Economic Crisis More Dangerous Than Terrorism
Niall Ferguson | Foreign Policy | February 2009
In his State
of The Union Address
in January 2002, George W. Bush warned us of the infamous "Axis of
Evil." Iran, North Korea and Iraq were accused of harboring
terrorists, building weapons of mass destruction and threatening world peace.
Seven years later, President Obama is confronted with another similarly grave
"Axis." This time, however, it is not linked to terrorism or weapons
of mass destruction; rather it is an "Axis of Upheaval" - an
explosive mix of economic misery and political instability. Dennis Blair,
Obama's new Director of National Intelligence, recently warned in his Annual Threat
Assessment that the economic crisis could unhinge many governments in Asia,
Africa and Latin America.
In the course of the last centuries there were three factors primarily responsible for the outbreak of political chaos and deadly violence: ethnic disintegration, economic volatility and empires in decline. The Middle East is a particularly good example of such phenomena: for decades the region has been rife with unwavering ethnic tensions, and it appears that the US has now decided to withdraw their quasi-imperialistic presence from the area, not least due to the hardships and frustration experienced in Afghanistan and Iraq. Furthermore, the third factor is also present: stemming form the crisis in the US real estate market, the financial crisis has swept over the international banking and credit system causing global market contraction and perhaps the most severe economic crisis since 1929.
Economic crises of this degree almost always have geopolitical consequences. The first symptoms of the impending turbulence are already visible. The economic conditions in the Gaza Strip were not especially good. Lately, but also since the beginning of the crisis and since the withdrawal of the Israeli troops, these conditions have been so abysmal that moderate voices in Palestinian government are not even heard. In other Arab states like Egypt and Syria, radical currents will be on the rise as long as pictures of starved Palestinian children amidst war ravaged ruins circulate throughout the world media. However, one of the largest geo-political risks is the possible collapse of the unstable governments in Kabul and Islamabad. The economic crisis plays a key role in these two countries as well. Pakistan's small but influential middle class was hit hard by the domestic slump in the stock market. At the same time, the already vast number of unemployed young men is steadily increasing. Also in Thailand, Indonesia and Turkey it appears that the economic crisis is drastically sharpening internal political tensions. The serious dilemma of the situation: the resources available to fight hunger and promote economic development will clearly be scarce in the near future. Is a new era of political insatiability on the horizon?
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community editorial team from "The Axis of Upheaval," published here by Foreign Policy, March/April 2009.