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Will Our Economic Collapse Cause the Death of Millions Abroad?

As the wealthier nations cease investing in the developing world or acquiring its exports, the crisis is hitting them with a vengeance.

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Although much of Blair's report focuses on familiar issues like Iran's nuclear aspirations and the war in Afghanistan, it devotes considerable attention to the prospect of social and political turmoil arising from the current economic meltdown. "The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications," the report noted. In tracking this concern, "time is probably our greatest threat…Statistical modeling shows that economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they persist over a one to two year period." Of course, the crisis has already lasted more than one year in the United States and appears destined to persist much longer in both the developed and developing areas -- and so the danger of "regime-threatening instability" has to be taken very seriously indeed.

In his public testimony, Admiral Blair didn't provide a country-by-country assessment of where he expected to see instability. But he did point to several areas that are at particular risk, including Africa, Latin America, and Central Asia. Speaking of the latter, for example, he noted that Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, "with their highly-personalized politics, weak institutions, and growing inequalities are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges posed by Islamic violent extremism, poor economic development, and problems associated with energy, water, and food distribution." All of these countries, moreover, are particularly vulnerable to the global economic crisis, particularly as remittances fall. "Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have heavily depended on migrant worker remittances from both Russia and Kazakhstan for a significant portion of their gross domestic product -- up to 45% in the case of Tajikistan -- and will be severely affected by the financial crisis."

Economic deprivation is also spurring an increase in crime and piracy in certain areas, Blair testified. This is especially so in parts of West Africa, where poverty and diminished state capacity facilitated the trans-shipment of narcotics from Latin America to Europe. "Traffickers have successfully co-opted government and law-enforcement officials in these countries, further undermining weak and economically impoverished governments who lack adequate law enforcement and judicial capacity," the report notes. Blair pointed in particular to Guinea-Bissau, which he described as "Africa's first narco-state. On March 3, the country's president, João Bernardo Vieira, was killed in what some observers believe was a dispute between rival drug interests.

In more recent testimony, Blair has tied political unrest in the developing world even more closely to global economic conditions. Speaking of the current turmoil in Pakistan, for example, he told a House committee on February 25: "The government is losing authority in the North and the West, and even in the more developed parts of the country, mounting economic hardships and frustration over poor governance have given rise to greater radicalization."

While it's perhaps too early to specify where outbreaks of "regime-threatening instability" might occur as a result of the economic crisis, the analysis derived from recent World Bank and FAO reports suggests that many developing nations are at significant risk. The wealthier nations have experienced only the first shockwave from the global economic crisis. The effects of the second shockwave -- on the world's less-developed nations -- have yet to be felt. From all indications, the consequences of the second wave are likely to be even more earth-shattering than the first.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and the author of Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Petroleum Dependency .

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