Jan Pronk

Security and Sustainability

Pastrana Borrero Lecture, New York, November 19 2002

- 19 November 2002 Pastrana Borrero Lecture United Nations Environment Program New York -
Why was the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, 2002, different from UNCED in Rio de Janeiro, ten years earlier, less appealing?  Why did  we not make the future the heart of our deliberations? Wwhy didn’t we really address questions concerning the destiny of the earth, the needs of poor people and the risks confronting future generations? Was it a lack of imagination? Was it due to old-fashioned impotent machinery and procedures within the UN system? Was it scepticism, a lack of political will, a lack of insight into changed world conditions or a lack of capacity to translate new insights into a new approach? Or have we become obsessed by the risks of today: security questions and the war against terrorism? Maybe it was all of that. But the most important reason is that still fundamental disagreement exists concerning the concept of sustainability itself, despite a superficial consent reached during talks and negotiations. There is a general disbelief amongst the people, an overall doubt whether the direction advocated or chosen is the right one and a complete uncertainty whether any alternative route should be better. The result is political alienation in many countries: people that do not thrust their leaders, leaders disregarding people’s needs, people suspicious about values, models and doctrines propagated by leaders, leaders manipulating views and opinions of citizens, people’s groups sharpening their identity, fencing themselves in, keeping others out, thereby creating a general climate of distrust. Uncertainty, disbelief, distrust, alienation  and fear, that goes far beyond disagreement.
There always has been disagreement about paradigms. Throughout history dominant paradigms have been contested  It helped sharpening convictions beyond a justification of interests. The paradigms of those in power are always different from the paradigms of the non-elite When paradigm disputes turn into an ideological confrontation, conditions in society may become stifled, because groups draw back into their bulwarks. However, a straight and genuine paradigm dispute can help putting a clash between interest groups at a higher political level. It can help disarming powerful elites, undermining their self-justification , unravelling  the case in favour of the status quo, by focusing on the longer turn interest of society as a whole.
That is true for paradigm diputes both within nations and world wide. In the field of international development cooperation such a major dispute took place after the decolonisation in the sixties and after the first World Environment Conference in Sockholm, 1972. There was a risk that the newly won independence of the young nation states would not be followed by a reasonable degree of political and economic autonomy. The answer was a threefold new paradigm: self-reliance plus the fulfilment of basic human needs plus a new international economic order. Neither of the three became reality. Instead the world went through a period of  neo-colonialism, widening gaps between rich and poor and a return to the old order. In the eighties this led to complete stagnation. Gamani Corea spoke about ‘the lost decade for development’. The South was told to adjust to new realities set by the North. There was no international cooperation to address world problems such as mounting debt burdens, a deteriorating environment and increasing world poverty. All possible efforts were paralysed by the last convulsions of the Cold War between East and West. Until 1989, when the end of the Cold War created new perspectives fotr the peoples of all nations, in East and West, as well as  in the South. A new paradigm for development cooperation emerged, again defined with the help of three concepts: democracy, eradication of poverty and sustainable development.
So, when we came together in Rio de Janeiro the mood was positive. There was room for change. Change to the good: freedom, democracy, human rights, disarmament, peace, development and the protection of the environment. No wonder that the new paradigm of sustainability was widely endorsed: progress for the present generation in all respects and everywhere, without discrimination, but on the understanding that any next generation would be entitled to at least the same opportunities. Any living generation was obliged to use the resources at its disposal in such a way that these would be fully sustained or renewed  for the benefit of the next generation. Optimism prevailed, and a belief that the future could be shaped  within the framework of a new and more just order and that choices could be made in an atmosphere of harmony.
The optimism did not last long. The world lacked the capacity to translate the new dream into reality. Between the fall of the wall in Berlin in 1989 and the Sunmmit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 there was a fair amount of political will. Soon this political will became distorted by unbalanced approaches towards issues of so-called ‘good governance’. But even if that would not have been the case, domestic conflicts in many societies and the erosion of the international public system were weakening the capacity to bring about democracy, poverty eradication and sustainable development.
