Revitalising Global Governance and Democracy

For a just, peaceful and sustainable world

The conference of

The New School of Athens Entitled:

"Beyond the Millennium Declaration: Embracing Democracy and Good Governance"

9-11 March 2006
Global Governance Group
Athens, Greece

Discussion Paper

Session 4: Are Present Global Institutions Still Relevant?


Vijay Mehta




    1. Introduction
    2. Present Day Threats and Challenges
    3. Future Outlook of the World
    4. Recommendations for Effective Global Governance and Democracy
    5. Conclusion


The full version of this speech can be downloaded from:

Vijay Mehta is a writer and peace activist. His latest book, The United Nations and Its Future in the 21st Century, discuss ideas about the UN’s central role in contributing to international peace and security. He is president of VM Centre for Peace and Chair of Arms Reduction Coalition.



Today, we are facing the challenges of poverty, war, international terrorism, violation of human rights, environmental degradation, waste of resources, all of the threats encountered at the global level which can not be solved by nations states. Some of the recent events have caused wide spread concern and repercussions around the globe highlighting the grave concern for global governance.

One is the publication of the cartoons in the Danish newspapers which hit the headlines and sparked protests all over the globe. The attitude of Danes was astonishing – combination of defensiveness, fear, provincialism and arrogance. Even if we believe freedom of speech is of fundamental value, that does not give us the carte blanche to say what we like in any context, regardless of consequences or effect. Respect for others, especially in our increasingly interdependent world is a value of equal importance. Neither media, publications, nor places of worship should be used for incitement, or to spread hatred.

Second, is the reckless disregard for international law and common decency as more horror pictures are appearing from Abu Ghraib, along with the damning UN report on Guantanamo Bay of prisoners being tortured and violation of human rights being committed. It seems the US is playing the role of a judge, prosecutor and defense in holding prisoners without charges or trial. One wonders how far the US will go on pursuing its aggressive and unilateralist policies in Iraq, Iran, Syria, north Korea and elsewhere.

Global institutions like the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague, should deal with the detainees of Camp Delta. In view of flagrant human rights abuses, it should take legal action against the US for breaking international law and order the closure of the notorious prison. The time has come when it is important to establish whether they are in prison lawfully and if they should be released.

Third is the ongoing rape, killings, genocide, and crime against humanity occurring at present in Darfur in Sudan. In the last three years, the crisis in Darfur has already claimed around 300,000 lives. The people of Darfur continue to suffer. Around two million are now in camps. Many more are homeless or displaced. Innocent people are still being killed. Women and girls are being raped. Children are dying. Villages have been attacked and burned.

It is the duty of the United Nations and International Criminal Court to take action and bring to justice the perpetrators of atrocities and restore the deteriorating security situation and protect civilians.

Fourthly, the daily occurrence of increasing unrest, violence and fighting in Iraq by which country is fast sliding into a civil war. A rise of sectarianism and extremism is leading it to lawlessness and destruction of Iraq. The foreign occupation and the government of Iraq are a party to the civil war between Shias and Sunnis. If the infighting continues, it might end up dividing Iraq into different regions. The International community must act to stop the killing for building a peaceful future for Iraq. Its time for the pullout the American troops for rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure, bringing back the rule of law and political stability.

These four recent events in the world have damaged the reputation of the US and Europe across the Middle East and the rest of the world. What role global institutions and the international community can play in the complex and imperfect world of today?

Global governance is about multilateralist solutions to today’s threats and challenges. It is about international cooperation and stability. It is about holistic approaches to interrelated world problems along with fusion of idealism and practicality. Creating effective global governance is a vision which society can cultivate by tolerance, liberty, justice, equity, and non-violence. The principles on which Global Governance must be based are: transparency, accountability, and respect for democratic values.

Global governance is the task not only of governments as such but also of civil society, intergovernmental organizations (eg, the United Nations and its Specialised Agencies), non-governmental organizations (NGOs, eg the Red cross, the Worldwide Fund for Nature and Amnesty International), and transnational organizations (eg IBM, Shell and Unilever). The global capital markets and the global mass media are part of it too, as are citizens’ movements all over the world.

Present Day Threats and Challenges

We will examine what are the complex present-day threats and challenges, risk and responsibilities? How are they different and what is the changing nature of reality? We will further see if the old institutions are fit to deal with the new threats. If not, can they be reformed or do we need new institutions to replace them? How effective we are in dealing with the present challenges will depend on what type of legacy we will leave behind for future generations.

