PROBLEMS WITHOUT PASSPORTS
By Kofi A. Annan
Kofi A. Annan is secretary-general of the United Nations and recipient
of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize.
UNITED NATIONS -- Ours is a world in which no individual, and no country,
exists in isolation. All of us live simultaneously in our own communities
and in the world at large. Peoples and cultures are increasingly hybrid.
The same icons, whether on a movie screen or a computer screen, are recognizable
from Berlin to Bangalore. We are all consumers in the same global economy.
We are all influenced by the same tides of political, social and technological
change. Pollution, organized crime and the proliferation of deadly weapons
likewise show little regard for the niceties of borders; they are problems
without passports and, as such, our common enemy. We are connected, wired,
Such connections are nothing new. Human beings have interacted across
planet Earth for centuries. But today's globalization is different. It
is happening more rapidly. It is driven by new engines, such as the Internet.
And it is governed by different rules or, in too many cases, by no rules
at all. Globalization is bringing more choices and new opportunities for
prosperity. It is making us more familiar with global diversity. However,
millions of people around the world experience globalization not as an
agent of progress but as a disruptive force, almost hurricane-like in
its ability to destroy lives, jobs and traditions. Many have an urge to
resist the process and take refuge in the illusory comforts of nationalism,
fundamentalism or other ''isms.''
Faced with the potential good of globalization as well as its risks, faced
with the persistence of deadly conflicts in which civilians are primary
targets, and faced with the pervasiveness of poverty and injustice, we
must identify areas where collective action is needed -- and then take
that action to safeguard the common, global interest. Local communities
have fire departments, municipal services and town councils. Nations have
legislatures and judicial bodies. But in today's globalized world, the
institutions and mechanisms available for global action, not to mention
a general sense of a shared global fate, are hardly more than embryonic.
It is high time we gave more concrete meaning to the idea of the international
What makes a community? What binds it together? For some it is faith.
For others it is the defense of an idea, such as democracy. Some communities
are homogeneous, others multicultural. Some are as small as schools and
villages, others as large as continents. Today, of course, more and more
communities are virtual, as people, even in the remotest locations on
Earth, discover and promote their shared values through the latest communications
and information technologies.
But what binds us into an international community? In the broadest sense,
there is a shared vision of a better world for all people as set out,
for example, in the founding charter of the United Nations. There is a
sense of common vulnerability in the face of global warming and the threat
posed by the spread of weapons of mass destruction. There is the framework
of international law, treaties and human rights conventions. There is
equally a sense of shared opportunity, which is why we build common markets
and joint institutions such as the United Nations. Together, we are stronger.
Some people say the international community is only a fiction. Others
believe it is too elastic a concept to have any real meaning. Still others
claim it is a mere vehicle of convenience, to be trotted out only in emergencies
or when a scapegoat for inaction is needed. Some maintain there are no
internationally recognized norms, goals or fears on which to base such
a community. Op-ed pages and news reports refer routinely to the ''so-called
international community,'' as if the term does not yet have the solidity
of actual fact. I believe these skeptics are wrong. The international
community does exist. It has an address. It has achievements to its credit.
And more and more, it is developing a conscience.
When governments, urged by civil society, work together to realize the
long-held dream of an International Criminal Court for the prosecution
of genocide and the most heinous crimes against humanity, that is the
international community at work for the rule of law. When an outpouring
of international aid flows to victims of earthquakes and other disasters,
that is the international community following its humanitarian impulse.
When rich countries pledge to open more of their markets to poor-country
goods and decide to reverse the decade-long decline in official development
assistance, that is the international community throwing its weight behind
the cause of development. When countries contribute troops to police cease-fire
lines or to provide security in states that have collapsed or succumbed
to civil war, that is the international community at work for collective
Examples abound of the international community at work, from Afghanistan
and East Timor to Africa and Central America. At the same time, there
are important caveats. Too often the international community fails to
do what is needed. It failed to prevent genocide in Rwanda. For too long
it reacted with weakness and hesitation to the horror of ethnic cleansing
in the former Yugoslavia. The international community has not done enough
to help Africa at a time when Africa needs it most and stands to benefit
most. And in a world of unprecedented wealth, the international community
allows nearly half of all humanity to subsist on $2 or less a day.
For much of the 20th century, the international system was based on division
and hard calculations of realpolitik. In the new century, the international
community can and must do better. I do not suggest that an era of complete
harmony is within reach. Interests and ideas will always clash. But the
world can improve on the last century's dismal record. The international
community is a work in progress. Many strands of cooperation have asserted
themselves over the years. We must now stitch them into a strong fabric
of community -- of international community for an international era.
(c) 2002, Foreign Policy/Nobel Laureates. Distributed by Los Angeles Times
Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 9/16/02
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