Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 05:15:52 -0500 (CDT) From: Saskia Sassen <> Subject: OP ED: Entrapments Rich countries cannot escape


The attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon brings home more clearly than ever, that we cannot hide behind the walls of our peace and prosperity. The evidence has been growing--it is all over the place. But our leaders do not want to see it. It will take this horrific event today, with a current estimate of 10,000 people dead and large numbers of wounded. The horrors of other wars and other deaths far away in the global south simply do not register.

Globalization has not only facilitated the global flows of capital, goods, information and business people. It has also facilitated a variety of other entanglements. Intercontinental Anti Ballistic Shields cannot protect us from hijackers of commercial planes on domestic flights flying into commercial or military buildings. Powerful states cannot fully escape "bricolage" terrorism -- bombs spiced with carpenter nails, elementary nuclear devices, and "homemade" biological weapons. The growth of debt, unemployment, decline of traditional economic sectors, has fed an exploding illegal trade in people, largely directed to the rich countries. The diseases and pests present in many parts of the global south which we in the rich countries could forget about, are now increasingly here as well: tubercoliss is back in the US and typhoid fever in the UK, the encephalitis producing Nile mosquito has made its first appearance in the global north and so have a growing number of other pests and diseases. As governments become poorer they depend more and more on the remittances of immigrants in the global north and hence have little interest in the management of emigration and illegal trafficking. The pressures to be competitive make governments in poor countries cut their health, education and social budgets, thereby further delaying development and stimulating emigration and trafficking. In brief, the interdependencies are many and they are multiplying.

The growing interconnectedness of the world has given new meaning to old asymetries as well as creating new ones. The rising debt, poverty, and disease, in the global south are begining to reach deep into the rich countries. We can no longer turn our backs on all this misery as we so often have in the past. If we dislike humanitarian reasons for addressing these issues, we can opt for self-interest as a motivation.

After a decade of believing that markets could take care of more and more social domains, we must now accept that markets cannot take care of everything. In an era of privatisation and market rule we are facing the fact that governments will have to govern a bit more. But it cannot be a return to old forms --countries surrounding themselves with protective walls. It will take genuine multilateralism and internationalism, some radical innovations and new forms of collaboration with civil society and supranational institutions. The violence of hunger, poverty, decimation of once fertile lands, the oppression of weaker states by highly militarized ones, persecution--all of these feed a complex, slow but relentlessly moving spiral that moves into the global north. The global north has the resources and power to produce much of the damage and it has the resources to redress some of it.

Part of the challenge is to recognize the interconnectedness of forms of violence that we do not always recognize as being connected or for that matter, being forms of violence. We are suffering from a translation proble, it would seem. The language of poverty and misery is unclear, uncomfortable. The languge of the attacks to day is clear. No translation problem there.

Let me address two hotspots as a way of dissecting the nature of the challenges and identifying specific governance mechanisms: the debt trap in which a growing number of governments are caught, and immigration. Both of these will require innovations in our conceptions of governance. And both show that even as the world is more interconnected, we will need multiple specialized governance regimes in order to address the issues, rather than more overarching institutions.

The debt trap is far more significant than many in the global north recognize. The focus is always on the amounts of these debts which are indeed a small fraction of the overal global capital market now estimated at about 83 trillion dollars. There are at least two utilitarian reasons why rich countries should worry. Because it is not just about an endebted firm, but about a country, it will eventually entrap rich countries indirectly, via the explosion in illegal trafficking in people, in drugs, in arms, via the re-emergence of diseases we had thought were under control, the further devastation of our increasingly fragile eco-system. Secondly, the debt trap is entangling more and more countries and now has reached middle income countries. There are now about 50 countries recognized as hyper-indebted and unable to redress the situation. It is no longer a matter of loan repayment but a fundamental new structural condition which will require innovations in order to get these countries going.

The actual structure of these debts, their servicing and how they fit into debtor countries economies, suggest that most of these countries will not be able to pay this debt in full under current conditions. Debt service ratios to GNP in many of the HIPC countries exceed sustainable limits. What is often overlooked or little known is that many are far more extreme than what were considered unmanageable levels in the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s. Debt to GNP ratios are especially high in Africa, where they stood at 123%, compared with 42% in Latin America and 28% in Asia. The IMF asks HIPCs to pay 20 to 25% of their export earnings toward debt sevice. In contrast, in 1953 the Allies cancelled 80% of Germany's war debt and only insisted on 3 to 5% of export earnings debt service. These are also the terms asked from Central Europe after Communism.

A second governance hotspot concerns immigration and illegal trafficking. Both will grow partly becasue of the conditions described above. The growth of debt, poverty , unemployment, closing of traditional economic sectors, has fed an exploding illegal trade in people as well as created whole new migrations. As the rich economies become richer they become more desirable and as they raise their walls to keep immigrants and refugees out, they feed the illegal trade in people.

Yet even as the rich countries try harder and harder to keep would-be immigrants and refugees out, they face a growing demographic deficit and rapidly aging populations. According to a major study by the Austrian at the end of the current century, population size in Western Europe will have shrunk by 75 milllion (under current fertility and immigration patterns) and almost 50 percent will be over 60 years old --a first in its history. Where will they get the new young workers they need to support the growing elderly population and to do the unattractive jobs whose numbers are growing, some of which will involve home and institutional care for old people? Export of older people and of economic activities is one option being considered now.

But there is a limit to how many old people and low wage jobs you can export. It looks like immigration will be part of the solution. But the way the countries in the global north are proceeding is not preparing them to handle this. They are building walls to keep would-be immigrants out, thereby feeding illegal trafficking. At a time of growing refugee flows, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees faces an even greater shortage of funds than usual. This will also feed illegal trafficking of people. And anything that involves development of infrastructures for illegal trafficking will easily bring about an expansion and diversifying of illegal trafficking of all sorts, not just people, but also arms and drugs.

We will need regionally focused multilateral approaches involving the governments of both emigration and immigration countries, as well as a range of non-governmental actors, to develop the capacity to manage migration flows. This means recognizing that migration flows are part of how an interconnected world functions. The challenge that lies ahead will demand that all countries involved move beyond current conceptions of immigration policy in the receiving countries and that the governments of sending countries, notorious for their lack of involvement and indifference, join in this effort.

We may think that the debt and growing poverty in the global south may have nothing to do with today's violence in New York and Washington. They do. The attackes today are a language of last resort: the oppressed and persecuted have used many languages to reach us. We seem unable to translate the meaning of what they say. A few then take it into their hand to speak a language that needs no translation. That was the language used today. Saskia Sassen is the Ralph Lewis Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago. Her book The Global City has just appeared in a new edition with Princeton University Press.

Saskia Sassen Ralph Lewis Professor of Sociology The University of Chicago Social Science Research Building, Rm 323 1126 east 59th Street Chicago, IL 60637 Telephone: (773) 702 7279 Fax: (773) 702 4849 e-mail: