Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2011 > Global Leadership And Global Systemic Issues

Mainstream, Vol XLIX, No 18, April 23, 2011

Global Leadership And Global Systemic Issues

South, North and the United Nations in a 21st Century World

Monday 25 April 2011

by Boutros Boutros-Ghali And Branislav Gosovic

[The following is the first part of a lengthy article being published here in three parts. The next two parts will be carried in the succeeding issues of this journal.
—Editor ]

1. Preface

The world is becoming more open, inter-connected, interdependent and complex. This trend, propelled by revolutionary scientific and technological progress and change, will intensify in the decades to come. As the 21st century runs its course, it will give rise to an ever-growing number of needs and issues of general and common interest, with global dimensions and implications.

Dealing with such challenges will require global approaches, solutions and management, what has been referred to as “strategic trans-national thinking”, advanced institutions and “planetary” or global leadership.

Calls for world or global leadership are frequently voiced in public discourse, yet the concept remains vague and has no generally agreed definition.1 While attempting to contribute to its delineation, we touch on a series of interrelated issues and concerns that have to do with the nature of the evolving international order.

This exploratory, panoramic reflexion on the meaning of global leadership focuses on a policy and methodological problématique of central importance for a deeply divided and fragmented international community, namely: who will conceptualise and elaborate approaches to global systemic problems and challenges, approaches that will orient and assist inter-national and national policy and decision-making?

We thus adumbrate one, limited yet all-important, strategic aspect of such “global leadership”. It concerns the domain of political thought, theories and ideas which inspire or underpin policy and action on those issues that are systemic by nature, have worldwide implications and consequences, and thus concern the entire international community, for example: how and on what basis to organise and run the world system and contemporary human societies, and how to manage the world economy, bridge gaps in development and knowledge, overcome poverty, and respond to environmental challenges.

First, we devote a few pages to depicting the nature of the global leadership challenge in the evolving international system. Then we comment in somewhat greater detail on the recent unipolar phase in world affairs which was characterised by an aggressively hegemonic unilateralist variant of global leadership in domains of common concern. This backdrop is essential for a better grasp of issues involved and of obstacles that must be overcome in the quest for constructive change. Also, it serves to provide contrast in the juxtaposition with multilateral, democratic approaches to global leadership and visions of a different future.

In discussing the changing character and content of global leadership in a dynamic world setting, we identify growing and diverse sources of influence on global systemic issues.

We then proceed to argue that such global leadership needs to be institution-based and centred in the United Nations, and to highlight the critical role of analytical and conceptual work in dealing with the increasingly complex and controversial issues that are being confronted in the world arena.

Some broad suggestions are made for a more advanced, better equipped United Nations of the future to meet such needs. The UN is the world organisation established and mandated to lead the international community multilaterally, that is to say with all of its members represented and participating in its work and endeavours. It is also the international organisation where global systemic issues are on the agenda and should be dealt with in an integrated, comprehensive manner.

In the concluding section, we highlight some promising signs, as well as risks, on the road to what is a highly uncertain future.

The topic of this article is ambitious. It deserves a much larger, in-depth treatise. Ours is just an initial step and an attempt, using broad strokes, to outline the big picture, as we see it, of what is a controversial and complex subject.

In this presentation, we draw both on our academic backgrounds and on our observations and direct experience during decades of involvement in the UN and world affairs. For the cognoscenti, we say little that is new or original. Indeed, we acknowledge our intellectual debt to the many who have confronted related issues at different points in time. Obviously, as we honed our arguments and conclusions, we have also drawn on ideas and insights that have become part and parcel of shared wisdom and common discourse.

Our commentary is likely to give plenty of reason for criticism, especially to many belonging to the academic fraternity and the political establishment in the developed countries. No doubt, the well-known arguments that deny the existence of a world system, of a hierarchical vertical order and “global conspiracies” will also be reiterated. As has been customary since the early 1960s when the developing countries began to act as a group in the UN, differences and disunity among developing countries will be flagged by many in the North as evidence that there is no such thing as “the South”.

This article may displease and possibly irritate some. One of the objectives of the undertaking, however, is to provoke debate and reflection by articulating perspectives unlike those that are usually encountered in the dominant, main-stream analyses emanating from the North.

Thus, it is likely that our discussion will have better resonance with those on the other side of the political divide, including the UN-believers and “idealists”, as well as those hailing from the developing countries of the South. These countries and their peoples have existed in the shadow of hegemonic powers and in a world system which these powers continue to run and dominate. And they all share to varying degrees an inchoate feeling of helplessness, frustration and often silent rage vis-à-vis that larger “invisible” system, to which they have no choice but to belong and submit. The essay is also likely to be appreciated by many of those who have worked or are working in the United Nations and UN system, and who have intimate knowledge of the issues that we raise.

Indeed, by writing this rather lengthy yet inevitably very sketchy prolegomenon, as former “insiders” we expect to provide some seasoning for the ongoing discourse. Our objective is to contribute to awareness-building and to the study of international organisations and relations. We also wish to add to the intellectual and policy tool-kit for use by those forces in the South, but also in the North, who struggle for positive change, peace and a cooperative global future in what one hopes will evolve into an equitable, democratic and sustainable world society.

Finally, we trust that the text and perspective that it offers will be a useful introduction for students in class and younger readers in general who seek to orient themselves at the start of their academic, international and public service careers. They need to be sensitised about and understand the world system into which they will be thrust and which they will ultimately inherit and shape.

2. The Contemporary World in Need of Global Leadership

IN a remark attributed to the current United States President, shortly after being elected, he expressed his availability to lead the international community and to continue with what has been referred to as the American “responsibility of world leadership”. Presumably, this was to be done differently from his prede-cessor, whose policies resulted in this leadership being widely discredited and roundly contested.

In a similar vein, when commenting on the news that he had been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, the US President noted that it was “an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people of all nations”. It would have been interesting to witness the reaction of the world media and political circles were the head of state of some other major country, especially one not belonging to the Euro-Atlantic centre, to claim such a global leadership role. However, the remark was made by the President of the world’s most powerful country, a country which has for more than half a century claimed this leadership role as its rightful entitlement and worldwide mission, and practised it unilaterally, most explicitly and unabashedly during the past decade. Therefore, it did not cause a visible stir in an international political environment accustomed to and respectful of the power realities.

Yet a hereditary claim to a pre-eminent global leadership role by any single country deserves to be challenged in this day and age of supposed democratisation, or at least multilateralisation, of world affairs—an objective and norm to which states that belong to this community supposedly subscribe. Can and should a country, motivated and guided primarily by its own specific interests, priorities and perceptions, project and impose upon the whole international community its preferred version of “world leadership”?2

This question offers a convenient starting point for the present discussion. Today, in an increasing number of policy areas, the issues at stake, actions, solutions and outcomes, and their direct and indirect, short- and long-term consequences have truly global dimensions and implications. They concern and involve most or all nations and peoples, and in some cases affect the common future of all humanity.

