The author analyses the current stage in history, marked by a lack of global governance. There is little hope of achieving this in the short term as we are undergoing a period of transition.
This text, that sets out to unravel the world’s chaos, describes some eight gaps to be filled. On this path towards global governance, international relations has emerged as a new and significant reality.
It is unlikely that global governance will be achieved in the short-term. The only viable long term plan is to encourage a discussion to establish common values shared by most of humankind.
Ultimately, the author proposes that if we are to achieve real and lasting global governance, the debate will have to revert to core values on which to base our coexistence.
As conflicts proliferate around the world it becomes increasingly evident that we are going through a period in history marked by a lack of global governance. Calls, meetings, and acronyms multiply due to the many attempts towards achieving a new equilibrium. From the G7 to G8 and G20, the BRICS, G2 and Chindia (China and India) not to mention the many regional Asian, African, Latin American blocks.
Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has reported that in 2013 the number of refugees has reached the blood curdling figure of 51 million people. We are near the trauma of the Second World War when the number of refugees was calculated to be 55 million.
This means that although we are not in an officially declared Third World War, conflicts throughout the world are reaching a level not seen since 1944.
Of course, for the vast majority these are but mere daily news, local events that will never become of international importance, even though arms expenditure everywhere and above all in Russia, China and Japan should not be ignored. The United Nations General Secretary, Ban Ki Moon, broke his proverbial silence, born out of caution and the fragile balances that exist, to express his regret over the 17,000 nuclear artefacts and not one of them has been dismantled.
Any careful analysis of the place in history we now find ourselves in does not cast a positive light on global governance in the near future. The fact is that we are at a point of transition. Nevertheless it is difficult to tell where it is we are going. Gramsci, the Italian thinker, said in his ?Letters from Prison? that when one goes through a period of transition there will be many monsters before one arrives on dry land.
The first fundamental problem that tends to be ignored is, as Zbigniew Brzezinski said as Security Advisor for Jimmy Carter, that the Cold War had frozen the world artificially and the underlying conflicts would resurface with increased force. This statement was considered disproportionate in a world which looked forward to the cementing of peace, disarmament and international co-operation, as a result of the end of the Cold War.
In 1992 a book by Francis Fukuyama ?The End of History? was widely acclaimed. It stated that the disappearance of the Soviet Union and Communism heralded a world forever without tensions, ruled by a motivating organically developed political and economic vision, that of capitalism.
In 1993, Riccardo Roggero , Director General of the World Trade Organisation said in the IPALMO conference in Milan that the world is now divided in three economic blocks: Europe, which is a power that needs to open up to the rest, United States, which is already on its way to unifying the continent through NAFTA, Asia which with ASEAN opens the way to regional integration. Africa is left out for the moment, but it is not important as it only represents 4% of world trade. This world market will have a single currency. There will be no more wars. And the benefits of globalisation will rain on the whole of the world up to the last individual and such wealth will be created that the old development theories could not have dreamed of.
The Endless War
The high after the West`s victory of the Cold War, the Washington Consensus and all the illusions have evaporated. In November it will be the 25th anniversary of the bringing down of the Berlin Wall. Incidentally the term globalization appears after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nobody, including Roggiero, would give such a speech today. Everybody realizes that the problems are not only multiple and complex, but there is a growing awareness that many of them are not going to be solved without outside intervention and they will only be solved once the very forces in conflict find the solution themselves.
The idea that the dominant all powerful force will intervene in areas of conflict with the use of force to impose democracy and peace has been found resoundingly frustrated just this decade. The truth is we have to brace ourselves for a long period of world instability, which cannot be put to right just through the use of arms.
Therefore, in order to understand the world`s disorder, a quick summary of the faults which come from old might be of help. Undoubtedly each one of the points would require to be discussed at greater length as it covers many angles and problems. Thus this should not be taken to be a definitive or complete list, but a work tool for the further development of this text.
1) The world as we know it today was shaped to a great extent by the Colonial Powers, which divided the world among themselves, carving countries with no consideration towards their ethnic realities, religions and cultures. This was particularly true in Africa and in the Arab world where the idea of a State replaced tribes and clans.
