In Search of Global Governance

rocard portraitMichel Rocard

September 2001


We have been led to reflect on the profound gap between: - the unprecedented gravity of problems faced by humanity today and which threaten its survival within a few generations: ongoing destruction of the ecological niche, general increase in civilian violence escaping any control, growing scarceness of drinking water, crisis of agricultural production, unknown potential threats fur our nourishment or for the human species itself resulting from genetic manipulation, a volcanic emergence of an information mutation which is shaking up all forms of organisation, structure and authority in human society, increasing reduction of relations between humans to what is monetarily quantifiable and profitable.

- an almost total absence of all these topics from political debate due to the lack of culture and awareness of the overwhelming majority of political leaders as well as journalists and commentators.

- an even more evident absence of any satisfactory institutional leverage to provoke or take decisions.

Global power, that of the United Nations, is paralysed by the power of veto in the Security Council and it is paralysed by the fragmentation of the General Assembly. At the pertinent global level the only partial powers disposing of some strength are rather inclined towards using it to maintain and defend today's productive model which is in crisis rather than to provoke and contribute to its evolution: the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO. The true power of issuing norms remains in the hands of nation states. There are currently almost 190 of them in the UN. Even the fifty or so of them with a population of less than one million remain masters of their turf even if they have little influence on others. That is the greatest existing obstacle to a collective fight against international crime and money laundering. The dream of seeing a world capable of subjecting itself to accepted and sanctionable rules of governance seems well out of reach in the short term. What is a little more reasonable is the hope of seeing a certain number of sectorial problems regulated by agreements, specific treaties creating their proper tools of surveillance and sanctioning. Thus the Treaty on Nuclear Non-Proliferation has put into place means of surveillance which allow for sanctions ranging from cutting-off supplies and co-operation to notification of the Security Council. Rare, however, are international systems with tools of oversight and surveillance of such importance.

In these conditions the search for more effective global governance stipulates continuous action in two directions.

- The first is the negotiation and adoption of treaties or conventions putting into place supervision and intervention systems having the ability to impose sanctions. That is also what is at stake in the 'negotiations on the atmosphere' following up on the Kyoto conference; that is what's at stake in the works of Ricardo Petrella and many others working towards a 'Global Water Contract'. That is also what is at stake in the ongoing negotiations to submit to the United Nations General Assembly a draft Global Convention on Light Weapons.

It is highly necessary in all these fields, which are innumerable, to outrun the authorities by progressing in data analysis, outlining possible measures, evaluating the interests at stake, and making a proposal in legal form including the possible elements of an agreement.

- The second direction, which is inevitable, is to make available expert knowledge for improving global awareness on these issues. Books, articles, commentaries of various events such as conflicts, environmental accidents, financial crises, scientific research results, or epidemics, interventions by political leaders, all this must draw the attention of governments, parliamentarians, journalists and the public opinion at large. It is a matter of culture and no shortcuts should be sought. In fact it is in four directions that the public debate and the public opinion's underlying culture should evolve in order to help it escape the dramatic simplicity and the immediacy to which it is confined by the media's current practice.

- a sense of duration, of a long time, is undoubtedly the most fundamental of these directions. One can only understand the environmental risks if one thinks in terms of centuries, a habit that has been largely lost. - a sense of the complex is a second direction, hardly less important: in contemporary subculture every drama must have its culpant, which drives us to search for the unique cause and quite often for the scapegoat. Environmental, epidemiological dramas and often even conflicts are a product of complex systems where many elements interact, and there is no use in trying to understand what is going on if we don't take them all into account. True culture comes only from the complex and that is what political discourse should undertake.

- a third essential direction is a sense of the global. It is intellectually less difficult to share than the previous two, as it is obvious that neither pollution nor epidemics know borders and that any conflict is fed by weapons coming from the outside. The emphasis in this case is much more on the media, whose relations with their client base is founded far more on the effect of proximity.

- finally the fourth direction is a sense of the progressive. It's related to duration but is not limited to it. It implies not only time but also the absence of a brutal cut-off. Wherever it may be, good governance is not made up solely of good rules, it certainly also demands good practices and good routines. The entire nineteenth and a large part of the twentieth century witnessed the essence of political criticism feeding revolutionary aspirations. Yet today countries have not only considerably increased pressure and the distribution of weapons is no longer such as to nourish these dreams, but contemporary humanity has also found that the outcome of such adventures is negative almost every time: Vietnam, Cuba, Algeria. Luckily, the new militancy of NGOs emerging in response to the dysfunctionalities of the planet is largely fed by this finding and their contribution to each of these fronts targets concrete measures which are inclined rather towards evolving the systems than towards an improbable overturning of the system. The best recent example of the sort is the Global Convention Prohibiting Land Mines adopted in Ottawa in 1997 under considerable pressure from NGOs. This culture has unfortunately not yet become that of young militant generations, far too often constrained by impotent radicalism or by very narrow national visions not to mention destructive violence.

