The meeting today of the European Council kicks of yet another round of European Summitry to resolve the structural ills affecting the Eurozone. Europe’s inability over the last two years to take the necessary corrective steps bodes ill both for the long-term survival of the Euro-zone and for multilateralism per se.
Let me put it another way: if after 60 years of structured cooperation there is insufficient trust between EU member states to enable them with the assistance of institutions like the European Commission to reconcile their differences then what hope is there for looser multilateral forums like the G8 and the G20?
Why should we be surprised that, when faced with the enormity of today’s global problems world leaders meeting, whether in the context of the G8, G20 or for that matter the Rio+20 Earth Summit, come up with such suboptimal strategies that are high on rhetoric but short on concrete commitments?
Our hope that integrating the BRICS into the post-1945 world order would somehow transform these countries has proved to be unfounded. Quite the reverse has happened. These emerging powers are slowly but surely reshaping the global order itself. Globalisation is not restricting their power and influence but enhancing it. Pledges from the BRICS to contribute to any Eurozone bailout comes with strings attached – greater representation in international institutions.
Where deals are made they are invariably done in private rather than public. Denmark spent years preparing for the UN’s climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2009 only for a deal to be struck in an impromptu side event involving the US and the BRICS. Europeans were not even invited to watch the show.
NGOs spent a small fortune and invested considerable social capital marching their supporters up to the top of the hill only to march them down again later. There is only so many times they can do that before desertion sets in or their’s mutiny in the ranks.
Disappointingly, the collective NGO strategy for the Rio+20 Summit showed that agencies have yet to take on board how fully the world has changed in the last few years. If they are to have any influence on policy in the future – beyond their own backyard – they need to realise that the era of multilateralism is giving way to a new balance of power where national interest increasingly prevails.
As an aside here, let’s just hope they have learnt the lesson ahead of next year’s UK G8 rather than drawing up another Make Poverty History style campaign that promises the world but ultimately delivers nothing but disappointment.
With the old world order slowly being re-balanced to accommodate the rising powers of Asia today, it’s maybe high time we dusted down our Nieburian ethics and re-read the old 1932 classic Moral Man and Immoral Society. In doing so we’ll be reminded of the mixed and ambivalent character of human nature upon which the responsible use of power and authority ultimately rests.
If we are to realise the change we want then we should not assume that human ignorance and unjust institutions are the only obstacles to a more perfect world. We need a principled but hard-headed approach that recognises regretfully that while the individual “moral man” can check his natural selfishness through conscience, self-discipline, and love, social groups—tribes, movements, even nations—look out for their own and strive to dominate other groups.
Everybody’s motives are always mixed.