|For information only - not an official document.|
|Press Release No: UNIS/DSG/31|
|Release Date: 20 March 2000|
|Delivering Hendrik Brugmans Memorial Lecture, Deputy Secretary-General Stresses That
World Community Must Be Firmly Based on Shared Values
NEW YORK, 17 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette’s Hendrik Brugman Memorial Lecture, “Building a World Community”, which was delivered at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium on 14 March:
Thank you for that unduly generous introduction. It is indeed a pleasure for me to return to this beautiful city, and to the College where I spent such an enjoyable and instructive time twenty-two years ago. It is also a great privilege to be asked to give this Lecture in memory of your first Rector -- and to know that in doing so, I follow in the footsteps of such a distinguished European statesman as Bronislaw Geremek.
The College of Europe has always been an admirable example of an academic institution geared to the needs of the policy-making community, and the Bruges Research Initiative for Opening the Social Sciences is a logical extension of that mission. Needless to say, I am delighted that, in the context of that Initiative, the College has now agreed to become the site of the United Nations University Centre for Intra- and interregional Integration. The one-year pilot phase of this project is due to start next month. I cannot think of a more suitable place for such a centre to be established. Nor can I think of a field of study of more direct interest to the United Nations as we enter the new millennium. I hope what I have to say to you today will be accepted as a modest inaugural contribution.
I want to raise some important questions about what has come to be known as “global governance” -- which means neither more nor less than the management of the common good. But let me start by making one thing absolutely clear. That term does not imply a world government, or even a set of supranational global institutions comparable to those of the European Union. I am full of admiration for what has been achieved in Europe in the way of political, as well as economic integration. But I am also well aware that this extraordinary development was only possible because it was built on the strong foundation of a shared history and shared values. After the wholesale destruction of Europe in two world wars, the peoples of this continent had a strong will to transcend their differences, and were willing to relinquish some portions of their national sovereignty to achieve that. They had sufficient confidence in themselves to know that this would not detract from their separate cultures and identities.
When we talk about a world community, our vision is much more modest. For the foreseeable future, at least, the world community must be built on intergovernmental processes, rather than on a supranational model. The essential building block of this new structure must be the sovereign nation State.
It is true that sovereignty no longer translates ?- if it ever did -? into absolute power for governments within States, or into absolute immunity from external influence for any State. But sovereign States remain the most effective instruments that peoples throughout the world have at their disposal for managing their affairs, and with the spread of democracy many of them are becoming more effective rather than less. A strong State does not mean an authoritarian one. On the contrary, authoritarianism is often a factor of weakness.
A strong State is one that reflects the views and interests of its citizens, by allowing them free access to information, free expression of their opinions, and a full say in decisions affecting their lives. Too many people in the world today have the misfortune to live in States which are weak or have virtually ceased to function. That is one of the most crippling impediments to effective governance, at the international, as well as the national level. In such places, strengthening the State is an essential part of building a true international community, and is also a major task for the imperfect international community that already exists.
That phrase, “international community”, is more and more currently used. But I find that it still encounters a fair amount of scepticism in the media, and indeed among a certain school of academics and policy makers -? those known loosely, and in my view misleadingly -? as “neo-realists”. One often sees it fenced off with quotation marks, or even referred to as “the so-called international community”. By such means do writers and speakers seek to distance themselves from it. They imply ?- indeed, sometimes they explicitly assert -- that international society is still in a Hobbesian state of nature, where peace is maintained, if at all, only by a rough balance of power between alliances based purely on a temporary convergence of national interests.
In my judgement, that view is in fact thoroughly unrealistic. It fails to take account of powerful forces of integration in today’s world, which more and more are pushing us towards a real international community whether we like it or not.
If there is anything wrong with that phrase, it is rather that the word “international” no longer adequately describes what is happening. One could say that there was an international community when the United Nations was founded, fifty-five years ago: a community formed by clearly distinct nations, each with its own national economy, that came together for mutually enriching exchange and to avoid further destructive conflicts between them. But what we are witnessing now is the birth of a global community, in which individuals can participate directly or through many different kinds of collective structure. The nation-State today is only one such structure among many, even if ?- as I have already indicated ?- it is one that still has a unique and irreplaceable role to play.
As the world develops in this direction, it is more and more clear that there are many areas in which nations do not have separate and opposing interests, but rather common and overlapping ones. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing world leaders today is the management of this shift from an international to a global world.
