaniards now eat out of garbage cans”. The cool response the Northern official made was that they “should have reformed earlier”, and “continued to eat his steak”
On the other hand, the world’s single most powerful economic, military, and political power – United States has exposed an unprecedented political division within it. At a time of great political upheaval and economic crisis, its political leaders have been playing kind of blame game that is common in emerging democracies. This has not only affected its global stature but also its ability to lead the world’s democratic practices and economic freedom of people that has emancipated millions of people from poverty and deprivation.
A testimony submitted before the House Armed Service Committee of the US Congress discloses that if the burgeoning economic crisis continues and the “defense budget is held constant in real terms and personnel costs continue to rise at the same rate as the last decade, the entire defense budget will be consumed by personnel accounts before the year 2040”.
It has quoted a retired Major General Arnold Punaro who has said that “We’re on the path in the Department of Defense to turn it into a benefits company that may occasionally kill a terrorist.” The much-debated US defense budget sequestration borne out of its economic crisis will have decisive impact upon its critical defense commitments appended by its several bilateral and multilateral alliances worldwide.
Besides, America has entered into a most tumultuous time of domestic political division after Vietnam War. In a period of seemingly unending international turmoil, Americans are fighting against the very reason that has been their identity since their birth as a nation.
Indubitably, a weakened Europe and a debilitated United States will have a defining impact upon a global order that has created the longest period of peace, stability, and mountains of prosperity – much more than human society accumulated in all the previous period combined.
It is plainly simple and clear. If America has problem, Europe has problem if Japan, China, India, Nepal, Afghanistan, or Somalia have problems unmistakably the problems comes with their leaders, with their policies and with their institutions. Unfortunately, with many countries, it also comes with bad neighbors and bad powers.
We had both very good times and very bad times in past. When we had leaders with good knowledge and good intentions, we had good times and some other times it was opposite. We created institutions to make them good, offer them good advices, and work with good intentions. Again, people themselves took powers to elect good leaders, create good institutions, and make them accountable.
With our times now, perhaps we have failed to our job – from leaders to common people. Perhaps, never in human history was the world so leaderless and hence defenseless.
We have amassed unlimited power, gained infinite prosperity and have acquired the largest stock of most dreaded weapons system in our arsenals. Most importantly, we have accumulated enormous amount of advanced knowledge and skills that can transform the world into a safe and pleasant place for all. We have everything with us that we need to make our life better and give better future to our posterity. But, most unfortunately, we do have no leaders to lead us for that.
Thus, obviously, most of the countries, communities and the world as well, have exhibited that they have no leaders and hence all the great promises and possibilities that the 21st Century has unfolded to the whole humanity, seems failing to us. The unbound opportunities that the last decade of 20th Century had unfurled upon us have fallen short with the first decade of Twenty first Century.
More terrible is the absence of credible and competent leaders to institute a global order binding to all. In addition, people in both developed and developing countries are forced to live in a period of great uncertainty and insecurity. For huge majority, the time to come may turn into a period characterized by chaos and anarchy. In short, the World has failed to live with hope and expectations of millions of people as they have no leaders to help them realize that there are some one whom they can trust for their future. The country and communities have miserably been unsuccessful to find leaders to lead the hope, aspirations, and strengths of their people but their weaknesses.
We are missing leaders, but band of politicos have emerged who could enjoy the glamour of their positions, seek and ensure their benefits from it and run politics as the most profiteering profession. Lead people towards a global common good by means of politics have become a bygone story. In result, the massive stock of knowledge, technical knowhow and unparallel reserve of human energy and natural resources have found no attendants.
The world somehow could manage to live with World Wars and Cold War because there was leadership. The disintegration of Soviet Union was handled aptly and wisely in some way, because there was leadership. Our leadership in politics, economics, and in science and technology made us learn that poverty – the most tragic situation that existed for centuries can be eliminated. And, over some 600 million people were freed from poverty within a period of just 30 years – the single greatest human achievement since the beginning of history. Later when we discovered that most of the diseases and health problem that we were living and are living with are our own creations, so can be ended – gave us a new hope and confidence. The greatest learning we achieved in the last few years was that nothing others than the ignorance of the people and absence of honest and visionary leaders are the only source of poverty, diseases, violence, natural imbalances, social insecurity, and political instability. This gave us new power and we created Arab Spring.
Nevertheless, time has become more chilling and challenging. Indubitably, with good leaders times can become more promising. However, the single misfortune we are living with is that even at global level we are living without credible leaderships that can inspire the global citizens cope with the challenges and gain ability to subsist with the time that was never so gifted.
This has left us – mainly our young generation succumb to the utter frustration and despair. This, in the words of U.S. president Barrack Obama “can rot a society from within.” When a society decays this way, ultimately it turns out to be a breeding ground for criminality, violence, and terrorism in a cyclic order.
The world is leaderless and therefore is defense less. Internal political mismanagement and crisis of confidence within the border and across it have posed greatest challenges to national security of many countries –from most powerful to weakest ones. A weak, poor, and isolated country from North Korea to Islamic radical groups anywhere in the world and a computer – hacker from a slum area or a huge military complex in any part can pose tremendous challenge to American, Chinese, Indian or European security.
A weak America is not an answer. In a globalized world neither a weakened and submissive China, India, Russia can provide better security to United States. NATO and the Americans did not fight their wars with Soviet Union or China but they have been fighting their wars in Afghanistan – one of the weakest and poorest countries of the world. France, Britain, and United States fought their war in Libya. Recently, France fought another war in Mali – a failing African country. It has been mentioned earlier not a powerful China but a small, weak, and poor country – North Korea has been issuing threats to United States.
