Will the Last Superpower Recognize In Time What We Must Do to Save the Planet?
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Cheap oil provided an energy subsidy that defined the wars, economies, settlements, values, and lifestyles of the 20th century. The result was a century of wasteful extravagance and inefficiency that encouraged us to squander virtually all Earth's resources -- including water, land, forests, fisheries, soils, minerals, and natural waste recycling capacity. We are now waking up to the morning-after consequences of a brief but raucous party. These include depleted natural systems, unsustainable economies, an obsolete physical infrastructure, and a six-fold increase in the human population dependent on the diminished resources of a finite planet.
Cheap oil also fueled a zero sum global competition for access to resources -- particularly cheap oil -- and for the military superiority required to secure that access. The United States combined the global projection of military power with the global projection of economic and cultural power to achieve unchallenged global dominance as the sole reigning superpower.
Cheap oil is no more and the global projection of military and economic power it made possible is no longer viable. In May 2008 the price of oil hit a new high of $135 a barrel in contrast to the historic inflation adjusted price of $27.00. We are only beginning to awake as a nation to the reality that our reign as a global superpower is coming to an abrupt end. (See the summer 2008 issue of YES! Magazine.) If we hold to business as usual, we will exhaust what remains of our power and credibility in a bloody and violent no win-competition to consume the last tree, fish, drop of oil, drink of potable water, and breath of clean air -- sealing our own fate as well as that of our species.
A Defining Challenge
According to the scientific consensus, to avoid driving Earth's system of climate regulation into irrevocable collapse we humans must achieve at least an 80 percent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050 and possibly sooner. Less noted is the corresponding imperative that to avoid irrevocable social collapse, we must simultaneously achieve an equitable allocation of allowable emissions to meet the essential needs of every person on the planet.
This presents a particular challenge for the United States. As the world's leading producer of green house gases, our emissions reduction must be closer to 90 percent.
There is no place in this equation for war or the global projection of military power. Beyond the fact that military planes, ships, and vehicles are gluttonous consumers of oil, the central activity of warfare is to kill and maim people and destroy critical infrastructure to impair capacity for normal life. The collateral damage includes massive scale toxic and radioactive environmental contamination that renders growing portions of our crowded planet uninhabitable. The more we humans war the more certain our ultimate collective demise.
The Last Superpower
The United States is well positioned to take the lead among nations in renouncing war as an instrument of national policy and dismantling the means of conducting war. We account for roughly half of world military expenditures and our military expenditures account for more than half of the U.S. federal discretionary budget to the neglect of major education, health, infrastructure, and environmental needs.
Yet the only military threat to our domestic security is from a handful of terrorists armed with box cutters and a willingness to die for their cause. We face a greater danger from our own children brandishing guns in our schools than from any opposing army. If a band of terrorists were to attack us with an atomic weapon, it would likely be delivered in a suitcase or packing crate. Such threats share in common the simple fact that even the mightiest military force in the world offers no protection. The solutions depend more on strengthening our families and communities, than on increasing military budgets.
Military science has long recognized that the use of conventional military force against an unconventional enemy that blends in with the civilian population is futile, even counterproductive, because the inevitable collateral damage fuels resentment and increases the numbers and commitment of the enemy. In the case of the United States, it drains our resources, divides us as a nation, weakens our moral standing in the world, and creates more unconventional enemies -- as our fruitless occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan currently demonstrates.
The greatest threats to U.S. security come from weather chaos, oil dependence, disruption of food supplies, water scarcity, domestic gun violence, profligate borrowing, and a collapsing dollar -- threats increased by our current military security policies.
This is the moment for a pragmatic turn from military security to smart security. Among the potential starting points, two stand out as particularly promising. The first is a call by establishment insiders like George Shultz, who was U.S. Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, to dismantle all the world's nuclear weapons (see Sarah van Gelder's interview with George Shultz).
The second is an emergent social movement calling all the world's parliaments to adopt the principles of Article 9 added to the Japanese Constitution following World War II. In the official translation it reads:
ARTICLE 9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
Italy and Germany adopted similar, but less stringent, provisions following World War II. Each renounced war as a sovereign right.
A Global Movement
In May 1999, 6000 global citizens gathered in The Hague for what at that time was the largest peace conference in history and issued The Hague Appeal for Peace. Among other measures, they recommended, "every Parliament should adopt a resolution prohibiting their government from going to war, like the Japanese article number nine." On Japanese Constitution day, May 3, 2008, over 8,000 Japanese gathered in Tokyo for the Global Article Nine Conference to Abolish War where numerous international speakers endorsed a call to the parliaments of the world to adopt national equivalents of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution.
A Smart Security Policy for the United States
The experience of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrates the folly of responding to terrorism with conventional military force and affirms the validity of Article 9. Public awareness of the costly failure of these misadventures has created a moment of opportunity for the U.S. peace movement to build popular political support for a Smart Security policy that renounces war as an instrument of foreign policy and sets forth a plan to:
- Dismantle the obsolete machinery of war that is depleting our national treasure,
- Convert our war economy of the past to a green economy of the future,
- Mobilize our human and materials resources to address the real threats to our security, and
- Work with the other nations of the world to do the same.
It is an opportunity to at once increase our security, improve the quality of our lives, and regain a position of principled global leadership.
A Just Foreign Policy, the Summer 2008 issue of YES! Magazine.
David Korten is co-founder and board chair of the Positive Futures Network, which publishes YES! Magazine.