RUSI Whitehall Report: Global inequality poses a growing threat to security in a globalised world

Inequality between, and within, states poses an increasing security threat in our globalised world; and the United Kingdom, as one of the most globalised societies, is increasingly vulnerable to growing global inequality - according to a new Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) report.

WHP70Exploring the links between insecurity and inequality within states, the new report (published Wednesday 18 June 2008), calls for the UK’s foreign and security policies to promote an ‘increasing focus on inequality’ working through the UN, EU and other international organisations.

While international attention in recent years has focused on the gap in development between the developed world and developing states, the RUSI Whitehall Report 'Global Inequality and Security Policy: A British Perspective', argues that inequality within states deserves equal, if not greater, attention as an obstacle to poverty reduction and political stability. The effects of extreme inequality in developing countries, it argues, include increased levels of violent criminality and armed conflict. Both pose serious risks to developed countries, including the UK.

The combination of widening inequality and intensified globalisation over the last three decades has seen a notable worsening of internal inequalities across most of the world’s regions. Growing income inequality within major trading partners in the developing world (especially, but not only, China) could, if not halted, undermine the UK’s ability to reduce poverty at home. The UK therefore has a clear interest in equitable economic development in major trading partners.

UK Government security and development agendas are becoming increasingly interdependent, with Afghanistan (for example) being the UK's largest operational military deployment, as well as one of the biggest recipients of development aid. Yet, even without direct military involvement, conflict in developing countries often leads to significant direct costs for the UK, including increased demands for humanitarian assistance and substantial refugee flows. It can also involve significant lost opportunities for trade and investment for UK businesses and workers. In the Niger delta, for example, rebellions (driven by deeply skewed access to economic resources) have led to sharp reductions in planned oil and gas output, with consequent revenue losses for both Nigeria and international companies (including Shell).

Report author Professor Malcolm Chalmers, an expert on international politics and security at RUSI and former Special Adviser to UK Foreign Secretaries Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett said:

“The openness of UK society means that the greatest security challenges of our time are essentially transnational in character. Global inequality is one of those challenges. There is much that the UK can do to protect itself from extreme inequality elsewhere, investing in education and social assistance for the vulnerable, strengthening its borders, and challenging the transnational appeal of extremist ideologies. But without action to address the phenomenon of growing inequality directly, protective policies can have only partial success.

“In recent years, concern over growing inequality has been blunted by high levels of global economic growth. Yet, this success may not continue forever. If leading states are to avoid a retreat into nationalism and protectionism, they will have to offer other ways of responding to increasing inequality.

“The UK is in a good position to help shape international responses to the overarching, and interconnected, challenges posed by extreme inequalities, conflict and globalisation. In contrast to the defining threats of previous ages, none of these challenges can be met primarily by military force. Nor is action by governments, even acting together, sufficient.

“Tackling extreme inequalities, in particular, requires a broad coalition of actors, from international organisations through to businesses and non-governmental organisations. The UK can make a significant contribution to such a coalition, as shown by its recent record of leadership on international development (especially in sub-Saharan Africa) and climate change.

“As one of the most internationalised of the world’s major powers, the UK is more ready than most to acknowledge the need for fundamental strengthening of global institutions. As a country whose historical stability is grounded on liberty and equality, it is in a good position to understand that global stability must also be based on both of these fundamental values.”


  1. RUSI is an independent think-tank for defence and security. RUSI is a unique institution; founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington, it embodies nearly two centuries of forward thinking, free discussion and careful reflection on defence and security matters.
  2. This Whitehall Report is available for purchase at:
  3. Professor Chalmers will be available for interview on Tuesday 17 June and Wednesday 18 June. All bids to come through Daniel Sherman, 020 7747 2617 or 07917 373 069 or
  4. Malcolm Chalmers is Professorial Fellow at RUSI. He is also Professor of International Politics at the University of Bradford, and was recently Special Adviser to UK Foreign Secretaries Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett. He has previously been a visiting researcher at Stanford University and IISS, and chair of SaferWorld. He has written widely on UK security policy, international burden sharing, arms control and conflict prevention.
  5. This report is one of RUSI’s Whitehall Papers which provide subscribers with in-depth studies of specific developments, issues or themes in the field of national and international defence and security. Published by the Taylor & Francis Group, Whitehall Papers reflect the highest standards of original research and analysis, and are invaluable background material for policy makers and specialists alike.
  6. For any other media enquiries please contact Daniel Sherman 020 7747 2617 or 07917 373 069 or


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