To mention just a few examples none of the present Arab countries existed previously. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Gulf States (including Saudi Arabia) were all part of the Ottoman Empire. When it disappeared after the First World War together with the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and German Empires, the victorious British and French sat at a table and drew the borders between countries to be dominated by them, as they had done before with Africa.
So these States should never be seen as equivalent to countries with a solid national identity. Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Qatar, The United Arab Emirates, Saudi-Arabia, etc. are the creation of two diplomats; Monsieur Fran?ois Georges-Picot and Sir Mark Sykes, who in 1916 and with Russian consent, proceeded to carve up the Ottoman Empire into two zones of influence creating countries, crowning Kings and naming Sheiks.
2) At the end of the Colonial period, in order to keep these artificial countries alive it became necessary to bring in a strong man to cover the vacuum left behind by the Colonial Powers. With very few exceptions, the rules of Democracy were solely used to gain power. Africa has still to emerge from this stage. The Arab Spring produced dictators and substitute autocrats to be replaced by nothing but chaos by warring factions (as in Libya) or by a new autocrat, as in Egypt.
There are good lessons to be learnt from Yugoslavia. After the Second World War Marshal Tito dismantled the Kingdom of Yugoslavia composed of six nations; Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, which were dominated by the Serbian Royal House since 1929. Under the formula of a Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and with an iron hand the Croatian Slovenian Josip Broz-Tito was successful in forging a union among Republics with equal rights which was also extended to the autonomous Magyar Region, Vojvodina, The Skipetar (Albanian) and Region of Kosovo-Metohija. This marked the end of fealty to the Serbian Crown. Notwithstanding Yugoslavia did not survive the death of its leader.
The lesson is that without the creation of a truly participatory process which unites the citizenship, with a strong civil society, local identities always play a determining role. So it will not be any time soon that many of the new countries will be able to be considered truly on their way to real democracy.
3) Since the Second World War and the decolonization process, the meddling of the Colonial Powers and of the Superpowers in the process of consolidation of new countries are a good example of the Western illusion of being able to instate Democracy and progress by force.
In the case of Iraq, after the 2003 invasion, when the USA took over the country’s administration, it named General Jay Garner as Iraq?s regent. Garner carried out his job for a month as he was deemed too open to the opinions of the locals. For this reason he was replaced by a diplomat, Jan Bremmer, who took up office after a two hour briefing with the then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Bremmer ordered the immediate disbanding of the army (thus creating 250,000 unemployed) and sacked all state workers members of Saddam’s Ba?ath Party, which destabilized the country and the present chaotic situation is a direct result of this decision. Many of these elements now form part of the fundamentalist Sunni Army.
The Iraqi Premi?re, Nauri al-Maliki, who Washington has managed to change considering him the cause of the polarization between Shiites and Sunnis, got to power by being the preferred candidate of the Unites States. Now Washington has decided to substitute him. The new Premi?re Haider al-Abadi, also imposed by the Unites States, is thought to be more open to dialogue with the Sunnis. Meanwhile the Kurds, also enjoying certain backing from the USA, have created their own region and the possibility that Iraq will be divided into three zones becomes increasingly real.
The situation is identical in the case of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He is also a Washington favourite who has become a fervent anti-American. It is a tradition which dates back to the American involvement in Vietnam, where Ngo Dihn Dien was installed and later turned against his American protectors until he was assassinated.
There is no room here for further examples of mistakes committed by other western Powers (albeit on a smaller scale). But there is a constant; leaders installed from abroad do not last long and they are destabilizing.
4) We are all witnesses to the religious struggles and extremism of Islam as a growing threat and worry. Few make the effort to understand why thousands of youths are willing to blow themselves up. There is a marked correlation between lack of development and unemployment with religious unrest. In Asia’s Muslim countries (Arab Muslims are less than 20% of world Muslims) extremism hardly exists. Few know that the Shiite and Sunni struggles are financed by countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iraq, and that the Syrian civil war is in fact a war sustained by foreign forces.