Looking at the world horizon today, we see two distinct agendas followed by the countries of the North and the South (developing world). The countries in the north are pursuing relentlessly the war on terror and everything is viewed from the angle of the threat of terrorism. It also includes a paranoia of countries developing nuclear weapons anywhere in the world and a coercive policy to stop them.

The countries in the South are battling with hunger, disease and crippling poverty. The most important goal for them is freedom from want and fear for which their prime objective is acceleration of development and the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) .

The world at present is blindingly pursuing these two agendas – like two ships silently passing each other by, in the dead of night, not talking to each other, and to the detriment of each other.

Kofi Annan, recently addressed the dilemma as such:

"First, we are all in the same boat.  More than ever before, the human race faces global problems -- from poverty and inequality to nuclear proliferation, from climate change to bird flu, from terrorism to HIV/AIDS, from ethnic cleansing and genocide to trafficking in the lives and bodies of human beings.  So it obviously makes sense to come together and work out global solutions.

And secondly, the three freedoms which all human beings crave -- freedom from want, freedom from war or large-scale violence, and freedom from arbitrary or degrading treatment -- are closely interconnected.  There is no long-term security without development.  There is no development without security.  And no society can long remain secure, or prosperous, without respect for human rights and the rule of law."

The threats and challenges of global governance can be categorised into areas as identified by the recent UN high level panel report: a) dangers to human security by wars and military spending and terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction – nuclear, biological and chemical; b) Responsibility to Protect, legality of war and use of force; c) poverty, infectious diseases, and environmental degradation (Including climate change, resource depletion and population imbalances); and d) organised crime, corruption, poor governance and mass migrations.

Dangers to human security, wars and military spending will continue until we tackle the underlying causes of conflict. Governments will keep spending on military hardware whether they face real or imagined security threats.

Wars and civil unrest continue unabated in Africa, South Asia, (Kashmir and Nepal), Latin America (Colombia), and the Middle East as increasingly violence, mayhem and fear are used to extract wealth and power. At least 40,000 deaths world-wide have been caused directly by armed conflict over the past year, with 50% of them in Sub-Saharan Africa. The vast majority of those killed in war are civilians, indeed woman and children.

It should not be a surprise then, that poverty continues to breed conflict. Of the 13 million deaths due to arm conflict in the last ten years, 9 million occurred in sub-Sahara Africa, where the poorest of the poor live.

More than 650 million small arms and light weapons are in circulation around the world — one for about every 10 people. This has led to millions of deaths and injuries, the displacement of populations, and suffering and insecurity around the world especially the poor countries are heavily affected. Brazil has 38,000 gun deaths per year and a rise in crime and gun culture.

There are 30,000 nuclear warheads in the possession of the declared nuclear weapon states USA, Russia, France, UK and China. On top of that there is worldwide proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology which is being deployed by countries such as India, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea and Israel. When so much military hardware is available around the world terrorists can easily create mayhem by indiscriminate mass killing and destruction. Political violence, organised crime and inciting fear in the civilian population are becoming the hallmark of new terrorism. The war on terror has offered a whole set of justifications for countries to increase their arsenals and push the budget on military spending.

The development of mini nukes and bunker buster bombs by US and its doctrine of pre-emption which has replaced arm control and collective security has made the world a far less secure and stable place. It also gives wrong signals to other countries as they feel vulnerable to attack.

In UK, replacing Britain’s nuclear weapon system Trident could cost as much as £25 billion. Britain is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a decision to replace trident could run counter to its treaty commitments. It costs billions of pounds, will escalate global tensions and undermine- rather than secure- our real security. As Harold Pinter asked, who I wonder is Trident aimed at? Osama Bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Docks? China? Paris? Who knows? Can you imagine what the government could spend £25 billion on? It can make our health and education system much better or help reverse worst effects of climate change or meet United Nations MDG aid target of 0.7% of GNP every year for next 6 years.

Addiction to violence and military culture which is responsible for arms production, sales and its use reveals itself in the following ways:

a) Using violence and war as a route to economic, political and military superiority.

b) For profits made out of manufacture and sale of arms.

c) For use of fear by political elite to control populations, exert authority, extract wealth and fulfilling dreams of expansionism by violating other nations territorial integrity.

d) For fundamentalists to purport violence to justify the ideologies of their groups.

e) Capturing of resources by military for maintaining economic privileges for the rich and committing injustices which can not be secured through diplomacy and treaties.

f) Maintaining large stocks of arms and weapons as an excuse for war on terror and keeping the nations’ security.

g) Creating and planting hostilities, hatred and conflicts in different parts of the world, leading to wars and violence which goes on uninterrupted for decades.

