14 February 2002
Promoting a Singular Global Threat -- Terrorism
Strategy of choice for world governance
- / -
Complexity of abandoned approaches to world governance
The promise of single-factor policy-making
Need for a threat
Single factor threats: past experiments
Single factor threats: terrorism as threat of the moment
Single factor threats: provisions for the future
Avoidance of global social issues
Learnings from personal strategic analogues
Future prospects for viable alternatives
The manner in which the 'war on terrorism' has been justified and
developed calls for reflection on the use of singular threats as a preferred
strategy in response to the many dilemmas of world governance.
The past decade has seen much focused concern on the challenge of world governance
in the light of the multiplicity of interdependent problems faced by society
and the planet. This has been associated with the articulation of a multitude
of strategies to deal with them. Some efforts have been made to articulate these
strategies within global plans, such as Agenda 21, but with relatively little
It is recognized that the need for new approaches to world governance are urgent
if the crises are not to interact to engender a chaotic uncontrollable situation.
At the same time the democratic governance processes in many industrialized
countries are themselves becoming problematic in unforeseen ways -- to a degree
that causes many to suspect that key services are becoming unmanageable. Coping
has become problematic, notable in the case of utilities (railways and health
service in the UK; energy and health services in the USA). Not only is it now
a real question as to whether individual countries are governable in any meaningful
sense, but the reflection of this challenge on a global scale has become daunting.
In this context the 'war on terrorism' has come as a real relief
to many in that it provides a way of simplifying the complexity through radical
deprioritization of many of the factors that have proven to be an impossible
strain to manage. The wide variety of 'health' and 'poverty'
issues, for example, are easily framed as of secondary consideration in the
face of the dramatic issues of 'terrorism'. The question is whether
this approach should be understood as the key to future world governance.
Complexity of abandoned approaches to world governance
In exploring the potential of a singular threat, the problematic nature of responding
to the problematique
should be recognized:
- Absence of strategy tracing: There has never been any lack of comprehensive
strategic plans in response to global, regional, national or local challenges.
More are generated every year, notably by major United Nations conferences.
It is not clear whether any international agency tracks commitments to such
plans. No systematic record appears to be kept of action taken on the multitude
of resolutions by international conferences. Few governments have the resources
to keep effective track of their obligations with respect to international
- Ignoring previous or coexisting strategies: Difficulties arise because
each such plan tends to be formulated in a context which effectively ignores
the previous plans to which adherents have usually made long-term pledges.
New strategies may endeavour to respond to new understandings of the global
challenge by effectively updating the strategic elements of previous plans.
Whether this process removes the obligation to adhere to previous commitments
is usually quite unclear. Often the implementation of past commitments is
- Continuing generation of strategies: In this context the status
of any new global, comprehensive plan easily becomes an exercise in wishful
thinking for some and an exercise in extreme cynicism for others. Neither
position will prevent the continuing generation of such strategies, however
limited the constituency to which they appeal over any extended period of
In this confusing dynamic environment, it is no wonder that coherent consensual
strategies are both difficult to engender and difficult to sustain -- even though
they may focus on sustainability. Worse is ahead, as recognized by the U.S.
Commission on National Security for the 21st Century [more]:
New opportunities notwithstanding, the challenges ahead will include traditional
and novel threats. A growing web of financial, cultural, technological, and
political interdependence now characterizes the world. While this web promises
more freedom, security, and prosperity overall, it also means that novel and
serious security problems now lay at America's doorstep. "Americans are far
less secure today than they believe themselves to be," Co-Chairman Warren
Rudman stresses. (April 2000)
In this light there is a strong case for an alternative approach that offers greater
opportunity of success. Rather than becoming a victim of the unpredictable quality
of novel threats such threats can be exploited to focus and sustain coherent strategies.
The promise of single-factor policy-making
The various International Development Decades, and the global strategies formulated
under the auspices of individual UN Specialized Agencies of the UN, or Agenda
21 itself, have all demonstrated in practice the inability of global society
to 'get its act together.' The international community has been strong
in its rhetoric and vision and weak in its ability to follow through on implementation
or the respect for commitments made. This might be said to have been the track
record of the 'positive' approach to global strategy and governance.
The 'war on terrorism' is an illustration of a 'negative'
approach to world governance. A single factor is selected as the necessary focus
of global attention. It is framed, in the case of the dramatic attacks of 11th
September, as a 'challenge to civilization', and a war against 'evil'
forces -- notably sustained by an 'axis of evil'. The credibility
of the challenge and the necessary response is rendered unquestionable through
the logic of 'if you are not with us, you are against us' backed up
by the implicit threat to any groups that fail to associate themselves with
the logic of that single threat. This has the effect of suppressing dissenting
opinion, whether within the world's superpower, amongst allies variously persuaded
of the merits of this logic, and amongst those opposed to this perspective.
Those failing to accept this logic can easily be framed as dangerous -- if not
'evil' in their own right. If necessary allegiance or loyalty tests
can be imposed to ensure early detection of opposition.
The case for isolating a singular threat may also be made by generalizing the
Peter Principle first introduced by L. Peter in a humoristic book (of
the same title) describing the pitfalls of bureaucratic organization. The original
principle states that in a hierarchically structured administration, people
tend to be promoted up to their "level of incompetence". The generalization
proposed in the Encyclopedia Cybernetica is that in evolution systems
tend to develop up to the limit of their adaptive competence [more].
Focusing on a singular threat ensures that the threat remains within the scope
of the organizational system responding to it, rather than being beyond its
collective comprehension as in more complex responses to global governance.
Conceptual effort is usefully bypassed and any latent paranoia can be usefully
harnessed. As the old adage might put it: 'if all you have is a strategic
hammer, every problem can only look like a nail'.
