The State of the World in the Beginning of the Last Decade of the Century: 22 Questions

The world situation has been changing more rapidly in 1989 and 1990 than at any time during the past several decades. We've solicited guesses about what is going to happen in the next year or two from the following experts. By the time this is published (January 1991), these guesses may have turned out right or wrong. Take a look and see which ones have turned out to be correct.
Answers are by:
William Epstein, a senior fellow at the U.N. Institute for Training and Research, formerly in charge of disarmament issues in the U.N. Secretariat. He represented the Secretary -General at the negotiations leading to the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco, and the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty.
W.D. Macnamara, President of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies.
Betty Reardon, a peace educator at Columbia University's Teachers College who is teaching this year at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y
Douglas Roche, formerly Canada's Ambassador for Disarmament; author of Building Global Security (Toronto: NC Press, 1989).

By William Epstein, Douglas Roche, WD Macnamara, Betty Reardon | 1991-01-01 12:00:00

Questions and Answers

1. Which of the following outcomes of the Gulf crisis do you think is the most likely in the near future? Why?

(a) Continued blockade of Iraq without much change in the situation.

(b) Withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait and re-establishment more or less of the previous status.

(c) Withdrawal, followed by fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

(d) Military intervention by U.S. and its allies with Security Council sanction.

(e) Military intervention without Security Council sanction.

(f) Initiation of war by Iraq.

(g) Other.

William Epstein: The likeliest development in the next two months is (a): the continued blockade of Iraq without much change in the situation. I don't expect intervention by the U.S. and its allies without Security Council sanction, because of opposition by China and the USSR, most Europeans (except the U.K.), most Arab states (except Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt), and most other U.N. members. I don't believe there will be Security Council sanction to the use of military force unless it is clear that the blockade and embargo are not working. This will not be clear for some months.

W.D. Macnamara: D: Military intervention with the sanction of the Security Council, because of the recalcitrance of Saddam Hussein, and the determination of the allies to free Kuwait.

Douglas Roche: B or D. Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait or military intervention with the sanction of the Security Council. Recognizing that (d) is becoming inevitable, I cling at least to a (b)scenario if enough countries tell the U.S. to cool down.

Betty Reardon: A blockade over a long time, with the possibility of ultimate military intervention by the Security Council, or a U.N. settlement and a move by the Security Council toward a regional settlement. Unconditional withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait is not likely, though Saddam's regime could fall. He may be a target to be done in by some of his Arab adversaries unless he can withdraw without losing his power base. I don't think that's possible. Military intervention by the U.S. and its allies is possible and, if the Security Council will agree with it, likely. Intervention without the sanction of the Security Council would be considered too risky by the U.S. unless they had the support of a number of other powers -not only the French and British, but some "moderates" in the Middle East.

2 Which of the possibilities do you regard as most desirable? Why?

Epstein: Security Council authorization of use of military force if the blockade is not effective. This would show that the international community will not let naked aggression succeed and could become a precedent toward a collective security system under the U.N.

Macnamara: C: Withdrawal, followed by the fall of Saddam's regime. This would be the lowest cost in terms of lives, probably the lowest cost in the long term, preventing an anti-American attitude in the Arab/Muslim world, and establishing precedents for action on behalf of "collective security." It can serve as example when other "small countries" are subject to external threats.

Reardon: That the crisis be used as the context for looking at the multiple problems of the area.

Roche: The U.N. Security Council becoming the determinant of actions.

3. Which of the developments do you regard as the least desirable? Why?

Epstein: That Iraq should "get away" with its aggression or be compensated for withdrawing peacefully. This would show that the U.N. was not capable of repelling aggression and could undermine the concept of collective security.

Macnamara: B: Withdrawal from Kuwait and reestablishment of the status quo. It leaves Saddam intact and able to fight another day; longer term instability/power struggles in the Arab/Muslim world; probably long-term strong U.N./U.S. presence in the Gulf region; probably long term uncertainty about oil supplies and therefore costly both to the developed and undeveloped world, even leading to desperate measures in some Third World countries.

Roche: U.S.-led intervention militarily.

4. If war does not break out in the Gulf, how likely is some progress toward resolving the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel during the next year or so?

Roche: Somewhat more likely.

Macnamara: Not likely at all. There is no sign of willingness to negotiate on either side.

Epstein: Whether war does or does not break out in the gulf; I think it most unlikely that there will be any significant progress toward resolving that conflict. The "gulf" between the Israelis and the Arabs is too great.

Reardon: If there is a war, there is no likelihood of settling any of these issues. A European nation, in the middle of the Arab world, has been supported by the West since its inception; Palestinians and all Arabs see it as an outpost of colonialism. The only hope is the Israelis ultimately accepting the two-state solution. That could happen if there were a general regional settlement as a consequence of the security action.

