Project of the Day: the Forum for a New World Governance

Excerpted from from the coordinators of the Forum, Arnaud Blin and Gustavo Marin :

Why have we opened this Forum for a new World Governance?

Today, it is commonplace to say there is a crisis in world governance. As citizens all over the world are fully aware, tensions, conflicts, and wars are persisting, and national, regional, and international institutions are powerless, even when limiting their role to avoiding the permanent deterioration of people’s living conditions and means of subsistence. The conceptual and ideological foundations of existing global institutions are based on international relations among nation-states, referring to an idea of the state that emerged in seventeenth-century Europe. This model makes no sense today unless nation-states themselves are built on new foundations, and their role, operational structures, and methods of interaction with other political structures are redefined.

First, however, we need to ask: What exactly is world governance? Setting aside the more complex, though often useful, definitions and subjective approaches to the concept, we have preferred to take the simple view of “world governance”: the collective management of the planet. While this definition may have the disadvantage of being too broad, it does ensure that we explore all the possibilities offered by “world governance.” In addition, this definition allows us to go beyond the restrictive framework of “international relations,” which until recently has been the only framework for approaching how the dominant political entities, nation-states, relate to one another, and which takes no other entity into account.

Throughout the history of humankind, tensions between countries have generated conflicts and wars. In the early twenty-first century, however, the spread of tensions to many areas of the planet and the difficulties in solving them, as well as the unprecedented ecological deterioration due to the interaction of human activities with the biosphere have reached levels that are threatening the very survival of humankind. We do not mean to be Apocalyptic, but, in the catalog of wars launched by states and of examples of dysfunctional management of our global ecology, we should also include the social wars that have broken out more or less openly, revealing an almost permanent demonstration of exclusion and of economic and social inequalities in the low-income districts of towns, both large and small, in every continent. Nor can we ignore the rising power of the networks of organized crime, trafficking drugs and human beings and taking advantage of the absence of strong institutions at every level.

This can no longer be dismissed as crazy doomsayer talk. Those being forced to live in war zones or under the threat of being bombed, those facing famine or floods, and the millions traveling the world in search of a place where they might be able to overcome the difficulties of their daily life, are the silent witnesses of this reality.

The causes of today’s different wars and conflicts are many and diverse. They include economic inequalities, social conflicts, religious sectarianism, territorial disputes, and fighting for control of basic resources such as water or land. All of them are indications of a serious crisis in world governance. And although there have been considerably fewer “traditional” conflicts among states in recent years, today’s are extremely violent and are increasingly affecting civil populations and the weaker regions of the world.

The three causes of the crisis

We have begun by identifying the specific causes for this crisis: there are three categories of causes.

First, structural causes. The methods used today to ensure economic growth and technological development, instead of leading to a balanced development tend to aggravate certain forms of inequality—even if others have been reduced—and to magnify opportunities for major confrontations.

Second, ideological causes. Shortages are not the most important issue facing the human species today; many more difficulties are caused by unequal access to means of production and distribution. The problem is not lack of resources, but how resources are managed: unequal access to power leads to a global concentration of the economy. Poverty is not caused by shortages but by an intrinsically unfair economic system.

Awareness of one’s extreme poverty is all the deeper when traditional forms of social cohesion have been weakened and the more affluent consumer classes are given greater visibility. In the deregulated market, the greatest danger lies in the fact that the system is based exclusively on encouraging the unlimited growth of consumption as a way of ensuring social balance. In a system such as this, there is no room for instituting an equitable distribution of wealth or protecting non-renewable resources.

The competition for control of increasingly scarce natural resources, including water, is becoming fiercer and fiercer, yet today’s international systems have no way of setting up a legitimate authority that will impose fair distribution or transnational management. In addition, there are no global mechanisms to oversee scientific and technical developments, something that is left up to national agencies.

Finally, political causes. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Nelson Mandela’s triumph in 1994, the arrest of Pinochet in London in 1998, and other similar events led us to believe, for a fleeting moment, that the system of world governance under the United Nations would guarantee a multilateral approach to conflict resolution and an effective system of international justice. Unfortunately, the war in the Balkans, the Rwandan genocides in 1994, and persisting tensions in the Middle East seem to indicate that new and tougher conflicts lie ahead.

The September 11, 2001 attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and endless random bombings also reveal the cost in human lives, not only for the protagonists themselves, but for the whole world. Pro-war leaders of certain great powers—particularly the most powerful of all, the United States—have used, and continue to use, war as the means to solve conflicts. It is therefore very likely that Islamic fundamentalist networks will continue to launch new attacks in the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

War is therefore a real danger, but there are many other dangers that threaten peace and solidarity. Populism, fundamentalism, and nationalism are on the rise and have become a growing and solid reality in major democracies, not only in Western and Eastern Europe, but also in Asia and America. Some African countries are seeking to overcome their difficulties, but vast regions remain bogged down in a permanent crisis, hobbled by authoritarian and corrupt regimes, and large swathes of people are trying to eke out an existence in situations of extreme hardship.