At one stroke, many of the factors inhibiting effective global action are eliminated
or marginalized. World governance becomes an operational reality. Issues and
concerns that might otherwise have been considered vital to the design of any
approach to governance of a civilized world are set aside as irrelevant. A credible
case can be made for benevolent imperialism led by the world's superpower with
'very big teeth' -- Tyrannosaurus usa? Any anomalies can be
covered up by appropriate news management and media gag orders -- preferably
self-imposed as a demonstration of loyalty and patriotism. The opportunity can
be used for the further 'dumbing down' of the news.
In the management literature, and at every business school, criticism has traditionally
been voiced regarding the non-strategic inadequacies of what is caricatured
as a 'fire-fighting' strategy. This is management in response to the
emergence of problematic exceptions without any effort to anticipate or plan
strategically. However, as with the 'war on terrorism', fire-fighting
has the considerable advantage of focusing everyone's attention on immediate
necessities and framing any other concerns as dangerously irrelevant. It places
control in the hands of professional fire-fighters who 'know what to do'
and have the right to eliminate any obstructions to doing so. It is perhaps
no accident that the 11th September attacks framed the New York firefighters
as heroes and in doing so provided a new set of role models for the American
Perceived complexity can thus be usefully transformed into threat -- reinforcing
dependence on leadership to deal with the resulting conceptual confusion (see
Being Bushed). The
level of threat can be easily maintained at very low cost by judicious use of
suitably publicized scares -- as demonstrated by the use of anthrax subsequent
to the 11th September attacks. This has the further advantage of dramatically
alleviating the currently widespread political apathy and building a new level
Need for a threat
A number of authors have recognized the need for a viable threat as a means
of giving coherence to policies of industrialized countries. For example, as
stated by Hermann Goering at the Nuremburg Trials (1946):
Why of course the people don't want war... But after all it is the lmeaders
of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter
to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship,
or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship... Voice or no voice, the people
can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you
have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists
for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.
The political theorist Carl Schmidt, for example, believed that sovereignty
is not founded upon the elevated principles of law and order, but rather upon
the ability of a chosen few to implement decisions at crucial moments, including,
rather ominously, installing a dictatorship. Schmidt believed that political
liberalism had failed to supply an effective alternative to the inefficient
apparatus of the modern state. He defined politics as the search for enemies.
The comments of Pakistani scholar-activist, Eqbal Ahmad, in November 1998,
are particularly useful:
After the Cold War, the West had no viable threat around which it could organize
its policies. All powers, all imperial powers -- especially democratic ones
-- cannot justify their uses of power only on the basis of greed. No one will
buy it. They have needed two things: a ghost and a mission. The British carried
the White Man's Burden. That was the mission. The French carried la mission
civilisatrice, the civilizing mission. The Americans had, first, Manifest
Destiny, and then found the mission of "standing watch on the walls of world
freedom," in John F. Kennedy's ringing phrase. Each of them had the Black,
the Yellow, and finally the Red Peril to fight against. There was a ghost.
There was a mission. People bought it.
Right now, the United States is deprived of both the mission and the ghost.
So the mission has appeared as human rights. It's a very strange mission for
a country that for nearly 100 years has been supporting dictatorship, first
in Latin America and then throughout the world. And in search of menace, it
has turned to Islam. It's the easiest because the West has encountered resistance
here: Algeria, then Egypt, Palestinians, the Iranian revolution. And a portion
of it is strategically located: It's the home of the oil resources for the
See also Needing Evil Elsewhere (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/musings/nevil.php)
Single factor threats: past experiments
It is useful to trace the history of single factor threats since it is from
previous efforts that the coherence of this reductionist approach to world governance
can be better understood. Presumably it is from such historical experiments
that the keys to a successful implementation of a single factor governance strategy
Possible examples include:
- 'Yellow Peril': The Chinese -- and the Japanese with them
-- have been presented for over a century as a threat to western civilization,
notably with the term Yellow Peril [more;
Laws were enacted in 1889 in the USA to contain the threat. In 1922, the US
Government further enacted fear of the Yellow Peril as law, passing the Cable
Act, which revoked the citizenship of any woman who married a foreign national
The Yellow Peril remains an active concern in the form of the threat to American
economic security emanating from East Asia.
- 'Black Peril': The threat from black-skinned races has
been the subject of considerable preoccupation by various right-wing groups,
notably the Klu Klux Klan and the John Birch Society. It was a concern of
the Nazis, but especially of the Afrikaners in South Africa to whom it was
known as the Swart Gevaar, and legitimated the overriding policy of
apartheid. This involved symbolically closing their wagon trains to
defend against the "Black Peril" of spear-wielding "savages" -- an image often
used to symbolize the siege mentality of many modern Afrikaners. There has
been a suggestion that Israel should learn from South Africa's experience
in this respect: 'It is not coincidental that Israel was one of apartheid
South Africa's few friends. The two cooperated extensively militarily, not
least in the development of nuclear weapons. This comradeship was partly born
of a shared sense of vulnerability: both saw themselves as minorities under
threat of annihilation from hostile neighbours. In South Africa, it was the
swart gevaar or black peril: the African hordes who would sweep all
Christian whites into the sea if given half a chance. In Israel's case, many
in the Arab world are thought to resent its very existence. Both depended
heavily on superpower indulegence' [more].
- 'Red Peril': From 1920, this has been the much documented
communist conspiracy to subvert western civilization [more;
argument has been made that China is the new 'red peril' of the
21st century [more],
although some claim that it has now been transformed into a 'Pinko Peril'.
