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New battlegrounds

FIGHTING FOR SURVIVAL· Michael Renner·WW Norton and Company, New York and London·1996· Price US $11

By Raj Kishor Khaware
Published: Wednesday 15 October 1997

-- > this book is one of the eight books in the Worldwatch Insti-tute's Environment Alert series and raises some contem-porary issues concerning global security.

The first part of the book deals with the stresses on society in the post cold war era and describes the newly emerging realities after the end of the cold war. The author has a word of caution on some recent imperatives. He points out that though the world continues to spend us $800 billion every year on military preparedness, experiences in the post cold war era have clearly indicated that military issues no longer pose a major threat to global peace and stability. Instead, the struggle for survival is emerging on a different plane. The nature of the threat has become more fundamental and has taken the form of a 'triple security crisis' - environmental decline, social inequities and unchecked arms proli-feration.

As the author puts it, after the demise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the world is troubled by a be-wildering variety of 'poisonous snakes' instead of a 'dragon'. The battleground has shifted from traditional fields to areas where biodiversity loss is being recorded at much higher rates. The new threats are in the form of challenges posed by soil erosion; deforestation, which robs the land of its productivity; large-scale cross-border migration of people in search of better jobs, richer soil and superior grazing lands; and diseases like diarrhoea, measles and other life threatening ailments, which affect children the most. These challenges are symptoms of larger and more comprehensive problems like population growth, environmental decline and economic insecurity.

The author points out that the strategy for tackling these problems will have to be elaborate and comprehensive. For example, supplying contraceptives will not be enough to contain population growth. Instead, factors such as women's status in the society, cultural values and constraints and a couple's desire to ensure their own social and economic security through their offspring will also have to be taken into account.

In the second part of the book the author considers policies for a new approach to global security based on human well-being and deve-lopment. He argues that national policies need to be complemented by improving international cooperation among countries and civil societies everywhere.

Welcoming the steps taken by the world community to improve the global environment, the author concedes that these discussions have not only helped in establishing worldwide consensus on pressing issues, but have also highlighted the gaps in the earlier policies. He argues that the meaning of security must be redefined. The social, economic and environmental stresses on society have mounted to such an extent that, if not tackled immediately, they may prove to be detrimental to the survival of human-kind. Poverty, unequal distribution of land and the degradation of ecosystems are critical concerns today and should be given priority over any military manoeuvre.

A proper understanding of security issues will require a shift in focus from conflicts generated by considera-tions of national security to cooperation for global security. Instead of a tank-entrenched territorial security, global security in terms of sustainable development should be the new strategy for keeping dangers at bay.

The book is dedicated to all the children of the world. It is a well-referenced book which presents the issues in an analytical manner and will serve as a good source of information to policy makers and lay readers alike.

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