Such growing interconnectedness is symbolised by the disappearance of traditional dimensions and obstacles in terms of time and distance. It has resulted in virtual and real proximity and mutual awareness of countries and peoples in what has been referred to as the phenomenon of “immediacy and instantaneity”. The new realities are affecting and beginning to modify the mentalities, perceptions, concepts and methods used for understanding and dealing with a changing world. They will also bring about new social forms and arrangements.

The process of change is driven, in particular, by a set of closely interrelated factors, listed here in no order of importance: (a) scientific and technological advances; (b) the environment, energy/natural resources nexus; (c) the globalising international economy; (d) global communi-cations and travel; (e) the development of cyber-space; and (f) intercultural communication and interaction.

Given the progressive intertwining and connectedness of the international community, for a number of shared problems—and in some cases for specific local problems—policies, solutions and approaches will need to be designed and applied at the global level. Public and common welfare objectives which transcend national, group and private interests and short-term perspectives, and require universal participation, are also emerging as priority policy and practical concerns in a number of domains.

An optimist could thus conclude that a “world society” is in the making, and that the inter-national community is objectively poised to move forward in this direction. However, institutionally, politically and perceptually it remains solidly anchored in traditional practices and paradigms which obstruct this underlying positive trend. This “community” continues to be fractious, fragmented, riven with conflicts, mutual misunderstandings, inequities and inequalities, and dominated by raw power and particular interests, all in the sea of poverty, deprivation and personal insecurity that still affects the majority of humankind.

Most of the global political, social and economic tensions and struggles that characterise the contemporary world and also threaten peace are related to or caused, singly or in combination, by the following: (a) unresolved, continuing North-South differences and stubborn residues of the colonial-imperialist age, and the imbalances and inequities generated by the international economic and financial system; (b) under-development and gaps in levels of development; (c) international and national class, wealth, poverty, knowledge and technology divides, as well as cultural differences; (d) the global projection of raw and soft power, facilitated by advanced technologies, and by the fusion of the economic, financial, military, security and communications domains; and (e) access to and control of scarce and shrinking energy and natural resources, and the planet-wide environmental stresses generated by modern civilisation.

Within and between countries, conflicts and contradictory views abound, and are accentuated by the communication/information age. They feed on differences in objectives, interests, ideological perspectives, normative frameworks, and intellectual constructs, as well as historical legacies, and class, wealth, religious, racial, cultural and ethnic divisions. Unstable and difficult economic situations and uncertain prospects stoke political and social unrest and antagonisms at all levels of society. These are often projected beyond national borders. Domestic conflicts also attract powerful exogenous actors, some of which have made worldwide interference in the national political arenas of other countries as their standard practice and supposedly their “duty” and entitlement.

This global interdependence and inter-relatedness is growing and diversifying, while it continues to be highly asymmetrical, given the traditional dominance and strength of the North and the existing power, knowledge and wealth gaps. It is introducing into the world political arena many of the issues, controversies and conflicts that have preoccupied national society and political theory throughout the modern age.

The evolving situation thus provides plenty of reasons to imagine pessimistic scenarios for the period to come. Cognisant of this, the international community ought to begin preparing for, designing and institutionalising a “world society”, as a positively oriented, cooperative objective and project that would mobilise existing and future potential for dealing with and resolving the main problems on the global agenda. In this quest, an anticipatory intellectual and policy process for dealing with present and emerging needs should be mounted and maintained, as a joint, all-inclusive, sustained multilateral undertaking.

The “world order” problématique is frequently discussed and written about in academic and civil society circles. Nor is it novel in the multilateral intergovernmental arena. Issues related to the nature of the existing world order and its reform were raised, debated, studied, and negotiated in the United Nations under the political impulse of newly emergent developing countries, in their collective efforts to bring about systemic changes. These tentative beginnings were interrupted, however, and for almost three decades such issues have not figured prominently on the global agenda.

This was the consequence of the rise and dominance of conservative political, social and economic forces in key developed countries. Marshalling the power of their nations, they were able to project and impose their preferred vision of world order, and to marginalise the UN and the multilateralism that this organisation embodied. They saw no compelling reason to change or even discuss the nature of their preferred version of world order. It was marketed as “millennial”, the “best of all possible worlds”.

However, owing to the global financial and economic crisis and climate change issues, the underlying systemic questions of how to organise and manage world affairs have resurfaced and become topical once again.

After a lengthy, decades-long spell of uni-lateralism during which the metaphor of “the end of history” and la pensée unique were dominant on the world scene, the global financial and economic crisis shook the widespread confidence in the infallibility of the existing system. The crisis helped loosen the political grip that had made it difficult to effectively challenge the neo-liberal globalisation and neo-conservative geopolitical constructs championed by key developed countries, exposing to public view how it worked, and some of its biases.

The crisis helped reopen a host of issues, including structural ones and those that had been declared obsolete and belonging to a bygone era. It became politically acceptable once again to openly challenge the dominant world order. And this provided the trigger for a process that may eventually lead to the transformation of the global system and of the arrangements for addressing and dealing with global issues.

The crisis highlighted once again the systemic nature of the global economy, as well as global interdependence of actions and policies. It illustrated that no country engaged in inter-national trade, finance, services and communications can remain insulated from the broader trends and movements. And it demonstrated that in a globalising economy, the domestic and foreign policies and actions of certain major countries, as well as those of private entities whose activities have a global reach, can have systemic, worldwide consequences.

Yet, the means of prescribing and enforcing solutions to deal with such actions which generate international responsibilities, and with their effects, still do not exist. Thus, importantly, the crisis reintroduced into the international agenda the issue of the nature, design and management of the global economic and financial system, and the need for global policies, disciplines and regulations, as well as differentiation between countries in what is a highly diverse community of states. The crisis also served as a reminder of the pending, unfinished development agenda and of the divides and contradictions that persist between the North and the South, the centre and the periphery.3

Like the economic crisis, climate change has reintroduced into the international agenda some familiar “systems” issues that were first articulated at the time and in the wake of the 1972 Stockholm UN Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE). However, these were consigned to the shelf for decades, given the lack of consensus on follow-up, and the opposition of key actors on the world scene who were not happy with the many unsettling policies, inconvenient choices and high costs that were implied. Most of these issues were also related in one way or another to the outstanding items of the North-South dialogue and the international development agenda.

These questions, in brief, had to do with: (a) economic and social theories and policy alternatives; (b) energy futures and implications for the North’s dominant socio-economic patterns and lifestyles; (c) changes in science and technology, and access to, transfer and diffusion of technology and knowledge; (d) the need for an integrated and holistic approach to managing the world system; and (e) the direction and nature of human society and civilisation.

Four decades after the Stockholm conference, the climate change dilemmas have once again raised doubts not only about the environmental, but also the political, social, economic and ethical sustainability of a highly stratified international community that continues to deplete the endowments and disturb the workings of the planet on which it depends. This is a world where a minority of the prosperous and powerful who occupy the pinnacle of the global pyramid, are primarily responsible for many of the global environmental problems and for the direction in which the society is moving. They also hold the keys to desirable solutions and dispose with the means to translate these into practice.

