On Certain Features and Tendencies of Development of the World Situation
16th Annual Plenary Session
Message to the InterAction Council, May 1998
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
By Mikhail S. Gorbachev
The contradictory, complex, and conflictive character of the current situation in the world is widely known and generally recognized. It is also a commonplace to criticize politics that is, in essence, unable to predict and forestall the development of existing problems into crises.
Politics is always exposed to two dangers: (a) breaking away from historical reality, running ahead of it, and thereby confining itself to utopian projects doomed from the outset to failure; and (b) falling behind reality, losing track of events, and turning into fire fighters leaving the station when the fire has already raged out of control, which is also fraught with failures and, in any case, with serious damage.
At present, the world, more often than not, is faced with the second danger: politics is lagging; it is late in responding to the course of events and meeting the challenges of time. This is also being widely discussed.
It should, however, be acknowledged that quite a few of the existing and incipient problems emerge in the sphere of politics, and not all of them can be solved by exclusively political means. For many complex situations of today result from economic processes and occur in the economic sphere. The relationship between economic and political factors has radically changed in comparison with the 19th century and even the mid-20th century. It is therefore no wonder that geoeconomics is being much spoken about and even put in opposition to geopolitics. This opposition is apparently groundless. Most likely, these two notions and the phenomena they reflect are closely interlaced and influence each other. Nevertheless, the political role of economic processes is becoming increasingly important.
But this is not all. The current problems in world politics as well as in the politics of individual states and group of states are closely (and perhaps to an increasing extent) connected with the profound changes taking place everywhere and affect the very foundation of customary existence of different peoples and the entire world community. What we witness here is - using a generally accepted albeit not very precise expression - a transition of industrial estates from the industrial stage of development to the postindustrial, civilizational transformation of transitional economies, and industrialization (tentatively speaking) of a large number of developing nations. And these are not only economic but social and political changes in the majority of the world's states.
All this, i.e., not only political but also economic processes and civilizational changes, determines the specifics of international relations at the present stage of world development.
The world order that emerged after the end of the Cold War is often called a world disorder or chaos. This is true only insofar as the changes inherent in it are uncertain, dynamic, variable, and unexpected. Nevertheless, it is neither a disorder nor chaos but a transitional world order, a period of shaping a truly new order in the world. Its contours are not clear yet. Its character is still uncertain and may be one or another, depending upon the objective content of incipient processes and, of course, the subjective factor, i.e., politicians and their policies. In other words, although not all the current problems result from politics or emerge in the political sphere, politics play an exclusively important part in their solution.
The transitional world order we have found ourselves in may last rather a long time; for it comes to serious and profound changes everywhere, affecting all spheres of human life. And for many nations and peoples this means a transition from one historical era to another.
The acceleration of world development is obvious. It is practically impossible to hamper it. But urging it along or speeding it up artificially in the hope of resolving many issues automatically, just by virtue of economic, social and political progress, is at least dangerous, for this may trigger an uncontrollable explosive reaction. Attentive politicians and policies, carefully weighed and responsible actions, and, if you like, precaution and farsightedness combine to resolve to advance, allowing of no cataclysms, will play an indispensable part here.
I would like to emphasize that the InterAction Council is one of those (few) organizations that were the first to call attention to all those complex issues in many ways determining the future. Beginning with the Prague Session of 1991 when it stated that neither the East nor the West, neither socialism or capitalism had been able to adequately meet the challenges of the epoch, and later, at each meeting, the Council consistently called attention to emergent problems, without confining itself to the analysis of their external manifestations, and urged that their deep roots be studied thoroughly, and that the formulation of the policy be used on such a study.
In particular, the Council was one of the first to analyze various aspects of globalization, both positive and negative or dangerous (the latter primarily concerned the globalization of financial markets).
Indeed, globalization has become a major process determining in many ways numerous aspects of the international community's life. Without repeating banalities, I would like to single out two of them that are directly related to world politics and the present state of international affairs.