The problem lies perhaps in the evolution of the global system from a bipolar one to a unipolar system and the exceptionalism demanded for some forms of unilateral action. It also arises from the inroads being made into the theory of state sovereignty as an absolute. The controversial 'humanitarian intervention' speech of Secretary General Kofi Annan in 1999 led to the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty whose report was published at the end of 2001.1 It asserted that state sovereignty implied a responsibility to protect its citizens and that where a state was unwilling or unable to provide that protection the principle of non-intervention yielded to the international responsibility to protect. However guiding principles and criteria were carefully described in terms of international law and the circumstances warranting action and the procedure for obtaining authority set out. The obvious limitation of this approach is that in the selective application of new principles the powerful states will ensure that their state sovereignty will not be compromised thus provoking the charge of double standards.

The acceptance by the states of responsibility to protect populations from genocide, crimes, and ethnic cleansing was a break through outcome from the summit of the world leaders in September 2005. However if a member state committed grave and systematic human rights abuses against its own citizens, then it is the duty of the United Nations as a whole to intervene under carefully specified conditions.

During its sixty years existence two wars have been authorised by UN- The 1950- Korean war and The 1991- Gulf war. The recent war on Iraq was illegal on the grounds that no second resolution was authorised by the UN. The United States and its allies never had the mandate to go to war. The illegality of war was confirmed by the secretary general of United Nations, Kofi Annan, in an interview recently.

A much larger question arises that when a country or a coalition of countries can attack another country. Chapter VII of the charter of the UN deals with self defence (article 51), external and internal threats under which action can be taken for the prevention and removal of threats of peace and the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of peace. The action should also be authorised by the Security Council. However, for the first 44 years of the UN, member states often violated these rules and used military force literally hundreds of times paralysing Security Council resolutions.

In a recent UN document called UN high level panel report on Threats, Challenges and Change gives a guideline in which circumstances the war is legitimate.

In considering whether to authorise or endorse the use of military force, the Security Council should always address- whatever other considerations it may take into account- at least the following five basic criteria of legitimacy:

(a) Seriousness of threat.

(b) Proper purpose.

(c) Last resort.

(d) Proportional means.

(e) Balance of consequences.

The above guidelines including a mandate from Security Council for authorising the use of force should be the criteria which all countries should follow if war is undertaken as a last resort and if it is to be declared legal.

The maintenance of world peace and security depends on there being a common global understanding and acceptance of when the application of force is both legal and legitimate.

Poverty is a political problem because, unless it is addressed, we will face a new division of the world, the consequences of which will be even more dangerous than those of the divisions we overcame by ending the East-West confrontation. Dividing the world into islands of prosperity and vast areas of poverty and despair is more dangerous than the Cold War because the two regions cannot be fenced off from each other. Despair creates fertile ground for extremism and terrorism, to say nothing of migration flows, epidemics and new hotbeds of instability. Poverty is a political problem because it cannot be separated from the problems of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Financial Institutions and Big Corporations hand in fuelling poverty and conflict. The role of banks, big corporations, private financial institutions, export credit agencies, subsidies using taxpayer and EU money in financing arms trade fuelling wars and conflicts in many parts of the world. US Dollar 2500 billion is the amount of money laundered through secret bank accounts and tax heavens every year. Maintaining Global Financial Checks Approaching $1.5 trillion worth of international financial transfers take place daily, a high percentage of which is purely speculative. This reduces governments' degree of control over their fiscal policy and can threaten the stability of major currencies. It has therefore been suggested that a tax be levied on such transfers to damp down their scale. Since the proceeds would amount to billions of dollars, the UN with its arrears problems, and the Third World with its debt load and uncertain income, have a desperate interest.

Some other causes of poverty are unserviceable debt, underinvestment in science and technology, unjust trade rules, lack of infrastructure and education. Just for calculation, daily allowance on subsidy for every cow in European Union currently amount to Euro 2.50 or USD 3.00 which exceeds the amount of money which billions of poor people get around the world.

Infectious diseases, and environmental degradation is another cause of poverty. In 25 years since it was first reported, AIDS have become the leading cause of premature deaths in sub-Sahara Africa and the fourth largest killer worldwide. Global spread of malaria and TB are other silent killers reversing decades of development progress in worst affected areas.

The wide spread environmental degradation that scars our planet as seen in melting ice caps, strong hurricanes is a global problem created by over use of land, oil, fossil fuels, and gases and threatens our natural systems and resources for our existence and development. We need to reverse the depletion of natural resources. Recent studies have shown that armed forces are the single largest polluter on earth and long-term disastrous environmental, health and social consequences of war and preparation of war are well documented. If the impact of global warming is not curbed, the future might hold an eruption of desperate all out wars for food, water and energy supplies (Oil & Gas).

