Globalisation: fears and hopes

Posted: 21 June 2004

Author: David Held

Author Info: David Held is Graham Wallace Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics.

In an article in www.openDemocracy.net Professor David Held unveiled a plan for global security that went far beyond the present 'Washington consensus'. He warns that 'globalisation' in its present form included "a catastrophic combination of negative factors" and argues that it is still possible to reform our international institutions based on the universal principles of equality of all human beings. On the 18 June 2004 it was presented to Kofi Annan's High Panel currently reassessing the role of the United Nations. As a contribution to our coverage of people, poverty and trade, we publish a shortened version.

Four major ongoing developments reinforce each other and point in a negative direction:

  • the potential collapse of the regulation of world trade in such a way that it will worsen not redress global inequality
  • the failure to move towards the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals which set the minimum humanitarian levels for large sections of the world population
  • the complete failure to address the awesome consequences of global warming
  • the erosion of the multilateral order symbolised by the United Nations but extending through a whole series of international agreements and agencies.

The post-war multilateral order is threatened by the intersection and combination of these economic, humanitarian, environmental and political crises. More serious still, there is a driving force taking them from bad to worse. This force is willed, even though it often presents itself in the form of inevitability, and it can be summed up in two phrases: the Washington economic consensus and the Washington security strategy.

Progressive framework

Together they promulgated the view that a positive role for government is to be fundamentally distrusted and that regulation threatens freedom, limits growth, impedes development and restrains the good.

(On the security front, said Dr Held, the new doctrine of 'pre-emptive action', as in Iraq, has many serious implications. Among them a return to the view of international relations as, in the last analysis, a "war of all against all")

Both need to be replaced by a progressive framework that:

  • sustains the enormous enhancement of productivity and wealth that the market and contemporary technology make possible
  • ensures that the benefits are fairly shared
  • addresses extremes of poverty and wealth as part of a commitment to overall security which engages with the causes as well as the crimes of terrorism, war and failed states.

I will call the approach that sets itself this task, social democratic globalisation and a human security agenda.

Rule of law

What the world needs is a global security agenda that requires three things of governments and international institutions - all currently missing.

First, there must be a commitment to the rule of law and the development of multilateral institutions that can prosecute a robust form of international law enforcement.

Second, a sustained effort has to be undertaken to generate new forms of global political legitimacy for international institutions involved in security and peacemaking.

Third, there must be a head-on acknowledgement that the ethical and justice issues posed by the global polarisation of wealth, income and power, and with them the huge asymmetries of life-chances, cannot be left to markets to resolve.

Instead, we are now witnessing a deeply misguided response to terrorism in which the new security agenda of the American neo-conservatives arrogates to the United States the global role of setting standards.

Specifically, we need to link the security and human rights agenda in international law; reform the UN Security Council to improve the legitimacy of armed intervention, with credible threshold tests; amend the now outmoded 1945 geopolitical settlement as the basis of decision-making in the Security Council and extend representation to all regions on a fair and equal footing; expand the remit of the Security Council with a parallel Social and Economic Security Council, to examine and, where necessary, intervene in the full gambit of human crises - physical, social, biological, environmental - which can threaten human agency; and found a World Environmental Organisation to promote the implementation of existing environmental agreements and treaties, and whose main mission would be to ensure that the development of world trading and financial systems are compatible with the sustainable use of the world's resources.

To reconnect the security and human rights agenda in this way we need a global covenant which encompasses both the fundamental legal humanitarian issues and social and economic well-being, such as basic education and fundamental humanitarian priorities such as clean water and public hygiene...

But unregulated economic development which simply follows the existing rules and entrenched interests of the global economy will not lead to prosperity for all. Economic development needs to be conceived as a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Allocating resources

If developed countries especially want swift movement to the establishment of global legal codes that will enhance security and ensure action against the threats of terrorism, then they need to be part of a wider process of reform on these lines that addresses the insecurity of life experienced in developing societies.Do we have the resources to put such a programme into effect?

A few telling examples make the point. The UN budget is $1.25 billion plus the necessary finance for peacekeeping per annum. Against this, US citizens spend over $8 billion per annum on cosmetics, $27illion per annum on confectionery, $70 billion per annum on alcohol and over $560 billion per annum on cars. (All these figures are from the late 1990s and so are likely to be much higher now.)

Or take the European Union: its citizens spend $11 billion per annum on ice-cream, $150 billion per annum on cigarettes and alcohol, while the EU and the US together spend over $17 billion per annum on pet food.

If all OECD agricultural subsidies were removed and spent on the world's poorest peoples this would release some $300 billion per annum. A small shift between military and aid budgets (respectively $900 billion a year globally and $50 billion a year globally) would make a marked difference to the human security agenda. Clearly, the economic resources do exist to put in place reforms to aid the world's poorest and least well-off. The question really is about how we allocate our resources, to whose benefit and to what end.

This article was first published on www.opendemocracy.net as part of an ongoing debate on globalisation. openDemocracy.net is a forum for debate and analysis on issues of global politics and culture. © David Held and openDemocracy