The first aspect is that globalization has involved the whole world though to a different extent. The recent and still present "Asian financial flu" conclusively proves this. Yet the process is uneven (it mainly concerns financial markets, the world economy in general, and primarily, its transnational component, communications, etc.) and largely spontaneous. Both factors bring about serious problems, contradictions and conflicts. What the Council has repeatedly emphasized is becoming more and more obvious: the need for world-wide regulation, at any rate, the regulation of major global processes.
The second aspect is that while globalization is actively manifest in the economy, finance, and information, it is practically absent in politics. Of course, there is G-7 (or G-8?), but the effectiveness of its decisions is not high, especially as its participants being economically powerful nations, are a small part of the world numbering around 200 states. There is the UN, a multipurpose organization. But it is still unable (regretfully) to reach a world-wide consensus on fundamental issues. Besides, both the UN and G-7 are organizations of states whereas globalization is unfolding basically at the level of private capital, transnational banks, companies, etc.
It is true that attempts have been made recently t o work out certain acts related to the sphere of activity of international banks and corporations, e.g., a draft Multilateral Investment Agreement. Yet, in this case it does not mean regulating their activity in one way or another but, on the contrary, providing unrestricted freedom for them and controlling, for this purpose, the activity of the state whose opportunities become seriously limited.
In short, we are faced with a glaring contradiction between the spontaneous and uncontrollable aspect of globalization on the one hand and the unsatisfied need for an international global policy conforming to the specifics of a globalizing world on the other. Meeting the need for a world policy capable of controlling major world development processes fraught with great dangers and threats, is an urgent task of the world community on the threshold of the 21st century.
Shaping such a policy is important the more so as without it the emergent conflicts (and to a greater extent, future ones) attend globalization or occur as a response to the current forms of its implementation.
In fact, even in the most developed and stable states, globalization instills fear of national identity, running counter to integration tendencies. It would suffice to look at today's Europe and to listen to the discussions about the Euro. Yet, too many states have not passed through the stage of national consolidation, and quite a few of them are even at the previous level (of tribal relations). In such conditions, globalization conflicts with self-determination and new self-identification of peoples. A painful collision between these two processes objectively stimulates ethnic or religious conflicts. This especially underscores the need for a delicate and carefully weighed policy on the part of both certain national leaders and the world community as a whole.
This is true the more so as globalization objectively (and often subjectively) unfolds in the form of a kind of partition of the world into the spheres of influence of major financial and industrial empires and sometimes of states. The latter is clearly manifest in the policy of the United States. Globalization as an instrument of taking possession, for the near and distant future, the main natural resources and of the most promising sales markets and investment spheres is the reality of our time.
It would naturally be wrong to confine an assessment of globalization to this aspect of the matter only. Potentially, globalization creates great opportunities for the development of both individual countries and regions of the whole world. This should not be underestimated. As the market in general, globalization and a global market solving or helping to solve some problems, are unable to solve other problems or directly impede their solution. There is a noticeable coincidence here: neither the market per se nor globalization per se can respond to social, ethnic and religious problems requiring an immediate solution. Here, politics must play its part too, in the first place, the policy of large industrial nations. I cannot say that this policy is up to the mark. It is not only lagging but in some instances goes far aside from realistic solutions to urgent problems. There are many examples to this effect. Obviously, one cannot rely on resolving all issues by force, but this method is still too often used, especially by the USA. It is unnatural to strengthen security and the absence of actual adversaries by expanding military blocs like NATO and thereby dividing the Europeans into the "clean" and "unclean," and so on. These are all holdovers or heritage of the confrontational past.
There are, however, developments of a different kind. On the one hand, the attempts to accomplish the present and future tasks by using the methods that repeatedly proved to be untenable in the past, are beginning to fail, causing unexpected consequences. For example, the recent events around Iraq demonstrated a different and far more essential aspect of the matter - a strong inclination of states to seek for political solutions and patient dialogue, which allows to find a way out of seemingly hopeless situations.
