Going global – Alternative political projects

Development Policy20 Apr 2010The Broker

This is one background article (of originally 4) in the context of the online debate about Dutch development cooperation triggered by the report Less Pretension, More Ambition by the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR). In this background article the following questions are intended as a context for formulating strategies towards global development and introducing issues for further discussion:

If global development is to supplant international cooperation, how should changing global circumstances be analyzed and what framework should the corresponding new global approaches and priorities be given? The following questions could help get the debate started:

  • Should the global arena really be one of the main basic units of analysis for development policies, including country strategies?
  • Which old or new actors, in addition to states and their international bodies, should be taken into account when analyzing global developments and policies? Think of cities, networks, movements, business, NGOs, value chains, the diaspora. How can we ascertain their relative importance?
  • What global public goods can be distinguished? Which of them should be given strategic priority and on what basis?
  • Is it a good idea to distinguish between different paradigms or ‘political projects’ and think through their consequences for a global development policy, instead of trying to harmonize conflicting visions from the start? And how can we achieve this?

The debate identified several ‘political projects’ that could frame a global development strategy. Are these useful, and are there important omissions?

  • The current neoliberal paradigm seems obsolete.
  • Embedded globalization: let politics, global civil society and shared norms shape economic decision making.
  • Sustainable globalization: the planet and its ecosystems should have an integral place in the economy, in both the North and the South.
  • Global human security: a secure and dignified life for all people should be at the core of national and global policies.

Our increasingly interdependent world requires development policies that acknowledge the global context and address a new reality where a variety of actors as well as the state play a role. The gist of the debate so far.

‘While “international cooperation” suits the era in which states maintained sovereign external relations with one another, the term “global development” expresses the fact that, more and more frequently, national policy also has consequences in other countries … and that development takes place in a global context in which various actors operate’ (WRR).

If there is one element of the WRR report that has received almost unanimous praise, it is its emphasis on the global context in which development policy has to be positioned. This ‘broader perspective’ – one of the three pillars of the report – is certainly the most promising. It is based on the new reality in which policy has to be shaped: a rapidly globalizing and increasingly interdependent world. Such an observation is hardly new, but it has implications for development policy (or rather, for the role the Netherlands can or should play in addressing urgent global issues, including poverty and exclusion). So far, little effort has been made to think through these policy implications systematically, let alone to attempt to tailor the current institutional and societal architecture of aid accordingly.

(Unit of) analysis

Alongside the praise for the WRR’s global analysis, there have been dissenting views of three kinds. The first set of criticisms focuses on the omission of one particular angle or another in the analysis. Second, there is wide agreement that the global analysis has not been consistently applied in the policy recommendations. The third set of criticisms relate to the core of the report’s analysis.

One explanation for the disconnect between the analysis and recommendations is that the WRR , despite its awareness of global relationships, does not take the global arena as its basic unit of analysis. It sees development as something that takes place at the national level, with global trends providing the context, and presenting either obstacles to or opportunities for development.

Janne Nijman: ‘There is a conceptual discrepancy between the initial analysis of a changing global context and the state-oriented policy recommendations that are put forward at the end. The increasingly modest role of the state – one actor among many – can stimulate the emergence of global governance innovations.’

One of the consequences of the WRR’s ‘national’ rather than ‘global’ view in its policy recommendations is that certain groups of people, who have been excluded worldwide, remain below the radar. If a global analysis had been predominant, for example, the development focus of the WRR could have led to different policy choices, writes René Grotenhuis: ‘Considering the emphasis the report puts on development, it’s difficult to understand why it focuses almost exclusively on Africa. South Asia and Latin America seem to completely fall by the wayside. The millions of farmers in India’s countryside and slums, not to mention their fellow sufferers in the rest of Asia and Central America, are equally excluded from society’.

Global development should supplant international cooperation.

A number of contributors feel that the WRR paid insufficient attention to the roles of new actors and new organizational forms (apart from states and their international cooperation) in the global arena (towns and cities, networks, global movements). Janne Nijman: ‘Without exploring the “global network” dimension, an analysis of how our global society works and how its problems may be solved remains inadequate’. At the same time, a more global view would probably have led the authors to argue for (economic or other) interventions in and through global ‘value chains’, or via transnational networks of businesses, migrants, NGOs, etc.

In other words, the fact that the WRR’s analysis is primarily oriented towards the nation state has meant that several elements of global reality have been omitted. Important issues such as global and regional geopolitics are ignored, while the competition for scarce raw materials and energy is referred to only in passing. They are not embedded in the core of the analysis.