What kind of changes will result from this window of opportunity that has opened some-what unexpectedly as a result of the financial crisis and the climate change debate remains to be seen. The resilience and adaptability of the structural status quo and the massive power, resources and ingenuity of those defending it, combined with systemic inertia, would lead one to suspect that little is likely to change fundamentally or for the better in the short term. However, this juncture at least makes it possible to resume talking and thinking about alternative future scenarios.

3. The Experience with “Hegemonic Global Leadership” in a Unipolar World

BEFORE proceeding with the discussion it is important to glance back to the period of marked unipolarity and to the “hegemonic” forms of global leadership that characterised it.

The emergence of unipolarity: The recent decades did not evolve towards the desired democratisation and wider participation and involvement in the management and direction of world affairs, posited in global multilateral frameworks. Instead, there was a rise and consolidation of overt unilateralism of power, also as regards systemic issues of common and universal concern.

The electoral shift to the Right and the ascent to power of conservative forces in two leading developed countries at the start of the 1980s signalled the beginning of this markedly hegemonic phase in the global arena. In developing their platform they took care to equip it with intellectual foundations that corresponded to their political outlook. They drew on the academic work and policy prescrip-tions of what were until then marginally influential conservative economists and Right-wing thinktanks.4 The conservative intellectual renaissance offered detailed blueprints of how to counter what was seen as the menace of a progressive world agenda. In the geopolitical domain, the cues were drawn from the writings and advice of hawkish, realpolitik political theorists and strategists, linked to and identified with the military, intelligence and security establishment.

One of the strategic objectives of the newly dominant weltanschauung was to roll back many of the socio-political advances and acquisitions made during the 20th century, both domestically and internationally. This included discarding and discrediting the policy and theoretical and normative frameworks on which these rested, a task facilitated by the decline of the USSR and the economic stagnation, heavy external debt burden, and political instability of many developing countries.5

It meant downgrading and effectively banishing from the policy discourse objectives such as common welfare, public good, equity, participation, and regulation, and indeed social security for the people. Instead, the accumulation of wealth and profit, deregulation and growing financialisation of the economy, privatisation including of public functions, reduction or elimination of public services, the disempower-ment of labour and ending of job protection were proposed as new priorities and panaceas. This political credo denigrated the public and collective, and extolled the private and individual. It advocated limiting the role of government in the pursuance of social goals and the guidance of the economy, including regulation of the market.

The implosion of the Soviet Union and the winding down of the Cold War between the two military superpowers represented an important turning-point in the evolution of world affairs. With the main geopolitical and socio-economic challenger disposed of, and the bipolar world a thing of the past, the global policy space was now wide open to be dominated by the “lone superpower” and moulded according to its preferences.

Aware of the importance of harnessing “intellectual” support for their political agenda, the dominant economic and political groups and actors in that country, including corporate and financial centres, began to invest generously in conservative think-tanks and to build up their own intellectual capacities. The objective was to influence domestic and international policies and outcomes, primarily via direct access to policy- and decision-makers who were like-minded and responsive to their advice and inputs. The aim was also to shape or “manu-facture” public consent and policy consensus via the media, and to counter and neutralise the progressives’ traditional influence in the intellectual and theoretical sphere and in academic institutions.

Impressive institutional capacities to think and strategise globally and for the long term had been developed by the remaining super-power during the Cold War era. These were ready and available to continue with their work in the new global geo-political context, which involved military, economic, technological, natural resources and, increasingly, environ-mental objectives and issues.6

In what amounted to a global campaign, efforts were made to discredit and neutralise opposing views worldwide, in particular those which might arise from within the UN system. This did not prove too difficult. International organisations could be easily contained and harnessed, in particular by controlling their funding. The “opposition” was weak and fragmented, and disheartened by the dominance of the neo-liberal movement and widespread acceptance of its message. It had no alternative agenda of its own with the potential to mobilise opinion, and was at a disadvantage because of inadequate organisation and lack of resources.

The global political arena was under the spell of the ascendant “free market” fundamentalism and neo-liberal policies, and their philosophical underpinnings, which the media supported and disseminated. The absence of powerful and influential countries with openly differing views gave the appearance of like-mindedness and harmony regarding the new agenda. The failure of existing experiments with alternative models of economic and social development led to a crisis of confidence and an inability to articulate alternatives to the promises of the newly fashionable neo-liberal model. The unipolar configuration that emerged was characterised by a severe imbalance of power. There was no countervailing political force or voice on the world scene. Hegemonic global leadership was exercised unilaterally by the buoyant and triumphant centre.

Neutralising the challenge from the South: One of the strategic objectives of the ascendant world order was to neutralise any possible dissent or challenge to the supremacy of the resurgent system in the multilateral arena.

It was thought that this challenge could possibly come from the developing countries and the collective South via the Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement. In particular this related to their long-standing, two-pronged set of systemic demands, namely, for the implementation of the international development agenda, embodied prominently in the outputs and work of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and in the Declaration and Programme of Action on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO), and for democratisation of world politics and institutions. Efforts were not spared to play on differences among developing countries and to discourage and undermine their collective actions and initiatives, while stick and carrot tactics were applied to individual countries to persuade them to conform and to adhere to the prescribed policy codes and scenarios.

The disorientation and ambivalence of individual developing countries and of their leaders helped to undermine their collective action.7 They failed to establish their own organisation or secretariat to fill the void created by the greatly reduced technical, logistical and intellectual support previously provided by the UNCTAD secretariat. During the 1960s and 1970s, this support had played a vital role in energising the developing countries’ group position and thrust. Not surprisingly, the developed countries wanted this to end.8

Imposing neo-liberal globalisation: This authoritarian form of global leadership leaned markedly to the Right of the political spectrum and was inspired by the agenda and interests of the key developed countries and the dominant interests within them. It commandeered the growing integration, interdependence and inter-connection of humankind which characterise modern society, and which are driven by economic, political, social, and environmental processes, and advances in science and technology. It defined unilaterally the nature and scope of what came to be known as globalisation. The resulting man-made globalisation model—a neo-liberal one—was drawn up without collective thought, consultation, debate or negotiation. It excluded or ignored those most likely to be affected. It was a global preferential system for the privileged, wealthy and powerful of this world.

This model gained global prominence thanks to a domestic political shift in key developed countries and their proactive global agenda. It was imposed on the whole world through a sort of “global shock doctrine”, using the opportunity offered by the massive power imbalance and political disorientation that characterised the world scene, caused in part by inadequate economic performance and/or bad governance in many parts of the South and the former East. It was accompanied by a systematic assault on the so-called progressive and internationalist agenda.

Thus, the ongoing global processes of integration and growing interdependence and inter-connectedness of humankind, were declared as one and the same as the neo-liberal model of globalisation, which itself was billed as a historic inevitability. Its principal elements were summed up in the Washington Consensus. The neo-liberal model of development and economic growth was force-fed via the international system, its script becoming a global dogma to be followed, enforced and administered worldwide.

