political revue


Year XXXVII, 1995, Number 3 - Page 198



Periodic reflections on questions of mandate, policy, priorities and management are necessary and vital parts of any bona fide, democratic social movement.
This task is no less difficult now, in 1995, the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations, because of the tremendous political and social transformations which world society is undergoing. As active participants in internationalist social movements and membership organizations, we face not only the challenge of interpreting and understanding current events in a rapidly changing, fluid political environment. We are challenged, I believe as individuals. Globalization, the “New World Order”, renewing the United Nations: these are not just trendy buzzwords, abstract political issues, “out there” to be addressed by national governments. We are affected, each of us, in a very personal way, as citizens.
And so, while tackling the problems of United Nations reform and global governance, I’d like to do so in a way which will hopefully stimulate some thought and dialogue about the individual, the citizen in the emerging global community, and about the role of citizen-based organizations.
What is this notion of “global governance,” and its conceptual fellow traveller, “globalization?” Both are relatively new additions to our popular political lexicon.
Governance, we would assume, refers to some sort of system for organizing people’s political affairs, a manner of taking and implementing political decisions. But have we in fact reached a stage of human history when there is a need, and the necessary preconditions, for governance on a global scale?
According to a high level international panel of statesmen and experts, the answer to that question is “yes” . Earlier this year, a volume entitled “Our Global Neighbourhood” was published, with considerable fanfare, on the eve of celebratory activities commemorating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. This work is the Report of the Commission on Global Governance, co-chaired by Ingvar Carlsson, Prime Minister of Sweden, and Shridath Ramphal, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.
The membership of the Commission includes many of the same people who produced the North-South Report (chaired by Willy Brandt) on development issues, the report of the Nyerere Commission which discussed South-South cooperation, the Palme Commission report, on disarmament and international security issues, and the report of the Brundtland Commission on environment and development issues. These are individuals associated with progressive, internationalist, slightly left-of-center political perspectives. Most members of the Global Governance Commission are now or have in the past been senior officials in a national government or international organization. The Commission was funded by contributions from foundations and national governments.
The formula for the work of these types of international panels is a successful one. The panel of “experts” includes a regionally representative group each with a fairly impressive political track record. A series of hearings around the world not only provides testimony for the Commission – a menu of old, new and recycled ideas – but helps build a constituency for the Commission’s report. The release of the report, in major capitals around the world is a major campaign in its own right.
But what really determines the success or otherwise of these panel reports is the political judgment underlying their message. Are the ideas they propose ripe? Do they resonate with people around the world, especially academics and non-governmental organizations who are critical to their popularization? We can look back to the Palme Commission report and commend their judgment; their proposals, framed around the notion of common security made a qualitative difference in political discourse on disarmament, arms control and international security issues. Similarly the Brundtland Commission anticipated a world-wide constituency which was ready to elevate and embrace a series of ideas wrapped in the concept of sustainable development.
So, is the world ready for global governance? Well, maybe.
We should acknowledge of course that global governance is a big idea. The other international commission reports alluded to earlier focused on a set of sectoral issues, such as international development, environment and development, or arms control and international security. When we talk about governance, we are talking about the international system per se.
However, the bigness of the topic and breadth of discourse on governance issues may be entirely appropriate for the times we live in. After all, the world has changed, immensely, in recent years.
Global governance has become a preoccupation in the 1990’s – the post-Cold War years. Some have labelled this the end of history. While that may be misleading, there seems little doubt that we are at the dawn of a new era.
In the first half of this century two horrific World Wars were fought, bringing about the end of the colonial era and the defeat of fascism. Now the decades-long Cold War has rendered capitalism triumphant and communism in decline. We can be thankful that the transition away from communism has been accomplished, so far (for this is a story still unfolding) with so little bloodshed.
But there are other notable characteristics of this transformative period of history in which we live.
One is the growing world-wide acceptance of the principles of market economics. Even states which are still under communist or authoritarian style governments are scrambling to adapt their economies to free market models. The growth of free-market economics is not restricted to national economic policies. Countries everywhere are under pressure to loosen restrictions to cross-border trade and participate in regional and global free trade regimes. The recent creation of the World Trade Organization, with a dispute settlement machinery which is much more binding than its predecessor the GATT, is tremendously significant in this regard. And international regulatory bodies such as the Bank for International Settlements and International Monetary Fund now exert tremendous influence. All of this has led to tremendous growth in the ability of large corporations to operate transnationally.