These religious variants have lived side to side for centuries and they are now fighting a war for power, and Syria is an example. Saudi Arabia has been financing the Salafi Movement everywhere. It is the most puritan form of Islam which leads back to Sunnism. They have supported the new Egyptian autocrat, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, with nearly 2 billion dollars because he is combating the Muslim Brotherhood, which preaches for the end of Kings and sheikh and giving power to the people.
Iraq is also turning into a war for power between Saudi Arabia for the Sunnis and Iran for the Shiites.
So, when looking at these religious wars, who is behind them must always be considered. Religions usually turn into conflicts only if they are used. We have only to see European history where religious wars were invented by the Kings and fought by the people. Of course, once the genie is out of the bottle it will take a long time for it to go back in again. So this set of problems will be with us for some time yet.
5) The end of the Cold War thawed the world which until then was in a stable balance pending between the two Superpowers. From then we came into a multi-polar world which does not show signs of integration. Attempts to create stabilizing regional or international alliances have always been betrayed by national interests.
The best example of this is Europe. Although the whole world is talking about Crimea, Ukraine and Vladimir Putin (who has become paranoid about the Western Boundary from George Bush Junior?s government onwards) and how to make them listen to the United States and Europe, European Companies carry on trading in spite of the hype about embargo.
And now, undaunted, Austria has signed an agreement with Russia for their connection to the Southern Gas-line that will supply Russian gas to Europe.
This is the ultimate example of the lack of unity that ails Europe which has been desperately demanding a reduction in its fuel dependency on Russia.
In fact, Europe as such does not negotiate in the international arena. Great Britain, France and Germany still have their own foreign policy without paying the slightest regard to Brussels. And it is no coincidence that the EU’s high offices are occupied by individuals of reputation but who lack charisma and popularity.
6) In an increasingly divided world as a result of the resurfacing of national interests the very thought of relinquishing areas of sovereignty for a common government is losing force and not only in Europe. The United Nations has lost its significance in the area of convergence and creating legitimacy. The two engines of globalization, trade and banking, are outside the realm of the UN which was left with the issues of development, peace, human rights, the environment, education, and so forth. Although they are crucial for a viable world they are not seen as such by those who hold power. The United Nations slips away into irrelevance.
7) At the same time, values and ideas that were universally recognized such as co-operation, mutual help, social justice, and peace as a comprehensive paradigm are also becoming irrelevant.
The French President, Francois Hollande, met with his American equal Barack Obama, not to discuss how to stop the genocide in Sudan, or rescue the girls kidnapped in Nigeria, but to ask him to intervene in his Ministry of Justice to reduce a giant fine imposed on the French Bank Bas NPB-Paris for indulging in fraudulent activities.
The major outstanding issues, Climate Change and Nuclear Disarmament, were virtually absent during the last G-7 summit even though they represent the two greatest threats to the planet.
8) After the end of Colonialism and the totalitarian regimes, after the Second World War the new international course of action was ?the implementation of Democracy?. So much so that after the end of the Cold War democracy was seen by most of humanity as a Universal value already acquired. But, in fact, in the last 20 years, Representative Democracy has been losing its appeal. Pragmatism has led to a loss of long term vision and politics has become merely administrative. This is a subject we would like to develop.
A Democracy where Few Take Decisions
The yearning for democracy as a universal value did not just originate in the West. The African and Latin American elites and part of Asia shared the same aspiration. The modern political parties had formed following strong international structures (The Socialist International, International Christian Democratic Union, International Liberalism), which were rally points for debates on world visions. Willy Brandt and Nyerere, Kennedy and Mandela, Adenauer and Frei, Rumor and Caldera, most probably had read the same books and apart from a political community they had an intellectual relationship.
There is nothing left of this community. Chancellor Merkel and South African President Jacob Zuma probably have very little reading in common, like Obama and Kirchner or Prime Minister Cameron and the new Indian Premiere Narendra Modi. Political Leaders work increasingly to solve local administrative and economic difficulties, and less and less to solve global problems.
The community, now extinct, made the United Nations an important place for convergence and policy creation. Would it be possible today to approve the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, voted unanimously by the assembly in 1948? Would the United States Congress today agree to the treaty of participation in the United Nations and to contribute 25% of its budget?
