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The market's call: the need for security

The momentum for sustainable development, so promising in the 1990s, gradually fizzles out, for a wide range of reasons. The voices that urge the world to build upon this momentum and achieve agreed goals go unheeded as the belief spreads that free markets alone can come up with flexible enough checks and balances to deal with issues of social justice and global environmental care. This complacency also reflects competing concerns, such as recurring fiscal crises and downturns in national economies, cycles of terrorist activity and retaliation and the continuation of armed conflicts in several parts of the world. Hence the first decade of the new century is in many ways a period of muddling through.

In Africa, the decade is characterized by prolonged civil conflicts affecting many nations and often drawing in neighbouring countries. In these cases little progress is made in introducing greater transparency and accountability into governments. At the same time, the AIDS pandemic continues, curtailing economic advances even in those countries that enjoy political stability.

Conflicts also continue to simmer in parts of West Asia, at times boiling over into periods of intense violence. Disputes over water, oil and other resources are intensified by, and contribute to, these conflicts. Instability in the price of oil, due to fluctuating demand and the inability to control supply in the region and elsewhere, slows economic growth in the region.

Economic problems remain significant in many parts of the Asia and the Pacific region. Downturns reminiscent of the crash that occurred in the late 1990s periodically resurface and impact upon a broader range of countries. Here, also, internal and external conflicts continue to command attention and divert valuable resources.

'A world view that puts market principles and security concerns to the fore, dominates global development.'

In Latin America and the Caribbean, problems posed by the continuing growth of mega-cities plague many countries while internal conflicts, often related to the drug trade, persist. At the same time, pushed by the countries of North America and multinational corporations, the primary focus of many politicians is on the continued expansion of free trade in the region, rather than on social and environmental concerns.

Security is a consuming preoccupation in North America, giving rise to concern not only over the threat of direct physical attacks but also over dependence on foreign suppliers for strategic resources. The latter fear increases the pressure to exploit resources within the region, including parts of the Arctic. Arctic resources are made more accessible as ice-free periods in the north are extended by the warming of the climate. Access is also eased by a wave of privatization in the region, extending to the control of natural resources.

'In all regions and at the global level, large, non-state entities increasingly influence and drive the political agenda. These include multinational corporations, but also crime syndicates.'

Similar bursts of resource exploitation are also occurring in the Arctic parts of the Russian Federation and the Nordic countries. Much of the effort of European policy-makers is focused on dealing with expansion of the EU. A few more countries are admitted into the Union, but persistent tensions related to taxes, subsidies, immigration, freedom of movement and other issues, slow this process. Disagreements also linger on between a central core of countries that wishes to move towards much greater integration and others that prefer a looser union. Meanwhile, countries in Eastern Europe generally make little economic progress and suffer further tensions and internal conflicts.

In all these regions and at the global level, large, non-state entities increasingly influence and drive the political agenda. These include multinational corporations, but also crime syndicates. The level of corruption within governments is generally understood to be increasing, although given little improvement in transparency and accountability, this is not easy to verify.

The start of the second decade of the new century sees the world functioning in a more laissez faire manner than before. Businesses wield enormous power but maintain a focus on enhancing shareholder value, believing it is the job of governments to address environmental and social issues. They, however, expend resources to build up private police forces to protect their assets in areas with strategic resources, especially in countries where protection is considered unreliable.