5. Do you expect significant reduction of armaments in the United States in the next two or three years? why or why not?

Roche: No! The U.S. does not believe in genuine disarmament.

Macnamara: Assuming settlement in the Gulf; yes. The U.S. will reduce military expenditures to get government spending under control.

Epstein: I do not expect significant reductions by the U.S. in the next two or three years. While there will be a START agreement for the reduction of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, the reductions will not be meaningful for the following reasons: (a) They are too small numerically to eliminate the nuclear threat. (b) The explosive material in the warheads will not be eliminated, but stored or merely moved to different locations. (c) The qualitative nuclear arms race will continue. Modernized nuclear weapons will replace those withdrawn or reduced in number. (d) Nuclear testing will continue. However, there will be substantial reductions in the number of U.S. armed forces, bases, and conventional weapons.

Reardon: Yes. The severe consequences of military expenditures are becoming more evident and the "debt crisis" is going to make this reduction of military expenditure an imperative.

6 Do you expect any significant reduction in armaments in the USSR?

Epstein: No. There could be a unilateral reduction of tactical nuclear weapons (by withdrawal) in Europe. I would, however, expect reductions in strategic weapons and limitations on new and modernized ones to take place only by agreement with the U.S.

Macnamara: Yes, in both conventional and nuclear forces eventually.

Reardon: Yes, to the degree that they can-given their need for maintaining domestic order. The economic situation is pushing them more than us.

Roche: Yes. Not for nothing did Gorbachev win the Nobel Peace Prize.

7. Some expect the emergence of a "unipolar" world with the U.S. as the "pole." Do you think this prospect is likely? If so, what will be its effect on global military expenditures?

Roche: No. I expect the emergence of a multi-polar world.

Macnamara: No. There will be a "European Pole." In any event, there should be hope for a decrease in world military expenditures as the superpowers will no longer compete through "client" states. Some states may have to increase military expenditures to ensure protection of their own interests as the chance wanes to catch a "free ride" on alliances. Canada could well be such a country. For different reasons, New Zealand and Australia may increase their expenditures in the interest of" regional stability" in the Pacific.

Epstein: There is a real likelihood of the emergence of a "unipolar" world in the next few years with the U.S. as the dominant power. But this should not last beyond the 1990s because of the increasing economic power of Europe, and in particular Germany, and of Japan. China and India may become competitors in two or three decades.

Reardon: My God, what a nightmare! Fortunately, this is not a likely prospect. I don't think that any nation has the capacity to be a superpower over a long period. Forty years of bi-polarity have harmed the economic and ideological power base in both countries. Both are suffering from a crisis of distrust of leadership, a crisis not knowing what their values are. What is more likely is the collaboration among North America, Western Europe, Japan, and maybe the USSR, as the industrial nations of the world. I see that sort of collaboration in the gulf crisis.

8. It is thought that some (perhaps several) countries besides the Big Five possess nuclear weapons. Do you think proliferation is imminent or inevitable?

Roche: Both. Anybody following the NPT-CTB debate knows that the horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons is happening now.

Macnamara: Yes and yes!

Epstein: I do not think nuclear proliferation is imminent in the next five years or so, because the Non-Proliferation Treaty will continue in full force until 1995 at least. Nor is it inevitable. But, unless the U.S. and USSR are prepared to end their nuclear arms race by stopping testing of nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles, and moving seriously toward the elimination of all nuclear weapons, then I think that nuclear weapons will proliferate. It is not possible that 5, or 6, or 7, or 8 powers should insist that nuclear weapons are essential for their security, while other states with equally difficult security problems should forego their acquisition. If further proliferation is to be halted, the five acknowledged nuclear weapons powers must create a climate in which the use or possession of nuclear weapons is regarded abhorrent-as much as, for example, the use of biological and chemical weapons. This may take decades.

Reardon: Proliferation is imminent. I don't think it needs to be inevitable. The deciding factor will be if the nuclear powers have won enough assurance that the other powers don't intend to do them serious harm. And that they will be able to cope with the demands of the South. Then they might move toward outlawing nuclear weapons. But the longer the present powers delay, the more imminent becomes proliferation.


Of the 127 wars since 1945, all but two have been in developing countries. This may mean that in the present phase of history poverty (or despair that it engenders) is a primary instigator of violence. On the other hand the bursts of ethnic strife in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe (e.g. Yugoslavia) suggest that enmities long suppressed by authoritarian regimes are erupting into violence when authority dissipates.

9. Do you agree with either or both interpretations?

Roche: The former, yes. The latter, no.