Today it is generally forgotten that the world came very close to signing a global plan for a New International Economic Order based on International Social Justice, Solidarity and International Law.
In 1974 the General Assembly passed a resolution, again without a single vote being cast against, a Declaration for the establishment of a New International Economic Order with a Plan of Action aimed at substituting the system created at Bretton Wood which was recognized to favour all the rich countries and in particular the United States. Washington offered no resistance to the idea of a new economic order. What became known as the The North-South dialogue gathered such momentum that in 1981 in Cancun, Mexico, 25 leaders of the most powerful States in the world met in an unprecedented summit in order to debate how to go forward with a common agenda of justice and participation.
The Cancun Summit represents the end of a world which aspires to Participatory and Democratic World Governance and a return to the old policies of economic and military force. The Suez Canal Crisis of 1957 pinpoints the moment in which International Law overshadowed the old gunboat diplomacy and in spite of their military superiority, France, Britain and Israel were forced by the United Nations to withdraw from the Egyptian territory. Cancun 1981 represents the end of international order based on universal aspirations.
At the Summit, the recently elected Ronald Reagan, who found in Margaret Thatcher an unconditional ally, stated that he did not accept that the United States could be considered equal to other countries. They proposed that international relations be based on trade and not co-operation (trade not aid) and thus regarded the United Nations as an inconvenient strait-jacket as far as American interests were concerned, and multipolirism as an anti-American policy.
The decline of the United Nations began at Cancun. There was no down turn for Bretton Woods, quite the contrary. The United Nations lost Trade (which with Finance is one of the two main engines of globalization) and the United States governments decide when to use the UN or not. Washington followed its policy as The nation with an exceptional destiny, called upon to lead the world. This was done with a lower intensity under Bush Senior or Clinton or a greater intensity under Bush Junior. However, there was no way back to the spirit which inspired the Cancun Summit nor will there ever be.
Meanwhile on the road to World Governance a new extremely important issue has arisen; International Relations, once exclusively a matter of State are now increasingly undertaken by a multiplicity of players from the business world and civil society. This process is continually changing and has been made more complex by factors with deep impact.
The first of these factors is the way in which the Cold War concluded. We mentioned that the winner has not interpreted this as a victory of an alliance of countries over another. The winner interpreted it in ideological and historical terms; the victory of Capitalism over Socialism (we reiterate that Fukuyama’s book, The End of History, also supports this).
The main result has been the lack of control over Capitalism which during the existence of the Soviet Union had accepted the need to work towards solving social problems, participate in the redistribution of wealth, accept the presence of Trade Unions as intermediary institutions and recognize that controls and social justice are necessary.
Banking Overrides Economy and Politics
In a short period of time we have got to what economists call ?the New Economy?. Its most significant innovation is that it has left behind the search for Full Employment and Social Justice as fundamental values in a democratic society and has based itself above all on productivity and profits.
In a short period of time we have gone from executives earning some 50 times more than employees to them earning about 515 times more and such extreme cases would have never enjoyed social or political acceptance before. The head long race towards inequality is accelerating every day, and executive salaries bear no relation to productivity.
The case of Walmart, the giant American retailer is a good example. Their sales went down from a 5% increase in 2012 to 1.6% in 2013. According to the company policy executive pay rises can only be given if the sales are up by more than 2%. Therefore the company?s accountants selected certain articles so they would reach the figure of 2.02 per cent so that William S. Simon, President of Walmart US would receive a one million dollar pay rise, tallying a total of 13 million dollars in a company where the average wage is 27,000 per annum.
Even more emblematic is the case of the American restaurant chain which is spending millions on lobbying to block Obama?s proposal to increase the minimum wage when their own executives earn more than bankers.
The Chipotle Mexican Grill which owns 1 600 restaurants in the United States paid its two CEOs Steve Ellis and Montgomery Moran 25.1 million and 24.4 million dollars respectively in 2013. The average salary in the company is 21,000 dollars per annum. This means that a employee would have to work more than one thousand years in order to earn what one of the CEOs earns in a single year.
