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'Negotiating Governance in Multi-polar World'
08 November 2012

Forty eight young leaders participated in the Second Asian Forum on Global Governance organised by the Observer Research Foundation and ZEIT Stiftung, Germany, in New Delhi from October 14 to 23. Participants in this year’s forum came from 27 different countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, UK, USA, France, and Germany. This year’s theme was ’Negotiating Governance in Multi-polar World’. Five key issues of governance were discussed in the context of an international multi-polar system whose management hinges on debate and discussion among multiple actors. The participants from different fields engaged with eminent professionals from academia, business, policy-making and politics. India’s young leaders and administrators like Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and Sachin Pilot, Union minister, interacted frankly with the participants on various issues. At the valedictory session, Salman Khurshid, senior Union minister, gave away the certificates to participants.

Multi-polarity is here to stay - what response?

In face of a multi-polar world, Charles A. Kupchan (Council of Foreign Relations) talked of a resultant ’no man’s century’. Different versions of modernity will co-exist instead of a universality of westernisation, like state capitalism. Ji Ping, Deputy Secretary General of China Foundation for Peace and Development, argued that this alternative model of development, characterising Chinese rise, is wrongly seen as threatening when it is only a reflection of Chinese history and culture. Regardless, multiple centres of emerging power need to be governed. Thus far it has been a western discourse. While there is a debate over the traditional edicts of liberal democracy and collective intervention in the West itself, there is also a discussion today on the impact of the global shift on power equations in the East, commented C. Raja Mohan, Distinguished Fellow, ORF. It is, however, important not to overestimate the pace or extent of change.

The Security Imperative

Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor, The Hindu, centred his talk on the lack of predictability to instability. Today’s ’quasi-hegemon’ is unable to moderate or contain old conflicts, thus leading to unsettled regional situations. It is now up to emerging nations like India to fill the security gap and maintain stability. Multi-alignment is thus an optimum vehicle for India to navigate diffused polarity.

As the traditional security order is reformulated, there will be many revised definitions and re-evaluated equations. Among them, the notions of sovereignty and intervention were debated on a panel with Rory Medcalf, Lowy Institute for International Policy; Gamal Nkrumah, Editor, Al Ahram; and Siddharth Varadarajan. The tainted legacy of humanitarian interventions was put on trial, drawing consensus on the need to nuance this principle further in order to guard against its shortcomings. An interesting thought that emerged was whether there would come a time when definitions of interest and security of emerging countries change to see interventions as part of their national interest. With respect to West Asia and North Africa, Gamal Gorkeh Nkrumah clarified the differences in the regions ’West Asia’ and ’North Africa’, commenting on the compromised sovereignty stemming from the ’big brother’ politics of the West Asian region.

Climate Change Governance - Shared responsibility and shared prosperity

The session on sustainable development moved the forum from the political sphere to the economic sphere and consequently from structures to rules, as the socio-economic aspect of global governance came under the spotlight. With his starting note appreciating the consensus on global ecological limits, Mukul Sanwal, former Indian UNFCCC negotiator, spoke of the need for consensus in how to share the global commons and economic resources like carbon space. The kinds of values, rules and institutions that would define this redistribution were discussed in order to realize a new vision for sustainable development. Aled Jones, Global Sustainability Institute of Anglia Ruskin University, substantiated his vision for sustainable development prospects with empirical data that put out four different models in order to assess its viability vis-à-vis economic growth prospects. The best-case scenario turned out to be governments partnering with businesses in designing long-term sustainable development, albeit with no economic growth!

The subsequent session saw a consensus that the developing world would need to lead in governing the key trilemma of climate change, energy and poverty, even though it is currently reactionary. It is not lack of financial or technical capacity but the political challenge of understanding ’common but differentiated responsibility’ that has stymied progress. Navroz Dubash, Senior Fellow, CPR, pointed out a fundamental truth of global governance: the global agenda no longer drives national policies. Global challenges will need to be contexualised to national and local needs - hence climate change action is put across as development, energy security, poverty alleviation agenda in a country like India. Consequent local responses will consequently drive international negotiations.

Global climate change governance will require concerted effort by both developed and developing world. Ways forward revolving around green political economy, carbon limitation, patents, sovereign funds, South-South flows and communication enhancing awareness were mentioned by Aled Jones. Mukul Sanwal brought up differences in lifestyles and patterns of energy use. Ensuing discussion raised the role of private sector which requires government steering and incentivizes to invest in the green economy.