- 'Green Peril': With green being the colour of Islam, that
peril is symbolized by the Middle Eastern Muslim fundamentalist armed with
a radical ideology, equipped with nuclear weapons, and intent on launching
a violent jihad against Western civilization. The Islamic threat argument
is becoming increasingly popular with some segments of the American foreign
policy establishment. They are encouraged by foreign governments who, for
reasons of self-interest, want to see Washington embroiled in the coming West
vs. Islam confrontation. The result is the construction of the new peril,
a process that does not reflect any grand conspiracy but that nevertheless
has its own logic, rules and timetables. [more;
- 'Blue Peril': Efforts to give form to a conservative peril
have been less successful as a global policy focus. Mustafa al-Tawil wrote
(Al-Wafd, 1 Nov. 2001): "The real danger is the
'Blue Peril' [blue for the Israeli flag] of global Zionism, because it has
been able to colonize Western countries, especially the United States, economically,
politically, and in the media. The West should understand how Israeli views
manipulate and control Westerners'. Other efforts have focused on right
wing parties, notably in Europe [more].
- 'Brown Peril': Some efforts have been made to define a
Brown Peril. In the case of the USA, this is framed as the serious problem
of Mexicans 'streaming into our society and polluting our cultural landscape'
as a result of NAFTA [more].
In Australia the 'yellow peril' from Asia has been cleverly transformed
into the 'brown peril' of the Middle East -- the subterfuge being
national security [more].
However Prime Minister Mahathir of Malaysia has contested the rhetoric of
the West, seeking to counter the Western process of "othering" by addressing
Asian values and has argued that Asia will likely regain its position as the
dominant economic region in a global economy, with a share of income that
will far exceed that of the less populous West. This prospect may frighten
many powerful constituencies in the West. Thus, says Mahathir, "to the yellow
peril of yesteryear will be added the brown peril. The Europeans will be overwhelmed.
Genghis Khan will ride again. . . . " [more].
- 'White Peril': Ironically some Asians have their matching
vision to the Yellow Peril in the form of a White Peril [more],
which was first articulated in 1905 in relation to the Russo-Japanese war
The Asian values argument allows them to brandish the threat of the white
peril in which its opponents are portrayed as members of a new, insidious
international conspiracy of liberal democracy [more].
With some irony, the ANC in South Africa, and the other liberation movements,
used the threat posed by whites (Wit Gevaar)
as an election platform to match that of the Nationalist Party's Swart
- Racial degeneration: Implicit to some degree in the above 'perils',
is a more general concern regarding racial degeneration and the need for eugenic
practices. It has been of concern to Australian whites [more],
Nazi (and neo-Nazi) preoccupations with the purity of the Aryan race [more;
Andean Indians [more],
as well as the Chinese and the Japanese. It may be considered one continuing
justification for the Hindu caste system.
- Infidels and unbelievers: Most of the main religions have at different
times been concerned with the threat from infidels and the urgent need to
act in response. This may be understood as one of the original reasons for
the Crusades, for jihad, and for their modern equivalents, most notably
those articulated by missionary groups, or by George Bush [more;
-- raising the issue as to whether the recent campaign was a 'war against
terrorism' or a 'crusade against Islam' [more].
Like George Bush, missionary groups of all religions take particularly seriously
the number of those who fail to believe in their particular truth.
- 'Jewish Conspiracy': There is a long tradition of concern
at such a conspiracy [more],
on which the Nazis were able to develop their anti-Semitic policies. Henry
Ford was instrumental in its articulation [more].
Belief in this conspiracy remains very active [more]
and is strongly associated in the Middle East with belief in a Zionist conspiracy
divide the Arab world [more].
Jewish conspiracy was a preferred explanation for the plague in medieval Europe
modern variant has been elaborated to involve fundamentalist Christians [more].
- Secret elites: Conspiracy theorists have for many decades been highly
creative in presenting evidence for the threatening influence of secret elites
on society -- and the web is a natural medium for the development and proliferation
of such rumours. These elite networks have variously included and combined:
the Freemasons, the 'Jewish conspiracy' (see above), Opus Dei, the
Club of Rome, the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, etc -- occasionally
extended to include the United Nations ('black helicopters', etc).
Some variants focus on the Illuminati and esoteric secret societies.. To what
degree such groups, or others, act as rumoured would however seem to be irrelevant
to the argument of this paper since it is questionable (in the light of the
history of this perspective) whether this possibility can be presented as
an effective singular threat.
- Invaders: Also implicit in the above perils is the threat of 'invasion'
-- which for Europeans dates back to the Vikings and the Mongol hordes. The
20th century saw the emergence, especially in the USA, of widespread concern
with the threat of invasion by extraterrestrial aliens. This fear has been
associated with that of the arrival of Satan on Earth [more].
Use of the term 'aliens' easily leads to confusion as to whether
reference is to foreigners (one of the above 'perils') or extraterrestrials
arriving in UFOs and epitomized by widespread concern with UFO invasion and
suspected cover-ups [more].
It is entirely questionable to what degree there is any operational distinction
in the popular American imagination between infiltration by 'terrorists',
infiltration by 'illegal alien workers' [more],
and infiltration by extraterrestrials.
- 'Rogue States': This category, known also as 'crazy
states' (Yehezkel Dror, 1980), emerged with the decline of the threat
that could be effectively associated with Eastern European and other countries
that had come to be declared as normal members of the international community
governed by the rule of law. Their ability to act independently, irresponsibly
and unpredictably was presented as especially dangerous -- despite recent
efforts to define the USA in those very terms [more;
- Mass destruction: The threat of 'nuclear warfare' and 'weapons
of mass destruction' was maintained at a high level of visibility throughout
the Cold War, notably as continuing justification for military expenditure.
Following the Cold War, 'rogue states' have been used to sustain
the threat under a new guise -- notably by repeated reference to fissile materials
that have somehow escaped from high security installations. The 'Axis
of Evil' is important to the continued perception of this threat which
has been further developed to include biochemical warfare.