We show these figures because before the end of the Soviet Union, the political bodies would have intervened. But the most important effect of the New Economy is the progressive weakening of the political against the economic. The clearest example is finance which no longer serves productivity, but acquired a life or its own which sometimes ignores or relegates production to a secondary role. Today financial operations on a given day are calculated to be worth 40 trillion dollars while all the goods and services just reach the trillion mark.
Bank Bailout packages are estimated to have cost some 2 trillion dollars, while it is proven that the banks were the cause of their own crisis, sometimes through totally illegal operations, if not criminal, such as recycling moneys from Mafia cartels or from countries subject to International Sanctions such as Iran. The total fines agreed with the banks is more than 80 billion dollars and every month another scandal comes to light. According to the Director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, the United States continues to subsidize the banks to the tune of 70 billion dollars and Europe with 300 Billion dollars.
With much smaller sums it would have been possible to tackle such crucial issues as global warming or implement the Plan of Action agreed on merely by the heads of State of the whole world and pompously called the Millennium Objectives. But it is evident that Politics is subservient to finance and not the other way around.
Moreover, Reagan?s famous statement that poverty generates poverty, wealth generates wealth, so we should support the rich, not the poor, is becoming legislation. Today we have a blooming of tax reductions for the richer tax payer and privileges for investments. Today papers to reside in the EU can be bought. In Britain it can be bought with a million pound investment and in Spain and Portugal for half a million Euros and in Malta for 400,000 Euros. And it need not be spent funding a business and creating employment, it is enough to buy a luxury house or apartment. That is to say that national sovereignty today has a price, which is not too high a price for some.
It is argued that facts are stubborn things. With facts the French economist Thomas Piketty demonstrated through a monumental world statistical analysis entitled Capital in the 21st Century, that throughout the past two centuries capital has earned greater dividends than work.
Piketty?s book shows that economic growth has been unevenly distributed among the rich and the poor so that the former obtain greater benefits and become increasingly richer.
According to the current economic model, the heirs to the capital keep the larger part of growth. In other words, they absorb their ever growing wealth from the population. It is a process of wealth concentration that nobody attempts to curb. The eyes of the economists are on the only two figures who have declared war on inequality; Chilean President Bachelet and the Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio. President Frances Hollande who had started on that path, is now going on the opposite direction.
The last issue of the American Alfa magazine names 25 best paid hedge fund managers. Last year these executives, all of them men, earned the amazing sum of more than 21 billion dollars.
This is more than the National Income of ten African countries put together for that same year; Burundi, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Gambia, Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Niger and Zimbabwe.
Nobel Prize for Economics winner Paul Krugman wrote that considering that in the USA 0.1 per cent have the greatest income, we have gone back to the XIX century. According to Bloomberg?s Billionaire Index the 300 richest individuals in the world increased their wealth by 524 billion dollars last year, more than the incomes of the world?s 29 poorest countries put together. Lagarde reminded us during the London Conference on the New Economics that the 85 richest people in the world can fit in a London double decker bus and they have the same wealth as 3.5 billion citizens.
At least 300 billion dollars are lost annually through a combination of corporat tax incentives and tax evasion. It is estimated that some four trillion (million million) dollars are hid in tax havens.
All this generates something of dramatic importance for world governance. The extremely rich have much greater political weight than a normal citizen. In a decision that would have also been impossible some years ago, the Supreme Court of Justice of the United States abolished the limits on donations to political parties with the justification that everyone is equal before the law and corporations are considered to be equal to individuals.
Given that presidential elections in the Unites States cost some 2 billion dollars, is a normal citizen really equal to Sheldon Adelson the American magnate who has officially donated 100 million dollars to the right wing Republican Party?
All this indicates that politics at a national level is no longer able to carry out its fundamental role of regulating society for the greater good of its citizens, for a harmonious and just society. We are before a fundamental problem of increasingly diminishing democracy as it was understood up till now.
It is a form of democracy that accepts the New Economics with its recent social inequalities which are also starting to impinge upon the right to participation in elections and institutions. It is apparent that there are several countries in the world where democracy still has the same force, such as the Scandinavian Countries. But, if we look at the G2 (China and the United States), the geopolitician’s favourite for a possible way forward towards global governance, there will be cause for concern for those who believe that a total and participatory democracy is a fundamental element in governance.
