Global challenges

Dec 30 2003


By Mario Soares (*)

LISBON, (IPS) – Is the world divided? Certainly. In a
certain sense it always was — between large and small nations,
between developed and underdeveloped peoples, between the and poor
countries. It was like this from remote antiquity.

It is divided today in a different way.

After the Second World War, the world was not divided between
the victors and the vanquished as it had been after previous wars.
Sincere efforts were made, with rapid and positive consequences, to
stress reconstruction and block the incubation of hatred and
resentment sown by the war. One of these efforts was the
Marshall Plan; another was the building of a European community
grounded in German-French reconciliation.

The division of the post-war world took place on two levels:
ideological-political, in which the west (the pole of freedom) was
set in opposition to the east (and its project of messianic
totalitarianism). On the other, social-economic level, less
pronounced but persistent, the north (developed) opposed the
south (poor and non-aligned).

This doubly-divided world, which soon gave rise to the so-called
Cold War, ended in 1989 with the surprising fall of the Berlin Wall
and the ”Iron Curtain”, and later, the collapse in 1991 of the
communist system as an alternative model of society. The so-called
non-aligned countries (the Third World) lost as well their reason
for being. It is thus, according to historian Eric Hobsbawm, a
different century, with very different challenges, realities, and
conflicts from previous ones.

But the end of the Cold War did not represent, as some thought
it would, the universal triumph of democracy and the
universalisation of human rights, though significant progress was
made in both regards.

The truth is that the world changed and capitalism itself, as
the dominant economic system, changed with it: it evolved from
an industrial to a financial form. The financial markets,
deregulated, marked by fantastic mobility and profoundly
speculative activities, brought about an enormous concentration of
power — what Celso Furtado calls global capitalism.

According to triumphal neo-liberalism, the less state
involvement (within each state) the better. Neo-liberal dogma holds
that economies must open themselves to international competition,
breaking down borders such that the new empire of capital can take
over even those sectors that had been previously considered of
strategic importance to national economies: telecommunications,
oil, natural gas, air and marine transport, agro-industry, and
before long, even water. Control of these strategic resources is
withdrawn from the state as they are privatised in the first and
inexorable step towards internationalisation.

What is most curious is that the European so-called social-
democrats have collaborated in this process, apparently without
reservations and with the same conviction they had previously
reserved for the need for process of nationalisation.

It is therefore not surprising that in recent years we
have witnessed the international marginalisation of the United
Nations as a system for organising peace, whose proclaimed purpose
is to insure a world order based in the rule of law and justice —
order that must be rooted in the general observance of human
rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(approved in 1948) and in the subsequent panoply of declarations
and conventions that deepen and complete it, although they have
always been considered a burden by the great powers, which adapted
them to suit their own needs.

The UN system is still based on the equality of all
the states that make it up. Yet, as this system seems hard to
reconcile with the new reality of the hegemony of a sole
superpower, the G7 was created (now the G8 with the addition of
Russian Federation) –a group or directorate of the richest
countries of the world which has turned its attention, without any
legitimacy whatsoever, to the problems of the planet, and which in
practice attempts to influence (if not subjugate) the United
Nations. It is a very unfortunate precedent.

As a result of the recent planetary disorder, which was
intensified and deepened by the tragic attacks of 11 September, the
dilemma now trying the consciences of free people is this: is a
different form of globalisation possible? a different world
animated by ethical values and the principles of universalist
humanism that guided the founders of the UN?

The gigantic challenges facing today’s world can only be
addressed with global responses. No state — not even the most
powerful of all– can resolve these problems within its own
borders. Proof of this is the vulnerability of the United States,
which the American people experienced with horror on September 11.
Declamations of the prophets of revenge and calls for ”an eye for
an eye” –rhetoric of the American Far West– will only lead to
failure. It is useless to ignore the evidence: global problems can
only be solved in global terms. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Mario Soares was President of Portugal fron 1986-1996.

“Other News” is a personal initiative seeking to provide information that should be in the media but is not, because of commercial criteria. It welcomes contributions from everybody. Work areas include information on global issues, north-sutrh relations, gobernability of globalization. The “Other News” motto is a phrase which appeared on the wall of Barcelona’s old Customs Office, at the beginning of 2003:â€?What walls utter, media keeps silentâ€?. Roberto Savio

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