The world needs a preventive not a reactive approach
The Slovenia Times, October 21, 2017

Dr Sundeep Waslekar is President of the Strategic Foresight Group (SFG), a think-tank based in India, that advises governments and institutions around the world on managing future challenges. Under his leadership, SFG has worked with or on 50 countries from all continents, creating new policy concepts on conflict resolution, water diplomacy and outlooks for countries and societies. At the Bled Strategic Forum 2017, Dr Waslekar moderated the ‘Water for peace and security’ panel.

Dr Sundeep Waslekar, President, Strategic Foresight Group (SFG)

Mr Kofi Annan has argued for more than two decades that protecting and sharing natural resources, particularly water, is critical to peace and security. How significant is the risk of war between countries over water? 

“I do not really think there will be a war around water, however it could be a contributing factor - there have been tensions in Ethiopia and Central Asia between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and at one stage they created the process for cooperation over water. We have recently released a progress study, Water Cooperation Quotient, which is the only document in the world that quantifies the intensity of cooperation over water, it will be launched in November this year. The study looks at all 286 rivers in the world, but it excludes underground water. The document proves that any two countries, which are actively engaged in water cooperation at the political level, do not go to war for any reason! This is a very strong correlation and the Sava River Commission is a very prominent example of this. More and more countries are using water as an instrument of cooperation after they have come out of conflict. You had conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990’s and immediately after the Dayton agreement, the first major agreement signed by all the countries involved, was the Sava River Agreement. At the moment, there are problems in the Middle East; Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Lebanon which are engaged in conflicts with each other. But even in this situation, Iraq and Turkey are negotiating very close cooperation over the Tigris River. In the last 25 years, every Secretary General of the UN has said that the importance of water for peace and security has to be recognised and put on the peace and security agenda of the UN.”

“Being a leader in environmental initiatives makes sense for Slovenia”, quoted American Professor Jay Ebben in an interview for this magazine. What are your feelings on this?

“Slovenia has tremendous potential for making a positive contribution to the Blue Peace process, and the reason for that is the aforementioned Sava River Agreement, indicating credibility to the rest of the world. In addition, Slovenia has been very active in the Danube River project and that ensures Slovenia retains the moral authority to take a leadership role in the Blue Peace process which aims to promote water as an instrument of peace. Also, the management of the environment is much better in Slovenia than in other parts of the world. Tap water is a great example, one can drink it everywhere in Slovenia. In my view, Slovenia lacks confidence; it sees its role primarily in the context of South Eastern Europe, which is understandable, but in the environmental field and in particular in the use of water as an instrument of peace, Slovenia has a role on the broader stage - worldwide and not just in Europe.

You co-authored a book, Big Questions of Our Time, which raises questions that will face humanity from 2010-2060 and covers a broad spectrum of issues, including globalisation. “Only 10 countries account for 60 percent of global merchandise trade… Thus, so-called globalisation is not global at all…. This game is further concentrated in the hands of a few percent of people within countries - in both the rich and the poor nations.” What kind of global governance does the world need to adequately address the issue?

“It is true that what we call ‘globalisation’ is really limited to a very small section of the population. This is the ‘globalisation of opportunities’. There are up to 50 countries in the world that obtain almost 90 percent of trade out of the almost 200 countries, which means 150 countries obtain only 10 percent of trade! Are people aware of this fact? Furthermore, 60 percent of trade is concentrated in the hands of 20 countries, and then within these countries there are only some groups which benefit. So, there is a lot more in common between the elite of Ljubljana, Milan, New Delhi, Beijing and Sao Paolo then the elite of Sao Paolo and the poor people in Brazil or the elite in New Delhi and the poor in India. A new global class of selected elite has been created who have the capacity and opportunities that benefit from cooperation with each other, through trade, investments, knowledge exchange and technology. On the other side, there are a lot of people that are feeling frustrated and cooperate in different ways- organised crime; terrorism, piracy, cyber-crime and this is the so-called ‘globalisation of risk’. If we want the ‘globalisation of opportunities’ to win, we need to extend the people involved, but the tendency of those who are winning is to keep the cake for themselves and leave out the other 85 percent of people in the world.

Is this because the environment ‘supports’ this behaviour…

To some extent. Macron in France is trying to strike the balance but what is needed is a different kind of governance at the national and then at the global level, where the risks are integrated (climate change, migration, political destabilisation, energy, etc.). But what we have currently is that everything is separated – the OECD only deals with trade, WHO only deals with health, the UN Security Council only with security. There is no mechanism where there is an integrated understanding of the challenges facing the world. In my view, we need to reform the United Nations, the Security Council in particular, to try and deal with the complexity of the challenges rather than separating them in to different boxes. The problems are integrated but the solutions are separated which is why it does not work. The world needs a preventive approach, not a reactive approach. And if we will not do that, the world will face much deeper crises in the next 50 years than we have been facing now.

Since 2002, you’ve authored several research reports on the global future under the auspices of SFG. With robotic and artificial intelligence, many jobs have disappeared. Should robots be taxed as a form of labour?

I think, in the long term, artificial intelligence and robotics will increase the quality of life, the same as we faced with computers in the 90’s, they expanded the economy. In Japan, 70 percent of the labour force are robots. Therefore, I do not think there could be a problem in the employment field. Some forms of labour will go, a new form of labour will arrive. Education should be redefined as education and training, which happens all the time and governments should encourage ongoing education. However, the problem I see with artificial intelligence in the long run is security. If 50 years from now artificial intelligence becomes super intelligence, it would start taking decisions on its own. If artificial intelligence is loaded in a missile, it could strike unintended targets. This may even start a war! Artificial intelligence infused with biology could invent a new biological weapon and this could end the world in a century, this is a serious risk, much bigger than the nuclear risk.