It is understandable, therefore that doubts may arise about the probability of achieving global governance in the near future.
We are lumbered with a series of historical unresolved problems that will take longer to solve than we would like. The ethnic conflicts resulting from the Colonial process, the religious conflicts, which, in many cases are not inter-religous, but happen within the same religion as we are reminded by the most notorious examples.
During the four decades between the end of the Second World War and the Cancun Summit of Heads of States these problems were left aside, either because there was a common will to find a common solution or because the Cold War had frozen the world over. After Cancun Reagan-Thatcher politics turned abruptly from multilateralism to unilateralism. Add to this, the fall of the Soviet Union with the progressive disappearance of a political agenda on the big global and ideological issues. Ideologies are considered to be confining and the catchword is ?Pragmatism?. This was taken to mean that politics was to incorporate the best solution to the problem without the constraints of an ideology.
However, to solve each case disregarding the global aspects, an end vision of the society we want to create, is not pragmatism. It is called utilitarianism which means to do what is more useful. Politics now spends more and more time with matters requiring immediate attention and administration rather than a plan for society. This leads to an inexorable intellectual decadence and a new type of politician that exist because of their ability to communicate rather than their ideas. This new type of politician after Reagan has other heirs such as Berlusconi to name the best known.
The political parties are no longer institutional political participants with paying membership. Increasingly they are involved in the public opinion movements, with the use of the media (television particularly) and the disappearance of internal dialogue within the party as the basis for legitimacy. This has restricted participation enormously and political parties are seen by a growing number of citizens as self-referential systems with leadership that seeks self-perpetuation.
The credibility crisis of political institutions can be measured through indicators. The number of voters has come down steadily since the 70s. At the same time, this new system based on public acclaim has made the cost of politics rise worryingly given that it is all about launching full blown marketing campaigns to rival those of the best-known products.
The United States Presidential Campaign costs more than the world budget for Coca-Cola for a whole year. This urges us to think how it is that a President who has invested a total of 800 million dollars in his campaign is not subject to any pressures from the financiers. This also helps to explain how we increasingly see millionaires entering the political arena from Thaksin Shinawatra in Tailand to Michael Bloomberg in New York. Official figures state that nearly 50% of US Senators are multimillionaires and that the elections to the Senate cost at least 20 million dollars. Obviously these 20 million come from the citizens themselves, but the figures also tell us that they come from fewer of them.
The crisis of political institutions goes hand in hand with the rise of financial power, which, unlike trade, has no international organisation to regulate it. Increasingly the international economic and financial system has put the state in second place.
The most emblematic case is that of the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Cameron when having to choose between the City and Europe, invariably chooses the City. Meanwhile the almighty Chancellor Merkel has had to defend her country’s automotive industry’s interests before Europe and has managed for Germany to be the only state without a speed limit on its motorways.
The Greek crisis that shook the European Union to its very foundations (for a total of 7% of Europe’s economy) resulted in a control mechanism by the Troika (IMF, EU, ECB) whose role was to channel European aid towards the German banks that had invested heavily in the country’s bonds.
This decline in political power at a national level, naturally corresponds to a decline in the intergovernmental system of which the United Nations is the clearest example.
What is most important, however, is that governments are losing their capacity of representing the opinion of their citizens. If we consider the level of participation by the political institutions in international relations, there will be some surprises. In political parties, foreign policy is considered of little weight in internal politics.
The case of Italy could be interesting. There are no more than three individuals assigned this task in any of the parties, and they primarily handle the relations with other parties within the European Union. The House of Representative’s Committee on Foreign Relations has 46 parliamentarians. It is rare for more than 10 members to turn up to a session. The Senate’s Commission of Foreign Relations has 24 members. Meetings are rarely attended by more than 8. Adding the three Trade Union organisations there are another seven individuals, (who are mainly concerned with affairs among Trade Unions). With the so called social forces, that is to say industrial representatives we arrive at a total of 29 people. An analysis of the other European countries will prove to bear similar results. By extending the exercise to Africa, Asia and Latin America we would not get to the three digit mark.
