Ordering a new world

  • 14/05/2003

I met Jacques Chirac this fortnight. Just before he made the call to George Bush and just before he left to attend the European Union summit in Athens, the French president met some 20 of us in his presidential palace for discussions on what would be the future of this increasingly unilateral world. This was the last working session of a two-day conference organised by an extraordinary French woman, Laurence Tubiana, who had put together a diverse group of people - from presidents, ministers, academics and activists - to deliberate on the challenges of global governance in the new world.

It was a fascinating meeting. The world has changed after Iraq. But just how much. The picture that is emerging from the contemplations of the most powerful minds sets out the game-plan of a drastically changed world. Today's foreign policy is based on security concerns. Terrorism is an invisible enemy and can never really disappear. So the world will be ordered by a doctrine of 'search-destroy-control'.

Sources of insecurity have been redefined too. It is not only enemy states that are threats. But insecurity arises from the 'new wars' - violence of the state against civilians, organised crime and the 'new viruses of national and religious extremism'. These threats breed in what are known as collapsed or failed states - authoritarian regimes, unable to adapt to the pressures of globalisation.

The theory is that the natural resource regions of the world - oil-rich, mineral-rich, forest-rich - remain marginalised and poor because the elite and powerful in these nations appropriate the enormous wealth. Natural resources like oil become an impediment to democracy and wealth distribution. These are the resource-rich, low-income nations, with weak institutions and failed public policy. The 'failed' state breeds civil wars and growing cycles of violence. Therefore, there is a need for global intervention so that the rule of law can be established, new institutions built and natural resource wealth equitably distributed. 'Oil for the people' would be the war dividend in Iraq and in many other countries, where such intervention would be ordered.

Therefore, it is argued that peace, order and stability can best be furthered "not by reconfiguring the distribution of power among states but by altering the authority structure within states". In other words, America's protection demands that it should fix messy-nations quickly.

Speed is part of the foreign policy design. Traditional interventions through the un or through the aid and assistance programmes of multilateral agencies take too much time and are inefficient. Therefore, the principles of international legal sovereignty, under which intervention was possible through international agreement must be abandoned and replaced by the doctrine of coerced regime change.

The new principle is about "shared sovereignty" - in which external actors take on the management of the resources of these repressive and corrupt regimes. What is being discussed, certainly in top us academic-security levels and perhaps in the top echelons of the administration, is to look for new and innovative and institutional methods - other than military action - for coercing change.

For instance, proposals are to use external actors like the International Monetary Fund (imf) for the oversight and management of national central banks; American law enforcement officials operating in these countries; foreign government and even private firms taking over the running of the different departments of the "collapsing" countries. There is also the possible creation of a corporate style board of directors - comprising of World Bank, imf and oil companies and even civil society - as permanent and long-term arrangements of states. The Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline project of the World Bank, which has created a trust fund for revenues and oversight by global civil society is cited as an instance that can be replicated at a much larger scale.

The plan is delicious because of it is so simple. Run the country, deliver justice and share the proceeds of the natural resources with the people, not the elite. The world will be a giant us trusteeship. But what the old imperialists - Europe - should tell the us - is that such plans often go awry. It is not always easy to foster democracy through the gun or even the dollar.

But this is the realist world-view, which places priority on the sacred selfishness of countries and the defence of their self-interest. This is also the view which is gaining over the fading multilateralist world-view, which demands giving up sovereignty in some areas, so that international rules for cooperation can be the basis of action. The problem is that the rule-making class - Europe and its allies - are seen as the wimps. The warrior class is on the ascendancy.

But all is not lost. To bring change it is important for us also to accept that the global problem-solving mechanisms are not working adequately. We need the redesign or reform of current global institutions or new ways of working around the system - networks of institutions-private-public actors to rebuild the global consensus once again. Rethinking the old world order is vital if we want to reinvigorate it. The world is increasingly interdependent. It is increasingly small. It requires the cooperation of all, not the coercion of some.

It can be done. Chirac put is simply at the end of our meeting: "Strong ideas have the power." This is our hope. Nothing else.

- Sunita Narain

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