The confluence of the crises the world is witnessing today is remarkable. Urgent action is needed to address the current antagonisms.
Is development on the back burner?
Long is the list of the challenges, or global issues, the world has been preoccupied with over the past several years. The multiple near and long-term risks presented by climate change, pandemics and other health vulnerabilities (no one would want a repeat, let alone on a larger scale, of the scare and disruptions caused by COVID-19), inequalities; access to food and water, poverty and the debt burden, democracy and human rights, governance and technology, migration, peace-keeping and peace-building and nuclear proliferation.
Institutions and instruments were put in place, visions and programs adopted, goals and objectives set, commitments made, time and money spent and people around the world engaged to address these challenges. In some areas, there has been impressive progress. In others not so much. But generally, a certain culture was emerging whereby promoting development, preserving international security, and, to this end, fostering international cooperation came to be seen as traits of a good international citizenry.
With the great power competition, long in the making and now in full swing with the war in Ukraine and tensions in East Asia, there is a risk that much of the global effort towards dealing with the challenges above could be put on the back burner. Not least because of the potential shifts in focus in key countries away from soft power and toward hard security and the increased difficulty for developing countries to address financing gaps and the costs of borrowing.
And this, at the very time when post-COVID, the efforts need to be redoubled. Already, a UN report released this year noted that despite increased aid flows over the past years progress on eradicating poverty and hunger as well as improving health and education had been reversed.
At the recent United Nations COP27 climate summit in Egypt, however, developing countries were able to secure an agreement on creating a long-sought loss and damage fund designed to help them deal with climate-related disasters. Although the funding specifics are yet to be sorted out, this was no doubt a big win for them, and such a mechanism should go a long way toward addressing the concerns of the most vulnerable.
Overall, at the end of 2022, the setbacks in achieving development goals coupled with rising inflation, fears of recession and stagflation in advanced economies, the blowback of sanctions, the energy and food crisis, war and conflict should alert us to the fragility of the economic and social foundations upon which nations’ fortunes rest.
Only urgent action and stepped-up cooperation among countries, especially great powers, and leadership on their part can help tackle these numerous challenges in a comprehensive manner. But these powers will not cooperate. On the contrary, their confrontation is being taken to the next level amid growing and unprecedented animosities.
Is the taboo on nuclear use over?
At a time of heightened tensions when Armageddon had been invoked, the use of a “dirty bomb” was said to be imminent, and the symbolic Doomsday Clock had been set at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest ever to a catastrophe. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has conducted nuclear games simulating the dropping of nuclear gravity bombs over North-Western Europe, and Russia held exercises of its strategic nuclear forces launching ballistic and cruise missiles from the Arctic to its Far-Eastern region.
Although both were planned drills, the very fact that, despite the tensions, the two sides decided to go ahead regardless, speaks volumes about the escalatory logic of what is by now a proxy war in Ukraine between a nuclear-armed NATO and a nuclear-armed Russia. This is unprecedented and highly dangerous since any direct confrontation between them could only escalate to one destructive outcome.
The customary restraint shown in public in even alluding to nuclear threats should be observed to avoid finger-pointing and mutual recriminations that only complicate the overall context. This author believes that in the situation of the rampaging information war no responsible leader can be insane enough to attempt to use a nuclear weapon even in the direst situations ― for fear of being turned into a pariah in the eyes of the world and, most importantly, for fear of a domestic backlash.
The good news amid this tense situation is that the U.S. and Russia will reportedly meet in Egypt to discuss the New START treaty, the sole remaining arms control agreement between the two holders of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals. It is to be hoped that the meeting will go beyond just the resumption of inspections and will lay the ground for further talks on a successor agreement.
Are clouds gathering?
In our own region, with U.S.-China economic and technological tensions, North Korea’s multiple weapons tests, non-proliferation challenges, tensions around Taiwan, and the controversial AUKUS agreement, strategic restraint are all but collapsing. With a lot on our plate on the security front, no mechanisms seem to be in place, and no initiatives galvanizing action for peace and security seem to be on offer. The conflict in Europe is a reminder of the failure of diplomacy. Leaders in this region should work together to prevent further deterioration of the regional security landscape.
About the Author
Tuya Nyamosor is a former foreign minister of Mongolia. She is currently affiliated with the School of International Relations and Public Administration (SIRPA) at the Mongolian National University. She is also a member of the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (APLN).
This article was published in The Korea Times on 23 November 2022 as part of a dedicated, regular Korea Times column with analysis by APLN members on global issues. You can find the original post here.
Disclaimer: The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Asia Pacific Leadership Network or any of its members. APLN’s website is a source of authoritative research and analysis and serves as a platform for debate and discussion among our senior network members, experts, and practitioners, as well as the next generation of policymakers, analysts, and advocates. Comments and responses can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image: The UN Security Council meets on nuclear non-proliferation and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on November 21, 2022. Eskinder Debebe/UN Photo.