This makes Diplomacy an institution of growing importance. But it is also the first victim together with culture and research, being subject to cuts in budget readjustments and its remuneration is wholly inferior to a position in the private sector (this was not so until recently) and even in the more democratic countries political games have limited the criteria of merit within the career. Furthermore a political policy cannot be transmitted in international relations if the central power, which has been chosen by the people, has no such policy and more so if this power very frequently ignores the citizens in their actions. For example surveys show that the majority of Americans were against the Iraq war. Nevertheless, off they went, a trillion dollars from their pockets.
The last, but by no means least important factor in the drop in participation in international relations has been the media’s neglect in offering a reading of the world situation. Information has openly become a trade good. The media is no longer profitable and whoever purchases them has a personal interest. Berlusconi and Murdoch are just the best known examples. The New York Times is the only American newspaper that still belongs to a family of publishers. All other well established newspapers have been sold, the last one is the Washington Post which was purchased by the founder of Facebook, Zuckenberg.
The media have practically eliminated foreign correspondents except to the great European capital cities and Washington. Nairobi had 107 foreign correspondents in 1981, they are now nine. There are no European or American Correspondents in Africa any more. The media have radically cut down on air time dedicated to foreign news. Added to this the old problem of quality of information continues and is worsening. Happenings are being covered and not the processes. Shocking and sensationalist news stories sell more.
Thus the growth of Islamic Fundamentalism becomes a Horror Series, but there is no attempt being made to explain the phenomenon as it is simply labelled as fanaticism. Finance, like Climate Change, is too complex, Human Rights are too abstract and so we end up not having a rational view of the world and we end up not knowing anything.
Civil Society, a fundamental element
It is now necessary to point out in this outline of realities that does not indicate an agreement on achieving world governance in the short term, that there is obviously a new fundamental player, which is civil society. In a world were international relations come no longer under State management, international Civil Society has become the most dynamic actor.
This was recognised in the 1992 Rio de Janeiro United Nations Conference on Environment and Development when the two main organisers, Boutros Ghali, UN Secretary General, and Maurice Strong, Secretary at the Conference, decided to allow the participation of not only those NGOs registered with the ECOSOC, but rather include all NGOs. Granted this was done by creating a parallel forum, but there was some exchange between the Intergovernmental Conference and the Civil Society Forum. Both officials stated they had taken this measure because they knew that the 30,000 Forum members would push for the success of the conference more than many of the delegations.
Since then Civil Society has played an essential role in the United Nation’s Global Conferences. The best known case is the 1995 Beijing Women’s Conference where the social networks pushed the Conference further than it would have been possible with the traditional formula of State Delegations.
The new partnership between the official system and Civil Society has shown itself most clearly in the Treaty against land-mines, also called The People’s Treaty. A Canadian NGO led by the activist Jody Williams launched the campaign in 1995 and collected 850,000 signatures asking for the abolition of anti-personnel land-mines which are responsible for the death and injury of tens of thousands of civilians every year. Tens of thousands of other ONGs joined the campaign together with international and religious figures, Diana, The Princess of Wales, among them.
However, the United States had already decided against signing any International Treaty as it would limit their independence of action. Clinton’s administration did everything in its power to stop this initiative from being successful. Nevertheless the pressure on each country by the coming together of international Civil Society was such that when Canada called for an International conference, 122 countries turned up to sign for the abolition of the land-mines.
The United States, followed by another 34 countries, still have not ratified the treaty together with other treaties including the Treaty for the Rights of the Children and Law of the Sea treaty, which would be very beneficial for Washington. Russia and China followed the United States. This is the majority of the members of the Permanent Security Council. It would be hard to explain how it is that the members of the Security Council in charge of the planet’s security are responsible for the sale of 80% of the world’s arms.
The Nobel Committee chose Jody Williams, for the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize as a symbol of Civil Society for the building of world peace.
In the last few decades Civil Society has grown tremendously. It is enough to say that in Brazil there were 10,000 NGOs in 1970, and today they are nearly 600,000. This is because for the first time in history there is not only a system of information, but also a system for communication. Internet allows for the creation of multiple alliances and social mobilisation not only at an international level, but also at a national level as was the case with Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.