This was a period of across-the-board, unchallenged dominance by the North. It was in some ways reminiscent of the earlier periods of imperial and colonial global supremacy, still viewed with a degree of overt nostalgia by many in the developed countries in question.9 Its revival in the contemporary context was met in these circles with a sigh of relief, following decades during which it had been politically ostracised and challenged, especially in the UN and by the rise of the collective South and the newly independent developing countries clamouring for change.

Economists and scholars who were close to or part of the superpower establishment, and officers of the International Monetary Fund, travelled the world, gave lectures and instructed the countries on what needed to be done and how they should do it.

Transnational corporations (TNCs) made sure that their global activities remained beyond the purview of the international community and did not become subject to UN study, or multilateral scrutiny and regulation. At the same time, to suit their global ambitions, TNCs promoted international investment regimes which proclaimed the obsolescence of national frontiers and thus allowed them unfettered access to national markets. Host countries were obliged to protect foreign capital and investors, but were denied the right or possibility of regulation. TNCs could also rely on the political and economic muscle of their home countries to impose bilaterally their wishes on a host developing countries.

TNCs also designed model international agreements which were then submitted by the developed countries for adoption in international negotiations. Such was the case, for example, of intellectual property and services in the Uruguay Round. These submissions formed the basis of development-insensitive intergovernmental agree-ments which contained major inbuilt disadvantages for developing countries and peoples in the South.

Banks, financial centres and investors from the North, with the help of the Bretton Woods institutions and under the aegis of the Group of 7, steered the world financial and monetary system and imposed financial, monetary and investment policies on individual countries, for example, through structural adjustment programmes. When these policies led to crises and difficulties, they tended to prescribe and administer solutions which often appeared to be more in their own interest than that of the country affected. The spectre of unfavourable market reactions and loss of investor and market confidence, including the possibility of a drop in their credit rating, was used as a means to persuade reluctant countries that were in balance of payments and external debt difficulties and in need of foreign capital and investment.

Human rights and anti-corruption/good governance were the twin political aspects of this global drive to promote neo-liberal globali-sation. These intrinsically worthy objectives, however, were often used as a pretext for selective, opportunistic interventionism in the domestic affairs of some developing countries. In the UN fora and debates, these issues, and in particular that of human rights, were used to divert attention from the international develop-ment agenda, and to counter group action and initiatives of developing countries.

Burying the international development agenda: Indeed, this amounted to a unilateral dismissal of certain of the key policy and conceptual advances of multilateralism, and also of long-standing claims and demands of the developing countries, including some previously agreed to and incorporated in the international develop-ment agenda.10

The earlier progress had been made possible by the United Nations. Space for policy debate and manoeuvrability in the socio-economic sphere existed to a relatively significant degree during the bipolar age, and the United Nations provided a multilateral, institutional and normative framework to address and deal with given global problems. This was especially so in the develop-ment domain, where both the secretariat and the broader membership enjoyed considerable latitude for action, initiative and diversity.

It was during this period that many ideas and initiatives for changing the traditional world order, overcoming the enduring colonial/imperial heritage, and assuring the participation of developing countries in global policy and decision-making, made some headway and inspired their optimism about the future and ability to change the world.11 These policy advances were achieved with the active support of “like-minded” countries and civil society actors in the North. The presence of the socialist bloc, and its support for the South agenda vis-à-vis the developed countries, also played an important albeit often indirect role.

The international development agenda, which was premised on proactive intergovernmental policies to assist the poor countries to overcome underdevelopment, was paid merely lip service in the new age of “free” market dominance. In fact this agenda was declared and treated as irrelevant. To drive the point home, it was depicted as “social-democratic”, “socialist” or “Leftist” in inspiration, terms that had derogatory connotations and were treated with derision in the new political ambiance.

Such was the case, for example, of the all-important, underlying principle of “special and differential treatment” for developing countries. Instead, the objective became to create “level playing fields” for competition and the free flow of trade, capital and services. Applied dogmatically and across the board, this meant a worldwide carte blanche and de facto preferential status for the major economic players from the North. It ignored the differences in economic strength, levels of development and specific traits that exist between countries. As a result, it ravaged the economies and societies of many developing countries, especially those that found themselves below given thresholds of economic, social and institutional development and resilience.

The end of sovereignty, but only for some: The sovereign equality of states, the protection of national sovereignty and non-interference in domestic affairs, all issues of critical importance to developing countries, were downgraded and marginalised under the newly proclaimed motto of “the end of sovereignty”, and the supposed obsolescence of national economic and political frontiers. At the same time, while imposing this concept on weaker partners and developing countries, the leading powers took all the necessary precautions to maintain intact their own “absolute” sovereignty, and to keep the “fortress North” well protected, including vis-à-vis the claims and demands of the South.

In fact, they proceeded to expand methodically the concept of their own “sovereignty” beyond their national frontiers and worldwide. The supposedly humanitarian concept of “ingérence” coined first in French—meaning in English unwarranted interference or meddling—was rephrased first as “humanitarian intervention” and then softened further as “responsibility to protect”. These concepts were first elaborated and given a plausible intellectual and legal rationale, prior to getting them endorsed in the UN framework.12

By downgrading the worth of the national sovereignty of the developing countries on the world political marketplace, these countries could then be dealt with individually and according to need. Such concepts also paved the way for the pursuit of geo-strategic objectives by the dominant countries and indirectly helped to legitimise their worldwide military forays.

Many saw these ongoing processes as a renaissance of global imperialism and a resurgence of earlier attitudes and practices, though in a more subtle, effective contemporary form. They were given an added globally applicable military and policing dimension by the wars and military interventions undertaken unilaterally by the North during this period. “War on terror” and “pre-emptive war”, constructs formulated following 9/11, and more recently the revamped Grotius’ concept of “just war” (now promoted as an instrument of peace), are meant to provide “legal” gloss and normative justification for global interventionism.

The United Nations eclipsed: The United Nations was not to the liking of the dominant countries. They were not comfortable with the multilateral processes taking place within the UN framework, because these ignored the so-called power realities, and involved and treated all countries as democratic equals. The UN was also seen by them as a source of unwelcome ideas and initiatives at the global level, and as the institutional vehicle through which the Third World causes, championed by the developing countries, were given voice and influence. These aspects of the organisation had therefore to be countered and neutralised.

As a result, the UN witnessed a significant curtailing of its many important roles, especially concerning international economic relations and development, which were of the highest concern to the developing countries. It was also discouraged from pursuing an integrated and holistic approach to interrelated problems on the global agenda. A problem-by-problem, or “salami” approach was favoured, while sectoral and institutional divides were maintained, including through institutional design. This prevented the issue linkage and emergence of a coherent global strategy and vision in the UN which could have posed a political, intellectual and practical challenge to the North-dominated world system. This, for example, was the case with trade, finance and money interrelation-ships, with the environment-development nexus, and with the domestic and regional policies of the developed countries and their impacts on the rest of the world.