Problems lie with the crisis of leadership. Enhancing the quality of leadership, building their credibility, and strengthening their capacity and confidence to confront the problems of our time, is perhaps the greatest challenge of present day world order.
Surprisingly, crisis of leadership and their credibility gap is not limited to some smaller developing countries. It is equally challenging to great powers like United States, Russia, China, and India. An inspired and highly confident leader in these countries can change the course of global history and can make bold attempts to face the major challenges we are living with.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee within some of its limitation has been doing splendid job in inspiring and encouraging promising leaders both in developing and developed countries. Its decision to award Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barrack Obama (2009) and European Union (2012) might have “devalued” its recognition to some extent but by other count, it was remarkable one.
Undoubtedly, Nobel Committee has a mission and to find the world’s most powerful person to serve its global mission of peace and development and encourage him to keep on, is itself a great thing. Nobel Committee did not want to miss this opportunity and announced it in favor of President Obama.
A prize that was being awarded for some lifetime achievements of some legendary figures, a prize that even missed the great person like Mahatma Gandhi, a prize that parallels to none in its dignity and eminence, was formally announced to be awarded to Barrack Obama only after eight months in office. More surprisingly, he was chosen for the greatest award of the Earth just 12 days after taking office. As the news reached to White House, it was something like bolt from a blue and the President checked if it was April 1.
Including the iconic Polish leader Lech Walesa, who won the same prize in 1983, many claimed it was “too early” and “premature” decision. In response, Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said that it could be too late if they respond “three years from now”. It meant a lot. The Nobel Committee said President Obama deserved it for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. Obama’s vocal commitment for a world without nuclear weapons was specially noted. Moreover, it said Obama as President has “created a new climate in international politics”. “Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position” and dialogues and negotiations are “preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts”.
It further elaborated Obama’s vision of a “world free from nuclear arms” – powerful stimulation to disarmament and arms control negotiations and stronger commitment to meet “the great climatic challenges the world is confronting” including strengthening democracy and human rights.
While establishing further justification for the Noble Committee’s decision, Jagland explained that Obama was awarded not for any tangible achievement but he succeeded in bringing the great change in the perception of world community vis-à-vis United States and its implications worldwide.
According to NBC News Nobel officials admitted that they made their stunning pick to build “momentum behind Obama’s initiatives to reduce nuclear arms, ease tensions with the Muslim world and stress diplomacy and cooperation rather than unilateralism”.
In short the Nobel Committee wanted Obama ensure speedy force withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, work hard mainly for nuclear disarmament, strongly committal to fight climate change, refrain from military intervention especially in an Iraq like situation and find some way out to calm down the resentment of Muslim community against America and West. They wanted to inspire Obama move fast and build his confidence and credibility as a global leader, so had it reached in this decision in an unusual way.
Similar to its Obama mission, Norwegian Nobel Committee with its strong message tried to boost the morale of European Community as a single largest political and economic union while suffering from its worst days since it was established.
Nobel Committee Chairman quoted Jean Monet who had said that nothing can be achieved without human beings but nothing becomes permanent without institutions and stressed the role of EU as an institution in transforming a continent of many century long wars to a continent of long peace and amity.
Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, in a joint statement said the prize as the strongest possible recognition of the deep political motives behind the EU to shape the continent as a zone of peace and prosperity.
To make this world better for all is not some other’s responsibility. Neither is it the job of some UN agencies, other INGOs, governments’ or leaders’. It is everyone’s project. Not a single person can shrink or flee from it.
Many people and organizations are doing right things around us. They need our support – at least some recognition from us. Few words of honest admiration may give them tremendous encouragement. If we discuss about their work and commend them, they and the society where they work become an inspired community to do more and meaningful. Perhaps it was the best logic behind Norwegian Committee’s decision to award Nobel Prize to Obama and EU.
There are people and organizations that are doing bad things and spoiling our society and whole world. They need to be condemned and opposed, if not they will be doing more harm to our family, society, the humanity and us. If they are tolerated, they will do more bad and instead will discourage and try to eliminate those doing good for us.
For those who are doing good need help, support and encouragement. Without this, they cannot survive. But when it is the case of bad people and bad things if we just sit idle, say nothing and tolerate them, they will grow more, expand and gobble up everything that is good around us.
In any part of the world, whoever is doing good things – are our leaders. They are doing our jobs. Therefore, they must be supported, helped, and honored at least with few words. That is the beginning of our journey for a better world – where we all can be assured of our defense and well-being. This will help us find good leaders from local to global level and serve our purpose substantively.
Obviously, that person who cannot do this does not deserve to demand a good thing, fair treatment fine society for him, his family, and community. Terribly, by doing this s/he ignores the basics of survival in a most difficult time.
Keshav Prasad Bhattarai is the former President of Nepal Teachers’ Association,Teachers’ Union of Nepal and General Secretary of SAARC Teachers’ Federation.
He writes for Eurasia Review. Earlier he worked as a columnist in an English language weekly from Nepal – ‘The Reporter’ and Rajdhani – a Nepali language daily. Before that as a freelancer, he wrote for different Nepali newspapers.
For his long association with national and international trade union movement, he usually prepares concept papers on educational issues, economic development, trade union movement and democratic development for different organizations in Nepal from the perspective of teachers’ trade union but in a critical way.
Keshav Prasad Bhattarai has also authored three books -- two of them are about Nepal's Relations with India and one on educational issues.
Read all posts by Keshav Prasad Bhattarai