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Dossiers and Documents : Discussion Papers : Rethinking Global Governance

Rethinking Global Governance

The terrorist threat
Nuclear power
The new wars

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Rethinking Global Governance

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Arnaud Blin, Gustavo Marin ¤ 2 January 2008 ¤
Translations: Español (original) . français .

Since 2001, we have spoken much about the terrorist threat, even in an exaggerated manner on the part of certain governments that have exploited this threat to their gain. Indeed, terrorism does not threaten the stability of the planet, and, even less, the survival of the West. Nevertheless, it is a threat that goes beyond the framework of national boundaries and that, potentially, touches everyone. It is even one of the rare security issues that straddle the international, national and local arenas. The anti-terrorist fight, for example, involves cities, law enforcement authorities, intelligence agencies, national armies, the United Nations and Interpol, to name the more major entities. More generally, this struggle involves the citizen as well. Faced with this threat, one can see since 2001 – the year that marks the start of a large-scale awareness of this centuries-old threat – that no apparatus exists that is qualified for coordinating the anti-terrorist fight at the international level, nor even institutions capable of informing citizens about the nature of this threat whose target is precisely the every-day citizen and that makes an appearance almost exclusively on the stage of psychological confrontation where the wager is public opinion. Of course contacts have been made between various agencies and networks have been established but it often consists of ill-matched actions that lack a true point man.

Nuclear power

Nuclear power presents a perfect example of a problem that should have been resolved many years ago but for which we now fail to see a foreseeable resolution. Even the end of the Cold War did not bring about a significant evolution in this domain if not the pursuit of agreements started under full confrontation between the two camps. If nuclear strategy might have had perhaps a certain political sense – even in an absurd context on the ethical and philosophical level – during the Cold War, the possession of nuclear arsenals, even reduced, by a small group of countries, including the traditional nuclear powers (those of the permanent Security Council of the U.N.) plus three or four other countries, cannot today be justified.

Yet, what do we see? Not only do the traditional powers not ask themselves whether or not they could abandon their arsenal and their programs, but they attempt to refuse certain countries (Korea, Iran) – who certainly have dubious objectives – access to nuclear technology while at the same time supporting other nations (India). Is this not simply another way to affirm that power and the law of the strongest continue to dictate international affairs?

Contrary to terrorism, which is a complex and multi-dimensional phenomenon, nuclear proliferation is a simple problem as it, up to now, only concerns States (who like to wave the flag at so-called nuclear terrorism), and but a handful of them at that. But, if the problem is simple, it is nevertheless thorny because a nuclear explosion has, by definition, a tremendous potential for destruction. Yet, neither the States concerned, nor the United Nations (same thing, or almost, in this case) have the willpower to abandon an instrument of prestige possibly able to twist the diplomatic arm – and let us not forget that the new United States nuclear doctrine envisions a rather large use of nuclear weapons (pre-emption, fight against terrorism, et cetera). Nuclear power, residual by-product of the Cold War, should be resolved. For the present, it is far from being so.

The new wars

The time-honored prototypical conflicts are on the road to extinction. Today, there are practically no wars between States. The collapse of all empires also signified the end of wars of national emancipation. The new conflicts are of a different sort. First, they concern mostly “peripheral” or “marginal” countries that are removed from the geopolitical epicenters. These countries are often both poor, or impoverished, and poorly governed. New causes of conflict are also born. They are less political and increasingly economic and environmental. Environmental problems (drought, access to drinkable water) are now the cause of conflicts with all the possible consequences (population displacement, for example) and they transplant themselves to other potential sources of conflict (historical resentments, inter-ethnic animosity, conflicting opinions). For these conflicts, new approaches are necessary, including good knowledge of the issues at hand, a shared will to prevent escalation, the right or duty to intervene (devoir d’ingérence)in the affairs of a State often incapable, at best, to prevent conflict.

It is imperative that prevention of new conflicts, like the one in Darfur, become one of the international community’s priorities in the future. There still, how to move forward? In this area, the traditional approach is vowed to fail because these conflicts, both by their complexity and by the fact that, often, they occur in regions considered as carrying little strategic weight, do not interest à priori the countries that could intervene. It is in this area, more than the others, that we need to develop new conceptual tools destined to lead to concrete actions of prevention for this type of conflict that, if not put down, are going to multiply in the future, with truly catastrophic humananitarian consequences. Other problems, concealed until now, also need to be studied. Let us take an example: resentment. How many conflicts, crises, tensions are born from resentment, some of which date back several centuries? Today, at a very time when colonial wars are over or when the major conflicts of interest or the battles of power between States seem to be in decline, resentment is quite possibly the current principle cause of war and crisis. Yet, what are governments doing to understand this phenomenon nevertheless crucial to history, and particularly contemporary history? Even historians and political scientists, at present, have failed to study the question in any depth. And yet, if preventive war is but a delusion, peace is fundamentally preventive. To prevent, to act as well, it is imperative to understand. To build the world of tomorrow, we must understand the world of today. This could be a hollow political slogan. And yet it is the illumination we often lack, but need, in order to build the architecture of an effective, united, and responsible global governance.

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