Increasingly, the UN’s work was steered towards specific fields dealing with domestic situations and problems within developing countries. It involved in particular humanitarian and emergency assistance, peace-keeping, natural disasters, human rights, and promoting democratisation, often understood narrowly as multiparty politics, and improving domestic governance. It was eventually given a sharper interventionist thrust, by broadening it to include “threats” seen to emanate from the South. These included terrorism, uncontrolled migration, opiate production and trade, infectious diseases, and conflicts resulting from environ-mental change.13 This was an “à la carte” UN and it corresponded to the preferences of the key developed countries.

As for the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO, these were consecrated as multilateral instruments supporting the strategies of the North. Thus the World Bank and International Monetary Fund became the chosen multilateral mechanisms for legitimising and proselytising worldwide the reigning credo. The IMF, in particular, was also used to orient and control individual countries by imposing policies of structural adjustment, and ensuring that they continued to service external debts.

The newly established World Trade Organisation —into which the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) morphed on the basis of the institutional design prepared at the OECD and brought to the negotiating table by the developed countries in the closing stages of the Uruguay Round—was not mandated to deal with “trade and development”. At the insistence of the developed countries, the WTO was institutionally located outside the UN system, similar to the IMF and World Bank. It emerged as the vehicle for promoting and implementing neo-liberal global trade and trade-related regimes. It offered scope for the protectionist policies of the developed countries (for example, agricultural subsidies, environmental and labour standards), and helped penetrate the vulnerable markets and societies of the developing countries where many local producers, enterprises, and services could not withstand the competition from abroad.

Not to be forgotten, the glittering World Economic Forum in Davos moved into the limelight. Once a year, it was the occasion that brought together state, corporate, financial, and media elites and celebrities. It reflected the policy tilt and dominant preferences of this period. Together with the above trio of IGOs—the Fund, the Bank and WTO—this NGO played an important role in marketing, promoting and consolidating the new world order. In the public eye, this foursome came to overshadow the United Nations.

The key developed countries had the final say in what was promoted and prioritised on the international agenda. They worked hard to filter out and neutralise what was deemed undesirable, achieving an almost worldwide censorship of ideas and control of prevailing thinking and perception. International rules, regimes and institutions, and ongoing programmes, were shaped and used in a manner consistent with their interests and political outlook.

In this process, the private sector played an important, though often opaque or indirect role. Transnational corporations made it part of their global agenda to shape multilateral institutions, policies and regimes in order to advance their goals and objectives. They were quite successful in this, with the support of the key developed countries’ governments, in what began to resemble corporatist state arrangements. There developed a marked presence of business interests at all levels of governmental policy and decision-making. This collaboration took place in such domains as development, finance, trade, environment, food, health, intellectual property and services, and generally in advancing the neo-liberal model of globalisation.

During this period, the United Nations was largely sidelined. Its ability to serve as a platform for global debate and decision-making, and in particular to allow alternative voices and views to have a significant role and influence was limited. There was a keenly-felt absence of a strong multilateral institutional base from which to challenge and question the nature and policy content of the world order, and which the United Nations should normally have provided. Critical thinking and public dissent was isolated and fragmented, and came principally from civil society sources.

It was only once the whole structure and intellectual rationale built and maintained during this period appeared to falter under the impact of the global crisis and the mounting “discontents” with globalisation, that critical voices calling for radical transformation of the system were heeded. It became possible to question and doubt this “global leadership”, its policy orientation and the substantive content on which it rested.

The challenge: To sum up, the recent decades have witnessed the ascendancy and revealed the underlying hubris of the North in the world arena. This was an imperial version of global leadership, spearheaded by a single superpower and amply backed by legions of followers worldwide. It was guided by its geopolitical goals, underlying national objectives, domestic and interest group politics, and corporate agendas, and it drew inspiration and intellectual guidance from a specific school of political and economic thought.

It was reflected in a global intellectual and ideological hegemony where given policy and intellectual constructs, embraced and promoted by this global centre, achieved the unchallenged status of a virtual dogma.14 The so-called TINA (“there is no alternative”) world order, summed up this situation.

As noted, one of the more adverse outcomes of this period was that fledgling globalisation —an objective process driven and made possible by technological and social change—was appropriated and steered by a specific social and political conceptual outlook, and by social forces that have harnessed it to promote their interests and vision of the world order.

The declared obsolescence of national frontiers was used to infringe on the already vulnerable domestic policy space of many developing countries. The weaknesses of these countries, their inability to act as an equal interlocutor and their failure to sustain a dynamic group position, or simply their willingness to submit to the terms offered, or demanded, all contributed to stalling or reversing their quest for an ever-elusive political and economic independence.

The “level playing fields” involving players of unequal strength and ability turned into highly uneven, tilted global playing fields. The weaker parties were usually referred to euphemistically as “partners” to give an appearance of equality. Yet, ill-equipped and politically disarmed, economically vulnerable and dependent, uncertain of their objectives and mostly acting individually, the developing countries had little or no chance in this lopsided mismatch with a well-organised, determined North and its simple and sharp-edged global agenda.

As for the UN during this age of unipolarity and unilateralism, it was reoriented, and on some key issues its voice was muted, depriving the international community of a forum for the collective review and management of the process of change.

The experiences of this period have raised the all-important question of: who should lead on global policy issues that are of systemic nature and worldwide importance? And what are the values, theoretical constructs, paradigms, and interests that will influence and shape the thinking, and help orient and steer the policies and actions, of the international community in this endeavour?

Most global issues on today’s international agenda, in one way or another concern and affect the situation of the four-fifths of the world’s population living in the developing world. Consequently, the North-centred unilateralism, itself partly a result of the vagaries of the developed countries’ domestic politics and interests, needs to be actively questioned, opposed and changed. This is an important challenge, especially for the excluded, that is, the South.

One aspect of this undertaking is the need to define the nature of “global leadership” as concerns the global systemic issues that arise from a growing interdependence and multi-plying interrelationships of the countries and peoples of the world. It calls for the multilateral consideration, definition and agreement of its meaning. Also, it requires a universal multilateral institutional framework that will provide a nexus for collective, participatory processes leading to agreements on approaches to issues and policies of global importance. These questions are considered in the pages that follow.

4. Potential Sources of Influence on Global Systemic Issues in an Interconnected and Interactive International Community

TODAY, due to rapid and continuous progress in technology and communications, both infor-mation and misinformation circulate and reach everywhere. This happens easily and often instantaneously, and includes ideas, issues, problems, analyses, news, views and opinions, quantitative indicators, warnings, alerts, and so on.

Generalised public awareness of complex global problems is thus created, though this does not usually mean that they are properly understood. The latter requires in-depth, wide-ranging and often specialist knowledge, which the general public normally does not possess. It is therefore possible to generate broad interest, but also to manipulate the public and those who seek simple explanations and solutions, by popularising and interpreting events and issues.

