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Dossiers and Documents : Discussion Papers : Rethinking Global Governance

Rethinking Global Governance

A few concrete issues
Organized violence

Rethinking Global Governance


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

Next, it is a question of precise issues. We could evoke a lengthy list of more or less long term problems that concern us in the areas of public health, the environment, sustainable development, emigration, et cetera. Instead, we will limit ourselves here to a few issues that have been, and still are today, classic problems of “international relations.”

Organized violence

Let’s start by this problem that, since antiquity, is at the heart of the debate on governance – that of organized violence and its legitimacy.

Today, with the issues related to nuclear proliferation and terrorism, and with the questioning by some of the sacrosanct principle of respect for national sovereignty and its corollary, that of non-intervention, this subject is one of burning topicality.

From this point of view, the dubious United States 2000 presidential elections and the invasion of Iraq, which is one of the consequences, have twice demonstrated that democracy – even in the country that parades itself as its universal model – is unable to respond to the issue of legitimacy of organized violence from the moment that a small number of individuals (for example in a neighborhood of a city in Florida) decides the destiny of an entire nation and even of an entire region (the Middle East) without even knowing that their choice will have an effect on this nation, or this region. The Israelian example, in the context of the Middle-East conflict, demonstrates how the action of an otherwise exemplary democracy becomes in practice a hard core policy devoid of the all important moral dimension that is the foundation of democratic principles.

In other respects, the invasion of Iraq decided by the United States government demonstrates the futility of traditional principles of the “raison d’Etat” in a geopolitical context where the use of military force has become extremely limited, and of very weak bearing – the “superpower” being incapable of imposing itself on a secondary theater. At the same time, would not multilateral use of diplomacy, indeed of military force, be useful in Darfur or even in Zimbabwe, two cases where (very) bad governance is responsible for indescribable wrongs for the affected populations?

And yet, neither the concerned States – nor those that should have been – are, today, capable of resolving this crucial question of the legitimacy of use of violence. The United Nations, which certainly carries a certain weight, is also incapable of responding to this issue even though it cannot question the principles because it is the States that make up this organization, with the more powerful among them as overseers.

What to do? For the moment, it is public opinion, in democracy, that causes the evolution of mentalities in this area. It is thanks to this public opinion, some will also say to social movements for emancipation, that decolonization was made possible. It is thanks to public opinion – some will say because of it – that the United States cannot apply its full weight in Iraq and elsewhere. But public opinion evolves slowly and can be engineered, especially in the short term, by the media and by governments.

We need, therefore, to go further in order to overturn mentalities that are solidly entrenched in the traditional idea that the State is the sole source of legitimacy for the use of force and that the exercise of its prerogatives in this domain concerns essentially its national security or at least the government’s understanding of it, a concept that is, in the end, very malleable.

Thus, one needs to determine if another source of legitimacy might be able to serve as compass, if not as authority, for all that touches on issues related to the use of organized violence (principally, but not exclusively, military force). What would this source be? Would it be a sort of “High authority of independent international governance”? Would it be a Council of Wisepersons or a supraconstitutional board? Would it be a committee of State, government, or civil society representatives? In any case, it would consist of an independent institution functioning in line with rigorous democratic and ethical principles because it is here that we find the novelty, namely that ethics occupy an important part in decision-making.

The question deserves to be asked even if, in the beginning, it meets with elevated reticence because such an initiative would transgress the liberty of action taken by the more powerful States, and by others as well. For the establishment of such an entity could be done, in the beginning, with limited means, and with the idea that its growing success would progressively increase its legitimacy and power to weigh in on important decisions.

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