There are many obstacles to the reform of the current world order. Counter-perceptions and ingrained thoughts are so strong that many simply do not care to deal with the problem. The globe is too fragmented, the nation states are strong, and the great powers will never give up their privileges.
The nation states do not disappear, but they should, in their own interest, agree to new rules of the game.
The global goals approved by the 193 UN member states in 2015 should be incorporated into national policies. The seventeen goals could be the practical program for a better world order, although the states saw them more as a manifestation with good intentions.
What are the main obstacles to a better world order?
Of the great powers, the United States, as usual, plays a key role. President Biden makes it clear that the country is back as a global actor. Unfortunately, there are many factors that suggest that the United States will continue to act alone. Its resources make the country increasingly independent of the outside world, and despite all the talk of its abdication as a leading superpower, it is likely that the United States' competitive advantage will only increase. Its population is younger than in the rapidly ageing Europe and China. The large domestic market, its own natural resources and the huge military budget make the United States uninterested in compromising its power and influence. The change of president is unlikely to break that trend.
At present, with the authoritarian threats to democracy, it is to be hoped that the US Constitution will stand its ground and the United States will assist other democracies in need. Together, democracies must examine each global commitment and its impact on our common values. In a functioning world order, we must nevertheless accept that a large part of the world's countries are not democracies. If everyone is to be included, it is unrealistic to hope for rapid regime change.
For the near future, China will remain a one-party dictatorship and a great power, unwilling to relinquish influence but interested in a stable world order. In an unstable world, its trade routes and raw material supply are in danger.
We easily interpret globalisation as a 'Westernisation' of the world as our values, technology and free trade philosophy spread. Others may likewise perceive it as a Western, capitalist invention. Positive globalisation must also have an Asian and African face.
Migration is a key issue
Migration is a sensitive and difficult chapter in the globalisation process. Progressive Westerners like open borders and are for free movement - this as a moral position. That would mean no less than a world revolution. Surveys show that between 13 and 14% of the world's population want to emigrate, which means at least seven hundred million emigrants. If this is would be in the cards, it would put an end to a positive globalisation trend. It can be safely stated that public opinion in no country is prepared for that revolution.
In addition, sociologist Robert Putnam's research, among others, has shown that large numbers of emigrants reduce social cohesion in the host society. The nation state must retain the right to regulate immigration so that it does not become the stone that overturns the wagon of globalisation.
On the other hand, a functioning world order presupposes that the refugee issue is organised in a sensible way. Identifying the genuinely persecuted in the large mass of emigrants is a necessary step forward. Without compromising the right to asylum, it must be acknowledged that it is not possible for everyone to choose a new home country. New agreements are needed to distribute the burden and enable persecuted people to apply for asylum without making life-threatening journeys.
Another massive obstacle to the future of the global community is the economic distortion of the rules of the game. Revelations about tax havens, large-scale corporate tax evasion to the lowest tax regimes and the countries' struggle for investment through their "race to the bottom", lower corporate taxation, have led to growing moral and political indignation. Gabriel Zucman already described in 2015 that tax evasion costs us $ 200 billion annually (seventy-eight billion within the EU). Six hundred billion in corporation tax was withheld from the states in which the profits had been accumulated.
Interesting processes are taking place on this front, and if the reforms within the OECD become a reality, tax havens will lose their customers. If the national corporation tax cannot be lower than 15%, it will dampen the unhealthy race between the countries.
No quick reorganisation in sight
The research and literature offer a rich selection of suggestions on how the global society could and should be shaped. Here you find idealistic, romantic, practical, and realistic models. Although a good dose of optimism is needed when working for a balanced world order, one must start from today's realities. We need functional patterns of cooperation and instruments to avert crises and push reluctant states towards new supranational agreements.
However, some progress gives cause for cautious optimism. Binding climate agreements are one such, fairer regulation of the wild financial and tax domains another. The next question concerns refugee and emigration policy, which is awaiting new initiatives. The nuclear-weapon states do not voluntarily relinquish their military trump card as they have the leverage to refuse any attempt to bind them. But they do not want to enlarge the club, which is better than nothing. The future of the Iran agreement determines the direction.
Optimism easily transforms into pessimism if new agreements do not become binding and do not contain sanctions against those who break them. The hardest part remains: the use of force between states. The great powers and the UN then end up in the spotlight. Unfortunately, the UN system does not seem to offer the way forward. The great powers in turn block robust reform initiatives. Attempts to remodel the UN appear to be on a dead end.
Anyone who reads the Foreign Affairs journal can take note of various analyses. The UN model for a peaceful world is becoming increasingly outdated and unrealistic, Walter Russell Mead believes. The way forward will be paved by the non-state actors, not by the nations, writes Anne-Marie Slaughter, who believes that large companies, foundations, and voluntary organisations can create the necessary global networks. In addition, mayors, state governors and experts can form useful working networks.
The truth is therefore disappointing: no better and more ambitious world order is around the corner. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö now wants to resurrect the Helsinki Spirit from 1975, indicating that this retro model is perhaps the best in anticipation of brighter times. If the idea is gaining attraction, a limited number of rules of the game that the great powers can accept would be incorporated in a document to be signed (and which would then probably be interpreted in diverse ways). The world continues to pile forward from crisis to crisis and the small states, among them Finland, must be ready to fasten their seatbelts and hope that everything goes well.
Imges: LEHTIKUVA / AFP
This column is the second part of a two part column. First part can be read here.
Pär Stenbäck is a former Finnish politician who has been an MP, Minister of Education, and of Foreign Affairs in the years before 1985. For a period of twenty years, he held leading positions in the Red Cross movement, among these as Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Geneva). He is a founding member of ICG and the European Cultural Parliament ECP. He received the honorary title as Minister in 1999. Today he is chairing the New Foreign Policy Society in Finland (NUPS) since 2017. He contributes regularly to news media.