The impact on public opinion is of importance given that individual citizens play multiple roles in influencing, channelling, or responding to global leadership initiatives. Through their behaviour, and also as members of groups and electorates, and consumers in mass society, individuals impact the direction and outcomes of political, economic, and societal processes. Public interest and mobilisation is even more likely once citizens realise that many of the local or specific problems they witness and experience are a manifestation of, or are linked to, larger issues and decisions, in what is often a global cause-effect chain.

This means that it will be more and more difficult to insulate and isolate policy and decision-making from the base, when it comes to global systemic issues. It creates a whole new dimension when those in positions of power are obliged to pay attention to and seek to influence the movements, attitudes and reactions of global and local constituencies, including those traditio-nally passive and disinterested. This is uncharted ground, which in the years to come is likely to result in new forms of global interactivity and feedback involving an attentive public.

In an increasingly connected and interactive international community, it is potentially possible for multiple sources to exercise influence. They contribute to forming and shaping attitudes and responses to global issues at different levels worldwide, and thus can effectively play a role, however small, in influencing global leadership.

Many sources of knowledge, information, prescription and opinion vie for attention in today’s world community. For illustrative purposes, it may be useful to identify broad categories of actors, or sources of influence and information, often overlapping and interrelated, which do or can play a role in forming understanding and perceptions, responses to and actions on issues of global significance.

1. State actors, including formal policy-and decision-making structures. These include national governments, for example, the executive branch and all organs of government, elected bodies, and increasingly many actors not belonging formally to the state but having access to seats of power and directly or indirectly participating in and influencing policies and decision-making.

2. International organisations, namely, various intergovernmental organisations and regional integration groupings, consultative groups, etc. where states are members.

3. Non-state social and political actors, such as organised movements. These figure importantly in the evolving scene and include: a) political parties, chambers of commerce, employers, professional associations, labour unions, lobby groups, and civil society movements and NGOs, many of which try to act as intermediaries between the common people and the outside world as it impacts their daily lives and existence; b) key religions and churches, with their worldwide networks and infrastructure; c) sub-rosa local, national and global networks, including shadow governments, secret societies, various sects, and, not to be underestimated, organised crime and crime syndicates, increasingly trans-national in character.

4. Private economic actors, such as transnational corporations, including oil companies and big pharma, banks, investment funds, insurance companies, advertising and public relations firms, etc., which have global aims and scope of operation.

5. The media, which simplifies information, and decides upon what information to communi-cate and how. The vast majority of the world population relies on the media, especially the visual media, as their principal source of information, explanations and values. In this setting, the global media with a global reach, largely under the control of corporate and moneyed interests in the North, have emerged as key global policy instruments and players.

6. The intellectual substrata, the academic “scribblers” and increasingly various experts, technocrats and scientists, that play an influential role and also provide essential support—in the form of academic, intellectual and analytical concepts and ideas, and specialist, including scientific, knowledge—to national and political leaders, governments, intergovernmental organisations, private economic actors and the media. It includes: a) higher learning institutions and universities, policy research institutes and think tanks, international secretariats, national and international commissions and panels; and b) specialist, professional, technocratic, manage-ment and scientific communities and elites, with the knowledge and skills on which modern society depends for its functioning, and which are becoming transnationalised and inter-connected (for example, corporate, business, banking, military, security and intelligence, software, engineering, medical, cyber, etc.).

7. Individual personalities can also influence the perception and management of issues of global importance. These include in particular: a) persons that occupy (or have occupied) leading policy-making posts in government (for example, heads of state or government) with interest in global affairs and issues, as well as heads of international organisations and personalities with roles in multilateral affairs; b) strategically located experts, including economists and financial market specialists, with direct access to power centres, on whose technical advice and opinions those in power, and often the media draw and rely; c) academics, thinkers, philoso-phers and visionaries, scientists and experts in specialised domains of knowledge, spiritual leaders, celebrities of literature, the arts and media, TV and radio commentators, editorialists, op ed writers and bloggers, and those who are exceptionally rich who use their wealth and position to play a role in the public and policy domains (for example, multibillionaires and billionaires, media moguls, corporate CEOs etc.).15

The Internet/Web has emerged as a revolutionary global vehicle to access and communicate information and exchange opinions and also to gain worldwide visibility. It is beginning to play a role in the explanation and discussion of global systemic issues, in forming attitudes and opinions, and in local, national and global political and social mobilisation and expression. Its functions and importance will grow and diversify.

Quantitative indicators also figure importantly in the perception of global challenges. They serve as shorthand and simplify reality, and are generally more effective than qualitative expla-nations in conveying a message, and persuading and mobilising for action. Usually such indicators are not questioned and are accepted at face value as numbers often are. They also serve as a basis for evaluations, policies, decisions and actions on issues and challenges that are of universal relevance and global in scope. Thus, which indicators are used, their source, how they are derived, interpreted and by whom, is of particular importance for global leadership.

In brief, there is a multiplicity of sources, voices, and views on the inherently complex and controversial issues on the agenda. In an inter-national community of actors of widely differing power, capabilities and backgrounds, it is evident that some will be better positioned than others to act, react, be heard, and to influence.

In this often equivocal setting there is no Delphi oracle, no Messiah, and no global emperor on a white horse to pronounce judgements, impose solutions, or make difficult choices. Thus there is no authority or power to provide unquestioned, all-around global leadership which the “planetary flock” can follow.

In the absence of simple non-controversial solutions to systemic global issues of planetary significance, the international community is dependent on a continuation of the inherently untidy and complicated multilateral processes of study, debate, negotiation and conflict resolution in charting a direction and seeking solutions to the world’s problems.

This is well illustrated by the climate change conundrum which began officially almost two decades ago, when the UN Convention on Climate Change was adopted at the 1992 Rio UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The pandemonium of the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, its ambiguous outcomes, the massive climate change denialist offensive in some countries, the indigenous peoples’ climate conference, and the brouhaha regarding the work of the Nobel Peace Prize honoured Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), etc. have highlighted the underlying contradictions and complexities that must be faced and overcome, and give the foretaste of what is in store for the future.

If there is a requirement for all states to participate and be involved, and for broader systemic issues to be taken into account, as is the case for example with climate change or the world financial markets, it follows that a global perspective is crucial to policy orientation and ultimately to decision-making. This is where international organisations assume a pivotal role.

5. The United Nations’ Role in providing Global Leadership in a World Divided

TO reiterate, intellectual and specialist guidance influence the perceptions, direction, and actions of the policy and decision-making elites. In simplified and popularised form, it is also conveyed to the general public. What is transmitted and its content, as well as what attracts attention and is used by policy and decision-makers, is thus of growing importance in an interlinked and interactive world society that has to face complex and systemic issues that are planetary in scope and relevance.

Ideas and theoretical constructs underpin and inspire social and political action. They serve as essential tools in societal discourse. The North has pursued a strategy of securing and main-taining its intellectual superiority and, whenever possible, a monopoly of knowledge. This has made an important contribution to its ability to influence and lead globally. It is not likely to surrender it and will do all in its power to sustain and perpetuate its edge vis-à-vis possible challenges and challengers.