The lack of adequate political regulation of this growing global economy is a point I’d like to return to shortly.
Accompanying and reinforcing the globalization of economic life is a wide array of technological changes which are changing the course not only of global politics, but also everyday life for us all. We are all familiar with the extent to which satellites, computer technologies, air travel, the mass media, the so-called information highways etc. have made us interdependent. The pace of these changes is quickening. I really shouldn’t dwell on them, for, not only is the extent of our interdependence fairly evident; to discuss it at length would only serve to remind us all of computer software we’ve yet to learn; E-mail unanswered. These days, one almost needs a post-graduate degree to read the TV Guide. The global village has arrived.
Another major trend or characteristic of the post-Cold War era is the growing acceptance of democracy as the ideal form of governance. One recent estimate suggested that 60 percent of the world’s governments are democracies. Democracy provides the political environment within which the protection of the fundamental rights of citizens is best safeguarded.
And as we survey the major events of the 20th century, let us recall not only two massively destructive World Wars, and four decades of the Cold War. Human affairs have, on balance, become more civilized. This is due in no small part to the growing force of a body of universal human rights law. Universally accepted human rights norms help buttress national democracies, particularly in states where democratic institutions and traditions are not yet as robust as we would wish them to be.
A few years ago, when UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali published An Agenda for Peace, he spoke of the need for post-conflict peace-building. One year later he reviewed progress (or lack thereof) toward the implementation of his Agenda for Peace proposals and he said: “Peace-building requires strengthening those institutions that do most to consolidate a sense of well-being between peoples. It is increasingly clear that the fundamental elements are to be found in democracy and development. Democracies almost never fight each other. Democratization supports the cause of peace. Peace in turn is a prerequisite to development. So democracy is essential if development is to be sustained over time. And without development there can be no democracy. Societies that lack basic well-being tend to fall into conflict. So three great priorities are interlocked.” That democracy could be spoken of in this way by a Secretary-General of the United Nations, and its desirability as a form of governance be accepted as self-evident, is really quite remarkable.
Taken together, the growth of democracy, the global marketplace, communications and technology-driven interdependence, and doubtless other factors I have not mentioned do indeed appear to be establishing the necessary pre-conditions for governance on a global scale.
Specifically, I would identify those preconditions as: 1) a common base of values (democratic principles, universal rights, the rule of law, market economics); and 2) a sense of sharing a defined political space, a feeling of community (in this instance, the global community).
And this leads us to what is perhaps the pre-eminent problem of global governance. For, though we may all of us accept globalization as a fact of life; and we may agree that there is a shared political space, a set of global problems in the world which are beyond the capacity of nations to resolve and require a new order of international cooperation; the fact of the matter is that our institutions are woefully inadequate to the task. We cannot hope to provide adequate governance in the 21st century with 1940s vintage political institutions.
This brings us therefore to the question of reform of the United Nations.
In this regard, I’d like to highlight a few ideas which seem particularly and actionable at this stage in history. But I won’t drone on for too long with an exhaustive laundry list of legalisms and UN reform proposals. For one thing, there is no single best road to travel. Progress will be necessarily gradual; each reform will open up new possibilities and require subsequent reforms to other parts of the system.
Let me first suggest a couple of guidelines. Firstly, as a matter of strategy, I believe that the path of least political resistance lies in creating new bodies, or additions to existing institutions, rather than trying to reconfigure or reform what is already in place. The lamentable, but predictable lack of progress on Security Council reform demonstrates this general point.
Secondly, I believe that we must as a matter of priority, focus on proposals which elevate the status of the individual in world affairs. We cannot continue with an international system based solely on the sovereignty of the nation state. Globalization is inexorably drawing away from states many of the political levers for the exercise of governance. Political power is being pooled transnationally. But transnational power is not democratically accountable.
This is why I believe it is vital that citizen organizations become actively involved in issues of global governance. It is our democratic rights as citizens which are being devalued when, for example, a crowd of yuppie currency speculators have more impact on Canadian monetary policy than the parliamentarians we elect. You’re not going to hear too many resounding calls for democracy at the transnational level from academic/bureaucratic elites of national governments. We must insist on it. It is our citizenship, our global citizenship, which is at stake.