Bretton Woods Institutions - still relevant?

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were described as ’non-systems’ which make them adaptable and thus still relevant (e.g. the IMF increased quote subscription and created flexible credit lines during the current financial crisis). The need for a global provider of last resort or interim liquidity support provider makes the IMF indispensible, clarified Renu Kohli, consultant at the Indian Ministry of Finance.

Yet, how relevant are these in face of regional initiatives, and a China lending un-conditional money? John C. Hulsman, President, John C. Hulsman Enterprises, USA, was particularly critical: different agendas exist today in the IMF; the WB is at ideological counterpoint to China; the WTO is in a deadlock; the G7, unlike G20, doesn’t include all the right players.

Leadership is lacking but institutional reform is a must - burden sharing must go along with power sharing. Steffen Kern, chief economist, EU Advisory Body on Financial Markets, identified the challenge of policy divergence leading to lack of consensus, a very real obstacle. This means a step-by-step reform-building process.

At the same time, alternate groupings like the BRICS are examining problems through a different lens to offer alternate solutions. Yet, BRICS country actions supplement rather than supplant the Bretton Woods institutions, according to Dinesh Bhatia, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. Steffen Kern questioned their staying power, given national political instabilities and regional security challenges, but was quick to identify BRICS is a starting point to pending challenges like establishing financial markets catering to emerging economies, establishing power-sharing habits and cementing global interdependency patterns. Renu Kohli suggested that a BRICS bank could stimulate development in emerging markets and shape an alternative discourse. While economic concerns currently outweigh geo-political concerns, BRICS with its ’economic grouping’ label should be seen more as a foundation than a limiting factor.

Civil Society, NGOs, Non-State Actors - from the periphery to the core

Traditional governance structures are no longer sufficient to integrate current developments or respond to global challenges; thus the increasing inclusion of civil society and non-state actors in negotiations. Indeed, civil society and governance are not mutually exclusive: the secessionist movements of the 1980s in India led to resolutions which largely assimilated these former secessionist groups into local politics. Manish Tewari, Member of Parliament, made the case for legitimate and illegitimate civil society activists and pointed to media as an active participant of civil society who needs to learn self-restraint.

Insights from the international NGO sector were provided by Rachel Reid, Director, Regional Policy Initiative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Open Society Foundation and Mary Werntz, ICRC, India. Reid spoke of the blurring line between military effort and NGO work in Afghanistan, particularly pronounced because of the private war contractors that "dress up like NGOs". NGO action is thus subsumed within the larger military outreach policy in such an area. Werntz highlighted the ICRC principle of neutrality, especially in moderating high-voltage conflicts. She laid a premium on dialogue as ICRC’s chosen method of entry into conflict areas in order to foster a negotiated, and not imposed, presence. The value of partnership with the Red Crescent and multi-layered engagements, from the UN to regional organizations and possibly soon with BRICS, was also mentioned.

Other highlights

The ten-day forum had its moments of heated debate during some sessions; there was even an ’opposition bloc’ that formed to object the overall pessimism in the presentation of climate change issues. The ’Perspectivity Game’ was another lively round of faux-pas, managed recoveries and constant negotiation, as participants worked on a simulation exercise designed to teach its players the complexities involved in managing sustainability issues (the winners being an all-women team, perhaps an additional lesson learnt). The ten-day conference also saw special addresses from Mayor of Hamburg Olaf Scholz, Pinak Chakravarty from the Public Diplomacy Division and Salman Khurshid highlighting challenges within their domains of governance expertise.

Conversations around these five key governance issues brought out themes of values, interests and leadership, which were presented as some of the most important determinants. As the world faces challenges for which it has no prior reference model, solutions will be borne out of global interactions and dialogue. As Dean of the Forum, Shashi Tharoor, put it, "Negotiations will be the fulcrum around which the world will evolve...and these conversations must start now".

From India, participants included included young leaders like Chhavi Rajawat, an MBA Sarpanch from Soda village in Rajasthan, K. Yhome, ORF Fellow, Gagan Goel, business entrepreneur and Mahima Kaul, a journalist.

In the first Asian Forum organised last year, 46 participants from 29 countries had participated in the programme. The Forum is an annual workshop jointly organised by Observer Research Foundation and the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius, Germany.

(This report is prepared by Ritika Passi and Nithya Kochuparampil, Research Interns at Observer Research Foundation)