Given the fundamental importance and power of knowledge, ideas and information in the contemporary world, the need to influence and shape thinking, reactions and opinion worldwide is emerging as a critical variable in what is de facto a global struggle of ideas which concerns the nature and direction of economic, political, social and cultural systems, institutions and change.

An important dimension in this struggle involves the updating of the theoretical and normative foundations of international relations and of international organisations. These foundations need to correspond to the changing world, to be able to support the hoped-for democratic, peace-and equity-oriented planetary order in the 21st century.

If this is to happen, the current intellectual asymmetry and dependence on select, mostly establishment-linked, traditional foci of intellectual excellence in the North should be terminated. The diversity of views of the world community, and more importantly, its common interests and overarching objectives, need to be brought into play and properly reflected.

A definition of common and collective interests and aspirations should be achieved through a multilateral, representative and participatory process. This calls for the United Nations to play a leading role in policy, and in the intellectual and theoretical domains. It is also vital for those countries lagging behind to contribute to the attainment of this objective by expanding their own capacities. This can be done through solid preparation, acquisition of knowledge, alternative thinking and sustained effort in the domestic as well as the international arena. It calls for joint action and complementary responses, in order to offset the weakness of these countries when acting individually.

As facilitating and enabling instruments, international organisations offer a forum for global study, dialogue, debate, negotiation, and of course follow-up and implementation. Their role is to produce credible, authoritative analyses, outputs and objectives that provide intellectual and technical back up, knowledge, data and analysis of global issues. Their outputs should serve not only for intergovernmental delibe-ration, but also for informing and educating the global public and national political establish-ments.

They should also assist in the search for common ground. This should not be, as is normally the case, merely a deal between the most powerful interests, or a reflection of what the least forthcoming major partner is willing to agree to (that is, the lowest common denomi-nator). On global systemic issues this common ground will need to reflect common interest and collective wisdom and be based on a vision of a better world.

The United Nations, in fact, is mandated by its Charter to be the leading actor in compre-hensive analysis, understanding, and policy formulation in all domains concerning global processes and phenomena. Its various secretariats have attracted and assembled exceptional individuals. In a number of instances these individuals have helped organisations to take the lead and make major intellectual, policy and action-oriented contributions, for example, in such critical fields as economic and social development, the environment and the world economic order.16 These domains also happen to be at the very root of conflicts that continue to undermine peace, perturb international relations and divide the international community.

It is these important roles of the United Nations that the powerful developed countries sought to limit, for they were not always pleased with the initiatives, thinking and outcomes of the UN’s work, or the results of the inter-governmental negotiations and conferences that it organised.

This is why, when the opportunity presented itself, these countries mounted an offensive. What one witnessed as a result was the fading of the above UN roles, weakening intellectual capacities and constraining leadership potential of its secretariat, and limiting the organisation’s negotiating mandates to address global challenges.

At the same time, its operational load increased, and the procedural and administrative burdens and complexities, which suffocate the creativity and flexibility of the institution, intensified. Management became the principal concern and preoccupation, overshadowing substance and policy issues. While managers, administrators and various technicians grew in importance, the intellects, brains and potential leaders seemed to diminish in value and prominence. Charges of corruption emerged as a standard weapon brandished by the developed countries; they were used to keep the organisation off-balance and on the defensive, as well as to extract certain policy and administrative concessions. For someone in the wider public who would be unaware of certain details and the hidden agendas of key actors (for example, in the “oil-for-food” inquiry) and who followed the story via the media, the unavoidable impression was no doubt that of a UN secretariat and the UN itself permeated with corruption and corrupt officials. By innuendo this corruption was somehow associated to sources or causes in the South.

The global intellectual and policy leadership role of the UN needs to be reinvigorated, and its capacities restored to world pre-eminence. The crucial areas—in particular, trade, money and finance, energy, the environment, climate change, advances in science and technology, the knowledge and information society, food security and health, and the nascent issue of “global commons”—call for global, multilateral and internationalist approaches. They require the engagement of collective human wisdom and thinking to build a common future.

If this does not happen, the existing intellectual asymmetries are likely to be perpetuated. In certain countries considerable human and financial resources are being devoted (by what has been referred to as a “conservative-corporate machine”) to strategic and intellectual prepared-ness for dealing with specific global problems. These include in particular what are considered to be looming disorder and security challenges from real or imagined “enemies” and “threats”, now seen to emanate principally from the periphery, that is, the South.

It is to be expected that such analyses and prescriptions will be inspired and guided by the political, national, group, private or “class” interests in question. The international community cannot continue to depend on sources in the North, or indeed on those international organisations that have served as instruments of the dominance of the North. It will need to turn to the United Nations to reverse this situation, and fulfil properly its function as the principal international organization belonging to all countries and peoples of the world and working for their common interests.

Unavoidably, multilateral processes and negotiations will continue to be characterized by political tensions, disagreements and conflicts. Here, the task of the UN should not be to merely mediate such conflicts and provide a forum for quid pro quo bargaining and negotiations between different interests, outlooks and ambitions. In encounters of this kind, those with superior power and resources tend to prevail, and can block policy change and action, sometimes over a period of decades, as experience has shown.

The UN therefore should also address the underlying causes of conflicts, and offer global leadership by actively seeking ways of overcoming these. It should articulate and champion common, higher ends, interests and values on the basis of which to seek and arrive at corresponding solutions.

In sum, the UN, as the world’s main international organisation, should play multiple and active roles in overcoming global divisions and correcting power imbalances, and in promoting global causes on behalf of the entire international community. This community includes the neglected, disadvantaged periphery, the coming generations, both born or yet to be born, and what is referred to as “One Earth” since the 1972 Stockholm Conference. This is the quintessence of UN’s mission, and its contribution to and role in global leadership.
(To be continued)

REFERENCES

1. The idea of jointly undertaking this essay first arose during our work in the South Centre, when revisiting the article by Boutros Boutros-Ghali entitled “Global Leadership: After the Cold War” (Foreign Affairs, March/April 1996) which postulated expanding global leadership roles for the UN Secretary-General in what was projected to be a promising period of international cooperation following the end of the Cold War. The present article was published first in its Chinese translation in Journal of International Economic Law, Vol. 17, No. 3, Peking University Press, 2010. It was also published as a monograph by Transcend University Press Popular, Basel, 2011.

2. In a memorable sentence in a 1993 speech, Anthony Lake, the then Assistant to the US President for National Security Affairs and now the Executive Director of UNICEF, said: “Only one overriding factor can determine whether the US should act multilaterally or unilaterally, and that is America’s interests. We should act multilaterally when doing so advances our interests, and we should act unilaterally when that will serve our purpose.” As quoted in David A. Lake, Entangling Relations: American Foreign Policy in its Century, Princeton University Press, 1999, p. 199.