We are going to get global governance, whether we like it or not. The vital question is whether that governance is eventually going to be democratically accountable, or whether the political decisions affecting our lives, yours and mine, will be made by un-elected, unaccountable officials whose first loyalty is to national governments and transnational elites, not people.
Every community needs a government. I believe that the global community needs global government, global democracy.
To some, the notion of global government is either utopian, or scary, or both. To me it’s just common sense. Frankly, what I find offensive is the present order which segregates the world into competing nation states. This offends our common humanity.
Global government only seems utopian to those who wish to denigrate it out of hand. When you think of global government, its desirability and how it may come about, it is essential to think of it as an evolutionary process. One can’t simply take the present-day anarchic and chaotic international order and overlay the institutions of world government. It’s not going to happen that way.
So, let me conclude by suggesting a few UN reform ideas which seem to be practical steps toward the goal of elevating the legal status of the individual in world affairs.
Firstly, an International Criminal Court. This is one of the more promising reform ideas now under consideration at the UN. The idea here is to create an international court which would have the power to try individuals for crimes against humanity as well as some other of the most grievous breaches of international law.
When war breaks out and the United Nations takes action to restore international peace and security, there are three options at its disposal: diplomacy, economic sanctions and, if these fail, the use of military force. As we have seen in Iraq, and more recently in Haiti, UN sanctions can punish individual citizens of a country for crimes committed by the nation’s leaders.
Creation of an International Criminal Court would help change this situation by making individuals, including national leaders, accountable for violations of some of the worst offences under international law. Unlike the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which exists to hear cases between states, an International Criminal Court would try individuals for violations of the law.
Ad hoc tribunals, to try persons accused of genocid in Bosnia and Rwanda, are already up and running. The success of these ad hoc tribunals has paved the way for the UN to create a permanent Criminal Court.
Last year, the UN’s International Law Commission completed work on a Draft Statute for an International Criminal Court. The proposal will be debated again at this year’s session of the UN General Assembly. Canada and a number of other middle powers want to establish a treaty-making conference to bring the Criminal Court into being. The U.S. and a few of the large powers would like to delay the proposal for further study. The Criminal Court may need to come into being, by treaty, with participation of not all UN member states (as is the case with the International Court of Justice).
Secondly, we might consider establishing a Parliamentary Assembly at the UN. The model here is the European Parliament.
A consultative body of UN parliamentarians, established under Article 22 of the Charter and selected from among national parliaments, could be created fairly easily and inexpensively. Although its powers would at the outset be quite limited, it would nevertheless strengthen the UN system in a number of ways: a) it would increase public and political support for the work of the UN; b) it would provide citizens with a degree of representation at the UN; a voice for “We the Peoples” in addition to that of governments; the first glimmer of democratic legitimacy among the world’s institutions of global governance; c) by its existence it would reinforce the idea that there is a global polity, a wide array of international issues which require a strengthened UN; d) it would serve as a body to represent the global common interest, rather than the interests of nation-states; e) it would strengthen the General Assembly vis-à-vis other UN organs; f) it would reinforce and strengthen the work of NGOs working on global issues at the UN and in national capitals; g) it would reinforce the trend toward democratic governance in nations around the world; h) it would provide a new source of ideas and political activity in support of solutions to international problems; it would also act as a lever on governments to further reform the UN.
If a body such as the CSCE can justify having a parliamentary assembly surely there is a plausible case for a UN parliamentary assembly.
There are other UN reform proposals which we could discuss. As UN reform becomes more topical and relevant, there is active international debate around ideas such as: Security Council reform; the role of NGOs in the work of the UN; measures (like reforming ECOSOC, or creating an Economic Security Council) to bring international decision-making on economic issues within the ambit of the UN system; and new mandates for the now-moribund Trusteeship Council. I hope we can also get into some of the questions surrounding peacekeeping in the question period.
My priority here has been to focus on a few ideas which elevate the individual in world affairs. It is time for us all to re-think, at the personal, national and global level our concepts of citizenship. I believe that people everywhere are increasingly acknowledging that the horizons of community have broadened; they not only accept, but welcome their growing responsibilities as global citizens. If this continues, there is hope that the new world order will be founded on a stable foundation of generosity and tolerance of our neighbours around the globe.
Fergus Watt

*This heading includes interventions which the editorial board believes readers will find interesting, but which not necessarily reflect the board’s views.



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