IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Betwixt and between

It is hard, for several reasons, to make sense of the world; and it is understandable that many people talk about rising “disorder” or even “chaos”.  However, there are, I think, understandable reasons for this situation.  One is that the world we knew, that we thought was “solid” is turning out to be “fluid” or at least not so solid.  The parameters are changing, we are in some sort of, to use what is now something of a cliché, paradigm shift.  Or, put another way, more and more we are confronted by GGI’s–ie Global Governance Issues– that just won’t go away (much as we wish they would).

Or to quote (for the “nieme fois” as the French say) W.B. Yeats‘s “The Second Coming”:  “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…”.  We are probably not conscious of the degree to which this is actually happening.  However, consider to what an extent “issues” keep cropping up for which solutions cannot readily be found, or in regard to which the existing structures of world order (for lack of a better term) don’t seem adequate.  The Euro crisis is a good example.  The Euro was/is a good idea, but it wasn’t set up with enough means to keep it on track.  Or look at the U.N. Charter.  The world had just had a terrible trauma (ie WW II) and it was pretty clear that change was necessary, and yet the limits of peoples world views prevented the founders of the organization from really creating means adequate to deal with the realities of world politics then and now.  Or, consider the current wave of intra-state conflicts.  Certainly, international norms have evolved to some extent, and “non-interference” in a state’s internal affairs can be side-steppe by the Security Council if they deem that those “affairs” are creating threats to international peace and security (…and don’t “pooh pooh” this:  it is a significant innovation).  However, the main actors (in most cases the permanent members of that same SC) have to be willing to act, to really take the principle of Collective Security seriously…and to date they are not yet always ready to do that.  So, we often get responses to crises that are too little, too late (or at least seem that way).

Such are the “interesting” times in which we live.  It will probably get worse before it gets a lot better, in that the limitations of our world order and the mindset(s) that underpin it, will become more and more obvious; and the crises these limitations create will be more acute…and it is exactly this which brings significant change.  So, to reiterate my main message for early 2012:

“IGbarb says:  fasten your seat belts, we are in, and will probably remain in for some time, a zone of turbulence.”


January 11, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“…and then there was….what was there?”*

Just me noting a few things I have found interesting.

First, as I suspected the whole Euro issue would push the EU toward more governance.  Of course, many countries don’t like this; but personally, I think the Euro is here to stay and more centralized fiscal control is an inevitability.  Today Europe…tomorrow (well not exactly tomorrow, but anyway…) the world!

Second,  it is amazing how information diffuses these days, and also amazing that people who nobody thought were really interested in democracy, seem to be interested after all.  Who knew?  In fact, though, it is probably not democracy in any specific form that they want (you can fill in the names for the “they” here–just pick up a newspaper).  They want to have some say over what happens to them, they want to have a sense of identity that is not constantly being called into question by events…and they want to live in a society with meaningful relationships that confirm their identity and help them to participate in what shapes their lives.  We all want this.  You can call this human rights, or essential freedoms, or whatever.  It is what humans (as John Burton pointed out quite a few years ago now) need to be fully human.  Also, and this is the part we are seeing today:  it can’t be taken away forever; or, for that matter negotiated away.  People will, sooner or later, rise up to take it back.

Politics is a dependent variable.  Huh?  Well, while we go on and on about who is governing whom and who might get the chance to replace them in what election, we lose sight of the bigger picture, which I suspect has to do with the fact that our values and our culture pretty much determine what happens in our politics.  So, if you want to change politics (heck, what right-thinking person doesn’t?) you have to change those values and, by implication, the culture in which they are embedded….which explains, to some extent at least, why I am a teacher and not a politician.  True, I teach about politics, but I don’t practice what most would consider politics…but believe me, I see myself very much involved in the process of global change (even if in a small way).

We really need to unite, at least to a basic workable level, our planet.  Heck we are finding more and more  possibly inhabitable worlds.  Sooner, rather than later, the Star Trek scenario will be upon us (ie when we start to move at light speed through space).  Heaven (literally) only knows what will happen at that point.  Personally, I think we need all hands on deck on spaceship earth for what will be a probably never ending series of challenges without precedent.  No more time for squabbles, or neglecting suffering, or stupid prejudices…Everybody is “us”…no more”them”.  If you don’t get that, take a really hard look at the stars some night…a real hard, real long look.  Let that good old cosmic insignificance sink deep into you.  If you do this, you just might, as I did at one point, realize that that very feeling (as uncomfortable as it can be) is a creative force.  We really are all in this planetary life thing together.  There really is, as Sartre said, “no exit”.  Or, as Stuart Brand, creater of the Whole Earth Catalogue used to say “we are as gods, so we might as well get good at it”.

