Biggest Challenges

The Three Biggest Challenges Facing the International Community & How They Affect International Relations

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In my opinion, the three biggest challenges facing the international community are:


Terrorism, and

Nuclear Proliferation

These challenges have assumed crucial importance in recent times and have significantly affected international relations. If the international community fails to tackle these issues satisfactorily over the next few decades, they may become uncontrollable with overwhelming consequences for the whole world. This essay looks briefly at these three issues in turn and explains how they affect the current and future international relations.


Economic and social inequality has assumed grotesque proportions in recent times and the indications are that it is on the rise. For example, the richest 1% in the world (50 million people) have income equivalent to the poorest 57% (2.6 billion people) and four fifths of the world’s population live below what countries in North America and Europe consider the poverty line. The rising trend of income inequality is reflected in the fact that “the share of the poorest 20% of the world’s people in global income now stands at a miserable 1.1%, down from 1.4% in 1991 and 2.3% in 1960.” (“Inequality” — World

According to a senior World Bank Economist, Branko Milanovic, who carried out a wide-ranging study on global inequality in 2002, such huge levels of inequality breeds great resentment among the poor and “ultimately, the rich may have to live in gated communities while the poor roam the world outside those few enclaves.” (Quoted by Elliot and Denny) What is more, the problem of inequality is by no means confined to income inequality alone and gets reflected in a number of other social indicators as well. Infant mortality figures show that the number of children who die at the time of childbirth is twenty times higher in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia than in the rich industrial countries; in most poor countries, only half of the children of secondary school age are enrolled in schools, which compares with 100% for the developed countries. Another important area — that of “Internet access” shows similar disparity with 163 Internet host sites per 1000 people in the United States, compared to only 0.31 Internet host sites in Africa. (World Bank and UNDP figures quoted in “World Inequality”)

Surprisingly many people, especially in the developed world, are unconcerned about such high (and growing) levels of inequality and tend to believe that poor people deserve their lowly status due to their “laziness,” “low IQs” or lack of ability. For selfish reasons alone, the rich ought to be more concerned (if not positively alarmed) at the growing inequality because people in the developing countries are acutely of the opulent lifestyle of the rich and it creates resentment among them. It also creates a desire among the poor in the third world to migrate to countries of affluence and when barriers are created to stop such immigration, more resentment is created.

If we explore the reasons behind the increasing inequality between the rich and the poor countries we shall find the unequal rules of globalization to be a major cause. For example, while information and capital is allowed to move freely between countries in a globalized world, movement of labor (immigration) is restricted. Free trade rules implemented by organizations such as WTO force the developing countries to open up their markets to imports but the rich countries continue to subsidize their agricultural sector, which keeps the prices of primary commodities depressed. Such continuing inequality is clearly unsustainable and is likely to create a situation in which the developed and the developing countries would take increasingly antagonistic positions creating perpetual global tensions and instability.


The devastating terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 has brought the issue of terrorism to the center stage of international politics and exposed the vulnerability of soft civilian targets to a small but determined group of terrorists. The immediate reaction of the U.S. administration was to change its foreign policy previously based on containment and deterrence to one that favors pre-emptive strikes, unilateralism, and an active promotion of U.S.-style democracy. The resultant invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq by the U.S., however, have not ended or even lessened terrorism; global terrorism, in fact, threatens to escalate.

If we examine the history and causes of terrorism, we would find that it has always been “a weapon of the weak against the strong” and it is often the result of real or perceived grievances rising out of political oppression, cultural domination, economic exploitation or religious persecution. Most of the terrorist attacks in recent times, including the 911 attacks, were carried out by Islamic terrorist groups. They are driven by a deep sense of frustration and anger at the United States in particular for its consistent support for Israel; its tacit approval of the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians; and the cultural domination of the Americans in a globalized world that threatens to undermine the deeply conservative Islamic cultural values. (Marjorie 25-26)

Subsequent U.S. military action against Afghanistan and Iraq and its threatening noises against Iran and Syria (all Islamic countries

) have further reinforced the impression among Muslims that the United States’ “War on Terror” is exclusively targeted towards Islamic countries. This has created great unease among Muslims around the world and provides the Islamic terrorists with huge potential support.