The new conflicts rose mostly within nations, not between them. Some of them conflicts were not new at all. They did not emerge, but re-emerge, often after decades of silence. The power struggle between East and West had paralyzed conditions in the South and prevented any change whatsoever, fearing that such a change witin a country might endanger the demarcation lines between each other’s spheres of influence. Economic conflicts can be managed within a reasonable period of time, by a good combination of economic growth and (re)distribution of assets and income, creating a perspective of progress for everybody, also present generations. Cultural, social, etnic, religious or sub-national domestic conflicts, however, last long. They are rooted deeply in society. Cultural conflicts, whether or not accompanied or sharpened by economic inequalties, outlive generations. They are less manageable than economic conflicts, because there is no way out by means of sharing or redistribution. In an economic conflict there is always a win-win solution feasible: the right path of investment, growth and distribution can make all parties gain. An economic increase of one party does not necessary have to result in a welfare loss for others. Cultural identity conflicts are different.  Identities are defined in terms of absolute positions, not in terms of shares of total potential welfare. A stronger position of one group in a society   -  be it a tribe, an etnic group, a religious denomination, a social class, a sex, a tongue, a colour, a caste, an elite, a nationalistic clan, or any group defining its identity in other than purely economic terms  -   always means that another group will lose. Welfare is a relative concept. It can be increased, also through intelligent distribution. Power is an absolute concept. Total power cannot be increased by means of reditributing it. Power is a zero sum game. Only when cultural conflicts are not be seen as power conflicts but as identity conflicts, a solution is possible, provided that each group considers its identity not threatened but enriched through communication with the other. Cultural confrontation has to be transformed into a cultural exchange. But as long as this is not the case such conflicts are longer lasting, less manageable and more violent than either economic conflicts or international disputes. That is what happened in the ninety-nineties, after the euphoria of the end of the Cold War had evaporated.  Old conflicts reemerged, weapons were wetted and violence struck many countries from within.
Violence was not contained to the original location of the conflict. It was brought to other countries by the same forces which brought about globalization. That was the second major new phenomenon in the ninety nineties. The concept of globalization was not discussed in Rio; the word was not even mentioned.  Of course, there had been internationalization throughout: intercontinental transport, foreign investment and trade, international finance, imperialism and colonisation, world wars, efforts to build international alliances, a League of Nations, the UN itself. Globalisation was not a new process, we had seen it for centuries, and had witnessed a stronger pace in the four decades since World War Two. But in the final decade of the last century it got a  new shape. Internationalisation had been an economic and a political process, steered and fostered by means of concrete decisions of policymakers and entrepreneurs. It was man-made. But somewhere in the nineties internationalisation turned into globalisation. It got a momentum of its own, became less a consequence of demonstrable human decisions, more self-contained and selfsupporting. The driving force was twofold. First, technological advance, enabling full and fast information and communication everywhere, physically and virtually. Second, economic, the global market, linking production, investment, transportation and trade  advertisement and consumption anywhere in the world to any other place. The result was a disregard for national frontiers, a strengthening of global corporations, an erosion of nation states.
Globalisation became a cultural affair as well. A reality in the mind of the people: time differences and long distances are no longer barriers for communication. Technology has solved this. What used to be far away has come close, what lays at walking distance is not being noticed or is even shut out of  people’s consciousness. The factual distance and the actual time difference are no longer relevant, only the distance within the human mind counts. In the Conference centre in Sandtown, Johannesburg, most of us felt through our air ticket, cell-phone, e-mail, credit card and CNN much closer connected with people in comparable conditions in metropoles abroad than with AIDS-victims on the African continent, landless people in South Africa, jobless in Alexandra. And here in New York most of us will relate in their minds more with surfers on Internet on the other side of the globe than with homeless people on 42nd street. Everything is happening  everywhere in the world at the same moment and affecting everybody, wherever. It is a real time world with real time connections and we feel part of it.
That is to say: provided that we have access to modernity. Provided that we are not excluded. Many people are excluded. Globalisation was neither coherent nor complete. It was a globalisation of markets and of greed. In the ninety-nineties economic growth was higher than ever since World War Two. It got a boost from new technologies, rising expectations and a mounting demand at the global market. This unprecedented growth could have helped enlarging the capacity of the international community to address poverty and sustainability questions. It did not. Instead,  globalisation led to an even more unbalanced development: not more, but less sustainable, at least in social and ecological terms. Globalisation also made international cooperation lopsided by directing  political attention mainly towards facititating the workings of the world market and neglecting other concerns.. The intentions at the global market are a mix of a belief in the blessings of modern technology and a selfish, materialistic and commercial approach to notions of welfare and progress.