Poor governance, corruption and trans-national crime allows the diversion of resources from social development to lining the pockets of corrupt elites and increase in military spending. It is evident that higher incidence of armed conflict is found in countries with low level of economic development and poorly run democratic institutions. It is government mismanagement and distribution problems and not global food shortages that keep millions hungry.

Inter-tribal fighting, banditry, and clashes for securing natural resources is another reason for poverty. Various studies have shown how conflicts are funded by sale of natural resources like diamond, oil, timber, copper, and gold. Inter-tribal fighting, banditry, and clashes for securing these resources are frequent occurrences between government, paramilitary and rebel forces. Security council have recently voted for a ban on diamond export from Ivory Coast to stop rebels in the war divided nation from using gems to purchase arms. The war on Iraq is an example where the invasion was not undertaken to fight terrorism or eliminate weapon of mass destruction but to safeguard vital oil resources.

Managing mass migrations of humans now move in unprecedented numbers, not simply because there are more people, but because both the need and opportunity have grown: both "push" and "pull" forces are powerful. The UN officially recognizes well over 20 million refugees forced unwillingly out of their own country. Globally, about one person in a hundred is either a refugee or "displaced", i.e. forced unwillingly to move within their country. Other mass migrations are more ambiguous, particularly the uncontrolled flows in poorer countries from country to city.

These are increasingly global issues can best be dealt with at the global level.

Future Outlook of the World

Global economic balances, are shifting fast in all domains- manufacturing, trading, and financial with emerging giants China and India tilting the balance. Both of these countries are developing at an unprecedented scale and will leave behind the economies of America and any individual European country. There will be a big struggle for getting oil, water and skilled labour. As they become more wealthy and powerful, they will react differently to world events by enforcing Asian values on democracy, freedom and rule of law.

With unprecedented development in information and technology, terrorists can develop or perhaps able to buy weapons of mass destruction and hold countries to ransom. Same is true of rogue governments, if they get their hands on nukes, they could create mayhem and chaos on a large scale. However, the west and the north will be pushing for global non-proliferation and containment of terrorism. The influence of America, European Union, Japan, and Russia will in the next 10-15 years will be gradually diminishing on world affairs.

The influence of different faiths and religions will gradually increase by a religious renewal specially in the Muslim world. If this influence is wrongly used, it can breed extremists and fundamentalists who might use tactics to contain powerful countries.

Recommendations for Effective Global Governance and Democracy

The way forward is for global institutions is to tackle new security threats and violence, promoting disarmament and human rights, building a global rule of law and order. It should also manage environmental degradation, emergencies and disasters, clash of religion and culture, unrestrained tide of globalisation. The implementation and completion of millennium development goal should be a top priority. Most importantly the international community has the moral obligation and duty to control and intervene in countries if they are sliding into chaos lawlessness, violence and unable to protect its citizens from rape, murder and killings. The international community should also build on some of the successes of the summit of world leaders in New York in September 2005.

We need governments and institutions which are transparent, democratic, accountable and can work together with NGOs and civil society. With all its weaknesses and need for reform, the UN is one of the best world institution which has the clout, legitimacy and caliber to solve problems effectively on a world stage. All of these are problems that no one country, however powerful, can solve on its own and which are the shared responsibility of humankind.

Some of the examples of global governance can be listed as the newly formed International Criminal Court, Kyoto protocol and MDGs where the governments of the world, NGOs and civil society have worked together certain common codes of conduct under which some of the challenges and threats including prosecution for crimes against humanity, protecting the environment and helping the poor to fight HIV AIDs and poverty can be implemented globally.


Global institutions are relevant provided

a) They identify existing and future threats and challenges.

b) They work along with governments, international communities, NGOs, civil societies for creating international networks, coalitions and partnerships for elimination of these threats.

c) They take action for revitalising global governance, democracy and rule of law.

It is clear from the above discussion that the goal of global governance is to promote peace and disarmament, protection of human rights and environment, rule of law, and development of the poorest regions of the world. If that can be put into action by leaders and global institutions then we stand a fair chance of solving the huge problems of the 21st century.

Thank you very much.


The full version of this speech can be downloaded from:

Vijay Mehta is a writer and peace activist. His latest book, The United Nations and Its Future in the 21st Century, discuss ideas about the UN’s central role in contributing to international peace and security. He is president of VM Centre for Peace and Chair of Arms Reduction Coalition.