Good cops, bad cops

Published : May 01, 2002 00:00 IST

Agendas for global economic development have become heavily dependent on the global pacification projects of rich countries policing the world.

WHEN leaders of the institutions that guide global economic development set 2015 as a target date for reducing by half the number of people who live in extreme poverty, they did not anticipate September 11, 2001. The subsequent war on terrorism has altered the character of the campaign against poverty less dramatically than might appear at first sight, however. After 9/11, military men certainly did become more prominent in the project of protecting globalisation against its enemies, but reducing poverty had previously gained support in rich countries as a means to combat terrorism. Major new funding for a global campaign against poverty now seems hostage to military campaigns to pacify a world of insecurities aggravated by globalisation.

In the United States, particularly, the stage was set for current military campaigns well before 9/11. Military security already topped its global agenda in the 1990s, when real U.S. military expenditure remained as high as it was in the 1960s at the height of the global war on Communism. In the 1990s, as the world's rich became rapidly richer and extreme poverty increased along with global inequality, American anxieties about the instability attending globalisation also increased. Robert D. Kaplan detailed this anxiety in his influential 1994 essay in the Atlantic Monthly, titled "The Coming Anarchy: How Scarcity, Crime, Overpopulation, Tribalism, and Disease Are Rapidly Destroying the Social Fabric of Our Planet". Bill Clinton's presidency saw numerous attacks on U.S. military installations that foreshadowed the attack on the Pentagon, and car bombers had attacked the Twin Towers once before 9/11.

American popular anxiety about foreign threats increased in the context of new immigration, some of it critical for the economic boom in the U.S. in the 1990s, especially of Asians in the hi-tech sector. Public suspicion of foreigners lurks in multicultural America, where the long war against Communism promoted hatred for un-American aliens. The internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War suggests a tendency to conflate foreign and domestic enemies, as do purges of Marxists and "communist fellow travellers" during the Cold War. The fear of foreigners has historically tended to peak in times of high immigration. As immigration boomed again, the Iranian Revolution produced a new alien menace, Islam. By 1990 and with the war on Iraq, fanatic Muslims had replaced rabid Communists in American demonology.

In American popular opinion, the war against terrorism resembles a war on crime at a global scale. Popular ideas about criminality support global police action by the U.S. military. The American political system has habitually criminalised behaviour deemed unacceptable to the voting majority - such as drug use, sex work, and other deviant activities that rich countries often treat as problems that call for medical attention and social reform. The crime problem also appears in the public eye as being most intense in poor ethnic communities in urban ghettoes, now comprising mostly of African-American and Hispanic people, but in earlier times with Italian, Irish, and Chinese immigrants too. Racial stereotypes of poor people in poor neighbourhoods often mingle in discussions of crime. The local police commonly target young, poor, non-white men for special attention. Racial profiling by the police is a common practice. U.S. prisons hold a hugely disproportionate number of poor people from minority communities.

In this cultural context, the public can readily imagine that global attacks on civilised society arise primarily from alien ethnic groups living in poverty, whose criminal behaviours include opium and coca growing, drug smuggling, honour killings, abusing women, rioting, corruption, and bombing American warships in the Gulf and also U.S. embassies in Africa. Amidst poverty and ignorance, fanatics seem to learn terrorist trades in schools of primitive hatred. Bill Clinton articulated this vision of the world in one of his last presidential speeches. "We have seen how abject poverty accelerates conflict, how it creates recruits for terrorists and those who incite ethnic and religious hatred, how it fuels a violent rejection of the economic and social order on which our future depends," he said.

Two figures represent complementary strategies in the fight against crime in the U.S.: the "good cop" and "bad cop". A good cop brings a smiling face to patrol bad neighbourhoods teeming with poor youth. Good cops support local development initiatives by "keeping kids off the streets" and by leading them instead into schools, churches, sports venues, and learning centres where they can improve themselves and stay out of trouble. Meanwhile, the bad cop patrols the streets with a mean face, gun in hand, poised to arrest criminals and, if necessary, to shoot at sight dreaded enemies of the law.