What did this mean for the poor? During long periods of capitalist expansion poor people were exploited. But they had an opportunity to fight back, because the system needed them: their labour and their purchasing power, the power to buy the goods produced by the system and thereby sustain the very system that exploited them. This common strength of the poor helped to modify exploitation. Development became potentially also beneficial to the poor. They got a perspective: to have a more livable life than their parents and to give an even better life to their children. That is development: change for the better, even if small, but in the perspective that improvements will last.  Everybody within the system was entitled to such a perspective. Everybody  had the right to hope.  That hope is no longer justified. Globalisation has changed the character of capitalism. There are more people excluded from the system than exploited in the system. Those who are excluded are being considered dispensable. Neither their labour nor their potential buying power seems to be needed. That is the reason why they cannot fight back anymore. They lost a perspective. If you know that your life is worse than that of your parents and if there is no hope that your children will do better, but instead will be even worse of than yourself, than  there is no perspective whatsoever.
For many people this is today’s reality. Better than in tbe past they know how life could be. Modern communication tells them that. But deeper than before they realize that such a life is not within reach, because they have lost solid ground. They have no land to work on, no job, no credit, no education, no basic services, no secuty of income, no food security, but ever more squalor, an ever greater chance to be affected by HIV/AIDS, a house without electricity, water and sanitatrion. Despite unprecedented world economic progress during the last decade, for about two billion people there is only the experience of sinking further and further into quicksand. In Johannesburg President M’beki called this Global Apartheid. The gap between rich and poor in the world can no longer be explained in terms of a strikingly unequal distribution of income and wealth which could be modified through world economic growth and a better distribution of the fruits of growth. The gap appears to have become permanent. Rich and poor stand apart, separated from each other. Under the Apartheidregime people were either white or black. So, they were part of the system, or they were not. Today people  belong to modernity, or not. The world of modernity is western of origin, but stretches towards islands and pockets of modernity in the east and in the south.  The worlds of modernity are linked  with each other by means of modern communication, physical or virtual communication. Through the culture of modern communication people feel that they belong to modernity, that they are part of it, part of the globalised uniform western neo-liberal culture of mass-consumption, materialism, greed, images and virtual reality. That modern world is separated from the world next door, physically sonmetimes just around the corner, but far away in terms of time, mentality, experience and consciousness: poverty, hunger, unemployment, lack of basic amenities in the shantytowns of a metropolis, at the countyside and in the periphery, where pollution is permanent, where the soil is no longer productive, water scarce, life unhealthy.  Poor people have to live in the worst places of the earth. “A world society based upon poverty for many and richness for some, characterised by islands of welfare surrounded by a sea of poverty is not sustainable”, President M’beki said. Indeed, that is Apartheid. On the one side security and luxury, on the other deprivation, hardship, suffering. At the beginning of the new Millennium for many people life has never been so good. At the same time for many people in our direct global neigbourhood life is not livable
Like in the past, under the South African Apartheid regime, security and luxury on the one side of the fence is being sustained and protected by continuing the suqualor, suffering and poverty elsewhere. Not by exploiting the poor. There still is exploitation  -  low commodity prices for instance and undecent wages for migrant labour  -  but the globalised Western culture has so much capital and purchasing power, that it can sustain itself without exploitation. However, poor people, instead of being exploited, are excluded. The Western world is afraid that they will cost more than they can contribute. They do not fit into western cost benefit calculations. People living in the slums of Calcutta, Nairobi and Rio de Janeiro,  AIDS affected in Africa, landless people in Bangladesh, subsistence farmers in the Sahel, illegal migrants crossing the Mediterranean, all of them lack the capacities needed to conribute to the modern Western economy and the buying power for its products That is why these people are considered dispensable. Well-to-do people are not interested in the ideas of the poor, let alone their feelings or their fate. The poor are a burden and should not try to come close. They are being kept away by connecting the islands of wealth with each other, using the means provided through globalisation. In doing so we deprive them of space, soil., in particular good soil, productive, fertile or commercially attractively located. We deprive them of water, forest, natural resources. We burden them with sky-high debts. We deny their enterprises fair access to the market by favouring foreign companies, providing them with more licenses, higher credits and tax holidays. We deny them basic provisions for survival, such as affordable medication against AIDS. President M’beki was right: globalisation is Apartheid. Globalisation takes away living space. Globalisation is appropriation. Globalisation means fencing off. Globalisation is occupation. Occupation of space - living space -, expropriation of resources, sealing off societies,  subjecting cultures. The poor are told to stay in their homelands, in occupied territories, separated from each other by boundaries drawn by those who do have access to the resources, the capital and the technology which lay at the basis of the modern Western culture.
