Archive for January 1st, 2010

Friday, January 1, 2010

No Global Governance as “Old Pain” lingers

“One World” – instead of “first, second, and third world” – used to be an unalienable piece of vocabulary in every do-gooder’s wordpool, at least from Western countries. German weekly Die Zeit, not really a bunch of treehuggers, but a paper usually giving responsible opinion and unhurried advice, is re-assessing the one-world concept in an online article. Yes, in London and Pittsburgh, the governments of the world did write new rules for the financial markets. In Geneva, they held another round of  negotiations about a new trade system. They will be back in Davos again soon, to perambulate all the global problems in their totality. They tried to save global climate in Copenhagen. But they are forgetting the financial crisis, the further we seem to leave it behind us. The more remote the memory, the smaller chances are to write global rules that would be globally effective.

And they failed in Copenhagen – “Every country has its own dirty taboo”. Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Gerhard Schröder liked the idea of global governance, writes Die Zeit. In the end, they hoped, negotiated agreements and international organizations – NGO’s and corporations included – would lead to some kind of substitute for a desirable, but still unachievable global government. Liberals and left-leaning people in general seemed to support the concept.

But global emergency management has proved to be the maximum of what global governance could achieve together. There is no common concept of tomorrow’s world, writes Die Zeit. Both Europeans and Asians had gained a new self-confidence vis-à-vis America. Europe’s economic and social systems had shown a remarkable resistance against the effects of the economic crisis, and India and China put economic development before climate protection. “In India, you can’t see the climate problem eye-to-eye with Europe or the USA”, the paper quotes Shyam Saran, an advisor to India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh. On a global scale, Europe’s concept of political integration appears to be a  rather singular one.

Europe should get prepared for a world with a patchwork of powers which go it alone, like China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa, and clusters of global governance like ASEAN or the EU, Die Zeit quotes a study by the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation.

Die Zeit lists liberals and left-leaning people who actually start to like the idea of such a world – and of nationalists who had always been skeptical of any kind of global governance anyway.

The article’s author actually confuses China’s party and state chairman Hu Jintao with the country’s chief councillor Wen Jiabao. And in other ways, the author also still seems to underestimate the distance between East (arguably excluding several countries such as India, Vietnam, and possibly Japan and South Korea) on the one hand, and Western countries on the other. There isn’t really much reason to believe that a common view of the world will emerge any time soon. Jonathan Spence, in a Reith Lecture in Liverpool, broadcast by the BBC on June 10th 2009 June 10th 2008,  suggested that the issue of the Opium Wars

is now no longer a real one in any important sense and to harp on it now is not something the Chinese have to do. It’s something they can do if they wish to keep an old pain alive.

You can be pretty sure that China’s government does want to keep the old pain alive. “To remember the bitter past to cherish the happy present tense” is a tradition that either came into being or was revived by the CCP during the Chinese Communists’ early days in power – and it is still an efficient way to keep the Chinese public sufficiently afraid or distrustful of foreigners to disapprove of “foreign concepts”. Even otherwise highly open-minded Chinese people often cling to these “open accounts from history”.

At hindsight, at the end of the 20th century or at the end of the 21rst century’s first decade, one may probably say that it was naive to believe that world governance could be an option. You can’t do business with a totalitarian regime, unless you are ready to do business at its terms.

The Zeit article, as flawed as I believe it to be in one or another detail, caught me by surprise. I’m left-leaning myself, and until today, I have felt that my re-orientation towards regional solutions, rather than global ones, was something not too many others of my political color would share. But there seems to be a general trend towards regional action. Elinor Ostrom, an American economist, argues that people may actually commit to the common, rather than the individual use of resources, so long as they succeed in organizing the use and maintenance of such resources. A single system of rules for rather large international fishing zones was likely to fail, she suggests. Polycentric solutions – or regional ones – might work. Experimenting with different ideas in different places could amount to a competition of different ideas., which would either convince bystanders, or leave them unenthused.

And even steps deemed small by its actual practitioners might convince visitors from overseas.

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Related:
Mark Lynas: “How China wrecked the Copenhagen Deal”, December 24, 2009

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