The Most Dangerous Continent

Moisãƒâ©S Naãƒâ­M, The Atlantic
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Moisés Naím, The Atlantic
Oct. 17, 2013, 12:02 p.m.

Some prob­lems travel well. Some­times too well. Fin­an­cial crashes have taught us that in some cases what starts as a very loc­al eco­nom­ic prob­lem quickly es­cal­ates and be­comes a glob­al crisis. Think Greece — or more re­cently Cyprus. And we know that ter­ror­ism also has a way of go­ing glob­al in un­pre­dict­able and dan­ger­ous ways.

But what about re­gions? Which con­tin­ents are more prone to in­fect the rest of the world with their prob­lems? Africa and Lat­in Amer­ica’s woes, for ex­ample, re­main mostly in­su­lated. Of course, the mass emig­ra­tion of Afric­ans to Europe and Lat­in Amer­ic­ans to the United States is an ex­ample of how one con­tin­ent’s prob­lems spill over in­to an­oth­er, but this con­ta­gion has had much less of an im­pact than the eco­nom­ic crisis in the U.S. or Europe, for ex­ample. Mil­lions of people all over the world, and es­pe­cially in Europe, are still pay­ing the con­sequences for that fin­an­cial earth­quake.

The point is that the prob­lems of some con­tin­ents are more ‘sys­tem­ic’ than oth­ers. This is to say that the ag­on­ies of some re­gions af­fect the en­tire world, no mat­ter how far away they are. The ques­tion, then, is: Which of the five con­tin­ents is bound to spread more un­hap­pi­ness in the fu­ture?

One way to an­swer is to think about which threats travel the easi­est and with no trouble skirt bor­ders, for­ti­fic­a­tions, or the pub­lic policies that we naïvely be­lieve pro­tect us. An eco­nom­ic crash in China, for ex­ample, is bound to be felt every­where and by every­one.

Nor may we be able to dodge the con­sequences of the nuc­le­ar ex­per­i­ments of a young, in­ex­per­i­enced North Korean tyr­ant. So, which con­tin­ent is the most dan­ger­ous? Asia. This may sur­prise those who see the ‘Asi­an eco­nom­ic mir­acle’ as a mod­el for the rest of the world. Or those who think that con­di­tions in the Middle East are ripe for a lengthy and rising wave of armed con­flicts, re­li­gious rad­ic­al­iz­a­tion and in­ter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism. All this is true.

But the prob­lems that ori­gin­ate in Asia will prove more and more com­plic­ated, as their already gi­gant­ic eco­nom­ies con­tin­ue to grow, al­beit at a slower pace than in the last sev­er­al dec­ades.

The main threats to hu­man­ity today are: 1) cli­mate change; 2) nuc­le­ar pro­lif­er­a­tion; 3) the out­break of a dis­ease with no known cure that spreads across the globe claim­ing a large num­ber of vic­tims; 4) glob­al eco­nom­ic crises and, of course, 5) an armed con­flict between two or more mil­it­ary powers, such as China and In­dia, for ex­ample. Of course, there are oth­er threats: ter­ror­ism, the in­creased scarcity of wa­ter, crim­in­al­ized gov­ern­ments, struc­tur­al un­em­ploy­ment, and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of failed states. But none of these would gen­er­ate the co­lossal con­sequences of the five I list.

Asia is the re­gion with the most coun­tries that have the po­ten­tial to cre­ate and spread these five prob­lems. The much cel­eb­rated eco­nom­ic suc­cess of the ‘Asi­an ti­gers’ ob­scures the fact that this con­tin­ent is also home to the prin­cip­al threats to glob­al sta­bil­ity.

Ac­cord­ing to the Asi­an De­vel­op­ment Bank, Asia is on the path to double its con­sump­tion of oil, triple its use of nat­ur­al gas, and see an 81 per­cent in­crease in its use of high pol­lut­ing coal, speed­ing up and doub­ling its car­bon di­ox­ide (CO2) emis­sions by 2035. Asia alone, then, would be emit­ting the total amount of CO2 that ex­perts have cal­cu­lated to be the max­im­um sus­tain­able level for the en­tire plan­et.

Asia is also the con­tin­ent with the greatest pro­lif­er­a­tion of nuc­le­ar weapons. These cap­ab­il­it­ies are present in high-risk coun­tries like North Korea and Pakistan, which also hap­pen to be those that have shown no qualms in selling their nuc­le­ar tech­no­logy to the highest bid­der.

Many of the world’s longest-last­ing armed con­flicts are found in Asia. From Afgh­anistan to Sri Lanka and from Kash­mir to the un­end­ing armed in­sur­gen­cies in In­done­sia and the Phil­ip­pines, wars are routine. Asia is also marked by the most ex­plos­ive bor­ders in the world: China and In­dia, Pakistan and In­dia, and between the two Koreas.

From Asia came the avi­an bird flu pan­dem­ic. While the mor­tal­it­ies proved lower than feared, the world was aler­ted to Asia’s po­ten­tial to rap­idly spread dis­ease across the globe.

Are these ac­ci­dents and Asia-ori­gin­ated prob­lems in­ev­it­able? Of course not. But they are un­for­tu­nately more im­port­ant and ur­gent than is­sues that more fre­quently ab­sorb the world’s at­ten­tion.

Re­prin­ted with per­mis­sion from the At­lantic. The ori­gin­al story can be found here.

What We're Following See More »
Pai Officially Announces Intent to Scrap Net Neutrality Rules
1 hours ago
Conyers Denies Settling Harassment Claims
1 hours ago
Mugabe Resigns, Ending Impeachment Debate
1 hours ago
White House to End TPS Program
2 hours ago

"The Trump administration is ending a humanitarian program that has allowed some 59,000 Haitians to live and work in the United States since an earthquake ravaged their country in 2010, Homeland Security officials said on Monday. Haitians with what is known as Temporary Protected Status will be expected to leave the United States by July 2019 or face deportation. ... About 320,000 people now benefit from the Temporary Protected Status program, which was signed into law by President George Bush in 1990."

Federal Judge Blocks Sanctuary Cities Order
2 hours ago

"A federal judge on Monday permanently blocked President Donald Trump's executive order to cut funding from cities that limit cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities. U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick rejected the administration's argument that the executive order applies only to a relatively small pot of money and said Trump cannot set new conditions on spending approved by Congress. The judge had previously made the same arguments in a ruling that put a temporary hold on the executive order."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.