- Epidemics: Like the European plague centuries ago, the threat of
AIDS has been used to completely reframe social relations. In this case the
focus has been on sexual relations. Its proliferation to epidemic proportions
in African countries has been seen by some as a convenient indirect method
of addressing the population problem without involving any authority. Like
cancer it has been a focus of major concern but has now been effectively assimilated
as of secondary priority -- despite the tens of millions that will die of
- Y2K crisis: The degree of hype associated with the Y2K crisis on
1st Janury 2000 [more; more;
already been well-forgotten, but the threat it was perceived to constitute
to 'modern civilization' was presented in many ways as similar to
that of terrorism. However in this case the perpetrators were not 'evil'
terrorists acting deliberately but computer nerds (mainly in the USA) who
had presumably acted inadvertently to progressively lock computer users into
a vulnerable configuration of hardware and software.
- Internationalism / Globalization / Anti-globalization: This is a
complex case of the evolution of a threat. At the beginning of the 20th century
'internationalism' had many positive connotations [more]
as a contrast to excess nationalism (perceived as a threat) -- and was basic
to many of the more valuable features of socialism. The use of the term by
the Communist 'Internationals', and the many excesses of that experiment,
transformed it into a disguise for insidious totalitarianism, so that it became
framed as a threat strongly associated with the 'Red Peril' (above).
Much attention was given to anti-Communist efforts to block this threat. However
'internationalism' continues to be perceived as a threat, notably
in the USA (by those suspicious of the hidden agendas of the United Nations)
more]. It is extremely
ironic that an equivalent term, 'globalization', has been promoted
by market capitalism and the United Nations and is itself now perceived as
a threat -- after the failure of decades of development policies inspired
and constrained by the Bretton Woods institutions, and the self-serving arguments
presented by multinational corporations. This threat is now opposed by an
increasingly well-coordinated movement that has seriously affected 'business
as usual'. Ways have been sought to reframe such opposition as undermining
healthy globalization essential to improvement of well-being around the world.
Efforts to label anti-globalization as a threat are being increasingly associated
with efforts to reframe any form of democratic protest or dissent as supportive
of terrorism [more].
Single factor threats: terrorism as threat of the moment
'Terrorism' may be understood as the strategic device of the moment
to enable the world's superpower to manage global society. Whether or not the
11th September attacks were deliberately instigated or evoked to this end by
al-Qaida agents, Mossad, rogue segments of the US government, or others, is
The key point is that the 'war against terrorism' can be, and is
being, effectively used to deploy a 'fire-fighting' mindset and to
deactivate the complexities of the socio-cultural ecology that is the qualitative
basis for planetary society. As Gregory Bateson pointed out: If you destroy
the pattern that connects, you destroy all quality. This is however irrelevant
to ensuring control of global society by the world's superpower -- the modern
emergence of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan (1651) [more;
as envisaged by Yehezkel Dror (The Capacity to Govern: A Report to the Club
of Rome, 2001) [more].
Rather than requiring the world's strategists to rise to the complexity of
a globally interdependent society, it reduces that complexity to the simplistic
capacities of the strategists in power. In cybernetic terms (cf Ashby's Law)
it is a reduction in the perceived complexity of a system to the capacity of
those charged with controlling it.
The Foreign Minister of France, Hubert Vedrine indicated (7 February 2002):
"We are friends of the United States, we are friends of that people and we
will remain so. But we are threatened today by a new simplism which consists
in reducing everything to the war on terrorism. That is their approach, but
we cannot accept that idea. You have got to tackle the root causes, the situations,
poverty, injustice." [more]
As Denis de Rougemont said rightly with regard to the complexities (envisaged
as necessary for global governance): "Federalism is marked by its love for complexity,
in opposition to the rough simplism of totalitarian regimes".
None of this assembled evidence, all of which comes from sources already
in the public domain, is compatible with the idea of a real, determined
war on terrorism. The catalogue of evidence does, however, fall into
place when set against the PNAC
America's Defenses, 2000]. From this it seems that the so-called
"war on terrorism" is being used largely as bogus cover for achieving
wider US strategic geopolitical objectives. Indeed Tony Blair himself
hinted at this when he said to the Commons liaison committee: "To be
truthful about it, there was no way we could have got the public consent
to have suddenly launched a campaign on Afghanistan but for what happened
on September 11" (Times, July 17 2002). Similarly Rumsfeld was
so determined to obtain a rationale for an attack on Iraq that on 10
separate occasions he asked the CIA to find evidence linking Iraq to
9/11; the CIA repeatedly came back empty-handed (Time Magazine,
May 13 2002)....
The conclusion of all this analysis must surely be that the "global
war on terrorism" has the hallmarks of a political myth propagated to
pave the way for a wholly different agenda - the US goal of world hegemony,
built around securing by force command over the oil supplies required
to drive the whole project. Is collusion in this myth and junior participation
in this project really a proper aspiration for British foreign policy?
If there was ever need to justify a more objective British stance, driven
by our own independent goals, this whole depressing saga surely provides
all the evidence needed for a radical change of course.
Single factor threats: provisions for the future
Identification of the above threats may be seen as individual attempts to focus
strategic debate and tie it to a single issue. Whether such novel threats have
been fabricated, deliberately or inadvertently, is irrelevant to the learnings
that they each provide for the use of single factor threats as a means of managing
the challenges of global governance -- freed of some of the inhibiting constraints
of human rights and freedoms. It is obvious to all that when faced with a 'fire',
the niceties must be set aside until the 'fire' is brought under control.
If the heroic fire-fighters inadvertently cause harm or damage in the process
this is only to be regretted as unfortunate 'collateral damage'.