IGbarb says:  “Gods are as gods do…be as godly as you can!”

* I think this is from Frank Zappa, but I’m not sure (Karl Weaver are you out there?)

December 29, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“All that rises”…revisited

Readers of this blog have probably figured out, in general terms, my point of view on world events.  Basically, I see humanity being obliged to evolve (the expression “kicking and screaming” comes to mind) into its maturity, represented by the emergence of a world civilization.   Admittedly, this point of view has a degree of optimism in that total extinction is not anticipated.  OK…now keeping that in mind, consider the following comments.

It has impressed me for some time how people in “civilized” countries have, for a very long time, been resigned to and more or less taken for granted actions and situations at the international level which they would consider intolerable in their own communities.  I see this as a an example of what the Marxists call a “contradiction”:   something in the socio-political order that is unstable and has to change as either circumstances or consciousness change.  What do I mean?  Well, consider.    Even if many local governments are not effective at coping with the ongoing crimes of gangs, citizens are not usually ready to say” oh well, that’s just the way it is”  “people (men) are just like that” ” it has always been like that and will always be like that”  “it is naive and utopian to think it could be otherwise”.  No..they would scream for police action, legislation, community action…in short that government and civil society do something to stop the violence, crime and chaos in their community.

However, the statements in quotations above are exactly the kind of thing one hears about violence and crime at the global level.  Basically the view is:  “what do you expect from a chaotic social system characterized by an unbridled struggle among distinct and separate national actors to survive and dominate”.  This is what I would call “bifurcated” thinking, and immediately gives rise to the following critique:  if governance is good at the local and national levels, why not at the global level?  Some reply that it is impossible, but that is an increasingly weak argument, since humanity is, and has been for some time, doing all sorts of things previously thought impossible.  I was reminded this weekend that every second the Voyager space probes are pushing back the (still infinitesimally small, admittedly) scope of humanity’s penetration into the universe.  If we can do all these unprecedented things, we can also do something about global governance.

So, personally, I think this contradiction will resolve itself through the unstoppable expansion of peoples’ personal horizons to encompass the global–our thinking is literally becoming global, even in regard to trivial day to day things (professional sports, “dancing with the stars” etc…).  This leads inevitably to an increasing capacity to see beyond the “us/them” distinction, and to grasp that people suffering far away are still in as much pain as people suffering down the street…and that something should be done about this.

I think this is the trend, but it is obvious that the process of change in this direction is sporadic and characterized by reactionary impulses to “close borders” etc… In this regard, I’m not saying that immigration policies are irrelevant.  What I’m saying is that you have to look to the cause of your immigration problem and the complex dynamics and historical background that put your society in this situation.  You may not want to, but I don’t see how you can, over the medium to longer run, avoid doing so.

Anyhow, you see what I’m driving at, I suppose.  If you don’t, feel free to ask me 🙂

IGBarb says (again quoting the immortal Walt Kelly):  “We have met the enemy, and he is  us”

November 14, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Signs of the times

Some days ago I wrote a few things about events in the Middle East and human needs.  Well, what is going on–and shows no signs of letting up–raises many other issues as the various situations develop and change.  For me, one of the most important of these relates to Global Governance.  Put simply, who is responsible for dealing with abuses of power by a government vis a vis its people.  This is tricky, since before the creation of the U.N., there was no real answer to that.  Somehow, it was expected that having states and governments was enough.   However, much of the history of the world since the democratic revolutions of the mid 19th century, shows that this is clearly not enough.  You don’t even have to go into questions of rights or humanitarian concerns.  There are simple practical issues.  If a government is brutal, people will leave that territory (if they can) and that creates all sorts of problems for the country’s neighbors.  Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of thousands of refugees.  Still, if you start intervening in countries even if only when there is a mass exodus of refugees, you have to be concerned that you are establishing a precedent and that you might one day be on the receiving end of such an intervention.  Nobody wants that either.  In short there is a sort of dilemma here.

The U.N. has at least helped to resolve some of the conceptual problems.  The Charter makes it clear that the Security Council can act in any situation it deems to be a threat to international peace and security; and over the years they have decided that internal issues that create external problems can indeed constitute such threats.  This, of course, does not get around all the political issues about who might or might not want to intervene in which countries.  Still, at the end of the day, a rudimentary (and not very efficient) legal framework does (sort of) exist to handle these matters.  It could, and probably should, be more efficient and have more resources at its disposal.  There are a number of reasons why it doesn’t, but they would take too long to explain.

So,  what I’m getting at is that one way or another, the current crises will probably push the process of Global Governance further along its evolutionary path–and this despite the fact that many would like to stop and even reverse the process.  However, it seems that you can’t do that:  crises that transcend borders just keep coming along.  It is increasingly difficult to cope with these and would seem that the few existing structures will have to be overhauled and strengthened sooner rather than later since nobody likes the idea that chaos is at the door (or even already in the hallway).

