Dire world

World events, while rapidly changing, have remained essentially, paradoxically, the same. Disease and epidemics continue to plague vulnerable populations. Terrorism has festered. And the global economy, expanding as it is, has taken its toll on many of the poor. In this previously published essay, Resurgent contributor Sonny Boy Mendoza takes us from the battlegrounds of Syria to the boardrooms of Wall Street in a narrative that mirrors the World Citizen's omnipresent challenges.   

One doesn’t need to be an astute observer of international affairs to realize that the world is in chaos. From Russia’s annexation of Crimea, to the ongoing rampage of ISIS across Iraq and Syria, to the seemingly uncontrollable outbreak of Ebola in Africa, and to the political and economic instability that has gripped major parts of Europe, it seems that there is not much room for optimism.

Undoubtedly, the prophets of doom are once again having a heyday, as they bring out their placards, troop to the streets, and proclaim that the end of humanity is just around the bend. And it has become overwhelmingly difficult by the day – even for the eternal optimist - to refute this grim mindset, as all that one has to do is to open the broadsheets, turn on cable television or surf the Web to be convinced that mankind may have reached its final chapter.

In the late 20th century, much of the world’s attention was focused on finding ways to combat the adverse effects of global warming, addressing the scourge of poverty, and making the difficult but necessary transition from the industrial to the information age. These issues demanded collective action from all nations, though the governments of First World countries were more capable of undertaking immediate action due to the vast financial resources and superior technology they had at their disposal.

Although these problems still remain to be on top of the global agenda, the concerns confronting the world today have moved beyond responding to Al Gore’s recommendations on how to cut greenhouse emissions, addressing hunger and malnutrition in the Horn of Africa, or adapting to the challenges spawned by the Internet revolution and other technological advances.

To be sure, this is not to downplay such concerns as they demand our equal attention. However, the threats we are facing today have proven to be much more difficult and complex. And with the advent of globalization, the fate of nations have become intricately intertwined, so much so that economic and political developments in Europe will send ripples across the United States, Japan and the rest of Asia and vice-versa.

True to the forecast of experts, globalization has become a two-edged sword; it has pulled millions of people from the throes of poverty across continents and transformed once backwater nations into dynamic economies, but in doing so, it has also brought to the fore adverse consequences that mankind must pay for – and learn to bear – in acquiescing to this new world order.

For instance, the 2008 financial crisis which caused the United States’ economy to grind to a halt, also impacted heavily on the global economy, whose adverse effects were most felt by financial markets in Europe which also bore the brunt of the downturn. Major financial institutions in the West were either forced to file for bankruptcy, halt operations altogether or ask their respective governments for a lifeline in order to stay afloat and weather the financial storm. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, lost their jobs, with a huge majority having to rely on government welfare for food and other basic needs.

Historians, in fact, have compared the 2008 financial crisis to the Great Depression, which was considered as among the darkest days of recent human history were unemployment soared, poverty levels reached record levels, and governments faced the wrath of disgruntled citizens and anarchy in the streets, as the world seemed to be on the brink of total collapse.

As the U.S. economy has slowly but surely recovered from the crisis as a result of drastic policy measures undertaken by the Obama Administration, it has also taken the same amount of time and effort for the European economy to get back on its feet, although some countries with weaker economies are still struggling to recover . By and large, EU member-states are still confronting considerable challenges, which seems to be testing the viability of the economic aggrupation in the face of both internal and external threats.

The world has become one global village where it is nearly impossible for nation-states to de-couple themselves from it. It either they accept and become part of this constantly evolving network or risk the possibility of being left behind in the doldrums of underdevelopment. The key is for these nations to determine the best way in which their economies can feed on and complement each other, and how they intend to collectively move forward in order to take full advantage of globalization’s vast benefits.

This is where the World Trade Organization (WTO), World Bank, G-20 and other international and regional bodies can make their presence felt and lend much needed policy and institutional support. These organizations are in the best position to provide much-needed interventions that can prop up fragile and faltering economies and nurse them back to health. Their programs must therefore be designed to be cross-cutting and address not only the economic weaknesses of these countries but other pressing social, cultural and humanitarian factors as well.

Meanwhile, the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa demonstrates how vulnerable the world has become against such a contagion that is spreading at an alarming pace. At this age where air travel is the preferred mode of transportation and where people travel freely across borders, the possibility of the disease spreading to other regions has been multiplied several times over. To date, more than 2,000 have died, while thousands have been infected. Health experts warn that the number of infected could breach two million by the early part of next year unless the necessary measures are put in place the soonest possible time.

As the first Ebola case in the U.S. has been recorded, many are now asking if nations across the globe have done enough to arrest the spread of the disease. By all indications, the answer is in the affirmative. The United States Government was among the first to respond by committing the deployment of 3,000 troops to the disease stricken countries. The United Nations, on the other hand, has called for a Security Council meeting which shall discuss the necessary steps to be undertaken by the international body to fight, and hopefully, defeat the deadly disease.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says that the outbreak has the potential to evolve into a “disaster of humanitarian proportions” although there are now encouraging signs that the spread of the disease has been contained at least within the affected countries’ borders. This is where the cooperation among nations will be most crucial, as battles will not only be fought in homes, rural clinics, community centers and hospitals; they are also being waged at border crossings, airports, seaports and every possible entry point where infected individuals could pass through. Governments will have to strengthen coordination efforts to make sure that they are on the same page as they do battle with this invisible, but deadly enemy.

In the meantime, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is now perhaps the greatest threat to the world’s peace and security. This group has in fact managed to upstage the much-feared Al Qaeda by unleashing its own brand Islamic Jihadism which is not only more violent, but at the same time, more well-equipped and ambitious than its predecessor. ISIS intends to establish a caliphate that straddles Iraq and Syria, and by all indications, it will not stop unless its fulfills its avowed objectives.

But what makes this group more dangerous than other terrorist organizations is its effective use of modern media to propagate its brand of radical Islam and convince volunteers to join its cause. Though at its core is are Muslim fighters from Iraq and Syria, with some of them former Al Qaeda members, ISIS has managed to bring into its fold American, British and Asian nationals who have been mainly recruited through social media sites and now believe that the path to salvation is through a knife’s blade and the barrel of a rifle.

The world’s leaders are now at a quandary as to how to defeat this enemy which seems to grow in strength and ferocity each passing day. To date, ISIS has beheaded two Americans and a British national as a way of capturing the world’s attention and convincing the West that it is in for a long, drawn-out battle against these insurgents who seem to have lost all trace of humanity.

The United States has taken the lead and formed an international coalition of nations that will fight this terror group and prevent it from capturing more ground. The U.S. military has already launched drone attacks in the Northern province of Mosul, which have managed to push back the aggressive advance of the insurgents. Supporting this multi-lateral effort are the Peshmerga, Kurdish warriors who are now fighting for their homeland and the future of their children, and moderate Syrian rebels who are also battling the regime of Bashar al Assad.

President Obama has stressed that the multi-pronged battle plan against ISIS will be anchored on a strategic partnership, which means that nations which have joined the coalition will move in concert and implement its plans based on consensus.

Indeed, wars are now being waged on several fronts – economic, political and military. Some of these are being fought more violently than others which require more radical approaches and strategies. It is however still unclear how these battles will pan out in the long-term and how they will ultimately end.

But one thing is for sure: humanity will endure and live another day.

[Reprinted from the Mindanao Times, with permission from the author. Photo courtesy of the Center for New American Security]