IN American national politics, Democrats and Republicans broadly typify good cops and bad cops respectively. Democrats typically see crime as a symptom of poverty; and thus they promote social welfare and economic development schemes to reduce the lure of crime. Republicans typically see crime as an infraction of civil norms that demand punishment; and thus they promote strict law enforcement, tough sentencing and harsh penalties to get criminals off the streets.

George W. Bush is a life-long bad cop Republican. As Governor of Texas he signed more death penalty authorisations than any Governor in U.S. history. Since 9/11, his snarling self-image as the fierce leader of the global war on terror has been an everyday media spectacle. Such media displays are strategic, because like Genghis Khan, a bad cop seeks to compel compliance with the aid of fear.

Bill Clinton is now a good cop Democrat, who seeks to promote civility with economic development. In his first major post-presidential speech on U.S. foreign policy (December 14, 2001), he spoke to an audience in England, where Bush's bad cop ally in the war on terrorism, Tony Blair, is also Clinton's good cop friend. Clinton's speech indicates the link between the military (bad cop) war on terrorism, (good cop) concerns for the poor, and the new global anti-poverty campaign led by the World Bank. He described September 11 as "the dark sid of... global interdependence". He went on to warn his audience that "...if you don't want to live with barbed wire around your children and grandchildren for the next hundred years, then it's not enough to defeat the terrorist. We have to make a world where there are far fewer terrorists..."

Creating such a world is not a military mission. Rather, in Clinton's view, it requires "wealthy nations" to acquire "more partners" and "spread the benefits and shrink the burdens" of globalisation. This is a job for development agencies. James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, is one of its leaders. "On September 11, the imaginary wall that divided the rich world from the poor world came crashing down," he said and added that the Bank's campaign against world poverty supplements the war on terrorism as a means to secure globalisation. He also said that "a world where less than 20 per cent of the population dominates the world's wealth and resources and takes 80 per cent of its dollar income" can no longer be viewed as a normal one.

In his new anti-poverty campaign at the Bank, Wolfensohn echoes the stand of one of his predecessors, Robert McNamara, who left office as U.S. Secretary of Defence 30 years ago, to start an earlier anti-poverty campaign at the Bank to combat Communism at its roots among people in poverty. McNamara's agenda fell by the wayside in the 1970s under the influence of structural adjustment policies that dominated Bank activity for the next two decades. When Communism had quit the world stage, and when structural adjustment had subjected poor countries to world market discipline and to rich country policy dictates, poverty again gained favour at the Bank, under Wolfensohn's leadership.

The "millennium development goals" now endorsed by all the major institutions in the world development regime include a 50 per cent reduction in the number of people living on $1 a day, primary school education for all children, a 67 per cent reduction in child deaths, a 75 per cent cut in maternal deaths, and halving the number of people without access to clean water - all by 2015. Many world leaders have joined the 2015 campaign, and, like the U.K.'s Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, promote a "new deal between developed and developing countries". As Gordon Brown agrees, the critical issue now "is whether we manage globalisation well, or badly; fairly or unfairly".

The scale of the 2015 campaign is unprecedented, and its future, uncertain. The U.N. convened a Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico, between March 18 and 22 (Frontline, April 12, 2002), where it sought to raise requisite funds, but financial commitments from the rich countries were meagre. Monterrey witnessed a unique gathering of big players in global development, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation, 171 heads of state, and representatives of civil society and business.

September 11 gave the 2015 campaign a new urgency but also gave military initiatives firm control of public opinion. Fights against terrorists attract more public attention than efforts to alleviate poverty. The military and its support services - including education for specialists in subjects deemed critical for global security - now receive more new funding than development programmes. Recession has also undermined prospects for new development funding.

The year 2015 is 13 years away. The clock is ticking. Since the 2015 campaign began two years ago, more people have been driven into more desperate poverty in Afghanistan and Palestine than have escaped extreme poverty in most poor countries. Funding for a global campaign against poverty now seems more hostage than ever to military budgets buttressed by national fears that are aggravated by globalisation.

David Ludden is Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania.

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