This requires educating for the survival of humanity together with a concrete struggle for effective measures. The playing fields are the same: environment, nutrition, genetics, finance, regulation of the information society, social violence.

Just a short mention of this last topic, which regrettably is not often associated with the entirety of the others. The quasi disappearance of classic international war (the great powers most often succeeding in preventing regional escalation of conflicts and keeping local victories from considerably changing strategic balances; Korea, Iran-Iraq, India-Pakistan before their nuclear weapons, Israel and the Arab states, Ecuador-Peru or the Falklands) is dangerously accompanied by a general increase in uncontrolled violence. If the battlefield of asymmetric war seems to have been exhausted after the victories of Cuba, Algeria, Vietnam and Afghanistan, the battlefield of identity conflicts or simply ethnic conflicts is raging on. Also, there is a connection between conflicts carrying a political or social dimension and large-scale organised crime. The latter's turnover is estimated at 8 or 9% of the gross global product, at least twice the GDP of France. Drug mafias are equipped with submarines and armoured vehicles. Weapon and drug traffickers are often one and the same and it is often drugs that serve as the basis for organising criminal gangs in large cities whose connection with large-scale international trafficking continues without a solution. I should like to formulate the hypothesis that behind all the different violence from Northern Ireland to the gangs of L.A. through to the former Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka and Chechnya, not to forget the Rwandan genocide and the Talibans, there is a common factor of highly varying magnitude which is ever present: the loss of identity markers. The rate of development of the information society with all its uniformisation plays a part in these crises. Be this hypothesis true or false, the fact is that no one feels able to forecast a decrease or even a stabilisation of such violence, whether that applies to western youth, interethnic stabilisation in Africa, the respect of borders in the ex-Soviet empire or just in the Russian federation alone. It is urgently necessary to integrate the study of violence into reflections on global governance. A building of awareness is incontestably taking place, referring to human rights as the principal underpinning. But the fact itself that the judiciary is progressing much faster than politics in this field hardly allows for projections of an emergence of a global analysis and well coordinated measures. The small community of researchers, intellectuals, persons politically accountable and militants who undertook reflection and action on these problems of global governance would have to agree, with as little delay as possible, on two categories of objectives:

- the first concerns the choice of areas where global public awareness seems sufficient to initiate or complete negotiations aimed at establishing operational global conventions. Currently the most important areas seem to be the greenhouse effect, drinking water, small arms, and the creation of legislation in the field of human rights starting with the establishment of an International Criminal Tribunal.

- the second category of objectives regards global reflection on the underlying principles of global governance. Even if there is little hope to see them recognised in the near future, these principles should nevertheless be discussed and become the object of the pedagogical offensive described above. The elements put together by a number of persons responsible for the 'Initiative for a Responsible and Solidary World' seem to provide an excellent starting point for the debate. The text is dated 25 May 2000 and is entitled 'World Governance Adapted to the Challenges of the 21st Century' (Une gouvernance mondiale adaptée aux défis du 21ème siècle). I should like to include in our work. The key to any improvement of world governance is simple and evident and must be repeated time and again. It states that any society must be subjected to rules or else it is subjected to the rule of brute force. The world has become a unified society, yet it hardly has any rules. A double legitimacy must be constructed: that of the rule of law as the principle of organisation, and that of a system of bodies or institutions with the power of laying down these rules or norms. Most contemporary states, large or small, accept these principles in general, yet they don't discuss the details of proposed rules and sometimes even refuse to adopt them rather than to apply to themselves those rules which they see as unfavourable. But there is a large country, in fact the most powerful country today, whose collective culture does not include these principles. To the United States, the concept of international rules corresponds only to the comfort of serving American interests, and in no way to their culture. They often sign treaties which they do not ratify (Versailles, Kyoto, the 1997 agreement with Russia on the former USSR's legacy in the field of nuclear diplomacy, etc.), invest in themselves a permanent right to make unilateral decisions regarding commerce, and are currently even trying to unilaterally detach themselves from the 1972 treaty on missile defence systems. The greatest question of world governance today is as follows: is the immense power of the United States only at the service of their own interests, or is it at the service of promoting global rules which they, too, will apply as of now? The latter implies a great cultural shift in this large country. As we're talking about a large democracy, considerable forces in this direction are already at work in the United States themselves. Without a doubt the most important political objective of the period is to ensure their triumph through the solidarity of all global forces surrounding them which are concerned about the rule of law in the world.

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