Uncertainty Is the New Normal in Dealing With Threats to Existence

Cooperation and sincerity are key to dealing with the challenges we face today, both natural and man-made. 

6 min read
Climate change is linked with rampant deforestation and unbridled industrialisation.

(This piece has been republished from The Quint’s archives in light of the author, Hardeep Singh Puri, being inducted as a minister in Prime Minister Modi’s cabinet on 3 September, 2017. It was originally published on 28 September, 2016.)

Threats to our existence and security come from two sources – challenges presented by nature and the elements, and those that are man-made. In several respects, the two dangers are umbilically linked.

Ironically, we seem to be gaining a better understanding of natural disasters and are in the process of enhancing our capacity of meeting those challenges through prevention, response and resilience building.

US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord is, therefore, so much more difficult to comprehend. Tragically, we are exacerbating the threats that emanate from flawed policies.

Climate Change Needs Wide Governmental Response

The US Secretary for Defense Gen James Mattis, while responding to a question on whether Climate Change is a security threat, said:

Climate Change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.

He went on to say, "Climate Change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole of government response", adding that he would "ensure that the Department of Defense plays its appropriate role within such a response by addressing national security aspects".

This was in the Armed Services Committee during his confirmation process in January 2017.

Mattis in fact has been remarkably consistent. Five years before the Paris Climate Accord was inked, whilst still on active duty in 2010, his command issued a report, which noted:

The impact of Climate Change, specifically global warming and its potential to cause natural disasters and other harmful phenomenon such as rising sea levels, has become a concern.

The President chose not only to disregard the advice from Mattis, but also his Secretary of State Tillerson, apart from the strong pleas from his own daughter Ivanka and his otherwise influential son-in-law Jared Kushner.


US Consistent in Demand for Global, Flexible Agreement

One aspect of the US position, which commentators do not appear to have sufficiently focused on, is that the design of the Paris framework is precisely what US negotiators wanted all along.

In a piece 'Leaps of Faith', which I jointly wrote for HORIZONS late in 2015 with my colleague Jimena Leiva Roesch at the International Peace

Institute (IPI) in New York, we had recalled:

During COP21, US Secretary of State John Kerry confessed that the United States ‘had learned the lessons of the past’ when it had tried to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and failed. The United States opted for an agreement, in which every country on earth has its own set of national circumstances to consider, its own politics, its own economy, its own capabilities.

The position of the United States has in fact been consistent throughout a number of years. Since 2007, the United States has stated that the new agreement needed to be flexible and "global". It argued that developed countries could not foot the bill alone.

I have recalled the above from my piece which appeared early in 2016 in HORIZONS, issue No 6 in 2016, only to drive home the point that for the world's largest economy –which is responsible for a quarter of the global carbon emissions now to argue that the Paris Accord has resulted in the United States being short-charged – is not only disingenuous, but utterly lacking in credibility.


Trump Keeping Campaign Trail Promises

It is almost inconceivable that the other 190 or so countries will agree to re-negotiate a fresh climate agreement.

That being said, the immediate consequence of this rash and hasty decision for the United States, apart from undermining multilateral cooperation to fight global warming is that in the first instance, the provisions of the agreement would complicate the task of exit till 2020, disadvantage the big US corporate entities that have already made significant investments in clean energy products and hand an easy advantage to China and some other countries.

President Trump clearly has not done his homework. His reference to representing Pittsburg and not Paris has invited sharp comment, including from the Mayor of Pittsburg.

Not only did Trump not carry Pittsburg in the presidential election, but the city has twice as many workers in clean energy that in hydrocarbons.

So, in the end, this was a doubling down, like the Mexican ‘Wall’, Obama care and travel ban against Muslims, to reiterate positions taken during the campaign when he described climate change and global warming as a 'hoax'.

The extent of uncertainty and adverse impact this decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord will have for the United Stated will only begin to become clear in the coming weeks.

Many US city mayors and big corporations have already signaled their desire to disregard the President’s decision and proceed with their plans for clean energy nevertheless.

Losing the Battle to Terror: Slowly, but Surely

This brings me to the other existential danger that is posed – the one by the global terror machine. The United Kingdom has suffered its third major terrorist attack in as many months, the second in 12 days, the London bridge attack on Sunday, 3 June 2017.

A question I am often asked, most recently at an event at the Yale Club in New York on 17 May 2017, is – are we winning the battle against terrorism? My answer, for quite some time now, has been that we are losing that battle slowly, but surely. Let me explain.

The terrorist takes away the most fundamental right of all, the right to life. In spite of global norms, now anchored in ‘zero tolerance’, the reality is that individual countries are selective in their fight against terrorism. 

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are actively supporting terror outfits against the Assad regime in Syria. The Turks prioritise their effort against the Kurds and so on. It is difficult enough to deal with radicalised individuals, but almost impossible when they surreptitiously enjoy state patronage.

This is by no means the only problem. It goes without saying that the fight against terror outfits has to be anchored in human rights and humanitarian law. Double standards would appear to apply here as well.


Lenient and Accommodating Approach Towards Radicalised Youth

During an assignment in London in 1999-2002, I would often tell my hosts that they were allowing the democratic freedoms available in their society to be misused. I should have added 'selectively'. This realisation seems to have dawned on the United Kingdom now.

On 22 May, Salman Abedi, a British-born suicide bomber killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.

He was reportedly on the radar of security agencies for some time. Security agencies have clearly adopted a lenient and accommodating approach towards radicalised youth. 

If they were fighting the Assad regime in Syria, they were not only tolerated, but encouraged. Abedi was one of the 10,000 Libyans living in the UK. Like the United States, the UK has also been under the mistaken impression that the ‘use of force’ in Libya and the overthrow of Gaddafi have endeared them to the average Libyan. The tragic assassination of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi in September 2012 provided a rude wake-up call.

The Manchester attack has served to reaffirm that flawed policies have disastrous long term consequences.

Abundant Funds and Support Available for Terrorists

Unless countries cooperate with sincerity and without hesitation in global counter terrorist efforts, the chances of success for the world at large will remain questionable. A terror machine requires funds and support, both material and moral which would appear to be available in abundant supply around the world.

Prime Minister Modi's statement in response to a question from Magyn Kelly in St Petersburg captured the situation well;

Terrorism affects the entire world. All humanitarian forces have to come together to uproot the menace of terrorism from our planet.

The current selective approach is adding to and not solving the problem.

Theresa May’s ‘enough is enough’ speech on Sunday, 4 June 2017 appears to miss the point altogether. Talk about “values” and “democracy” and “evil” ideology without any reference to the countries that produce the Wahabist “ideology” that has seeped into the bloodstream of ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban is meaningless, as one commentator has observed.

It is perhaps self-serving on my part to say that the use of force invariably has long term consequences, both intended and unintended. 

It is still not too late to acknowledge that undertaking perilous interventions in other countries and unraveling them undermines the safety of the average UK citizen at home.

(This article first appeared in The Wire and is being re-published with author's permission. The writer presided over the UN Security Council and chaired its Counter-Terrorism Committee and is a member of the BJP. He is the author of ‘Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos’ . He can be reached at @HardeepSPuri. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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