To my mind, therefore, the international community in general and the U.S. In particular are losing the War on Terrorism. In order to tackle the problem of Islamic terrorism more effectively, the U.S., as the sole super-power in the world has to take a more even-handed approach when tackling international disputes such as the Palestinian problem. It must support and strengthen international institutions such as the United Nations and the International Court of Justice instead of undermining them. Most of all, it must dispel the impression that its “War on Terror” is not directed exclusively against the Islamic and take concrete steps to ensure the closing of the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots. Only then would the sense of injustice and outrage which breeds terrorism begin to dissipate.

Nuclear Proliferation

Nuclear proliferation is another issue that threatens to spin out of control of the international community and become a potential nightmare for the world.

Thirty-five years after the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) came into effect, it is considered outdated and irrelevant because the nuclear arms race seems unstoppable and nuclear terrorism has become an increasing possibility. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, while inaugurating the 5-yearly UN Conference to review the treaty has said, “The plain fact is that the regime has not kept pace with the march of technology and globalization, and developments of many kinds in recent years have placed it under great stress.” (“No Nukes Treaty-Out of Date”)

In recent times the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty has faced direct setbacks such as the pursuit of nuclear weapons programs by several “rogue” states, the evidence about international nuclear smuggling rings and the threat of global terrorist networks seeking weapons of mass destruction. As if this was not enough, North Korea kicked out inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from their country in December 2002; withdrew from the NPT the following month and later claimed to have made atom bombs.

The underlying problem that plagues nuclear non-proliferation, however, is the hypocrisy of the major nuclear power — the U.S. itself. In 1970, when the treaty was first signed, potential nuclear powers agreed not to seek atomic weapons in exchange for a commitment from the five original nuclear states — China, France, Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union — to eventually eliminate nuclear weapons. This has not prevented the Bush administration from pursuing an active research program on the excuse that the previous commitments did not reflect a post-9/11 world and the enhanced threat of terrorism. The world has seen that non-nuclear powers have no protection against unilateral action by the world’s sole super power if it chooses to attack them. It happened to Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, Serbia over Kosovo in 1999, and more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq. They have also noticed that while the U.S. threatens Iran with belligerence over its alleged nuclear program, it is more cautious with North Korea that may already possess nukes.


As a result, several countries around the world, which have nuclear-armed foes or are apprehensive of America’s unilateralism, have every incentive to pursue a nuclear weapons program, making the chance of an accidental nuclear war or acquiring of WMDs by terrorists ever more likely. The nuclear proliferation issue is in fact so critically serious that it may not just “affect” international relations in future but may “eliminate” them forever by ending the world as we know it.

Works Cited

Cohn, Marjorie. “Understanding, Responding to and Preventing Terrorism.” Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ) (2002): 25+.

Eland, Ivan. “Bush Administration Bluster Exacerbates Nuclear Proliferation.” The Independent Institute. May 2, 2005. May 3, 2005.

Elliott, Larry and Charlotte Denny. “Top 1% earn as much as the poorest 57%.” Guardian Unlimited. January 18, 2002. May 3, 2005.

“Inequality.” World 2005. May 3, 2005.

“World inequality.” BBC News. June 18, 2002. May 3, 2005.

The poorest countries depend on the export of primary commodities (food an raw material) for most of their income

President Bush’s remark in the wake of 911 attacks about the U.S. being on a “crusade” did not help either

Even in Islamic countries with pro-U.S. governments such as Pakistan and Egypt, the public opinion is largely anti-American.

The commitment was reaffirmed in 2000

The U.S. also looked the other way when more friendly powers such as Israel, India and Pakistan developed their nuclear weapons