In May, disarmament organizations will assemble alongside government delegations meeting for the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference. Coming together in side events between attempts to pursue and persuade diplomats has become a familiar practice among the world’s nongovernmental organizations, and should provide an opportunity to reflect and to develop strategies together. The focus on governments, however, often overshadows our own discussions, limiting their scope to what those in power might be persuaded to do in the near term and how we might persuade them to do it.
As we gather this year, humanity is confronted with several crises, each different but all ultimately intertwined. We face the decline of our natural environment, with climate change being only one of the human-induced transformations destroying natural and man-made systems from which we draw our sustenance today, and limiting our options for how we will live in the future.
These changes strike the poorest first–those who cannot afford to move, build expensive new infrastructure, or import the means of existence from afar when their locale is devastated by a global mode of production dedicated to short-term growth heedless of the long-term consequences. As competition for key nonrenewable resources intensifies, essentials of food and energy devour an increasing portion of their income, creating a rising cycle of misery exacerbated by a two tier global economy in which immensely powerful private corporations destroy local markets while ultimately raising the price of many necessities, pumping up profits by pushing costs off on ecosystems and future generations.
At the same time, the economic crisis persists, precipitated by the collapse of the latest and largest financial bubble and prolonged by the immense gulf between those few who control most of the world’s wealth and productive assets and the millions who can neither find productive work nor pay for what might be produced by others. What recovery there has been consists mainly of securing more of the world’s wealth and social product for the top 20 percent or so, the increasingly self-contained top-tier economy of government organizations and giant corporations that buy and sell most of the world’s goods to each other and their upper echelons, inhabiting fortified islands of wealth amidst a global sea of poverty.
The growing chasm between the minority who hold secure places in the economy of large–and largely authoritarian–organizations and the rest of humanity is the defining social fact of our time. Unless it is directly confronted and overcome it will define the limits of the politically possible, driving increased conflict and with it expenditure by the wealthy sectors of society on “security.” Both pervasive conflict and the misdirection of ever more resources in an effort to contain it (rather than removing its causes) will make the transformation of global energy, transportation, agriculture, and industrial systems essential for long-term human survival more difficult, perhaps impossible.
In the first decade of the new century, we have wars and threats of wars, with nuclear weapons moving ever closer to the center of conflict. Nuclear weapons and nuclear “nonproliferation” serve as the justification for wars and as the stalking horse for the economic and geopolitical agendas of largely unaccountable elites who control the most powerful states. They are already nuclear armed and have shown themselves, as in the case of the United States, ready to threaten nuclear weapons use against those who have none. And nuclear weapons–the all too real national arsenals, not the theoretical ones that the demonized states du jour or “terrorist” groups might or might not be trying to acquire–remain the machinery of ultimate catastrophe. They are still there, waiting at the end of some as yet unforeseen chain of great power elite contention and confrontation as those in power attempt to “manage” the multiple crises in ways that apply ever more technology and violence, while stubbornly refusing to address the fundamental causes of deteriorating ecosystems and proliferating social conflict. This systematic exclusion of discussion about root causes, enforced myriad ways in forums world wide, creates a pervasive feeling of inertia, a sense that political systems everywhere are not working. (more…)