Threats of every conceivable combination are coming our way and we need to prepare for them.
Why? The world's security environment has become vastly more complex than anytime in the past, according to a report recently published by the Council on Security and Defense Capabilities, an advisory panel to the prime minister headed by Hiroshi Araki.
The report points out: ``At one extreme, there is the chance that nongovernmental entities might stage terrorist attacks that are beyond imagination, while at the other extreme, there are possibilities of conventional war. In between are dangers of every conceivable combination.''
There is no need to describe the horror of the ``new threats'' of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In particular, what will happen if WMD fall into the hands of terrorists?
Other catastrophes loom as well.Governments are responsible for maintaining law and order and providing infrastructure. But the people of failed states are displaced and lives as refugees. That is why the world community is calling for the right to intervene to protect human security.
Meanwhile, explosive demands for oil and gas by China and India are starting to have a massive impact on the environment. And, as more nuclear power plants are expected to be built around the world, the risk of the misuse of nuclear materials grows. The information revolution, along with the Internet and the spread of other technology, is not only giving rise to the danger of cyberwar but has also led to the leak and forgery of electronically processed personal information and identities.
As for Japan, because of its proximity to China, it is facing the problem of acid rain and other growing environmental risks, stemming from the Three Gorges dam and other factors.
Japan's defense against natural disasters such as earthquakes has yet to be improved. The current administration needs to pay more attention to preventive measures to accurately gauge such situations and respond appropriately.
Furthermore, local communities are becoming more vulnerable as the populatioin ages and birthrates decline.
That's not all. Tomohisa Sashida, chief consultant at Tokio Marine & Nichido Risk Consulting Co., cited the following three examples of mega-threats:
(1) Infectious diseases
We have been made to realize their horror in the form of AIDS and more recently with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and bird flu.
``There is a strong likelihood that such a threat could lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths on a global scale,'' Sashida said. ``When that happens, life insurance companies may not be able to survive.''
The 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic is said to have killed between 20 million and 25 million people.
(2) Global warming
If global warming continues at the current rate, it could change the global ecosystem. In particular, the impact on food supply would be immeasurable.
``Production centers for wheat could move north from the United States to Canada and rice from Honshu to Hokkaido. It could well lead to a population move, social unrest and conflicts,'' Sashida said.
(3) U.S. unipolar structure
The United States is overwhelmingly predominant in the area of intelligence resources. However, international society lacks a counterbalance to match it independently.
``Such a structure tends to give rise to `hearsay disaster' in international politics,'' Sashida said. Already, such a danger has become apparent in the Iraq war.
If threats proliferate and become complex, they cannot be adequately dealt with by traditional concepts of intergovernment deterrence and national border defense alone.
Preventive measures need to be introduced.
But that is not easy. While Washington warns that the most likely way WMD would enter the United States is by sea via vessels and port facilities, ``the federal government is spending more every three days to finance the war in Iraq than it has provided over the past three years to prop up the security of all 361 U.S. commercial seaports,'' says Stephen Flynn, senior fellow at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, in his paper ``The Neglected Home Front'' that appeared in the Sept.-Oct. 2004 issue of ``Foreign Affairs.''
The Council on Security and Defense Capabilities report states that prevention of threats by improvement of the international security environment should not be addressed with ``international contribution, a concept with a somewhat third-party nuance'' but should be regarded as ``a duty that directly affects Japan's security.'' This is an excellent idea.
Prevention needs to be considered a core concept of security along with deterrence and defense. While the term preventive diplomacy has taken root, the area of preventive security should be studied in more depth.
But prevention has a problem: It has little appeal to politicians.
If preventive diplomacy succeeds, we can avoid tragedy. In other words, there would be no incidents which people would notice. When nothing happens, it does not capture media attention and few people express gratitude. In short, there are few chances for politicians to score points.
Meanwhile, as urbanization, globalization and technologies advance exponentially, physical damage and human casualties will also grow to astronomical proportions when prevention fails. It is time to switch our thinking.
Prevention can be likened to secret acts of charity. After all, when push comes to shove, results are what count.