In the recent European elections some parties formed only months before the elections won access to the European Parliament. The networks that come out of internet are networks of people who share the same concerns and they gather around global issues (that the media do not provide information on) from the threat of climate change, to all the world issues that are also specific United Nations programmes; Women, Human Rights etc.
Since 1991 international Civil Society has a space for participation and coordination in The World Social Forum. Tens of thousands of organisations come together in each of their forums, often with as many as 100,000 participants. The WSF was born in Porto Alegre as an alternative to the Davos World Economic Forum, where since 1971 a few hundred people, not elected by the citizenship, have met to discuss World Governance based on the priorities of the economic and financial world. The WSF intends to propose an alternative for ?a better world?.
A decade has gone by and there have been many citizen movements asking for different governance and it is already possible to conduct an evaluation of the impact of Civil Society in the world of institutions.
Above all it should be noted that in the 90s participation of civil society in the national and international agendas was seen by many of the activists as being co-opted into the official world. A world which as we have seen before had lost credibility and prestige. This decline has been amplified by the social networks who reported and condemned the corruption, the lack of internal democracy in political institutions and their following of finances.
The violent disturbances during the World Trade Organisation’s Conference of Seattle in 1999 constituted the formalisation of the rebellion of activists against the institutions. In a certain way the NGOs that joined the United Nation’s process participating in its conferences were legitimised by their participation in institutions insofar as their agendas were being met. Those who took part in the disturbances in Seattle were legitimised for rejecting the institutions. These very different parts of Civil Society have found a focus point in the WSF and have since then coexisted becoming mutually and partially integrated.
What has not changed however is the world’s opinion of political institutions, self-referential, non participative, and frequently corrupt. This has forced organisations that have emerged up till now, WFS Occupy Wall Street, Madrid’s Outraged movement, to look for ways to avoid political party mechanisms. This is to say, no elected positions as representatives of others, or continuous participation of all in taking decisions and adopting strategies and no hierarchy to mention a few of the points that are considered the most important dangers to avoid becoming like institutions which are seen to be outdated if not responsible for the present crisis.
National and international Civil Society is still searching for this new institutional path which will allow for continuous participation, without delegating one’s own individual space to anybody else. It is a search which is ongoing and until now the citizen movement has not found the right structures to enable it to impinge on legislative policies.
Without this the negotiating capacity to be used for a better world in political institutions is severely limited. Apart from this structural issue there is the mutual mistrust between Civil Society and the world of politics. The result is that much of what is being proposed and done by Civil Society for a different world governance occurs within the movement’s internal debate and it does not reach the political institutions’ agenda.
In other words to repeat Jody William’s 1995 work today would be very difficult. The only proposal by Civil Society which is opening roads into governments is the tax on financial operations called the Tobin Tax. ATTAC, a group of proponents, wants the revenue to be used for international solidarity, the fight against poverty, and development. As it turns out it will now be used to lower State deficits.
And with this example we may conclude this reflection on world governance. It is evident that there is a great need for it if we are to live in a world of peace which allows the harmonious development of its inhabitants. But without shared values, what is this governance going to be based on? Perhaps in agreements at political summits without their citizens being recognised by them? And, is it possible today?
To give a absurd hypothetical example; the United States and China meet as the famous G2 and decide on international action. How enforcible will it be if it is not backed by a great part of the world’s citizens?
The only road towards viable, long term world governance is the creation of a debate to establish common values in which the majority of humanity is recognised. It is not easy but it would be enough to act according to national constitutions of all the states and statutes of international organisations, starting with the United Nations and European Union. All of the worlds statutes are based on national and international values of social justice, transparency and participation, development and solidarity. Make international law the basis for international relations instead of force and economic power.
In the long run if real, lasting world governance is an aim, the debate will have to again become one of our shared values in order to achieve harmonious coexistence. This is the lesson from history.
*Italian Journalist, PhD in Economics and international consultant in global communications. Currently he is leading a campaign for sustainable globalised governance.Founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency. In recent years he has also founded Other News (www.other-news.info/), a service providing ?information that markets eliminate?.