Macnamara: Traditional enmities could contribute to violent reactions to poverty or despair-Africa and Eastern Europe both have such potential.

Reardon: There is an element of truth in both of these interpretations, especially when we put the two together as a general interpretation of the origins of conflicts in the developing world. Poverty and inequity are structural violence-an instigator of overt violence, the longer it is allowed to fester. This is particularly true if some of the impoverished can formulate actions against it, as happens when development begins and university education begins to be provided for people other than the elites. That is an element in the ethnic strife in the USSR. People feel they have not had their fair share of benefits and that they are perceived by the Russians as second class citizens. It is just old-fashioned imperialism, in which the ethnicity of the colonized is not respected. This can give rise to violence.

This is also a factor in the support that Hussein has received from the Arab populace Unless we deal with the multiple causes, violence will be part of the North-South confrontation. If such conflicts occur during the process of nuclear proliferation, we enter a far more dangerous world than when the nuclear confrontation was East-West.

10. Do you expect an escalation or an attenuation of domestic (communal, inter-ethnic, etc.) violence in the Third World in the near future? If so, (0 what would you attribute either tendency?

Roche: Escalation-population pressure, continued economic discrimination by the North.

Macnamara: Escalation, for reasons indicated in your preamble to question 9. Enmities long suppressed by authoritarian regimes and by superpower "sponsors" and continued poverty leading to frustration and despair. We must also remember the artificial borders in many African countries that cross tribal boundaries or create unlikely combinations of tribes.

11. Do you expect an escalation (to civil war) or attenuation of domestic violence in Eastern Europe in the near future? If so, to what would you attribute either tendency?

Roche: No, I think the East will settle down.

Macnamara: Yes. The common "disintegration" of various groups that were able to work together to effect revolution, are divided by different interests afterward; such as long suppressed "enmities" (or at least "nationalism") e.g. Czechs and Slovaks and multiple nations of Yugoslavia. There could be a component of despair or apathy in making democracy work.

Reardon: I don't expect civil war in Eastern Europe. They're too exhausted for it. I do see the continuation of ethnic conflicts and some violence. If there were domestic violence in Eastern Europe, it would be over politics, not ethnicity. Politicians will avoid out-and-out civil war.

12. Apprehensions have been voiced about the role the military and economic might of a United Germany will play on the European continent. Your opinion?

Roche: Germany will concentrate on making money.

Macnamara: Apprehensions are understandable, given the history of Germany over the last 120 years. Germany will continue to be the richest and most populous nation in Europe, even though the recovery of East Germany will be difficult and expensive.

Reardon: I have no apprehensions about Germany harming its European neighbors. However, there are some other possibilities to be apprehensive about: given the sporadic outbreaks of Nazi-type manifestations, overt Anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe and in some Western countries as well.

13. Do you expect in the foreseeable future a European federation of some sort including the erstwhile Communist countries and the Soviet Union ?

Roche: In the medium-range future.

Macnamara: In ten years perhaps, if the Soviet Union doesn't disintegrate entirely, but is able to develop some new federalism.

Reardon: The West will be wary of what such a federation would cost them.

I hope for economic cooperation, allowing the Eastern Europeans to gain capital for their development. If the East is not madly t embrace free market capitalism, there is an important role for West European socialists to play.

14. There are apprehensions that the unification of Europe will intensify the economic exploitation of the Third World-that assistance to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union will be at the expense of assistance to developing countries. Do you agree?

Roche: Somewhat.

Macnamara: I do not agree with the term "economic exploitation" of the Third World. However, I do believe that Eastern Europe will be assisted at the expense of the developing world. There appears to be developing an attitude that the Third World states will have to do more to help themselves, especially in areas of corruption control, population control, and food distribution systems.

Reardon: Prior to the Iraq crisis, I would have said yes. There was a real possibility of cutting assistance to the Third World to provide for Eastern Europe. If some people in power see the crisis in the Middle East as I have suggested, it may have beneficial effects on the views of Western Europeans concerning the allocation of resources for foreign assistance.

15. Predictions of massive migrations from impoverished countries (including Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union) raise fears that this demographic pressure will exacerbate conflicts. Your opinion?

Roche: Definitely. Ecological-environmental refugees will mount into the tens of millions.

Macnamara: Agree. Eastern Europe and Africans; also perhaps Central America/Mexico to U.S. (and maybe Canada). Such migrations could indeed increase or arise from conflict.

Reardon: I hope that the Western countries see that it is to their advantage to ameliorate conditions in the East and the South so that the migrations are not necessary. I hope it won't take a devastating conflict to convince them of that.


