Assessing the 2030 Development-Security Linkage in Latin American Contexts, Dr. Robert Zuber

1 Nov

The following represent slight revisions (improvements) of remarks given in Mexico City on October 29.

I want to pay tribute to Dr. Simone Lucatello and his colleagues at Instituto Mora for holding this launch event and for their excellent guidance on this publication.

This is one of several books that we worked on thoughtfully over the past year or so.  We have very little funding and the UN in New York is a very large institution to cover and analyze.  Why do we invest our time and resources in this way?

  1. First, it helps to build credibility for our project as we seek to weigh in on a range of complementary initiatives that make up the UN system.  If we have a demonstrable “expertise” at all, it is this sense of how issues fit or should fit — the complementarity of concerns and interests that serves as a sound intellectual and political basis for effective policy.
  2. Second, it represents a contribution to leveling the policy playing field that can help dismantle some of the hegemonies of scholarship and policy that persist in our current world. There are so many voices across Latin America, including perhaps within this institution, which have yet to find their proper level.   Given all the security and development challenges we have to face today in the international community, there is seemingly little rational about keeping other talent on the sidelines. As I have said often to others, I have had my turn.  In our office, we have our turn every day.  It’s someone else’s turn and we want to do what we can to make space for that policy balancing.
  3. We have a special regard for young people who have much to learn but also to teach. They are inheriting this world and its challenges as we gather here.   My generation has made some real messes and they will be responsible for the clean-up.  The least we can do is give them the broadest and most hopeful access to multi-lateral institutions, channels to respected publications (like this one), and experiences in making sound policy that we are capable of providing for them.

As you in this institute know, many strategies are now being suggested for the 2030 goals implementation, but three seem to be rising most quickly to the surface:  robust, flexible data; reliable funding sources, and a stable social fabric.  We must stay connected to all three areas of concern, but the last one is of special interest.

Keeping the social fabric safe without engendering feelings of intimidation or fear remains an area of considerable challenge.  As we were writing and organizing this book, it became clear that some states are still quite reluctant to establish a strong security-development linkage and there are several reasons for this. From my standpoint, this reluctance his has something to do with what I would prefer to call a security-culture linkage.   Many indigenous and rural persons, many politically active and outspoken persons, many marginalized persons such as live around me in Harlem, New York — they often fear the “culture” of the security sector, and often for sound empirical reasons. At the same time, it is very difficult to hold that same security sector itself accountable for abuses, or even to acknowledge that they are CAPABLE of abuses.  In the US, it is a struggle to hold police accountable for their mis-behavior.  It is a struggle to hold military officials responsible for bombing civilian targets in the name of fighting terror; indeed many persons in the security sector take refuge in a system and its culture that only rarely acknowledges failure of any kind.

To promote a viable security-development linkage in the 2030 goals is to actively engage this possibility of cultural failure, a predisposition in more than scattered instances to discriminatory and excessive and even unprovoked use of force that can and must be reformed to serve the cause of social development rather than impede it.  Few still have the stomach to engage the security sector on its conduct – reminding the sector that it has the skill to enhance 2030 implementation in many ways, including addressing various forms of trafficking that overwhelm many Latin American communities, but that it also possesses more than sufficient power to frighten, intimidate and discriminate.

Similar levels of scrutiny are needed regarding agreements to regulate or prohibit weapons. The Arms Trade Treaty is one of the agreements that found some criticism in the book.  Some people will evaluate this Treaty and decide that something is better than nothing. The question we should be asking is if the remedy is sufficient to the cure that we have already held out as a promise to global constituencies? It is not enough to give a child suffering from pneumonia some hot tea and a Vitamin pill.  Such acts may be helpful at some level, but they certainly don’t rise to a level of effectiveness that is even in “radar range” of the cure from armaments that we so badly need.

If the global arms trade (its volume not only its shipping) is as serious a problem as many of us maintained it was – and still is – we continue to need a more robust set of instruments than we now have. Since its negotiation and adoption, the ATT has been politicized; it has attracted more than its share of mercenary NGOs more comfortable with branding than discernment; it has been permitted a secretariat function that is almost completely emasculated; it has invited the diversion of much time and energy from the UN Programme of Action, which engages the practical, multi-lateral work of stockpile management, marking and tracing of weapons, trafficking in weapons, and better security at borders and ports. And of course the ATT, through no intrinsic failure of its own, has no actionable outcome with regard to weapons that have long since left the factory, the weapons that do so much damage every day in Libya, Mali, Yemen, Nigeria and elsewhere.

When we step back from this type and level of scrutiny and aim higher, we recognize that security and development represent more than bookend obligations by states; they point to inter-related existential threats to a planet that has quite enough to cope with at present.  A failed 2030 development project –data that is politicized, funding that is unreliable and applied in a discriminatory fashion, policy that reaches in the direction of the most vulnerable but never quite makes physical contact – these and related limitations are as likely to exacerbate excessive militarism than address its defects.   And conversely, a security policy that inhibits the education of children, the political participation of women, the promotion of a free press and the fair administration of justice will not develop people so much as keep them in subordinate social and political contexts.  Trust in the state and in each other is an under-analyzed dimension in community development, and heavy handed security has a much smaller role in trust’s promotion than security advocates would want us to believe.

So now we have our 2030 development goals and we have what will hopefully become reformed security arrangements.  Moving forward, we must understand their mutual influences and minimize the more toxic aspects of their respective practices.  As though we needed reminding, human beings are imperfect creatures.  The 2030 promises we have broadcast to a world full of anxious, long-suffering constituents will require us, as the Pope reminded the UN earlier this fall, to become less imperfect still.   These are “development” promises of course, but their implications are virtually existential. If we fail to make our “best faith” effort to meet these promises, including on security, it will do more than bring discredit to the UN; it will signal that we have likely crossed a threshold of trust, health and peace from which our species might never find its way back.

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