Jan GruitersLeon Willems and Ben Schennink believe that the analysis of ‘the security issue’ (as the Council calls it) is inadequate. Jan Gruiters admits that there is a lot of discussion about the concept of ‘fragile’ or ‘failing states’, but that still covers some 50 countries with more than one billion people, where internal and regional dynamics are determined to a great extent by (armed) conflicts. Leon Willems: ‘The issue of human security is one of the more striking omissions in the WRR’s formulation of common goods. It should have been mentioned in a drastically changed world facing international terrorism and its counter measures.’ Ben Schennink: ‘What’s striking about the analysis of the “security issue”, as the WRR calls it, is that it primarily links responsibility for it to UN peacekeeping operations, using Iraq and Afghanistan to exemplify security-related difficulties and opportunities. These are strange examples when it comes to the issue of how we can contribute to finding solutions for conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa.’

Disembedded globalization

The WRR has done an impressive job of summarizing many of the ongoing discussions and controversies in the field of development policy. When it comes to presenting a global vision, the WRR takes an extra step and presents a clear normative position. It argues in favour of the ‘socialization of globalization’, and relates this to the concept of ‘disembedded globalization’. Here, the WRR draws an analogy with the work of historian and economic anthropologist Karl Polanyi, who argued in The Great Transformation (1944), that ‘the economic liberalism of the 1920s with its belief in a self-regulating market mechanism had led to the elimination of all interventionist policies which interfered with the freedom of the markets’, and had ‘disembedded the economy from society’. The ensuing increase in inequality, instability and insecurity resulted in the recession of the 1930s and the rise of fascism. For Polanyi, ‘the notion of embeddedness underlines the fact that economic activity is created and shaped by political decisions, social conventions, and shared norms and understandings.

There are more relevant actors than just states in the new global reality: cities, networks, movements, business, NGOs, value chains, diaspora.

Although free markets are often misperceived as natural, sovereign, self-contained, and self-regulating, a market economy cannot exist independently of the society and rules in which it is located. … We now find ourselves in a transnational phase in which global markets have become more and more disembedded … due to new technologies and liberalization, privatization and deregulation from societies and nation states.’ It is striking that none of the contributors to the online debate explicitly responded to this vision of embedded globalization.

This is unfortunate. The concept deserves to be debated because it could effectively serve as a guiding concept for the design of future global development policies. The notion of disembedded globalization implies that worldwide (economic) relations must be seen as forming a system or a global society, one within which important balances have been disturbed. It also offers solutions for restoring the balance.

Global public goods

Apart from disembedded globalization, other political projects are also conceivable. Perhaps the most significant criticism of the WRR’s global analysis is the fact that it establishes no conceptual link with one of today’s most important, and widely discussed, global public goods: the climate, or rather, the global environment. This missing relationship is partly due to the WRR’s decision to take the nation state as its point of departure for analysis, and not the world, or the ‘Earth system’. Doing the latter would, according to Rene Grotenhuis, clarify the limits of modernization. ‘In the report, the WRR accepts “accelerated modernization” as the goal of development cooperation. But it does not question this starting point. … Bringing global goods into the debate should have caused the WRR to reflect on this modernization theory as the overarching goal of development cooperation.’

Global public goods must enter the equation; strategic choices for specific goods must be made.

The increasing pressure on the environment, and on supplies of raw materials, is being aggravated by population growth and ageing, several contributors argue. Herman Mulder also misses the ‘necessity and the enormous potential of the green economy’. For Roger van Boxtel and Willem Ferwerda, ‘the ultimate global public good’, the planet and its ecosystems, should have an integral place in the economy. Hans Opschoor claims that the policies and architectures to deal with global public goods can best be approached ‘by looking at global change and global challenges through the lens of sustainable development’.

Francine Mestrum also applies it to Western countries: ‘This is not just about taking care of our environment; it concerns the need for another development paradigm in our own countries. Today’s huge inequalities cannot be bridged in a sustainable way if we do not see development as a global concern, and that better policies are needed in the North and in the South.’

Leon Willems (and implicitly supported by others such as Jan Gruiters, Ben Schennink, and Willemijn Verkoren) focuses on human security in national and global contexts. Willems proposes to change the current central paradigm of global development – poverty reduction – into ‘a new value-oriented approach that should cater for the complexities of international relations. The primary goal should be to enable a secure and dignified life for all people, enshrined in the international charter of human rights and freedoms. These form the cornerstones for global security and sustainable livelihoods. … Fragility of states, vulnerability of people and lack of human security are the dividing and defining problems of our time, they need ardent and hard debate to define new theories of civic change.’

A global development policy

Water purification skyscraper by R. Rahdian, E. Setiawan, A.D.Shanti & L. Chrisnantyo via eVolo (license: CC BY-NC)

What are the practical implications of the WRR’s analysis of the global situation and the contributors’ comments on this? How should future development policy be shaped? The WRR doesn’t beat around the bush. It states that the current policy instruments (and aid architecture) are insufficient, a view that is widely endorsed. It is now time to create a more detailed ‘globalization agenda’ that includes a global (sustainable) development strategy based on a clear vision and coherent policies related to global governance and global civil society.

