LEANING back from the dining-room table, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo drops his already-soft British-accented voice still lower. ``What really is security?'' he muses. ``Can we be secure when our adversaries are insecure? Shouldn't we now be considering security in terms of what we call common security - which makes you secure because your seeming adversary feels secure?''
``You cannot talk of peace without security,'' he adds. ``If you feel threatened, you are not going to really feel in harmony with your neighbor.''
As he speaks, the midmorning sunlight filters into a colleague's elegant Upper East Side apartment, where General Obasanjo stays on his frequent visits to New York. This morning, the man who in 1970 accepted the surrender of the Biafran forces in Nigeria's civil war is expanding on the importance of security for the 21st century.
It must be a security based not on military force, he says, but on disarmament.
``We definitely have to address the issue of disarmament in all its ramifications: nuclear [weapons], conventional weapons, chemical weapons,'' he says.
``This is an issue which, if we do not resolve it, will consume us.''
Some people ask, he says, why citizens of African nations should worry about nuclear disarmament.
``It does not matter in which part of the world we live, it does not matter in what condition we live in the world,'' he tells them; ``the issue of disarmament affects each and every one of us.''
``I believe that there are some things that we do not even know about the total effect of a world caught in a nuclear conflagration,'' he observes. From what we do know, he says, in such a situation ``no amount of medical services would be able to cope with the wounded, not to talk of the dead.''
Equally pressing, however, is the effect of armaments on a world not at war. ``The stockpiles of weapons - be they nuclear, chemical, or conventional - have a destabilizing effect for the security of the world,'' he says. ``And they have grave implications for our ability to address the serious economic situation of the revitalization of the world economy and of sustainable growth, of cooperation and development.''
He feels there are ``more than adequate'' resources in the world. ``It's just a question of distributing them fairly, reducing waste, [and] reducing excessive consumption.
``I'm not talking only in terms of international situations of North [the industrial nations] and South [the developing nations], as they are now called, but also in terms of the national North-and-South divide,'' he adds, explaining that ``just as you have the North-and-South divide within the world, [so also] within each nation you have a certain amount of North and South.'' Beyond nuclear arms `AND in almost every nation, the resources that have been diverted to armament ... could easily be diverted to reducing or eliminating the North-South divide - and of course the greater North-South divide internationally.''
The issue, for Obasanjo, reaches beyond nuclear armament. Just as important is the reduction of conventional weapons. That issue, he says, has particularly important implications ``within developing countries.''
``Since the end of the Second World War, more than 160 wars have been waged in different parts of the developing world. We have lost more lives and properties in these wars than [were] lost in the Second World War.''
If such ``senseless waste'' has not commanded the same kind of attention as nuclear disarmament, he says, that is only because these wars were thought of as ``far away in developing countries.''
Disarmament, then, is ``an issue that world leaders must address,'' because ``it concerns all of them.'' Needed, he says, is ``a new conception and a new idea of security - not in terms of how much we can outgun and outstockpile weapons against ourselves, but how much we can cooperate, how much we can understand ourselves, how much we can work together.''
How can such cooperation be achieved? The answer lies in what Obasanjo calls ``communication.''
``In spite of the technological development in the field of communication,'' he notes, ``we are still not communicating enough - especially the political leadership. It is sad commentary for how much we have not developed human instinct beyond the base level [of] many centuries back.
``For five years the leaders of the two superpowers completely cut off communication at the political level between themselves. Yet we can talk to people on the moon - [and] we can talk to any [place] in the world today instantaneously.
``I think this is one thing that has to improve. The facilities are there, the technology has been provided. It's just a question of us using the technology to communicate, to understand ourselves through communication, and to be able to put ourselves across to ourselves in a way that we will be able to cooperate and reduce threat [and] fear.
``I don't believe that any human being is absolutely and completely evil,'' he says. ``There must be some good in him. Why don't we, through communication, find out what are the other man's fears, hopes, aspirations?'' `Three-in-one' challenge `WE will not know about ourselves only through spies [and] satellites,'' he says. ``We will know more about ourselves through communications.''
Along with the disarmament-communication issue, the other major topic on Obasanjo's agenda is something he describes as ``three in one'': environmental protection, population control, and the redistribution of resources.
He says the problem of the environment, is ``almost as bad as the problem of disarmament, because it knows no national frontier or regional limit. It will encompass all of us, it will affect all of us. And in the end, we may all be destroyed piecemeal by it.
``Again, it is an issue that requires concerted effort of political leaders all over over the world. ``I believe that God or the Maker of the world, as a great artist, created the world with [an] adequate balance of what is required for us to enjoy this world - and that human beings [have begun to] disrupt the balance. The implications for us in the coming century are very serious, maybe disastrous.''
Here again, he notes, ``there is sufficient resource availability to be able to redress adequately the degradation of the environment.'' The problem, however, is ``tied up inextricably'' with the problem of population growth.
``I'm not saying that the population of the world now is too much for the world. There are, of course, areas where the population is slightly heavier than other places. But as I said, the resources of earth are adequate - if only we are able to ensure some form of redistribution.''