The revolution of globalisation has made winners and losers. Real losers and those who see themselves as losers. Globalisation is shaking established structures and cultures. Some have the skills to gain access to the modern world market and play up fully. Others adjust themselves. For again others, it is either sink or swim. Many of them, economic asylum seekers for instance, are struggling with the waves of modernity and sink into the undercurrent of the new dynamics. For other people, single females with children in Africa for instance, modernisation means entire uprooting. Their existence was fragile and gets shattered. Many of them are dragged away and go down.
Others resist. Such a resistance can take different forms: protest, economic action, migration, forming alliances, a political counteroffensive at high level. It can also imply the strengthening of a vulnerable culture or an effort to tie religion with politics. It can result in violence, first against those within that culture who choose in favour of modernity and assimilate themselves with the foreign, western culture. Later on violence may be directed at the foreign culture itself.  That is a final stage. The more the centre of globalisation disregards the perifery, not only the economic and social needs of the perifery, but also its traditions, culture, religion and aspirations, the harsher the resistence.  A Western attitude of selfsufficiency and selfcomplacency is seen as arrogant, as an insult, a slap in the face. That breeds resentment. The excluded feel not only poor and dispossessed, but also defeated and humiliated. 
In the 18th century such a haughty attitude of the elite brought about a revolution. Today revolt is in the air. “If you don’t visit your neighbourhood, it will visit you”,  Thomas Friedman wrote. That visit can take different forms. One is migration to the towns. Another one is crime and violence in any metropolis with a dazzling city-centre next to favellas and shantytowns whith breathtaking poverty. A third reaction can be terrorism. Migration does not lead to crime, and crime does not result in terrorism But all of them are consequences of uprooting. Even when there is no direct link between poverty and violence, systematic neglect of aspirations and feelings of unjustice creates conditions within which violence can flourish. People may acquiesce to violence when they feel humiliated, personally and as a group, once they feel not to be taken seriously, not respected or recognized as a culture or as a society, once they feel excluded by the new world system orchestrated by the West. Then they may give a willing ear to violence.  Some approve silently, others give support or shelter. Others show themselves receptive to a message of violent action. Why not, they may think, if the world does not leave us an alternative?
Those who feel that the system does not care about them may try to seek access to the system, try to clear themselves a way into the system.That was the aspiration of migrants and of emancipation movements. Often they were successful. But if you experience that the system does not only ignore you, but brushes you aside, doesn’t want you, cuts you off, excludes you, then you may become inclined to consider it your turn: to turn away from the system. “If the system doen’t want me, then I do not want the system” is a form of logic. People who come as far as this do not even seek access to the system any more.They turn their back upon the system, denounce that system. One step further is to resist and oppose it, to want it being undermined, to attack and  undermine it themselves.
Poverty does not lead straight on to violence. Poverty without any perspective whatsoever, plus the experience of exclusion and neglect, the perception to be seen as lesser people with an inferior culture, to be treated as dispensable by those who do have access to modernity, to the market, to wealth and power, all that together will lead to aversion, resistence, hate, violence and terrorism. Resistence against globalisation which is perceived as perverse, as a curtailment of living space, as occupation.  Aversion against Western dominant values, which steered that process of globalisation in the direction of Global Apartheid. Hate against leaders of that process and against those who hold power within the system. Violence against its symbols. Deadly violence against innocent people within that system Unscrupulous violence, unsparing nothing and nobody, uncompromising also towards oneself,  fanatically believing: ‘this is the only way’.
Is it fully incomprehensible that people who consider themselves desperate, without any perspective, become receptive for the idea that they have been made a desperado by a system beyond reach? One step further and they become receptive for the whisperings of fanatics that they have nothing to lose in a battle against a system that is blocking their future. One more step and they believe that they will gain by sacrificing themselves in that battle. It is hideous, beyond justification, but the notion exists. It should and can be fought, but the most effective way to do so is not by resorting to counterviolence alone, but by taking away the motives and reasons people may have when surrendering to the temptations of fanatics.