Global governance

In the case of global public goods and the standard mechanisms of international diplomatic cooperation – the UN and the multilateral institutions – the focus should be on renewing and reforming global governance.

There is broad agreement that some effort is urgently needed in this field. In the near future, we will need global taxes, global social policies, more global democracy and global institutions. But at the same time, existing international structures will come under increasing pressure as a result of bureaucratic constraints (the UN), delegitimization (the World Bank, the IMF) or political differences (climate, the WTO).

The emergence of a multipolar world order – as countries such as China, India and Brazil are now demanding their share of power, the G20 has replaced the G8 – shows that we are in the midst of a dramatic and thus uncertain process of transition. That uncertainty has been increased by the recent global financial and economic crises, which governments believe they can survive using conventional national approaches.

The debate has not yet generated any new, coherent visions of global governance, although a number of contributors have expressed specific ideas. In the field of conflict and international law, for example, Jan Gruiters argues in favour of focusing on the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), whereby the international community and states are obliged to disregard the sovereignty of nation states where there have been serious violations of human rights.

Janne Nijman suggests that ‘global or “transnational” networks should become the arenas in which different actors work together to achieve development and/or to solve global problems. These actors are considered to be not (only) states, but also, especially, NGOs, local governments and civil society organizations in both developed and developing countries. The role of governments of developed countries should be to stimulate and facilitate these global networks.’

Policy coherence

The WRR believes that greater efforts are needed to improve the coherence of policies for development. In contrast with ‘global public goods’ – where the collective interest in principle applies to anyone in the world – coherence assumes, by definition, contradictory interests. For countries such as the Netherlands, national/domestic interests – of particular groups in society, of companies, or of the country as a whole – are often conflict with those of developing countries, of poor groups in those countries, or of the environment. In this context, it is essential that these interests – of states, of groups and the environment – are assessed on their individual merits, since they imply very different policies, different political coalitions, different solutions, different choices and different dividing lines.

Policy coherence is the ultimate political theme: power relations at the national and international level determine whose interests prevail. Various commentators believe that the WRR is not sufficiently explicit about this ‘political’ aspect. Peter Heintze: The WRR seems to have overlooked a fundamental political aspect, namely conflicts of interests that stand in the way of development’. David Sogge points to the hypocrisy of Dutch (and other) coherence policies, which should be much more explicit about what the obstacles for development donor countries themselves erase: ‘Aid is dwarfed by other forces and flows, such as capital flight.’

Global social movements

In its report the WRR calls for the reinforcement of the role of NGOs as watchdogs critically following government policies. Some contributors go even further and call for a (global) movement. Hans Beerends: ‘Unfortunately, the Council doesn’t address the issue of what kind of political pressure is needed to push through its proposed changes … for example, by supporting the population in its efforts to create social emancipation, consciousness-raising and a fighting spirit.’

Several ‘political projects’ can frame a global development strategy:

  • The current neoliberal paradigm seems obsolete.
  • Embedded globalization: let politics, global civil society and shared norms shape economic decision making.
  • Sustainable globalization: the planet and its ecosystems should have an integral place in the economy, in both the North and the South.
  • Global human security: a secure and dignified life for all people should be at the core of national and global policies.

Anyone who takes a single united world as a starting point and, for example, the need for a fundamentally different economic system based on sustainability and justice – will also have to organize people in the Netherlands and force changes to be made in the West.For many NGOs, the task of watchdog proposed by the WRR is similar to the lobbying activities in which they are already engaged. Many of these activities take place behind the scenes, and are usually half-hearted because, as the WRR observes, they present NGOs with a serious dilemma: they are keeping an eye on the same governments they depend on for funding. That restriction, whether or not they have chosen it for themselves, means that these organizations cannot grow into (catalysts of) social movements in the Netherlands itself. Some are reorganizing themselves to become part of global movements, but they have not yet really shown their teeth in the Netherlands itself.

Tom van der Lee of Oxfam Novib also wants to focus on ‘fair governance at global level’ and on global public goods. This is ‘primarily a matter of democratizing agenda-forming, negotiations and decision making at the international level. To address the problem of the democratic deficit and the lack of representativeness, there is an urgent need for a stronger, non-governmental global movement.’ He also points out that the various levels must not be seen in isolation. ‘It is important that the national and international levels are linked. The WRR rightly emphasizes the importance of finding a proper balance between public goods at various levels (global, regional and national).’

Continue reading: all four sections of the Special report in issue 19 of The Broker Magazine (april 2010)

  1. Getting the basics right – General principles for a new development policy
  2. Going global – Alternative political projects
  3. Identifying obstacles – Strategic choices through context analyisis
  4. Building a new structure – Institutional architecture for global development