Should be interesting.

March 30, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

I should probably wait till tomorrow, but…

I was just thinking whether, overall, 2010 was a good year for peace (understood broadly) or not.  Of course, the answer to this sort of question is going to be heavily influenced by whether one is a glass half full or glass half empty kind of person.  Personally, at least in regard to peace, I am the former; though, hopefully, in a realistic way.  In other words, while I think that events during the last year have moved us closer to peace, the damage done (in human and material terms) has at times been so dreadful that I honestly think the “glass” should have been completely full a long time ago (really).  However, let’s consider one or two things, and maybe you can add some more (hint, hint…this blog does have a “comments” function, after all).

1.  World financial chaos seems to be moving governments toward more global governance in this area.  “Oh no!” some of you are saying; but frankly global problems do really require global solutions, and money is definitely a global problem (though at times it seems pretty “local” to many of us, I know).  How is this related to peace?  Well, historically countries in financial difficulty have used war, one way or another, to try to get out of depressions, etc… By the way, this seems at times to work, but probably only because the “war effort” gives  the government a really good reason to inject a lot of money into the economy (ie preparing for war), and that gets things going (think World War II in America).  Also, according to the “spill over” theory of integration, as governments learn to work together in one area they can take that experience and apply it to others (where needed).

2.  Violent conflict is becoming increasingly intolerable to people in general.  We used to be fairly indifferent to what happened to people “far away about whom we know nothing”.  We might still be that way, but with current media it is hard to think of anybody as really far away, and we won’t remain ignorant about them for very long once the media turns its penetrating (but probably somewhat distorting) vision upon them.   And while we still experience “us and them”, I think global culture is “homogenizing” humans to some extent:  we are starting to see that “they” are not always so very different from “us”.  To invoke the old saw:  when they are cut (or hit by a bomb, or whatever) do they not bleed.  In short, we are starting to see that we are all in this thing together.  Or, at least, more and more of us are–whether we like it or not–starting to see and, more importantly, to feel this.

OK…that’s for starters.  I guess I have time to add a few more before the New Year comes and goes and fades out of sight.


December 30, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

H1N1: it really is a small world (after all)

H1N1 is still around and is probably going to hit big in the Fall.    As it happens it is only the latest in a serious of scares about “global pandemics” etc…; and this, along with the transnational spread of global crime, seems to be one of the scarier aspects of globalization.  You can learn more than you probably every wanted to about “globalization and disease” here.

As this article explains:

“In the current era of globalization the world is more interdependent than at any other time. Efficient and inexpensive transportation has left few places inaccessible, and increased global trade in agricultural products has brought more and more people into contact with animal diseases that have subsequently jumped species barriers.”

I should think it is obvious that if viruses and microbes don’t respect national borders, one has to think of the whole world as one system to find effective public health measures to control such outbreaks.   This article makes the point neatly:

“Experts grappling with these diseases no longer consider that the pursuit of a strictly national public health policy is adequate. The need for global cooperation increases the importance of international law in the public health arena.”

So, briefly put, the globalization of infectious disease is a Global Governance issue; and as we have discussed previously, effective global governance implies peace, since countries at war are not likely to cooperate effectively or at all to find solutions to even urgent transnational issues affecting them.

Once again, we see that “war is death” and “peace is life”.

July 19, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

G-8 to G-more?

As readers of this blog probably know by now, I think the evolution of global governance is closely related to the emergence of peace on this planet (see this post, for example).  I have also concluded that watching the ups and downs of the G-8 is one interesting way to monitor possible changes in GG.   In that regard, have a look at this article from Time magaine about the recent summit .

“There was a time when eight was enough: The annual meetings of the leaders of the world’s eight most industrialized nations (well, seven, plus Russia, which while lagging well behind in the economic stakes, was deemed a politically wise addition back in the mid-1990s) were once the unquestioned epicenter of global economic and military might. The G-8 summits staged in scenic spots around the world offered an opportunity for the key leaders of the Northern Hemisphere to chart the direction of the world economy, for thousands of protesters to gather and voice to Quixotically challenge that direction amid clouds of tear gas.

But things have changed as the G-8’s power has been challenged — not by the anti-globalization protesters, but by the rising economic and political influence of the countries shut out of the exclusive club. The guest list for this week’s summit in Italy made clear that the core members — the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia — are no longer capable of addressing the key global problems among themselves. After only a half-day of meeting in the central Italian host city of L’Aquila, the G8 expanded its table to include the so-called G5 emerging economies — China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico. After all, no discussion of consequence on the direction of the world economy, or on curbing global warming, could be held without them. Then Egypt was added as a “plus one.” Then came three additional European countries, Spain, the Netherlands, and Turkey; members of the Major Economies Forum (17 countries) and four more African countries.”

