I recently lost a close friend, Rashid Kidwai, to Covid. His family threw him a touching tribute last month. It was not a prayer meeting, but a festive retrospective of her life captured through memories, photographs, videos and heartbreaking background music. I suspect that many of the 700+ people who logged into the virtual event struggled to keep their tears under control. I decided to start this article by referring to my friend because as I listened to the memories and images of Kidwai’s life course, I was struck by the idea that a safer way to approach the problems of 21st century would go beyond the principles of national sovereignty on which decisions are currently based to a redesigned system built around the somewhat abstract concept of humanity.
Like many of us, Kidwai was in despair for the state of the world. He worried about global warming, environmental degradation, the erosion of the legitimacy of governance institutions, cross-border conflicts and social and economic injustices. But perhaps unlike us, he didn’t let that desperation dampen his contagious optimism. His optimism was based on the belief that individuals will ultimately see the future through the prism of the living and the “yet unborn” rather than, as is increasingly the case today, the prism of the inanimate of the world. technology, money, status and power. He saw that the glass was half full and not half empty.
The international world order is currently built around the principles that were first articulated in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 which ended the overlapping 30 and 80 year wars in Europe. They were then reaffirmed in contemporary language in the statutes which served as a framework for multilateral agencies such as the UN, WTO and WHO created in the aftermath of World War II. The thrust of these principles was that countries have an exclusive right of control over all matters arising within their territorial borders and that this “right” is not compromised by their signed commitments to multilateral governance. Efforts were made in the years that followed to dilute this “right”, especially on the part of proponents of humanitarian intervention, and multilateral rules carry moral sanction, but by and large these principles continue. influence decisions.
A telling illustration is the response to Covid. The first reaction of almost all world leaders was to hide behind national walls. Scientists have collaborated across national borders to develop the vaccine, but when it comes to distribution, politicians first focused on securing supplies for their national constituency and then did not consider meeting their commitment. to share supplies with the less developed world. “Vaccine nationalism” has become a common term.
Another illustration is the lingering ambiguity about the implementation of the “green agenda”. G7 leaders, for example, have often pledged to financially support the efforts of the poorest countries to mitigate and adapt to global warming with a $ 100 billion package. However, they have not yet mailed the check for the full amount. More recently, there has been a lot of talk about net zero carbon emissions, carbon taxation and clean energy. Here too, when the economic push comes to the political push, the rhetoric is shown for its lack of flexibility. The independent think tank “Carbon Tracker”, for example, recently reported that there are 622 coal projects under construction (368 in China alone). This suggests that carbon dioxide emissions remain on an increasing path and that the target date for zero carbon emissions set by many countries is, in realpolitik terms, just that – a date. Likewise, President Joe Biden has reportedly backed down from his pre-election campaign to block pipeline construction in his clean energy campaign. It allows precisely such a project to continue in Minnesota. These inconsistencies are not surprising. They reflect the realities of electoral politics.
Politics today is an uncompromising, 24/7, opportunistic profession. It is reminiscent of the fable of the lion and the gazelle. Every morning a gazelle wakes up. He knows he has to run faster than the fastest lion or he will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. He knows he has to outrun the slower gazelle or he will starve. It doesn’t matter if you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up you better run. With the narrowing margins between electoral victory and eventual political oblivion, today’s politicians have no choice but to continually remain in electoral mode. They cannot afford to rest on their laurels even in the aftermath of victory or stop to think about the long-term ramifications of their decisions. They must keep running to stay ahead of the opposition.
Thoughtful leaders therefore face a dilemma. They know that if there has been a need for a statesman, it is now. The problems facing the world today require decisions that leaders can look back decades with satisfaction because they were the right decisions. But they also know that in this tough political environment, they don’t have the luxury of having such a long vision. They know that their political future depends on the fragmentation of the opposition by stoking separatist identities and exploiting nationalist sentiments. They may agree intellectually with the call for an overhaul of Westphalian principles and current material of electoral politics. But they will not support it practically because they are the beneficiaries of the system in place.
So, does this mean the world is headed for a dead end? I do not think so. Last month’s event provided a glimpse not only of the strength of humanity’s commonalities – friendship, compassion, conversation and trust – but also the impact of individual efforts to bring about change. He affirmed that the Burkean thought “no man has made a greater mistake than one who did nothing because he felt he could do so little”. A world order redesigned around these principles is the reason for hope.
The writer is president of the Center for Social and Economic Progress