Let me give a few examples:
International trade has increased tenfold since 1950, even after adjusting for inflation, and has consistently grown faster than production. In other words, a much larger proportion of the goods and services produced in the world is now traded across State borders. And cross-border investment -- which implies a more intimate relationship between societies -? has risen even faster. The daily transfers of money between currencies, which amounted to $15 billion in 1973 (when the Bretton Woods regime of fixed exchange rates collapsed), are now running at $1.5 trillion. And the national economies of half the Member States of the United Nations are now smaller than the market valuation of the world’s biggest private companies. All these changes mean that trade agreements are no longer concerned simply with dismantling barriers at national frontiers. Increasingly, they reach deep into the way States regulate production and consumption in their domestic economy, and thus have a direct and visible effect on the lives of more and more people.
Unfortunately, it is not only legitimate economic exchange which benefits from the new porousness of national frontiers. The flow of less desirable commodities, such as drugs and weapons, is also made easier. Even the trade in human beings, which the nineteenth century thought it had successfully abolished, is on the rise in various forms as we enter the twenty-first. And epidemics like HIV/AIDS can also spread faster than earlier plagues, because the world has become so densely interconnected.
Even the “scourge of war”, from which the founders of the United Nations set out to rescue succeeding generations, has changed its nature. The typical war of today is no longer caused straightforwardly by one State attacking another. In recent decades, far more people have been killed in civil wars -- but these are seldom nowadays the purely domestic affairs they were in the past. Almost invariably they affect neighbouring States by causing massive outflows of refugees. But even while they remain within the borders of one State, the suffering they cause is far more visible to the rest of the world than it would have been in the past, thanks to the amazing development of modern communications.
And thus the international community is drawn in, first with humanitarian relief, then with attempts to negotiate cease-fires and political solutions, often with peacekeeping forces and sometimes even with military intervention, followed by “peace-building” in all its multiple forms. Such a sequence of events has led the United Nations, within the last year, to take on the actual administration of two formerly little known territories at opposite ends of the world -- Kosovo and East Timor. These are extreme examples, caused by unique combinations of circumstances, but international involvement in one form or another is now definitely the norm rather than the exception.
Another development, closely related to the last, is the growing consensus that there are universal rules of behaviour, notably in the field of human rights, and that the international community has an interest, indeed an obligation, to see that they are observed. In extreme cases, such as genocide, the violation of these norms is even seen by many as calling for collective military intervention -- though questions, such as who has the right to intervene or to authorize intervention, and in what precise circumstances, remain extremely sensitive and controversial. Short of that, however, we note that former heads of State can now be arrested in foreign countries, and become the subject of extradition proceedings, on the basis of accusations that, when in power, they were responsible for widespread and systematic torture. In two specific parts of the world, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the Security Council has set up special tribunals to try and sentence individuals accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. And preparations are now actively in train for the establishment of the permanent International Criminal Court, whose Statute was adopted in Rome two years ago.
Finally, the problem that is now perhaps most widely recognized as being global, and requiring collective action on a global scale, is one that the founders of the United Nations were not even aware of. I mean, of course, the danger that we human beings may so alter the ecology of the planet as to render it uninhabitable for our descendants -? or, at least, that our way of life may prove unsustainable for anything like the number of us that will soon exist. This problem takes many forms: pollution, loss of bio-diversity, exhaustion of non-renewable resources. But perhaps, the one that now most sharply concentrates our minds is the prospect of global climate change.
All the phenomena I have listed, though very different in nature, are ways in which the world, and our perception of it, has changed profoundly since 1945. Yet, what I have described is probably only the opening phase of a global revolution. The changes now being wrought by the Internet -- and likely to be wrought in the near future by similar, but even more efficient and instantaneous ways of processing and transmitting information -- may well make the world of 2000 seem yet more quaintly fragmented to our children when they look back on it from 2050, or even 2025, than the world of 1945 does to us now.
Obviously, it will be difficult to manage a process that we cannot even foresee. But most of the changes we can see are ones which are generally recognized as requiring collective action in some form that transcends what any one nation State can achieve on its own.
