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Economic Development and Security

The President of Germany rethinks the classic concept of global security.

March 18, 2005

The President of Germany rethinks the classic concept of global security.

Is too much emphasis put on the military dimension of security today? And how does global poverty factor into the equation? These are the issues explored by Horst Köhler — now Germany's President and previously the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. In this Read My Lips feature, Mr. Köhler argues that the world needs a broader interpretation of the term "security."

What concerns you perhaps the most as you look at the global landscape these days?

"Today, our planet is home to some six billion people. And by 2050, the world population may reach nine billion. What chance is there that these vast numbers of people can live together in peace — if more than half of them have to live on less than $2 a day?"

What conclusion do you draw from that?

"Unless we tackle global poverty, long-term security will remain elusive. In my view, a strategy for development is by far the best form of conflict prevention.

It should surely give us reason to pause that global spending on arms now stands at over $900 billion — more than ten times the development aid provided by the OECD countries."

What changes do developing countries have to achieve?

"Currently, in many African countries — but also in Asia and Latin America — large sections of society have no access to their nation’s natural wealth or political processes. That puts stability at grave risk.

Just think of the many people, especially from Africa, who on a daily basis attempt to reach Europe’s southern shores, often in un-seaworthy boats. This economic migration poses enormous problems on the social, economic and also security front — above all for the countries on Europe’s southern flank."

And how do developed countries need to change?

"In the long run, the only way we can come to grips with this situation is through sustained efforts to help the countries of origin develop their economies — and improve governance. Ultimately, that will cost less than building up Europe's borders."

What is a key component for all countries?

"It is in the interest of every well-governed country to create an environment in which private enterprise thrives."

What are the costs of inaction if we do not manage to reduce poverty in Africa?

"If yet more countries become failed states, we are likely in the future to see far more immigrants and “boat people”. And the problems will then be of an entirely different magnitude. We simply cannot afford to waste any more time."

What is the conceptual consequence of all of this?

"Today, the classic concept of security no longer suffices. We need to rethink it to include also socio-economic and cultural factors. In this context, the UN uses the term 'human security.' Security in this sense is understood to mean protection of people’s basic freedoms but also protection against different kinds of threats."

What other factors would this new concept of security entail?

"Security must also mean giving people in the world’s poorest countries real hope for the future, hope for a life free from fear and want, a life lived in dignity and in keeping with their own cultural values and traditions. What we need ultimately is a concept of global governance for this one world that is home to us all."

Where should we start?

"There are many things we can do straight away. For example, I would like to see better coordination between the various aid institutions — as well as standardized guidelines and criteria for awarding contracts.

In addition, donors need to make long-term commitments to building viable government structures and public institutions."

What about Africa?

"In Africa, we need to think much harder about how, in a post-conflict situation, we can help bring about long-term stability. In my view it is problematic, for example, to be already planning for this year the progressive withdrawal of the UN’s peace mission from Sierra Leone."


"Sierra Leone’s government institutions need a greater measure of certainty in order to secure law and order on a sustained basis.

The British ten-year commitment to help Sierra Leone build a well-functioning police force I see as a splendid example of the kind of approach that is needed."

How do you reply to those who criticize such European involvement in Africa?

"It is not neocolonial interference to demand that the developing countries live up to their responsibilities — it is a duty derived from our shared responsibility for the world that is home to us all."

And finally, what message do you have for all of us?

"Economic development is a necessary — but not a sufficient — condition for greater global security. It is crucial that we also seek to win over hearts and minds.

An important part of that is recognizing and respecting the cultural identity of those we perceive as different from ourselves. That means we need to engage with other cultures in a process of mutual discovery."

Editor's note: All quotes drawn from German Federal President Horst Köhler