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In this issue's John Harvard's Journal:
Mandela and Annan: What the World Needs Now - The Mandela Address: Eradicate the World's Disparities - Annan: Troubling News - The Annan Address: The Politics of Globalization - Autumn Windfall - Harvard Observed - Harvard Portrait: Harley P. Holden - World-Shaping Events: The Top Twenty? - Unlucky Number? - Brevia - The Undergraduate: A Pact with Solitude - Sports


The Politics of Globalization

Excerpts from the address by Kofi Annan,
Secretary General of the United Nations

To many, it is the phenomenon of globalization that distinguishes our era from any other. Globalization is commonly understood to describe those advances in technology and communications that have made possible an unprecedented degree of financial and economic interdependence and growth. As markets are integrated, investments flow more easily, competition is enhanced, prices are lowered, and living standards everywhere are improved.

For a very long time, this logic was borne out by reality. Indeed, it worked so well that in many cases underlying political schisms were ignored in the belief that the rising tide of material growth would eliminate the importance of political differences.

Today, we look back on the early 1990s as a period of savage wars of genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda that cruelly mocked the political hubris attending the end of Communism. Soon, we may well look back on the late 1990s as a period of economic crisis and political conflict that with equal cruelty mocked the political hubris attending the heyday of globalism.

In time, these twin awakenings--rude as they have been--may be recalled as a form of blessing in disguise, for they will have reminded us that any peace and every prosperity depend on legitimate, responsive politics.

In a sense, it may be said that politics and political development as a whole suffered a form of benign neglect during globalization's glory years. Extraordinary growth rates seemed to justify political actions which otherwise might have invited dissent. Autocratic rule which denied basic civil and political rights was legitimized by its success in helping people escape centuries of poverty. What was lost in the exuberance of material wealth was the value of politics.

The development of a society based on the rule of law; the establishment of legitimate, responsive, uncorrupt government; respect for human rights and the rights of minorities; freedom of expression; the right to a fair trial--these essential, universal pillars of democratic pluralism were in too many cases ignored. And the day the funds stopped flowing and the banks started crashing, the cost of political neglect came home.

Throughout much of the developing world, globalization is seen, not as a term describing objective reality, but as an ideology of predatory capitalism. Whatever reality there is in this view, the perception of a siege is unmistakable. Millions of people are suffering; savings have been decimated; decades of hard-won progress in the fight against poverty are imperiled. And unless the basic principles of equity and liberty are defended in the political arena and advanced as critical conditions for economic growth, they may suffer rejection. Economic despair will be followed by political turmoil and many of the advances for freedom of the last half-century could be lost.

In this growing backlash against globalization, one can discern three separate categories of reaction. All three threaten to undermine globalization's prospects. All three reflect globalization's neglect of political values.

The first, perhaps most dangerous, reaction has been one of nationalism. From the devastated economies of Asia to the indebted societies of Africa, leaders in search of legitimacy are beginning to view globalization, and its down side, as a process that has weakened them vis-à-vis their rivals and diminished them in the eyes of their allies. Globalization is presented as a foreign invasion that will destroy local cultures, regional tastes, and national traditions.

Even more troubling, political leaders are increasingly seeking to sustain popular support amidst economic difficulties by exploiting historic enmities and fomenting transborder conflict. That these steps will do nothing to improve their nations' lot--indeed just the opposite--must be evident even to them. But the costs of globalization have given them a rhetorical vehicle with which to distract their peoples' attentions from the penury of tomorrow to the pride of today.

The irony is that globalization's promise was based on the notion that economic interdependence would eliminate the potential for political and military conflict. The fallacy of this doctrine is not simply that nations and peoples often act out of a complex web of interests that may or may not favor economic progress. Power politics, hegemonic interests, suspicion, rivalry, greed, and corruption are no less decisive in the affairs of state than rational economic interests.

The second reaction has been the resort to illiberal solutions--the call for the man on the white horse, the strong leader who in a time of crisis can act resolutely in the nation's interests. The raw, immediate appeal of this idea seems most apparent in newly liberalized nations with weak political systems, incapable of reacting with effectiveness or legitimacy in the face of economic crisis.

As central power disintegrates and bread lines grow, there is a growing temptation to forget that democracy is a condition for development--and not its reward. What if economic liberalization, however profitable in the short term, will never beget a political liberalization that is not already integral to economic progress? What if political liberalization, however desirable on its own, is no guarantee of economic growth, at least in the short term? These are the questions that globalization's friends must answer in political terms, if they are to win the argument against those who would seek solution in tyranny.

The third reaction against the forces of globalization has been a politics of populism. Embattled leaders may begin to propose forms of protectionism as a way to offset losses supposedly incurred by too open an embrace of competition, and too free a system of political change. In this reaction, globalization is made the scapegoat of the ills which more often have domestic roots of a political nature.

Notwithstanding its flaws and failed assumptions, this reaction is a real challenge with real power. Those who would defend the policies of openness, transparency, and good governance must find ways to answer these critics at two levels: at the level of principle and at the level of practical solutions which can provide some kind of economic insurance against social despair and instability.

Otherwise, the populists and the protectionists will win the argument between isolation and openness, between the particular and the universal, between an imaginary and a prosperous future. And they must not win.

If globalization is to succeed, it must succeed for poor and rich alike. It must deliver rights no less than riches. It must provide social justice and equity no less than economic prosperity and enhanced communication. It must be harnessed to the cause not of capital alone, but of development and prosperity for the poorest of the world. It must address the reactions of nationalism, illiberalism, and populism with political answers expressed in political terms.

This is a tall order. But it must be met, if globalization is not to be recalled in years hence as simply an illusion of the power of trade over politics, and human riches over human rights.

After World War II, there was a recognition that ultimately, economic problems were political and security problems. There was a recognition that prosperity and peace are political achievements, not simply natural consequences either of trade or of technological progress. We owe the wisdom of this view and the consequences of its implementation to one man in particular, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In his fourth inaugural address, President Roosevelt--a founder of the United Nations and surely the greatest Harvard man of this century--made a passionate plea for global engagement:

We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations, far away. We have learned that we must live as men, and not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community.

In this era, we have learned our lessons, too: that democracy is the condition for true, lasting, and equitable development; that the rewards of globalization must be seen not only at the center, but also at the margins; and that without free, legitimate, and democratic politics, no degree of prosperity can satisfy humanity's needs nor guarantee lasting peace--even in the age of globalization.

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