Friday, October 14, 2005

19] On Ecological Security

ON ECOLOGICAL SECURITY, UNITED NATIONS REFORM, AND VISION FOR A STRONGER COMMUNITARIANISM OF THE UNITED NATIONS by AZLY RAHMAN Columbia University, New York As I sat down to outline this reflective essay on the link between our planetary survival and the issue of global non-proliferation we need, as moral agents to be aware of when working for “we the peoples” and our role in thinking futuristically about “what the shape of UN to come” would be, I was momentarily distracted by the following information from the National Public Radio (December 9, 1997): i. the decision by the “defense contractors” (i.e. major weapons producers) in Europe -- Britain, France, and Germany – to merge by 1999 as a stronger body to produce better and more destructive weapons to counter the ever increasingly strong US military-industrial-complex’s arms production capability. The rational being, if this initiative is not taken, the United States will forever bury the European arms industry. ii. the lobbying of the US major corporations to stop the notifications of the reduction of carbon dioxide emission at the Kyoto Conference on Global Warming so that business would not be affected. Non-US states however push for the increasing use of nuclear power as “safest” energy use in providing alternative for fossil fuel. I was also momentarily plunged into confusion by a recent statement by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, in his opening address to the Langkawi International Maritime and Space Exhibition in which he: i. urged the world’s “defense” contractors to produce “weapons which would not kill” but “only maim and mutilate” as an alternative to the production of deadly weapons. ii. urged Malaysian companies to venture into the “lucrative industry of arms production”, as there is a growing need for the country to become a major Third World player in the “defense and security” market. I was also moved by Robert Muller’s World Thanksgiving speech at The United Nations and by his lifelong commitment as a moral agent of conscientization working toward world peace. His conviction gave me a dose of moral strength to work against odds in educating people on the meaning of peace and non-proliferation. The essence of the preceding mentions point necessarily to the idea that military trade blocks will become a phenomena, ecological security will become a more pressing issue, Third World arms production will become intense, and the voices of those calling for peace will have to become stronger. Illustrated in the readings on the UN and the Environment particularly in Falk, Kim and Mendlovitz in The United Nations and a Just World Order and Mische’s Ecological Security and the UN, we may find the common theme which indicate that the United Nations agencies dealing with environmental concerns are consistently working hard towards creating awareness, drawing up ratifications, organizing conferences and setting up task forces to save the environment from further degradation, the heightening of these efforts have been met by equally heightening resistance for powerful social and political institutions to understand what such concerns can bring. Inclinations and insistence of corporations and corporatist-led governments to equate progress with the utilitarian view of Nature (i.e. the Natural resources around us are to be used to define our survival as human beings and not to be preserved in a Non-Nature symbiotic paradigm) has brought us into the difficulty of reversing the scheme of things ecological. Mische (1997) in “ Assuring Ecological Security for the 21st Century” chronicled the development of the work of the United Nations in creating and mandating awareness in our thinking about security for a globally environmentally sustainable planet. Dismal thoughts can be discerned from her analysis in that whilst the UNEP is working “on a limb” to provide intelligent arguments for the ecological security of our environment, “regressive forces want to weaken with the United Nations and standards of environmental protection” I am inclined to analyze the “regressive forces” being “corporations” and corporatist-developmentalist states – both of these are “one happy family in the global production system” which thrive on profits on a massive scale rather than think of the praxical value of saving the Earth which is threatened by the hour by massive emission of carbon dioxide and massive destruction of the rain forests. The argument which follows will be that the technological, political and global business skills we have developed to such an advanced stage have not been compatible with the slow and regressive moral, religious and planetary living skills we require to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of planetary destruction through environmental degradation.” It follows then that capitalism, at its most advanced stage wherein nations are no longer merging to sell good things in life – cars, radios, blue jeans, hip hop music, Walkmans and VCRs – but have beyond this to merge in the area of weapons production. We pay lip service to environmental protection in such manners as celebrations of Earth Days and in corporations claiming to become greener. We missed the issue in our assuring of ecological security. I believe that governments in their present form and manifestations cannot be believed to be top-down reformers or revolutionaries in ensuring the security of planet Earth for your children and mine – for the children of the future, in short. Contemporary thoughts on the need to go back to Nature and the organize ourselves in bringing down such governments must perhaps be the agenda in helping the UN achieve