By Rory Medcalf, Program Director of International Security, Lowy Institute
In looking at the global context of likely future demand for Australian development assistance, it is worth thinking about key countries and scenarios where strategic shocks might greatly change the picture. For comprehensive surveys of what might lie in store, I recommend these two ambitious future-mapping reports, one from the US National Intelligence Council and one from the British Ministry of Defence, some of the most creative analysis that the Western intelligence community has done in the public domain.
Here are a few potential shocks and crisis zones to ponder:
Pakistan - this is where a lot of the most troubling global strategic trends converge and meld. These include demographic pressures, an education deficit, religious extremism, dysfunctional urbanisation, ethnic and communal strife, corruption and other failures of governance, terrorist violence, failing infrastructure, vulnerability to natural disasters, water insecurity, disease, and potential for accelerated impacts from climate change. That is not to mention nuclear proliferation, interstate tension and great-power rivalry. Taken together, all of this means not only, strong humanitarian imperatives for donor nations to increase aid flows to Pakistan in the years ahead, but also very strong security imperatives. The combination of humanitarian and global strategic concerns will make Pakistan a special case. A key question here of course is how aid donors might weigh the reasons for delivering greater assistance against the worsening security situation on the ground. In zones like Pakistan, the proportion of aid spending that will need to go towards paying for security – whether foreign contractors or local protection – will keep rising.
North Korea - as Lowy Institute analysts have written in the final chapter of 'Power and choice: Asian security futures', a strategic discontinuity on the Korean peninsula would be no great surprise. And it would more likely be the collapse or destabilisation of the North Korean regime than a reprise of the Korean War. There would be massive pressure for international intervention, including by the United States to secure North Korea's nuclear weapons, by regional powers, and of course by South Korea, to assist the population and restore order. The humanitarian crisis arising from North Korean regime collapse would include outflows of refugees, both into China and potentially into South Korea. If North Korea were on the verge of famine conditions at the time of this crisis -- a real possibility -- then the need for external assistance would be all the greater. Likely key donors in a Korea post crisis situation would include South Korea, the United States, China and Japan. Japan, unlikely to deploy troops for the stabilisation effort, would be called on instead to bankroll much of the aid effort, and this would have a profound impact on Japan's ability to sustain development assistance elsewhere in the world.
New post-conflict situations - it is highly likely that within the next decade there will be at least one new major sub-state or even regional armed conflict. Whether in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, Central Asia or the Asia-Pacific, this new conflict, and its post-conflict (or mid-conflict) reconstruction phase, would place new strains on development assistance budgets. In an age of saturation media, including social media, populations in developed countries might well be persuaded support aid to such new trouble zones, however briefly. Donor fatigue that had set in from old and enduring problems and conflicts might be set aside in place of responses, however short-lived, to big new catastrophes. And emerging powers and donors, such as China and India, might be motivated to focus some of their development assistance on the new conflict zones to enhance their own geopolitical influence and prestige.
In all of this, one complete wild card would be the use of a nuclear weapon. Some security experts are genuinely worried about the risk of nuclear use within the next 10-20 years, and we cannot simply dismiss this out of hand. Whether a terrorist attack or ‘localised’ nuclear exchange, for instance in an India-Pakistan conflict, dealing with the aftermath of nuclear use would be the kind of catastrophic event that could immediately become a top global humanitarian priority. Bringing relief, reconstruction and security to a zone affected by nuclear attack would pose barely imaginable challenges to the international aid community, the host authorities (if they continued to exist) and security forces.