The Financial Times THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 24 1998
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GERALD SEGAL; The west shrugs off the rest
With global security looking as volatile as world markets, Nato members are battening down the hatches

In financial markets, we are currently seeing a "flight to quality", with all its disturbing implications for the world economy. Something similar is going on in defence and foreign policy. There, we are seeing a flight to "quality security". The global implications are no less worrying.

Rather as nervous investors feel more comfortable in American and European markets, so the political instabilities in Asia, the Middle East and Russia are beginning to clarify the importance of core political and security relations between the US and Europe. The result is a "fortress Atlantic" mentality, with important squabbles taking place within the castle walls.

Perhaps the most obvious manifestation of this is that more attention is being paid to modernising the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Less is being paid to the United Nations as a security instrument or to international law as a way to manage conflict.

There is also likely to be far greater focus on stemming arms proliferation, in the expectation that longer-range ballistic missiles such as those recently tested by North Korea will be available to countries with weapons of mass destruction. Iraq, India and Pakistan demonstrate a stubborn desire to acquire a range of such weapons.

There used to be far more confidence in America and Europe that the UN could play a useful role in coping with rogue states. But the failure to force Iraq to comply with the UN's inspection programme has naturally led to demands that the West should consider acting unilaterally.

Similarly, Russia's travails have led the US and western Europe to concentrate more on NATO. With even the most positive outcome in Russia likely to produce a regime more hostile to the West, it is hard to think why NATO states should give Moscow a veto over international security. But neither do Russian events make a rapid wider expansion of NATO very likely. The focus instead will be on integrating the important ("quality") central European states - Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary - and on building higher walls against the spreading chaos outside. The cries from those left on the other side will grow louder, but NATO states will increasingly understand that the risk posed by Russia is more from implosion than from external aggression.

In this flight to quality and away from grandiose dreams about comprehensive security, Atlantic powers will be ever more disinclined to intervene militarily in the world's hot spots. Africans will be left to battle their way to local solutions, as now seems to be occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo. No one will intervene in Cambodia, let alone Burma. Malaysia or Indonesia can tear themselves apart, those inside the Atlantic fortress will sit by. Neither will the West intervene to stop conflicts between states which are beyond its radar screen. Regional powers, such as Iran and Afghanistan's Taliban, will feel free to go to war. If India and Pakistan want to use their new nuclear weapons, it is possible that no one will seek to stop them. Should ethnic Chinese in Indonesia or Malaysia find themselves in dire straits, who will stop China "demonstrating its concern for compatriots"? be

Sometimes power vacuums will be filled by the privatisation of security. In Africa and the former Yugoslavia, we see already private security firms such as Sandline and Executive Outcomes providing the military punch that used to be the preserve of states. Russia's meltdown will put more soldiers of fortune on the market, perhaps even with weapons of mass destruction. A bevy of non-governmental organisations trying to provide humanitarian aid and political advice are already stepping into the breach. This flight to quality security will be difficult to sustain. Terrorism - that classic instrument of the weak against the strong - will be an increasing threat. As NATO members come to appreciate that the "war against terrorism" is as meaningless as the "war against drugs", and as long-range missile strikes are seen only to make the distant rubble bounce more vigorously, the Atlantic fortress will seem less secure. Outliers such as Japan, Australia and Israel will feel particularly vulnerable.

Americans are spearheading the argument that the fortress can be defended with high tech weaponry: the so-called "Revolution in Military Affairs", in which computers will be the vital instruments of modern warfare, not men and machinery. Adherents argue that the modern version of gunboat diplomacy may not provide absolute security, but the world outside the fortress can be kept at bay.Europeans, on the other hand, tend to see matters in terms of a "Revolution in Strategic Affairs", in which the poor and weak will use terror, weapons of mass destruction and information warfare to breach the defences of the rich and powerful. Using smart weapons at a distance will only encourage opponents to believe the West is morally weak and unprepared for a real struggle. Those who post on the Internet are also capable of crashing California's banking system through hard-to-trace information warfare. As the West takes on the rest, the flight to quality security may prove as bumpy as the flight to economic quality currently is for world stockmarkets.

The author is director of Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies



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