President Obama, in his typically eloquent way (that man can speechify!) put it nicely:  ” ‘There was a time when Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin could shape the world in one meeting. Those days are over,” he said. “The world is more complex today. Billions of people have found their voice, and seek their own measure of prosperity and self-determination in every corner of the planet.’ ”

And so it goes…the reality of a globalizing world with more and more pressing border-spanning issues is surely but slowly (oh so slowly it seems at times) understood, and even manages to get on the world political agenda, despite vested interests that don’t want change.

IGbarb says:  watch this space! 🙂

July 10, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

G-20, the continuing story

I’ve written a couple of times about the impact of the economic crisis on global governance, and specifically about what might or might not happen among the so-called G-20 countries when they meet next month.  Well, we are on the final countdown toward the summit, and it is clear that there are forces pulling in all sorts of directions–both positive and negative.  I just came across this story from the New York Times.

On the one hand the finance ministers who just had their preparatory meeting for the Summit “…committed to take “whatever action is necessary” to revive consumer demand and regulate global markets.”

Also they:

“…did agree on Saturday to commit more money to help developing countries and the emerging markets of Eastern Europe, where the downturn has spilled into street protests. They also pledged to step up efforts to revive bank lending and regulate hedge funds.”

but, on the other hand:

“…the vagueness of the commitment meant that it will be up to President Obama — and the leaders of China, Russia and European nations, among others — to convince the markets that they have a coordinated strategy as they prepare to meet in London on April 2.”

I would encourage you to read the whole article, since it succinctly explains the “push me/pull you” nature of all efforts by so many diverse countries to come to an adequate collective response.  Again, the challenges, vested interests and inertia should not be underestimated.

The article also mentions that President Obama is taking into consideration the national security concerns associated with the crisis.

The plot thickens!

March 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Economic Crisis and Global Governance cont’d

Following on my previous posts about the economic crisis and how it seems to be having an impact on Global Governance, I just saw this story in the Washington Post:

Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 23, 2009; Page A13

BERLIN, Feb. 22 — European leaders on Sunday pledged to establish global oversight of hedge funds, crack down on tax havens and beef up other rules as part of a reformation of the international monetary system.

Leaders from eight European countries, meeting in Berlin, said they had agreed on broad principles for bolstering the regulation of global finance in advance of a summit of the world’s leading powers April 2 in London.

“A clear message and concrete action are necessary to engender new confidence in the markets and to put the world back on a path toward more growth and employment,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who hosted the meeting.

The officials were seeking to adopt a common European negotiating strategy for the summit, which will be attended by the United States, China, Japan, India, Brazil and other large economies that make up the Group of 20. (you can read the rest here )

It is very interesting to watch this process underway, even if, as I keep saying, there are no guaranteed solutions.  Some scholars talk about how success in one issue area might “spillover” to others, and, personally, I think that it is how a more peaceful world order will gradually emerge.

February 23, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

Why (do) we fear world government(?)

Earlier this month I wrote a bit about world government, and I have invoked the topic from time to time.  I see it as closely connected to peace, because even if most people become saints (or close to it) we will need some institutions with global scope to handle problems of global scope, including differences among states and peoples.  However, a brief hop around the Internet reveals that the idea of WG scares many people, and it seems to me important to try to understand why.  When you wade through the various views (and some are very extreme), I think the main issue (xenophobia and conspiracy theories aside) is that most people assume world government will be centralized and oppressive–as many governments at the national level are or have been at one time.  We are not historically very far removed from national dictators (you could argue that there still are some, for that matter), and the idea of having a world dictator is not very attractive.

I can understand these concerns.  They indicate, among other things, that the theory and practice of “governance” at all levels needs to evolve and improve.  However, let me put on my political scientist’s “hat” for a moment, and remind everybody that there are many kinds of government, and many ways to govern.  Furthermore, the fearful image that the term “world government” evokes in many people is probably the least likely form that it could, in reality, take.  Consider, instead, the idea of a confederation . According to my old pal “the Wik“:

“Usually created by treaty but often later adopting a common constitution, confederations tend to be established for dealing with critical issues such as defense, foreign affairs, or a common currency, with the central government being required to provide support for all members.”

This is a sort of minimalist system, which respects the principle of “subsidiarity”,  currently operating in the European Union.  Again, to quote “the Wikster“:

“Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralised competent authority. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.”

I personally think that a loose confederal system is already emerging at the global level, but that discussion will have to wait for a later post.  My point here is that WG is not necessarily any “scarier” than government at any other level.

December 31, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 5 Comments

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