The end must necessarily justify the means. The most helpful articulation of
this attitude is Madeleine Albright's response (12 May 1996), as US Secretary
of State, to a query as to whether the death of 500,000 Iraqui children was
justified in order to further US policy. She indicated: "the price is worth
it" -- an attitude that has been the subject of commentary in relation to the
11th September attacks [more].
The same might be said of the US avoidance of intervention to prevent the Rwandan
genocidal massacre in 1994 [more].
The problem with the threats listed above is that they each seem to have a
relatively short life span as credible threats -- even though they may be presented
as requiring that a country be on a war footing (possibly 'for the next
50 years'). George Orwell in his novel Nineteen Eighty-four (1949)
[more] has however provided
indications of measures to be taken to render threats sustainable:
- One approach is for coalitions to reform in order to isolate one of the
erstwhile members as an 'enemy' that is a source of novel threat
and justifies targetting. This role can be rotated every years or so between
the key players -- even between selected permanent members of the UN Security
- Another approach, where the previous one fails to raise the level of threat
sufficiently, is simply to arrange for discrete (terrorist) bombing of one's
own population. Conspiracy theorists have not failed to envisage the possibility
that the attacks of 11th September and some of the 'terrorist' attacks
by 'Palestinians' were of this nature. Indeed Osama bin Laden may
himself be a totally fabricated exercise in global deception to enable the
Taliban to be removed to allow the oil pipeline to be constructed as required
by American oil interests -- with a tolerable (but credible) level of regrettable
collateral damage. Consideration was already been given in 1962 to establishing
Cuba as an external military threat to the USA by fabricating an aircraft
accident reminiscent of the 11th September attacks [more].
Orwell's approaches may however quickly lose their novelty value. The challenge
for world governance is then to envisage a series of novel future threats whose
level of threat can be enhanced whenever earlier threats lose their credibility.
Already 'in the pipeline' are:
- Biochemical terrorism: The potentials of this form of terrorism have
been widely publicized [more].
The experiments by the Aum Shinrikyo movement using sarin gas in a Tokyo subway
have given credibility to the possibility [more]
as have the consequences of the earlier activities of Japan's Unit 731 in
and the complaints of those suffering from Gulf War Syndrome. Whether or not
the result of an isolated terrorist, or an 'inside job' by a rogue
governmental unit, the dissemination of anthrax to USA targets following the
11th September has been seen as an exercise in heightening and maintaining
public perceptions of threat at very low cost. The social consequences of
such threats remain to be exploited for their full potential [more]
- Social unrest: The escalation in the nature, globalization and media
coverage of social unrest suggests that this could be successfully promoted
to the status of a singular threat -- as many revolutionary practitioners
have explored. Such unrest has been widely predicted by futurists and is an
important argument in sales of security equipment of all grades.
- Financial system collapse: As a result of the Asian financial crisis
in 1997, there is continuing concern about the imminent collapse of the financial
system sustaining global economic society [more].
- Climatic catastrophe: Considerable attention has been given to building
up 'global warming' as a singular threat, whilst indicating the
potential of other climatic threats such as a new ice age and geomagnetic
reversal -- possibly linked to asteroid collision with the Earth (see below).
- Appearance of the Anti-Christ: This future event is a strong belief
of Christian fundamentalists in anticipation of the 'end times'
scenarios predicted for the present period [more;
more]. However other interpretations
[more] have resulted
in many different individuals [more]
being labelled as the Anti-Christ, including the Pope [more;
and even George Bush [more].
The difficulty in this case is that an 'evil' phenomenon of this
sophistication is likely to be virtually indistinguishable from its opposite
-- dividing people in ways that prevent it from being effectively defined
as a singular threat [more].
- Extraterrestrial alien invasion: As noted above, there is considerable
scope for this strategy as an ultimate threat. It is claimed to have been
an obsession of Ronald Reagan [more;
of the population have already been psychologically well 'prepared'
for it in various ways through many movies. Some speculative'archeological'
exercises, such as those of Zecharia Sitchin (12th Planet) already
predict the return of aliens associated with a lost planet on a highly elliptic
These concerns have been framed in terms of a rogue planet for which there
is some evidence [more;
more]. Given the
widespread concern in the USA with abduction, notably by 'gray people'
it might be useful to label this as the 'Gray Peril'.
- Invasion by foreigners: In a globalized society the possibilities
of massive uncontrolled invasions of 'civilized society' by refugees,
asylum seekers, and 'boat people' have considerably increased as
demonstrated in the case of Australia, Mexico, and to a lesser extent Italy
and Spain. It is already of considerable concern in Germany and the UK. This
is related to the 'social unrest' threat (above).
- Earth-crossing asteroids: Certain groups of asteroids have elliptical
orbits that cross the orbit of the Earth and other inner planets. Thus, these
asteroids can come dangerously close to the Earth. There are many other known
asteroids that cross Earth's orbit (about 300 have been identified at present).
In principle, as demonstrated by mass extinctions of past epochs, these may
well destroy major portions of flora and fauna on Earth [more;
As such they offer very credible doomsday scenarios already explored by Hollywood.
- Enhanced humans: Science fiction (notably the movie Blade Runner)
has actively explored the consequences of the infiltration of human society
by 'enhanced' humans -- with the resulting threat to humans portrayed
as archetypically analogous to that of the pre-historic encounter of the Cro-Magnon
and the Neanderthals. Much has been made of the potential of genetic modification
and bionic implants in this respect. This is also seen as leading to a new
form of eugenics -- revisiting some of the 'perils' noted above
A variant of this is the electronic cyborgization of humans that may already
be considered to be underway and effectively engendering the 'digital
through their intimate relationship to knowledge systems (suggesting the variant
'dig-it-all'). In the light of their envisaged physical perfection,
this might be termed the 'Bronze Peril'.
