Slowing Third World Militarization

By McNamara, Robert S. | Issues in Science and Technology, Spring 1993 | Go to article overview

Slowing Third World Militarization


McNamara, Robert S., Issues in Science and Technology


The Cold War rivalry that shaped foreign policy and military programs for 40 years has ended. But as the military action in Iraq, the Yugoslavian civil war, and the turmoil in Somalia, Angola, and Cambodia demonstrate, the world of the future will not be a world without conflict. Racial and ethnic differences will remain. Political revolutions will erupt as societies advance. Historical disputes over political boundaries will continue. Economic differentials among nations, as the technological revolution of the 21st century spreads unevenly across the globe, will increase.

In the past 45 years, 125 wars, leading to 40 million deaths, have taken place in the Third World. Third World military expenditures now total nearly $200 billion per year--approximately 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), which is only slightly less than the total amount the developing countries spend on health and education.

It is often suggested that the Third World was turned into an ideological battleground by the Cold War. That rivalry was a contributing factor, but the underlying causes for Third World conflict existed before the origin of the Cold War and will almost certainly continue even though it has ended. And to disorder in the Third World will be added the potential for strife in the states of the former Soviet Union. In those respects, therefore, the world of the future will not be different from the world of the past; conflicts within and between nations will not disappear.

But it is also clear that, in the 21st century, relations among nations will differ dramatically from those of the postwar decades. In the postwar years the United States had the power--and to a considerable degree it exercised that power--to shape the world as it chose. In the next century, that will not be possible. While remaining the world's strongest nation, the United States will live in a multipolar world, and its foreign policy and defense programs must be adjusted to that reality.

Japan is destined to play a larger and larger role on the world scene, exercising greater political power and, hopefully, assuming greater political and economic responsibility. The same can be said of Western Europe, which has just taken a giant step toward economic integration. From that is bound to follow greater political unity--despite the opposition to the Maastricht Treaty--which will strengthen Europe's power in world politics.

And by the middle of the next century, several of the countries of what in the past we have termed the Third World, will have so increased in size and economic power as to be major participants in decisions affecting relations among nations. For example, India is likely to have a population of 1.6 billion, Nigeria 400 million, and Brazil 300 million. If population growth in large developing countries is accompanied by economic progress, the global power structure could change dramatically. Consider China's potential. If it achieves its economic goals for the year 2000, and if it then moves forward during the next 50 years at satisfactory but not spectacular growth rates, the per capita income of the approximately 1.6 billion Chinese in 2050 may be roughly equal to that of the British in 1965. China's total gross national product would approximate that of the United States, Western Europe, or Japan, and very likely would substantially exceed that of Russia. These figures are, of course, highly speculative. I point to them simply to emphasize the potential magnitude of the changes that lie ahead and the need to begin now to adjust our goals, our policies, and our institutions to take account of them. Specifically, we need to attain a fresh understanding of the threats to global security and to forge new multilateral mechanisms to preserve world order.

Weapons of mass destruction

Over the past three decades, efforts have been made to limit the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. …

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