War on poverty is the route to world peace

Reason enough to hope
June 18, 1999

Scientists have always held political as well as technological views about the way that a better world could be constructed. Unfortunately, their scientific work usually takes precedence and they fail to enter into the political process. In Reason Enough to Hope , two physicists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology seek to apply scientific method to explore what possible global security arrangements would help to push the world towards peace. Their starting point is that the world is at a watershed in its development. They believe that we are reaching the end of mankind's population growth and have already reached the limits of warfare. They are realistic in assuming that their proposals will not come to pass, but they believe that, by showing that a better sustainable world is achievable in a relatively short time, they can motivate policy-makers to move in the right direction.

Many readers will be surprised that the global demographic trends are taken as a cause for hope, not despair. Increasing population is more usually quoted as the cause of environmental degradation, conflict, disease, famine and war. Yet, as the authors show, the global population growth rate peaked 30 years ago.

The total number of people on the earth is not yet stabilised, but there has been a consistent and universal decline in growth rates. The African continent was the last to pass its peak, and that was ten years ago. It is likely that the 1990s will see the largest number of additional human beings in any decade since mankind evolved. Future increments will be smaller, and the authors predict zero growth before 2100.

Having established that the population explosion is over, they turn to the terrors of war, disease and poverty. Using average life expectancy as a benchmark, they show that, with the exception of preventing nuclear war, reducing poverty is the most important factor to be considered in improving the lot of mankind. The remainder of the book examines how the US could make policy changes that would reduce the risk of nuclear war, free up resources from the defence budget and lead the rest of the world away from the cliff's edge. Throughout the cold war, Kosta Tsipis was a regular contributor to Scientific American on nuclear weapon issues. His detailed knowledge is reflected in a convincing chapter on what the US nuclear armoury should look like in the next century.

Nuclear security would be comprehensively assured with a reduction to 1,030 warheads, which is one-fifth the number that was proposed by the Bush-Yeltsin agreement of 1993. Surprisingly, the authors advocate that Britain should negotiate away its nuclear gravity bombs. They appear to have missed the unilateral action already taken by the UK, which has removed all tactical nuclear weapons, including bombs, from service. They argue for the reduction in nuclear forces, and for measures to prevent proliferation, as a way to reduce the risk of a nuclear disaster. Their non-proliferation and common security policy seeks to empower the United Nations in a way that is unlikely to appeal to most Americans. Not only does it advocate a major international armed force for the UN, but it also suggests an international nuclear-deterrent force controlled by an enlarged UN security council. But reductions in nuclear forces alone will not release many dollars from defence budgets.

The authors move on to examine in detail what conventional forces the US will need in the future. Tank numbers are slashed by a factor of six, combat aircraft by three and the number of aircraft carriers and submarines halved. Regular forces would be reduced to 600,000 - a third of their current strength. The smaller forces would be restructured to support the UN and at the same time would free some $130 billion a year for helping development worldwide.

Today President Clinton is proposing to increase the defence budget. The authors show how the costs of current US security policy are of the same order as their more hopeful policy for engagement and common development, which would lead to a more peaceful and prosperous world. The authors agree that few will believe that their vision can be realised. Yet they demonstrate convincingly that it is possible to imagine a path to a better sustainable world, and it is one in which everyone can be a winner.

Air Marshal Sir Timothy Garden is a trustee, World Humanity Action Trust.

Reason enough to hope: America and the World of the 21st Century

Author - Philip Morrison and Kosta Tsipis
ISBN - 0 262 12344 X
Publisher - MIT Press
Price - £17.50
Pages - 210

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