- Nanotechnology: As the ultimate convergence of computers, networks,
and biotech, nanotechnology will enable creation of products never before
even imagined [more]
with equally unimaginable threats. Uncontrolled, such technology has been
envisioned as leading to what is known as the 'grey goo scenario'
- Artificial intelligences and global brains: There is continuing speculation
about the dangerous consequences of interaction between artificial intelligence
(of a significantly higher order) and human society [more].
These have notably been explored in science fiction.
Other threats that may play a singular role in the near future are those associated
with the dramatic consequences for the increasing generational divide -- with
the increase in the number (and proportion) of elderly and with the increase
in the frustration of young people made responsible for supporting them through
fragile social security systems. The threat to older people by younger people
might be usefully labelled as the 'Golden Peril' whilst that of older
people to younger people might be labelled as the 'Silver Peril'.
Homosexuality, as a lifestyle preference widely perceived as threatening (notably
by those focused on singular threats), might be labelled the 'Pink Peril'.
Another perceived threat deriving from lifestyle preferences is that associated
with hippies, drop-outs and travellers -- possibly to be labelled the 'Orange
Avoidance of global social issues
It is important to contrast the selected singular global threats (Class A threats)
with those of world problems in general (Class C threats), and those particularly
identified as major (Class B threats) [see database on over 30,000 world
problems]. The singular threats legitimate the 'fire-fighting'
response which allows action on the the other problems to be 'temporarily'
set aside. The singular threats allow for simple 'silver bullet' responses
like carpet bombing and political assassination -- achieving the kind of 'success'
associated with the campaign against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The
other problems are essentially intractable and interwoven. They confront society
with many strategic dilemmas [more]
which do not lend themselves to resolution -- and indeed undermine collective
resolution to change.
To be a useful strategic basis for world governance, the singular threat should
ideally permit resources to be allocated in a controlled manner to reinforce
the integrity of the controlling regime. It should minimize any allocation of
resources to efforts to change the social structures and behaviours engendering
the threat. Thus in the case of terrorism it is vital to focus on investments
in the military industrial complex that enables the creation of new security
systems (cf. intelligence resources, Echelon, etc). Token humanitarian investments
can be allocated for rebuilding, although the emphasis should be made on rhetorical
support for such rebuilding. But investment in any effort to actually remedy
the engendering conditions should be minimized behind a screen of stirring public
relations and commitments that are in no way associated with any intention to
fulfil them. In these respects, the responses of George Bush and Tony Blair
to terrorism have been exemplary.
It is useful to identify some of these intractable problems and to recall attempts
made by those most sensitive to them to promote them to the status of singular
threats -- whilst recognizing the ways in which they have been reframed to minimize
the resources and attention accorded to them. Of particular interest is the
degree of avoidance of any effort to reconcile the conflicting priorities amongst
them and the dramatic requirements for social change that they call for:
- Overpopulation: This threat has been successfully reframed, with
the considerable support of Vatican diplomats, to the degree that it is now
barely on any international agenda.
- Poverty: This threat is proving to be a non-starter as a motivating
singular threat for global governance. Like unemployment it is however ideal
as a rhetorical theme for repeated national and global summits, notably at
the United Nations. However the poverty of others is a phenomenon to which
people have long been inured -- even to the point of being able to live alongside
them. Just as the UN progessively switched from 'economic and
social' development to 'development' of a primarily economic
nature, the current switch of the World Bank from 'poverty' to 'poverty
and terrorism' may well pave the way for a further switch to 'terrorism'
- Disease: This threat has been proven to be relatively useless for
the strategic purposes of world governance. Particular diseases like cancer
and AIDS do provide a temporary focus in some regions, but since they only
affect portions of the population they do not have the plague-like qualities
of an epidemic. Disease in the abstract has been successfully reframed as
one calling for funds whose allocation to medical safety nets can be successfully
avoided. It appears unlikely that emergent diseases will change this significantly.
- Food shortage: The hunger issue has also proven, over many years,
to be of little value in sustaining a sense of singular threat capable of
mobilizing efforts within a new approach to world governance.
- Water shortage: Unlike food shortage, because of its transboundary
characteristics, this may have the potential to constitute a singular threat,
especially if water supplies are theatened in any way, notably through biochemical
contamination, whether deliberate or as a result of pollution.
- Injustice and discrimination: Much has been made of this threat,
but it is clear that it is unlikely to serve the strategic function of a singular
threat, despite its continuing value for political rhetoric. Indeed it might
be argued that it was the effective isolation of the USA in 2001 (notably
at the UN Conference on Racism), because of its human rights record in the
Middle East and Latin America, that helped to condition the response to terrorism.
- Unemployment: This constant threat is frequently used by politicians
to support any and every other initiative -- whilst effectively failing to
address the core issue to any significant degree. It no longer has the dramatic
qualities required of a singular threat, although its potential contribution
to social unrest is not to be neglected.
- Environmental degradation: This threat, even in the presence of obvious
environmental pollution, is perceived as so diffuse that it can no longer
be promoted to the status of a singular threat -- except possibly in association
with biochemical terrorism, with dangerously proliferating genetic mutation,
or with some phenomenon like a 'nuclear winter', a supervolcano,
or displacement of the Gulf Stream..
- Nuclear warfare: This threat has been present for such a long-time
as the singular threat of the Cold War period, that it has lost its urgency
for the generations that have lived with it -- however much it remains a reality.
- Evil: It is extremely interesting that 'evil' has been
used to focus strategic preoccupations by George Bush and Tony Blair -- but
it is questionable whether it can in its own right be elevated to the status
of a universal singular threat (especially since it is not a driving core
concept in many non-western religions). The consequences of sin (in the afterlife,
hell-fire, etc) have been primarily associated with religions. Retribution
for sin worked as a means of reinforcing governance in societies dominated
by particular belief systems closely linked to the state -- in fact it provides
a useful model for the role of singular threats in future world governance.
