Editorial: TINA

Development Policy30 Jun 2010Frans Bieckmann

This double summer issue of The Broker focuses a great deal on global issues, as usual. To balance this out a bit, though, this editorial will look at the nation state. Its decline has long been predicted, but recently proponents of the nation state have triumphantly declared globalization theories outdated nonsense.

Look what’s happening, they say: national governments are bailing out banks and voters are backing nationalist parties that capitalize on the fear of anything foreign – a fear they themselves stir up. Cosmopolitan world views are branded the elitist hobby of highly educated and well-off idealists. The limousine liberal syndrome all over again.

The articles in this issue, however, support the idea that a global look at politics is driven by stark realism. To find out what actions need to be taken, read Ed Barbier’s renewed plea to Group of Twenty (G-20) countries to deliver on their commitments to a Global Green New Deal. As Barbier – who was commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme to write their report Rethinking the Economic Recovery: A Global Green New Deal – writes, ‘By the end of 2009, several G-20 economies had incorporated a sizable “green fiscal” component in their recovery spending. Such measures included support for renewable energy, carbon capture and sequestration, energy efficiency, public transport and rail, improved electrical grid transmission and environmental protection. However, the G-20 has failed to instigate a worldwide “green recovery”.’.

The special report by Inge Kaul – an internationally renowned expert in this field – about global public goods explores economic globalization and many other cross-border trends. Today, it is almost impossible to solve problems without international collaboration, or at least international alignment and consensus. This may seem obvious, but it remains astounding that these kinds of global issues barely feature on national political and social agendas, whether in Western or other countries.

So there is much to say for a renewed focus on the nation state. This is not to downplay globalization. On the contrary, the urgent policy issues related to the management of global public goods need to be tackled head on. The way development and global policies are framed is determined by national politics, national interests and national power relations in donor countries. So if these countries want to make a difference, they need to devise discerning coalition strategies.

Perhaps this is what former Dutch development minister Bert Koenders means in the interview published on The Broker website (see excerpts from this interview on pages 10-11) when he says that ‘political points of entry are located at the interface of the national and the global.’.

This coincides with Inge Kaul’s statement about the changing role of the state: states have become an intermediary between the national and the global. This change has ‘been incremental, and, under pressure, often unintentional and barely noticeable. The electorate is wondering who policy makers actually represent. Are politicians really listening to them or more to actors on the international market, global civil society and other, perhaps more influential, nations?’

So, Kaul goes on, the ‘de facto emergence of the intermediary state poses serious problems for national democracy. But more balanced globalization is hardly conceivable without states performing this role of intermediation between national and external concerns. A further urgent reform step, therefore, is to think through the implications this new role will have for states at a national level in terms of democracy as well as state legitimacy and accountability.’

Indeed, this friction has left an indelible mark on these times. While the autonomous leverage of national governments has been drastically reduced and solutions for all kinds of political issues are at the international level, constituencies are still nationally organized and generally have no clue about the global character of ostensibly local problems. Constituents want their politicians to act, but they have increasingly fewer instruments at their disposal to steer the economy or other policy issues. Instead of trying to explain that to the people, political discourse remains stuck within dangerously narrow, national margins.

This ‘thinking through’ evokes other calls for discussions on a national ‘globalization agenda’: how do countries position themselves in the world, what are their interests – individual and shared – in this interdependent world system, and consequently what priorities should they have? And, finally, how should these priorities shape all their future policies, not only their development and foreign affairs policies? Few governments and civil society organizations have even started to think in this way, let alone understand the consequences of such a truly global outlook.

If countries start to establish global affairs departments – the term Kaul uses to describe a national ministry responsible for global development policies – their first task may well be to investigate and create a vision for a globalization agenda. This is a purely political process because it might entail seriously reshuffling national interests. That’s why it is likely be an uphill battle, but to quote a beloved politician from the 1980s: TINA. There Is No Alternative.