The settlement of the Iraqi crisis, obvious advance toward peace in Ulster, political discussions and quest for solutions in Kosovo, all this testifies not only to the opportunity (it has always existed) but also the willingness of more and more nations within the world community to seek for reasonable ways out of the most difficult situations. The active role played in this quest by some EU nations, the People's Republic of China, Russian diplomacy, and many Asian, African, and Latin American states is undoubtedly a positive feature.
And one more point. I have so far spoken mainly of the policy of individual states. But in the conditions of globalization when almost any major economic and political problem assumes an international if not a world-wide dimension, it is becoming increasingly difficult for individual countries to find adequate solutions to them. Hence, regional integration processes apparently speed up. The most graphic example in this respect is the European Union with its economic and political dimensions (though the latter have not been fully manifest yet). Yet similar (albeit different in format and scope of operation) regional associations have emerged practically in all the regions of the world - from Latin America (where political interaction between the OAS and economic integration processes do not coincide) to East Asia (ASEAN), the Arab world, and Africa. In the vast expanses of the Soviet Union, the CIS in no way conforms either to the need or the opportunities for the member states' interaction. But its chances for a more active role, still unrealized owing, to a considerable extent, to Russia, are quite far from being exhausted.
In the 21st century's global world, regional (or even continental) entities are likely to play a significant part both politically (including security) and economically.
Thus, the world has been undergoing profound transformations. In some cases, they were explosive and in others, latent. But they have been going on. I reiterate it is not clear yet what the finale will be like. It seems to me that certain conditions should be fulfilled so that the human community could finally come to truly civilized development corresponding to Man's nature and needs and meeting the formidable challenges of time. Aspiring to neither ultimate nor unquestionable conclusions, I would like to single out a few basic points.
The 21st century's global world will be a world of chaos unless the international community learns to act collectively, in close interaction to resolve major issues, using both the existing coordinating instruments and, possibly, new ones the need for which is created by the very course of events.
It is true especially of the world economy or, more exactly, that type of its development, which is currently predominant and conditions the acuity of social problems. The existing international economic organizations practically do not deal with them; their tasks are of a different nature. Perhaps, we need something really new, for example, a Council for International Economic Security with UN structures?
It is also true of such an important issue as ecology. The Green Cross International and the Earth Council in cooperation with prominent ecologists and spiritual leaders are working on the Earth Charter, a kind of ecological commandments for our planet's citizens. This document must operate along with an Ecological Convention and Ecological Court.
The world community's collective efforts can apparently be put forth at different levels from bilateral relations and cooperation between individual states, through interaction between regional organizations, to their general interaction with such a multipurpose structure as the UN.
Such collective efforts built with an allowance for all the world community nations' interests and on the basis of their reasonable balance, will ensure a certain degree of manageability of world processes. In particular, it will help establish control over the activities of economic, financial and other nongovernment protagonists of world life, guided by private interests. This goal can apparently be achieved only through one or another form of participation of these nongovernment private entities.
I reiterate that this will be possible only if the interests of each participant in the world communication process are taken into account. Attempts to suppress these interests and any forms of hegemony or domination of one power or a group of powers - the so-called "golden billion"- can only give rise to new conflicts.
It is clear that any state formulating its national interests is bound to approach this problem realistically. A wrong and exaggerated interpretation of national interests, which is hostile to others, is fraught with a great danger to all and, in the first place, to the country that misinterprets its interests and, consequently, tasks.
Finally, it is no less important that the future rational policy rely fully on a thorough conscientious and impartial analysis of not only political events but profound development processes and emergent challenges and objectives. From this point of view, a more important part - apparently much more important than today - will be played by such international centers of political thought as the InterAction Council. I think that the role of world scientific and cultural contacts is underestimated. Whatever states may do at their level, a dialogue between cultures in a broad sense of the world is indispensable. Its role in the future may be much greater than we can imagine today.
World policy as well as the policy of each state are faced with a serious trial. It will be necessary to rely on previous experience without submitting to its stereotypes, to take into consideration present and future challenges without falling into emotional utopianism, and thereby to sail Noah's Ark of humankind from the turbulent transitional world order to a zone of sustainable development. Of course, it will never be calm and without conflict. But if politics cope with its objectives, sustainable development can become predictable and stable.