16. Since 1945 the United States has intervened covertly or overtly in several Latin American countries: Guatemala (1954), Cuba (1961-62), Dominican Republic (1965), Chile (1973), Nicaragua (1979-89), Grenada (1983), Panama (1989).Almost all interventions were justified by the necessity of preventing these countries from falling within the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union. Do you think that the interventions will continue? If so, how will they be rationalized?

Roche: I doubt that the interventions will be so blatant, but U.S. exploitation of Latin America will certainly continue.

Macnamara: Not necessarily. However, perhaps nations unable to contain their domestic conflicts may increase the call for "intervention" even under U.N. auspices, ideally.

Reardon: There will be less overt military intervention and more attempts to use forms of influence that are not costly to the United States.


17 There are indications that a white paper is being prepared to supplant the 1987 white paper on defence. Do you anticipate any major changes in the perception of the world and in defence policy in the new white paper?

Roche: Doubtful.

Macnamara: Of course the world has changed in fundamental ways since 1986/87. Defence policy, however, in terms of contributing to deterrence of war, cooperative defence of North America, national defence of sovereign interests, and U.N. peacekeeping will likely continue.

18. What do you think will be the outcome of the conflict between Canada and its First Nations?

Roche: Continued acrimony.

Macnamara: I hope that the relationship between Canada and the First Nations is not seen or interpreted in "conflict" terms. Such judgments of "hype" could complicate discussions that should be conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding rather than "win-lose" terms.

19. What do you think of Canada's record in the U.N. during its membership in the Security Council?

Roche: Hard to assess, since so little real information is forthcoming.

Macnamara: Excellent!

Reardon: Canada could have brought forward an alternative perspective on the Middle East, to formulate a comprehensive solution-and not just to get Hussein out of Kuwait.


20. Do you think the role of the United Nations as a focus of global integration will be enhanced, or will remain about the same in the near future?

Roche: Definitely enhanced. The renaissance of the U.N. is under way, and Canada should push this instead of folding under the U.S. wing.

Macnamara: Enhanced!

Epstein: Enhanced, particularly if it succeeds in reversing Iraq's aggression- either peacefully or as a result of military force, preferably by authorization of the Security Council.

Unless the U.N. efforts in the Gulf crisis fail, the enhancement of the U.N. role will develop almost naturally because of the growing realization that the world's problems require global solutions. This is true of the military, political, economic, and social problems such as international peace and security, poverty and development, population, industrialization, environment, drugs, human rights, literacy, and education. These problems are interconnected and must be dealt with in an integrated way. Only the U.N. has the facilities for dealing with them in that way.

Reardon: I would like to see it enhanced, and the present crisis may refocus on what the U.N. was initially established for. International forces must be put under U.N. command. There should be a real integrated peacekeeping force created for the transition period in the Middle East.


21. If the prominent actors in the global arena were obliged to answer questions about war, peace, or conflict, what questions would you put to any of them: Bush, Gorbachev, Thatcher, Shamir, Saddam Hussein, or others?

Roche: An annual meeting at the summit of the U.N. Security Council would go a long way to developing the world community more evenly.

Reardon: I would ask when they will retire. We have to hold on until they leave the scene and others of more intellectual breadth come forward. I'm sorry to leave Mr. Gorbachev in that company but, as wonderful as he was, I have caught some of the skepticism of my Soviet friends.

Macnamara: At the risk of appearing cynical, the answers to such important questions are most likely to be platitudinous and not necessarily helpful to the discussion All are for peace and conflict resolution and against war and conflict!


22. With regard to prospects of global peace, which were the most encouraging and which the most discouraging changes during the past year?

Epstein: The most encouraging: (a) ending of the cold war; b) growing democratization of the world; (c) Revival and strengthening of the U.N.

The most discouraging developments: (a) disintegration of the USSR and Eastern Europe, politically and economically; (1)) the rise of ethnic and religious conflicts; (c) the growing problems of hunger, poverty, and disease in the developing countries.

Roche: Favorable: Berlin Wall, end of Cold War, and end of Communist system. Discouraging: Saddam/Iraq, revival of militarism, and derailing of the peace dividend.

Macnamara: I have little hope for global peace in either the short run or long run in the face of traditional enmities, irredentist movements, religious wars, population pressures, massive economic disparities and corruption, resource pressures (oil and non-oil), individual selfishness and greed.

Hope and encouragement may be seen in the successful rise of democratic movements, but this requires guarded optimism at best in the face of national apathy and the costs of change.

Reardon: Encouraging: the U.N. Peacekeeping Force getting the Nobel Prize; the adoption by the General Assembly of the convention on the rights of the child. Discouraging: the increase in local interpersonal violence. Racism seems to have intensified while these other developments have taken place. There is almost a race between these two tendencies.

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1991

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1991, page 10. Some rights reserved.

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