Most people, however poor and desparate, dislike violence. They are disillusioned, but in doubt. Many perople in the world have developed ahate/love relation towards the West and its culture.They do not want to make a choice for or against the West. Unless they are forced to do so, for instance by the West itself.  Then resentment overtakes doubt
After  September 11, 2001, world leadership has the task to disarm the fanatics without alienating those who doubt. That requires, as was pleaded by Secretary General Kofi Annan when he received the Nobel Peace Prize, building a sustainable, democratic and peaceful  world society, within which humanity is seen as indivisible. That concept of sustainability, Kofi Annan added, ought to be based upon the dignity and inviolability of all human life, irrespective of origin, race or creed. 
That is what was really at stake in Johannesburg: indiscriminate access to basic categories of sustainability: health, water, biodiversity, agriculture and energy. Health means survival, crossway between life and death. Water provides people with a lifeline with the present environment. It is the lifeline between people, nature and resources. Biodiversity provides men, women and children with a lifeline with the past as wll as the future. It is the ultimate guarantee of the continuity of life. Agriculture stands for life itself. Agriculture provides people with food, work, an income and a home. Energy is the lifeline with progress: a more efficient use of resources, more food, more work, a better home, a higher income, the preservation of life and the postponement of death. Water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity  -  WEHAB  -  they form a string of lifelines. Together they give human survival a meaning and life a sense of direction, by freeing people from the fight for mere survival, to overcome the constraints set by space and time, to enable them to prevent and conquer misery and to develop instead, to reflect on the sense and meaning of human existence, to divide labour and exchange the fruits of  labour, to philosofize, write poetry, make love, create images, tell stories, collect knowledge, play games. A sustainable world society means that people are free to do all this together with other people, witihin the family and with partners in society, coming from different backgrounds, with different cultures: different experiences, different insights, different languages, different  poems, stories, images and games, and to share all that with each other.
Water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity. Together they are the lifeline between people and the planet. They shape the essential conditions for a sustainable development of human life, provided of course that they themselves are being preserved, sustained and developed in equilibrium with each other. That is crucial if we are to cut poverty in half or eradicate it all together. But those conditions for sustainability can only be met if there is a common determination towards the goal,  common values and a shared belief corncerning the system within which the endeavour should take place, full agreement about rights and duties, a willingness to comply with the norms and to live up to the pinciples, being confident that all this will be adhered to by everybody else, whether rich and powerful or not. Not only the task itself  is complex, to achieve sustainable development  including poverty eradication, but so is the setting within which the task has to be accomplished. That can not be imposed by a government or a bureaucracy. It cannot be ordered from above. It can only be achieved together with all other partners in society, bottom up, in a participatory approach, so that each and every individual and all peoples groups can trust that all will benefit more or less equally from a common endeavour to make life worth to be lived, now and in the future.
 If we look backward to the last decade of the previous century, we must admit this was not the decade fulfilling the promises of 1989 and 1992, when we were optimistically heading towards the end of the Millennium. It was not a decade of new international sustainable development cooperation. During that period we saw globalisation resulting into ever-greater ecological distortions, a sharpening of inequalities, a greater conflict potential and a weakening of the capacity of the polity to deal with these concerns, rather than a strengthening of that capacity. One might call that stumling into disaster. Economic conflicts have been complicated  by religious and cultural conflicts, violence could not be contained but has spread around the globe and all this became further complicated by the violence of terrorism. 
Since the 1th of September 2001 the world stands at the crossroads. The choice is between two paradigms: security or sustainability. Security is exclusive: ‘our’ security, which we presume to be threatened  by others  -  outsiders, foreigners, potential enemies  - and which we try to protect through exclusion. The other paradigm, sustainability, is inclusive: a safe and secure place for all human beings, a safe habitat, a safe job, secure access to food, water and health care, secure entitlements to resources which are essential for a decent and meaningful life, worthy of human beings. Sustainability as an inclusive concept implies the mutual thrust that justice will be maintained and secured for all people, without any discrimination, the ultimate guarantee of mutual security.   
In international policy security is all the go now. This implies a predominance of inward attitudes, more exclusion, pre-emptive strikes, retaliation, more violence, more terrorism, war. Going for absolute security kills. Embracing sustainability means sowing the seeds of life.
Jan  Pronk
Pastrana Borrero Lecture
United Nations Environment Program
New York
19 November 2002