3. We recognise growing differentiation among developing countries, difficulties in mounting their collective posture, and the fact that the divisions between developed and developing countries have become less clear cut over time. Nonetheless we adhere to the political, historic and systemic distinction between the North and the South. Thus, the “South”, the “Third World” and the “periphery” refers to the global South, that is, developing countries members of the Group of 77 and China, while the “North” and the “centre” denotes core developed countries (the West), traditional members of OECD. No doubt, many developing countries look forward to being judged and pronounced by the North as having “graduated” to membership of the OECD, as has been the case with several of them so far. Their deep roots and origins in the Third World remain however. (See footnote 45 below for a further comment on the issue of “Third World” and its announced demise by the President of the World Bank.) The states “in transition”, or the former East, in a number of ways resemble the South and find themselves in a similar position to that of developing countries, and thus objectively can be classified with the periphery. However, these countries’ elites feel very strongly to belong geo-politically and civilisationally with the North, that is, the West, and resent any intimation of their structural similarity with the “rest”, that is, the South.

4. For an overview of the rise and origins of neoliberal thinking see Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe, eds. The Road from Mont Pelerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective, Harvard University Press, 2009. A very prominent role was played by the Heritage Foundation which submitted a lengthy, detailed, 20- volume strategy report, indeed a manual, to the incoming Republican Administration in 1980. The report was published in an abridged form as Mandate for Leadership: Policy Management in a Conservative Administration, The Heritage Foundation, 1980. Its recommendations and policy directions were largely reflected in the policy of the new Administration, including the US stance in international development discourse and vis-à-vis the UN. It should be noted, however, that the developed countries’ counter-offensive, spearheaded by the superpower, against the South, its initiatives and agenda, began earlier and took form soon after the OPEC oil price rise and the 1974 Sixth Special Session of the UN General Assembly, which adopted the Declaration and the Programme of Action on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO).

5. An insightful discussion of the period, and of the intellectual origins and implications for the contem-porary world of the forceful planetary propagation by the global power centre of socio-economic patterns based on this school of ideological thinking, can be found in Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land, The Penguin Press 2010. In particular, see sections “The Revenge of the Austrians”, pp. 91-106, and “The Cult of the Private”, pp. 106-119.

6. In this country, in his farewell address, President Eisenhower was the first to draw attention to the existence of a “military-industrial complex”, an alliance of interest groups that benefit from “endless growth of military spending and endless confrontation overseas”. This complex evolved and grew over the decades that followed into a much more sophisticated and powerful system, with global ambitions, capabilities, and strategies. It spawned vested interests in continuation ad infinitum of these policies and of the perennial warfare culture and preparedness. Today, six decades later, it is more appropriate to describe it as a government (including military, security and intelligence, Congress and practically all states of the Union which in one way or another benefit from and have a stake in federal defence spending)-corporate-financial-media-academic complex. Its global thrust and ambitions recall President Truman’s words when he said that the world could be saved only if “the whole world were to adopt the American system”, and the American system could survive only by “becoming a world system”.

7. For a history of key events and developments in the South see Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations, A People’s History of the Third World, The New Press, 2007.

8. UNCTAD was targeted for special attention by the Heritage Foundation because of its leading role in what was described as the “war on the free enterprise”. See, for example the Heritage Foundation back-grounders by Stanley Michalak, No. 348, “UN Conference on Trade and Development, Part 1: Cheating the Poor”, No. 374 Part 2: “Blocking Economic Growth”, No. 394 Part 3, “The Truths UNCTAD Will Not Face”, No. 438 Part 4, “The Bias Impeding Third World Growth”, and No. 477 Part 5, “The US Must Reassess its Role”.

9. Some of this yearning is to be found in Brial Fergusson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, Allen Lane, 2002.

10. The de facto end of the North-South dialogue and of the international development agenda was signalled at the 1981 North-South Summit in Cancun. The Summit was convened to consider the Report of the Independent Commission, which was chaired by Willy Brandt, on International Development Issues, entitled North-South: A Programme for Survival, Pan Books, 1980. According to several participants in the Summit, the two freshly elected leaders of the Anglo-American tandem unceremoniously dismissed the recommen-dations of the Report and the whole international development agenda and declined to engage in consideration of follow up actions. (The US President in particular was quite explicit, stating that governments block development and suffocate the initiative of individual citizens, and that the development process should be turned over completely to private enterprise. He also observed that the United Nations was an absurd idea where each member state is allocated one vote, and that his country could not accept to have the same weight as mini states, or agree to have its freedom of action restricted by international agreements.) The age of hegemonic leadership was thus heralded.

11. To recall, these ideas and measures were embodied inter alia in the Final Act of the 1964 UN Conference on Trade and Development, International Development Decade strategies, New International Economic Order (NIEO) Declaration and Programme of Action, the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States, the 1975 UNIDO Lima Declaration and Plan of Action on Industrial Development and Cooperation, and the Programme of Action adopted at the 1979 Vienna UN Conference on Science and Technology for Develop-ment.

12. See, for example, The Responsibility to Protect, Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, IDRC, 2001

13. See A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, Report of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, United Nations, 2004.

14. See Branislav Gosovic, “Global Intellectual Hegemony and the International Development Agenda”, UNESCO International Social Science Journal, 166, December 2000, pp. 447-456.

15. See Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt, How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, Bloomsbury, 2010. The book illustrates how a few individual scientists with ties to given industries and rightwing groups in the US, who have been given inordinate attention and credibility by the media, have systematically undermined scientific and national consensus on such environment-related issues as climate change, the ozone hole, and acid rain. Given the importance of this country in the world arena, such individuals have thus effectively played a major role in blocking and watering down international efforts in these domains.

16. For a comprehensive analysis of the UN’s intellectual leadership role and contributions to economic and social thought and action, see Richard Jolly, Louis Emmerij, and Thomas G. Weiss, UN Ideas that Changed the World, Indiana University Press, 2009, the “capstone” volume of the United Nations Intellectual History Project Series.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali is from Egypt. He holds an LL.B. from Cairo University and a Ph.D in international law from the Sorbonne University in Paris. Between 1949 and 1977, he was Professor of International Law and International Relations at Cairo University. Among many national functions he was the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (1977-1991), Member of Parliament (1987-1991), Vice-President of the Socialist International (1990-1991) and Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs (1991). Boutros-Ghali was the sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations (1992-1996), Secretary-General of the International Organisation of the Francophonie (1997-2002), and Chairperson of the Board, South Centre (2003-2006). Currently he is the President of the International Panel on Democracy and Development, UNESCO; Institute for Mediterranean Political Studies, Club de Monaco; Curatorium of the Academy of International Law, The Hague; and National Council for Human Rights of Egypt. He has authored more than 100 publications in English, French and Arabic on regional and international affairs, law and diplomacy, and political science.

Branislav Gosovic is from Yugoslavia. He holds a Ph.D in political science from the University of California, Berkeley. A former UN career official, he worked in UNCTAD, UNEP, and ECLAC, as well as, on secondment, in the World Commission on Environment and Development and the South Commission. He headed the South Centre secretariat (1991-2005). He is member of Development Alternatives Global (DAG) and author of several books and articles on development, international relations and the UN.

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