Hilary Benn, state secretary for international development after Claire Short, has recently made a remarkable address on the new development doctrine in a lecture which took place the 4th of March 2004 at the London School of Economics. He reminded the audience how 2005 will be a crucial year for multi-lateralism and the enourmous challenges and expectations surrounding the ambitious targets set by the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
It is already known, he said, that the goal to provide girls and boys with equal access to schools and education opportunities will not be met in 2005 and that still more than 1.2 billion people living in this planet have no access to water. Failed states, defined as states unable or unwilling to sustain growth and development for its people and the achievement of MDGs, are the major cause of poverty among its people and the highest concentration of the poor is found to live in such states.
Benn explained that not all failed states are the same and suggests a spectrum where at one end would be states like Congo or Somalia characterised by social unrest and absolute lack of any institution whatsoever; in the middle states with fragile institutions and at the other hand states in which public institutions are unscrupulously used for crime and personal gain.
‘Something has to be done’ – Benn said – ‘but what?’. Three main points are laid out:
a) The need to understand better the cause of state failure, and in particular why certain ideas have worked in some states and not in others.
b) Early action to prevent state crisis.
c) And finally the need to insure safety and stability of people living in LDCs.
It might not be entirely surprising for the experts in the area, however it would be interesting to know if any of the readers notices the implications of the third point in terms of the potential effects it would have on multi-lateralism, state sovereignty as well as on institutions (such as the United Nations) whose mandate has been fairly stable and defined since the end of the Second World War. Benn stresses that safety and stability are better achieved with policing, which is considered the same as proving education, water or healthcare.
Yet there are some fundamental differences. The side effects from providing books or boards in schools are rather limited to the local setting where they are delivered. At most part of the items could be ‘lost’ or re-sold in black markets. That would still mean a failure of the project, yet some books would still reach the intended beneficiaries and what is lost is just paper. Instead, the consequences of global policing spread on a very wide range of political action both locally and internationally. World resources would be diverted to the creation of such force, its mobilisation and sustenance. Failure means that what is lost is not only paper and, more dangerously for world stability, it could also further foment terrorists activities. So far for the practical aspects, however there is also a problem in principle.
The clash is the following: on one hand the right of self-determination of indigenous populations, while on the other the right of advanced nations to provide security for its citizens and the world at large, morally also for the people in rogue states too. A balance is hard to make and the line difficult to draw, however Tony Blair has a clear vision. As it is reported on the first page of the Guardian newspaper the 6th of March 2004, he says: ‘It may well be that under international law as presently constituted a regime can systematically brutalise and oppress its people and there is nothing anyone can do… This may be the law, but should it be?’
Needless to say, the two concomitant addresses of the British prime minister and the state secretary of international development are aligned to embrace a doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, making any debate on the importance of multi-lateralism seem obsolete. It might as well be said that 2005 will be the year of the end of multi-lateralism. But then how will it be possible to intervene simultaneously in at least 3 continents? Certainly, action needs to be taken in order to eliminate poverty and promote development but the ends should not let us forget the means and the consequences during the process. As Mr. Blair said in his speech: ‘This raises three important questions: Is reform necessary? What form should it take? Can it be delivered?’