No one is proposing to “manage” the global economy by nationalizing it or imposing five-year plans. Rather, it is a question of trying to introduce at the global level the minimum conditions which enable markets to continue operating successfully at the national level. One of those conditions is indeed a fair and transparent regulatory framework, which secures the property rights of traders and investors, and gives them the security they need. That is why we have the World Trade Organization (WTO), and also a number of less famous, but eminently useful international institutions -? most of them belonging to the United Nations system -- such as the World Intellectual Property Organization and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL).
But that is only one condition, and it is increasingly clear that others are lacking. At the national level, industrialized countries learned, from the late nineteenth century onwards and especially in the 1930s, that free markets become politically unsustainable if large parts of the population are excluded from their benefits. Their stability and prosperity since 1945, which make a sharp contrast to the very turbulent period before that, have been due in large part to the policies they adopted to ensure that most of the population share the benefits of economic expansion, with safety nets and adjustment assistance for groups and industries which were adversely affected by economic change.
Today’s global market, however, is more like a national economy of the mid-nineteenth century. Its benefits and opportunities are still highly concentrated in a relatively small number of countries. And in some of those developing countries, which have been most successful in exploiting the opportunities of globalization, ranging from China to Brazil, the benefits are spread very unevenly among their population.
Also, while the world has adopted fairly tough rules protecting the property rights of traders and investors, it has not as yet been so firm in protecting labour standards or human rights, or the environment, or indeed, the poor. No wonder, then, that WTO ministerial conferences now attract the attention of such a wide variety of pressure groups. Because it seems that only trade rules are enforced, these groups seek to achieve their objectives -- which in themselves are often highly laudable -- by writing them into the trade rules. I am convinced that this is the wrong way to go about it. Erecting new barriers to trade and investment would, in most cases, be a terrible setback for hopes of improvement in those other areas, and especially for the poor in developing countries. But those other areas do need to be addressed in other ways. Institutions that do exist for that purpose -- like the International Labor Organization (ILO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and High Commissioner for Human Rights -- should be given more resources and more support. If that means the world should have a more robust global environmental organization, for example, then let us consider the possibility.
Stronger multilateral institutions will be an important part of tomorrow’s world community. As I have said, these institutions will have a mainly intergovernmental character. But it is vital that they also reach out to involve the non-State actors which play an increasingly important role in world affairs. The United Nations system has experimented quite successfully with such new partnerships over the last ten years or so. In all the great international conferences of the 1990s -- both in the preparations and in the follow-up -- civil society has played an indispensable part.
Non-governmental organizations contribute in three distinct but equally important ways:
-- They act as advocates, disseminating views and information and mobilizing public support for particular issues or causes.
-- They also play an indispensable role in the actual formulation of policy on many issues. Many ideas now to be found in national law or international agreements first appeared in the form of proposals put forward by NGOs.
-- And often, they are also essential partners in the operational sense. Increasingly, for instance, humanitarian and development assistance from donor governments is delivered by NGOs, both local and international, working in the countries to which it is directed.
But let us not make the mistake of equating NGOs with civil society as a whole. Properly understood, the latter is much broader. It includes the academic world, the media, political parties, religious organizations, and -- perhaps, most important of all -- the private sector. All of these can and should be engaged in the work of building a world community. In the case of the private sector, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has reached out directly, proposing a “global compact”. Under this, transnational corporations receive help and advice from the relevant parts of the United Nations system, in return for an undertaking to set an example of good practice in human rights, labour standards and environmental protection. More and more companies are showing an interest in this, and we shall soon be able to announce the first group of business leaders who have joined in making it a reality.
I began by saying that the world community cannot in the foreseeable future resemble the European Community, in the sense that the United Nations Secretariat has no expectation or aspiration to become an alter ego of the European Commission. We live in a world of sovereign States, and it is through enlightened co-operation between those sovereign States that we must sink or swim.
But one respect in which, I believe, the world community will and must resemble the European one is in basing itself firmly on shared values. There are universal values, shared by people of all faiths and all cultures. Moreover, they have been resoundingly codified in instruments accepted by almost all States: the Charter of the United Nations; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the Genocide Convention; the Geneva Conventions on the Laws of War; the Covenants on Civil and Political and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Conventions on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and on the Rights of the Child. When people everywhere feel that they can rely on their fellow men and women in other countries to uphold and respect their rights as defined in those declarations and treaties, they will know that they do indeed belong to a world community -- and they will be grateful.
|* * * * *|