But, like nuclear warfare, it has lost its significance for many who have
been exposed to the arbitrary, hypocritical, and manipulative manner in which
it can be used.
- Corruption: As with crime, this threat has remained a non-starter
as a singular threat because of its omnipresence -- from the highest to the
lowest levels of society. Most of those who might mobilize efforts to attack
against it are themselves too intimately associated with it (for example as
in the situation of tax avoidance and tax havens). Serial media exposure of
the scope of international criminal networks, and their hold on policy-makers,
demonstrates that this is now perceived to be a predictable situation that
does not constitute a driving threat.
- Energy shortage: Whilst this remains a significant threat for industrialized
societies, possibly to the degree of motivating the removal of the Taliban
regime, it is more a concern for those deriving profit from furnishing the
energy than from those who would be disadvantaged by its lack.
- Reduction of biodiversity: This threat is scheduled to remain a non-starter
because few people consider the irretrievable loss of yet another endangered
species to be a life-or-death matter touching themselves -- except in cases
such as over-fishing where livelihoods may be affected. The contact of most
people with 'diversity' is through media documentaries -- and adequate
footage has been acquired for those who need further exposure to it. For the
specialists, museum collections of dead specimens are now sufficiently comprehensive
to enable years of future study.
- Reduction of cultural diversity: Despite widespread concern at cultural
imperialism, language loss, and the progressive loss of cultural identity
of many indigenous peoples (notably that associated with reduction of biodiversity),
this threat is most unlikley to acquire that singular status.
- Drugs: This threat to the 'moral fibre of civilization'
has also proven to be a non-starter in global governance terms. The continued
use of drugs, whether legalized or not, suits too many people in an increasingly
alienating urban environment -- and at every level of society. The parallel
with alcohol is too obvious to arouse any adequate sense of collective threat.
- Feminism: This threat to male-dominated structures and mindsets over
past decades has been effectively deactivated in most western cultures. It
remains a strong preoccupation especially in relation to the status of women
in developing societies that consequently run the risk of being further destabilized.
It might perhaps be usefully labelled as the 'Purple Peril'
Learnings from personal strategic analogues
The viability of structuring behaviour in terms of a singular threat is more
readily comprehensible in the case of an individual. Indeed it has been argued
that the individual psychological biases of leaders significantly affect the
collective strategies that they advocate and find credible.
Identifying -- or being exposed to -- an immediate threat focuses the awareness
and eliminates the paralysis associated with endeavoyuring to reconcile a multiplicity
of conflicting desires and obligations. It is irrelevant whether the threat
is real or imagined, or simply over-exaggerated.
The important learning relates to identification of the conditions under which
the response to such threat becomes dysfunctional -- as in the case of pathological
obsessions and phobias. But, as has been said, the fact that a person suffers
from paranoia, does not mean that someone is not 'out to get them'.
Future prospects for viable alternatives
Those promoting singular threats are inherently incapable of envisaging more
appropriate responses to the challenges of world governance and are effectively
threatened by the possibility that alternative responses may be viable and preferable
-- to the point of denying such posibilities as dangerously naive. Elements
of a more complex response might however include perspectives such as the following:
- Beyond continuing focus on 'The Plan': What is the reason
for this desperate need to formulate a single comprehensive strategic plan
of action -- that will subsume all other plans, draining resources from them
because of the priority it is accorded? Military strategy formulation is usually
based on the selection of a single strategy from many strategic scenarios.
If one fails, there are usually fallback plans. But is there not a case for
encouraging a variety of plans -- according to different styles of action
-- and capable of channelling the energy and enthusiasm of different constituencies?
- Ecology of strategies: There is a strong case for shifting some
attention to the nature of the ecology of strategies in operation at any one
time. This ecology is the dynamic framework within which global strategies
are born, live and pass away (however much they may continue to haunt the
present after having disincorporated). Whilst most self-respecting global
strategies have the ambition to be 'the plan', it is rare that this
self-acclaimed status is respected from the perspective of other strategic
- Status of particular strategies: As with niche-specific species,
it is to be expected that any particular strategy would be designed to respond
to a specific set of circumstances, however broadly conceived. As a result
each such strategy tends to exclude features recognized as vital within other
strategic frameworks. In this sense each strategy is of necessity reductionistic.
It is relatively simple in order to be manageable within relatively simple
institutional frameworks. It has to be relatively simple in order to be comprehensible
to those who must allocate resources to it and ultimately to those who must
approve the allocation of such resources through the political process. All
this makes for a strategy which lacks the requisite variety for effective
- Complementary strategies: Relatively simplistic strategies elaborated
by one set of institutions evoke compensating strategies from other configurations
of institutions. Some strategies naturally complement each other, compensating
for each others weaknesses. Some strategies take over where others leave off.
Some create the foundation and groundwork allowing others to emerge. Some
are parasitical on others, or provide 'piggy back' facilities allowing
for other types of action. Some strategies are deliberately designed to undermine
others, competing for their resources. Some strategies are simply mutually
destructive and may result in total chaos in the societies in which they emerge.
- The 'right' strategy: Within such an ecology of strategies,
the question as to which is the right or appropriate strategy begs the question
as to the comprehension of the questioner. For a questioner sensitive only
to a particular spectrum of social or environmental concerns, the only meaningful
answer will be in terms of those concerns only. Other dimensions will be completely
irrelevant, if not absurd, or dangerously misguided.