its goal in assuring ecological security. Ecophilosophy or ecosophy as a rallying mode of thinking ought to be explored in order for us to think of reversing the current trend in thinking about the environment. Whilst, reflective in the readings of the UN’s environmental effort, the idea is to put pressure on governments and corporations to think about these issues, a more widespread movement globally is needed to work towards bringing down existing governments so that those which will be replaced can be the ones led by ecophilosophical thinkers. Perhaps this is a Romantic view of praxis but I must insist that the Earth can no longer wait to have more conferences held, conventions ratified, and calls being made, to save itself from its critically wounded and overheated condition from the countless rapes its had undergone over the last many decades. In relation to the proposal for “eco-philosophers to be kings” one may also find the necessity to cultivate leaders of this ecosophical breed so that governments can no longer venture into producing weapons of mass production which will contribute to the ecological security of our planet too. Moving from environmental hope we now turn to the question of reforming the UN. Erskine and Childers in Renewing the United Nations System (1994) brought our attention to the need to reform the UN system based on the rationale among them that the world is increasingly getting insecure, violent and unjust in economic distribution. If we are to have faith in the UN as a “peoples assembly” we must strengthen the UN in the areas of management, finance, coordination, recruitment, and membership in the Security Council. Rosenau (1992) in The United Nations in a Turbulent World argued along similar lines in calling for the UN to be more visible, assertive and creative in recruiting volunteers to make it stronger. Urquhart and Childers (1990) outlined the main areas of reform which needed to be undertaken in order for the UN to be more futuristic in solving the world’s problems among those undertaking initiatives such as proactive preventive diplomacy, disarmament and arms reduction, and mobilization of resources to address the international problems of distributive justice. Whilst these initiatives are to be taken at the UN level, it is also important to venture into the area of strengthening the non-governmental organizations, nationally and locally so that together they can work with the world body and their respective governments in intensifying our efforts to address the global issues. I argue that a stronger UN need a stronger coalition of NGOs with collaborations from international NGOs as believed by many a communitarian thinker such as Elise Boulding. The elaborations below will illustrate my vision of what a stronger UN will look like in light of the ecological and human security we are to work towards as a process as we step into the chaotic twenty-first century. My vision of a stronger United Nations is that of the strengthening of grassroots movement worldwide in collaboration with those which are already given consultative status in the main organs of the United Nations. Whilst I agree that reformation for the UN should also be at the level of the body itself, i.e. in the areas of UN Security Council, administration, financing, leadership, and recruitment, I believe in the power of the “peoples of the world who have greater conscience that their governments” in struggling for the ecological security of our planet. The stronger the national NGOs the better the political pressure on their governments will be. In fact, governments should also be pressured to include NGOs in the political decision-making of each country so that the voice of the peoples can be louder. Alliances by NGOs with their international partners should be strengthened so that the ideals of communitarianism in our thinking about the future of this planet can be achieved. Educators and intellectuals of each country must become vanguards and “moral agents” in the forging of such alliances. Education for critical and creative consciousness towards the building of environmentally, intellectually and morally sustainable future must be the agenda for the next millenium. Education here is meant to be in the broadest sense of the word; from the day the child learns to think about these issues till the last few hours before death calls. Conscientization for the better of humanity must be a life-long process. I envision a world without governments in which moral agents are plenty enough to create a more peaceful world order. The creation of these moral agents must then be through education, formal or non-formal. So, whilst the UN is currently undergoing its structural reforms, the role of educators such as mine will be “to light my own candle so that instead of me cursing the dark, I would at least help others around me see”. And if there are more of us lighting candles, we can then help Humanity, banished over the last few decades by Ego which reign within a “Thou-less” world, come back. Like the candles, in the story of the Ramayana, awaiting Sita Devi in the courtyard of King Rama after the princess was banished for fourteen years, we as educators can become like them; lighting ourselves so that what illuminates outside of us is what illuminates within. The kingdom within us is greater than the one outside. Reform, must begin from within whilst revolutions from outside! MAY WE CONTINUE TO LIVE IN MORE INTERESTING TIMES

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AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of nine books on Malaysia and Global Affairs. He grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. Twitter @azlyrahman.