In this context, we should draw attention to the artificial nature of many of the states that emerged after independence from their colonial rulers: they found themselves endowed with institutions that disregarded local traditions and with power structures seen as illegitimate by their people. States rich in resources have developed mass manipulation at an industrial scale, allowing a small minority to benefit from the financial rewards of national wealth but also turning democracy itself into a source of conflict, not to say a scam.

A Multilateral System

The world-governance system so desperately needed today has necessarily to be multilateral. Confrontations are recurrent and growing in numbers, while economic, political, and military multilateralism is blocked by belligerent tensions and xenophobic ideologies. As a result, it has become all the more difficult now to lay the foundations for new institutions that will be adapted to all levels of governance, from local to global.

In this context, the executive, legislative, and judicial structures inherited from the past do not provide an adequate response to the complexity of contemporary society, where private enterprise and public services are seriously undermined by corruption. In many countries, the gap between civil society and political institutions has widened so dramatically that it is often a daunting challenge to our existing institutional systems, sometimes even to democracy itself.

Political parties have also proven to be unable to think constructively about emerging forms of citizenship in all their complexity. Participatory democracy is the reflection of strong social commitment, but social movements and civil-society organizations cannot solve the core issue of legitimacy of power in society and are themselves incapable of giving democracy a fresh momentum. They are often just a sounding board for the demands of individual interest groups and stakeholders.

The political risks brought about by this situation are obvious, and strategic political thinking on the subject is lagging enormously behind the stakes. Recent history shows that an institutional participatory system is not only fairer, but also more effective than an authoritarian one. So how can we reverse the current trend to discredit democracy, both in the public debate and in political practices?

Fortunately, there are pockets of progressive change. Here and there, we can identify promising economic, social, technological, and cultural innovations, especially at local or national levels. Nevertheless, we have to admit that they have not succeed in reversing the general trend toward more conflicts or the irreversible deterioration of the biosphere.

We need to rethink world governance and, to achieve this, we must go beyond the conceptual and ideological foundations of the current system. One of the necessary innovations is to introduce a regional level of governance, between national and world institutions. We need to prevent, for example, the construction of Europe from being undermined by sterile arguments among states. Europe represents a historic effort to build a supranational entity on the foundations of economic convergence and community law. New negotiations and decision-making processes must be anchored at a regional level, something that the future—and inevitable—reform of the UN Security Council needs to take into account. The Security Council ought to be a world committee in which all the regions of the planet are represented. Its chair would be held on a rotation basis by a country of one of the regions, which would also represent it in international negotiations.

To face these challenges, we must all play our part. Multicultural communities are emerging in local neighborhoods and at all other levels, including the global. Cultural diversity offers a fundamental starting point for global communication, and we must bring together our many political and religious communities, and nonprofit organizations to build a new system of legitimate and responsible governance.

Principles of Governance: A Guide to Developing Proposals for World Governance.

Drawing on the many initiatives already launched in the different continents at various levels of governance and in many areas of public action, we have identified five principles on which to build governance. These principles are simple in appearance, but we should not underestimate the difficulties involved in implementing them. The distance between concept and reality is often wider than we think. Establishing suitable governance structures that are adapted to twenty-first-century conditions requires a revolution in our existing concepts, mentalities, institutions, and methods, a revolution that will only happen if we can mobilize determination, a firm will, and a clear vision of the objectives to be met and of the paths to be taken over the long term.

These principles are:

a) Legitimacy in the exercise of power. Exercise of power must be linked to a clearly expressed mandate from the people as to how they are to be governed. Persons in positions of authority must be deemed worthy of the confidence placed in them. Limits on private freedom must also be reduced to a minimum and clearly perceived as necessary for the commons. Organization of society must be based on ethical principles that are recognized and respected.

b) Conformity with the democratic ideal and with the principles of citizenship. All individuals must feel that they are part of a shared destiny, which excludes, for example, tyranny by the majority. Rights, power, and responsibility must be evenly balanced. No one can exercise power without being subject to checks and balances.

c) Competence and effectiveness. The way that public and private institutions are set up, their organizational structures, and the people working within them must all be reviewed to ensure that they remain pertinent, and that they have the skills and the capacity required to assume responsibility for responding to the needs of society in all of its diversity.

d) Cooperation and partnership. It is essential that everyone work together for the commons and that governance organize relationships and cooperation among the various types of player, whether public or private, the various levels of governance, and the various administrations in accordance with procedures established by common agreement.

e) Linking the local and the global, and the different levels of governance. Societies must be able to organize themselves in such a way that the autonomy of the smallest communities is compatible with social cohesion at all levels, up to and including the global level.

What should we do?

Sometimes, when faced with the cruelty of war and the decline of solidarity that has led to a modern society based on unrestrained consumerism, growing social inequalities, corruption, organized crime, and natural disasters, we are gripped by an overwhelming sense of helplessness. All the same, we must work toward building a legitimate, effective, and democratic form of governance. We know that our future is uncertain and that, in all probability, it will be very different from what we can even imagine today. We must however assume our own responsibilities now, and contribute to creating a responsible, plural, and united world community for which a new system of world governance is essential.

We must now go one step further: we must work together with players who are capable not only of designing innovative approaches to governance, but also of developing proposals that are socially and politically feasible. This is the prerequisite for breaking out of the blocked situation in which we are stuck today.”

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