- Challenge to comprehension: Who can presume to understand the full
range of strategies making up the ecology? How is that understanding to be
approached? How are differences of opinion concerning its nature to be reconciled
-- especially when such differences may be essential to the process whereby
compensating strategies emerge in response to other limited strategic understandings?
How can the tendency of relativism to paralyse action be circumvented?
- Necessarily conflicting perspectives: As with efforts to 'manage'
any natural ecosystem, there will be radically different schools of thought.
Some will favour a complete and detailed plan, leading to what others would
perceive as a totally artificial garden or park, or even a structure of economically
productive fields. At the other extreme will be those who would favour leaving
the ecosystem in its wilderness state. In between will be found a variety
of rationalizations for various forms of intervention.
- Framework for strategic dialogue: The concern at this point is not
whether one or other is right but rather that there is no suitable arena within
which to explore the alternatives. Each constituency tends to be prepared
to be economical with the truth in acknowledging the limitations of its own
perspective or in accepting the validity of other perspectives. Parliamentary
democracy highlights the weaknesses of dialogue processes in responding with
sensitivity to the range of issues involved. A context is required in which
truths valuable to some are 'held', irrespective of debating procedures
by which such views may be overwhelmed by those with other sensitivities.
- Beyond conceptual complacency: There is some justification for expecting
that the challenges of global governance will call for a complexity of response
beyond that associated with simplistic responses to the ecosystem and its
development. The conceptual complacency of those who know that their own approach
is correct is a prime indicator of the inadequacy of their perspective. However
any such perspective may well be vital in a strategic ecosystem dependent
on a rich range of complementary and competing perspectives.
From a strategic perspective 'one-plan thinking' is necessarily doomed
to failure faced with a problematique that, hydra-like, takes many forms and
is in continuous mutation. The conceptual challenge is, paradoxically, to find
a suitable form for the plan which is many plans, and which itself evolves over
time as the ecology of those plans.
It is how the ecology of strategies is to be understood that is the challenge
-- prior to, and during, any well-meaning global intervention. But paradoxically
intervention there will necessarily continue to be, even in the light of necessarily
inadequate comprehension. Perhaps the metaphor for what is missing is provided
by the contrast between allopathic medicine and homeopathic medicine -- recognizing
the threat of homeopathic medicine to the mindset of a medical profession controlled
by the priorities of the pharmaceutical industry.
For related arguments associated with the Global Strategies Project with some 30,000 interlinked strategies;, see other documents on governance through metaphor
The shift to a singular focus offers an instant solution to the many difficulties
and dilemmas of effective world governance. In the history of ideas and beliefs
it may be compared with the shift from polytheistic to monotheistic systems.
This shift was necessarily accompanied by the destruction of beliefs, practices
and institutions associated with numerous old deities of significance to particular
social groups -- but the suffering occasioned by the means employed could be
considered well worth the ends achieved.
A number of eminent scholars have criticized single factor explanations in
response to the widespread hope that a simple answer can be formulated to the
challenge of the times. Many believe fervently that such answers exist in single-factor
statements such as "peace", "love", "order", etc. Whilst a necessary feature
of the psychosocial system, such belief obscures the richness and significance
of the fundamental disagreement concerning the ways such conflicting answers
can be implemented in practice. Edgar Morin (1981) and Kenneth Boulding (1978)
both note the dangers of single factor explanations at this time. In Boulding's
"The evolutionary vision sees human history as a vast interacting network
of species and relationships of many different kinds, and there really is
no "leading factor" always in the forefront. At times, changes in material
technology are the major mutational developments and create niches for social
changes of various kinds. At other times, however, intellectual or spiritual
movements take the lead and create niches for new material artifacts and technologies;
sometimes climatic changes dominate the scene, or sometimes biological mutations
dominate, such as the disease bacteria that caused the great plagues." (Ecodynamics: A New Theory of Societal Evolution, 1978, p.19-20)
Despite the resources of society, and the considerable efforts deployed to
identify alternatives to the singular approach, it is important to recognize
that demonstrations of such alternatives have not proven sufficiently viable
to attract permanent commitment to them even by their advocates. Such efforts
have been significantly, if not systematically, undermined by those favouring
more simplistic solutions -- notably as in the case of the Nixon regime's response
to the Chilean experiment under Salvador Allende. Indeed it is debateable whether
industrialized societies have given any official support to social experiments
commensurate with the investment associated with technological research and
development [more; more;
more; more; more].
is no war on terror'
Sir Ken Macdonald, Declaration by UK Director of Public Prosecutions,
23 January 2007
'It is critical that we understand that this new form of
terrorism carries another more subtle, perhaps equally pernicious,
risk. Because it might encourage a fear-driven and inappropriate
response. By that I mean it can tempt us to abandon our values.
I think it important to understand that this is one of its primary
Sir Ken, head of the Crown Prosecution Service, told members of
the Criminal Bar Association it should be an article of faith that
crimes of terrorism are dealt with by criminal justice and that a 'culture
of legislative restraint in the area of terrorist crime is central
to the existence of an efficient and human rights compatible process'.
'We wouldn't get far in promoting a civilising culture of respect
for rights amongst and between citizens if we set about undermining
fair trials in the simple pursuit of greater numbers of inevitably
less safe convictions. On the contrary, it is obvious that the process
of winning convictions ought to be in keeping with a consensual rule
of law and not detached from it. Otherwise we sacrifice fundamental
values critical to the maintenance of the rule of law - upon which
everything else depends.'
The criminal justice response to terrorism must be 'proportionate
and grounded in due process and the rule of law,' he said. 'We
must protect ourselves from these atrocious crimes without abandoning
our traditions of freedom.'
Sir Ken warned of the pernicious risk that a 'fear-driven and
inappropriate' response to the threat could lead Britain to
abandon respect for fair trials and the due process of law. (Clare
Dyer, 24 January 2007, The
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