Nevertheless, he insists, population-control measures are essential. The problem is that ``where population is rising fastest is where people are the poorest.''
``It's like self-destruction. Unless you have a way that [population] is put under control, whatever else you want to do - redistribution of resources and all that - will just not make any impact.'' People and prosperity `I BELIEVE it can be done. Population control has of course happened in the developed world.''
``The economic factor,'' he says, is a ``major factor of bringing about population control'' - noting, as many demographers have, the correlation between rising economic prosperity and falling birthrates. But Obasanjo insists that economic improvement must go hand in hand with education.
``Where the education is there, the economic factor helps,'' he says. But where there is no development of education, he warns, efforts to improve economic prosperity will not in themselves have the desired effect.
What, then, of Africa's role in the 21st century?
The danger, as Obasanjo sees it, is of the rest of the world ignoring Africa - and of Africa's ``going the way it's going'' at present.
At the time of independence from colonial rule, he recalls, both Africans and outsiders had ``great expectations'' that the new nations would be able to ``manage [their] own affairs.''
``The expectations were unrealized on both sides,'' he recalls. ``Africans had their hopes dashed - partly through the fault of their own leadership, and partly [through] the fault of the world in which they lived.''
In addition, outsiders who expected a ``new giant'' to rise from his ``slumber'' saw, instead, ``this giant really sleeping and not waking up. And then, of course, they said, `Well, look, we might as well leave this giant there to continue its slumber.'''
The result, he says, is that ``Africa continues to be seen as the [continent] of drought, famine, civil wars - [a place] which can be ignored and which in fact substantially has been ignored.''
But ``if peace is indivisible,'' says Obasanjo, then ``for as long as Africa continues to be ignored, in fact that may be the tension, the major area of conflict in the 21st century.'' African outlooks IN such circumstances, he says, there could be an increase of conflicting interests in Africa by the developed world - particularly the United States, the Soviet Union, and Europe. ``And then you have the possibility of real, serious catastrophe - in terms of human suffering, in terms of violent conflict, in terms of a retrogression in development.''
These things, however, ``are factors that can be reversed if the world can collectively take care of resource distribution, population control, and control of the environment.''
``If Africa becomes a positive contributor to peace, security, economic cooperation, [and] economic development in the world,'' he says, then ``that part of the world will to a large extent cease to be a destabilizing factor in the equation of international peace and security.''
Improvements in African living standards, he adds, ``will have implications for America, Europe, the socialist bloc, and the third world as a whole. With more position and power, Africa can then contribute more meaningfully, more actively, and more positively to the economic progress of the world through world trade.''
The result, he predicts, will be ``more cohesion in Africa itself.'' A continent that currently has ``54 countries or thereabouts'' will, in the 21st century, ``probably consolidate to not more than five or six countries that can really be able to do the planning, the working, and the effective implementation of [Africa's] development and its cooperation with the rest of the world.'' `We have to coalesce' THAT will require, he says, ``serious rethinking on the boundaries that we inherited from the colonial powers.'' Asked whether history provides any examples of such consolidation among nations, he points to the European Community - and to the early history of the United States. He concedes that such a consolidation will not be easy. But he adds that ``I have no doubt in my mind that we will have to address [this issue] at one time or another - in the next century, if not in this.''
But wouldn't tribal ties and nationalistic feelings interfere with such changes?
``When you talk of the tribalism,'' he says, ``that hasn't worried me much. Over the past 25 years there have been internal conflicts in Africa. But no country has really broken into two. In spite of [the conflicts], they all realize, at the end of the day, the value of living together.''
He predicts a movement in Africa away from what he calls the ``politics of ethnicity'' to the ``politics of nationalism . . . and resource creation.''
And ultimately, he says, ``we will see that we have to coalesce, we have to come together.''
Next: Amitai Etzioni, American sociologist, April 3.
General with a world view
``I call myself a chicken farmer,'' says Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria's former head of state. ``Some of my friends don't like that,'' he adds with a laugh, ``but some do!''
His farming, however, is no laughing matter. Turning over the reins of his military government to civilian rule in 1979, General Obasanjo turned to agriculture with uncommon zeal: He now keeps some 200,000 layers and 400,000 broilers on his acreage near the city of Abeokuta, Nigeria. ``I was born and bred on a farm,'' he says, noting that Nigeria, whose economy has been severely jolted by the fall in oil prices, needs to return to the agricultural self-sufficiency it enjoyed before independence.
Obasanjo was educated at Abeokuta Baptist High School and at Mons Officer Cadet School in Britain. After joining the Nigerian Army in 1958, he served in the Congo (now Zaire) in 1960, later commanding a commando division during the Nigerian Civil War. As head of state he was credited with helping to promote discipline and moderation in Nigerian society.
Now he is increasingly involved in international affairs. With former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, he co-chaired the Commonwealth mission to South Africa (known as the Eminent Persons Group) which last summer visited South Africa and made recommendations to the 49-member Commonwealth. A staunch supporter of the United Nations, he is often mentioned as a successor to Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar. ``The secretary-generalship of the United Nations is not a thing that you apply for,'' he says with a chuckle, although ``if it comes my way ... I would regard it as a duty.''