"Ethics and Creativity in International Relations" Address by Dr Danilo Türk, Former President of the Republic of Slovenia At the Sixth Istanbul Cup and Creative Summit
Istanbul, Turkey, 8. 3. 2013 | govori
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It is a great pleasure to take part in the Sixth Istanbul Cup and Creative Summit and to share - together with you - the excitement of some of the best creative thinking from all over the world. Through the past years I have been a regular visitor of the "Golden Drum" festival, which is held annually in Portorož, Slovenia. It has been a thoroughly interesting experience and, for a public official like a president of a country, a great opportunity to learn - not only about creativity in the service of promotion of economic growth, but also about creativity in the promotion of humanitarian campaigns and, more generally, of ethically inspired initiatives in the use of technological development for the common good.
Today, I am here to speak about ethics and creativity in international relations. The suggested title of my talk is based on an optimistic assumption: that ethics and creativity have a place in international relations. In other words, international relations are more than mere struggle for power and a set of games based on force and national interest within a rudimentary normative system. There is a place for both ethics and creativity in international relations. This is an optimistic proposition, indeed.
And then there is the perennial problem of public perception: What, exactly, is creativity in the context of international relations? And, are people who are active in international relations perceived as "creative"?
Let me offer you a personal story. Back in 1992 I moved with my family to New York as the first Ambassador of the newly independent Slovenia to the United Nations. Naturally, I believed that my work as representative of a new member state at the UN had to be creative. Like all other diplomats working in New York, I also had to find a place to live in the city. I contacted a real estate agent and discussed a list of available appartments in different parts of Manhattan. She suggested some in the Upper East Side and in the Midtown where most of diplomats live. I looked at the city map and asked whether she had something in TriBeCa, the area which I had visited the previous weekend and rather liked the local environment. My agent was clearly negative: "TriBeCa is not for you". She said. "That part of town is for the creative people."
I was struck by the clarity of her rejection and asked her whether she thought that we, diplomats, were not creative. She explained that she did not mean that, but that in New York, the words "creative people" have a very specific meaning and that they simply do not include diplomats. I accepted the explanation and chose an appartment in the Midtown, close to the United Nations building.
I must admit that this categorization of diplomats among people other than creative people, in a sense as "non-creative", continued to haunt me. Has diplomacy - and statecraft more generally - become so bureaucratic that creativity is simply not perceived as one of its qualities? Does creativity have its rightful place in international relations? And what about the changing perceptions about international politics and diplomacy in the general public at the time of an ever-growing importance of the media? These questions continue to haunt me even today.
But let us move from my own micro-cosm of the early 1990s to something more general and far more relevant: Which were the moments in history of international relations that produced the most undisputedly creative, far reaching and practical ideas? The answer to this question will tell us a great deal about the nature of international relations and about the role of ethics and creativity in this context.
It is important to keep in mind that international relations are, in their essence, a tragic human exercise marked by the eternal question of war and peace. From the war of Troy to the current wars in Syria and Mali the same tragic story is repeating itself in its countless variations. The most creative and fundamental ideas about international relations have to do with the conduct of war and preserving the peace. Peace, as it is understood since the time of ancient Greece, is an uncertain state of international relations. Eirene, the Greek goddess of peace, was permanently suffering from poor health. Although immortal, she was - unlike other gods and goddesses - always on the verge of dying. Wars happen too easily. Peace requires a permanent effort.
It is therefore not surprising that the most creative and ethically energized ideas in the history of international relations have emerged at the moments when great wars were coming to an end, in the effort to protect the post war peace arrangements from sliding back into armed conflict. Let me mention a few examples:
- The concept of sovereign equality of states, a far reaching idea, indeed, has become the central organizing principle of international relations by virtue of the Peace Treaties of Westphalia in 1648, following the thirty years of religious wars in Europe;
- The first idea of collective security, i. e. a permanent system of cooperation of states, an "alliance to function in the peacetime" emerged during Napoleonic wars in 1805 and was given concrete diplomatic content and structure in the "Holy Alliance" after those wars;
- The idea of a global security organization was developed during World War I by an American President - Woodrow Wilson - a visionary still underrated by many- and was enacted in the form of the Covenant of the League of Nations in 1919;
- The idea of the United Nations, our present global, all-inclusive organization with a unique mandate and legitimacy in areas of security, development and human rights, has grown out of a military alliance during World War II and remains the best hope for "prevention of our world's sliding into hell." (Dag Hammarskjöld)
The creation of these post war regimes and istitutions involved a great amount of practical diplomatic skill and imagination as well as strong ethical committment. I emphasize "practical" because they had to serve practical purposes and achieve real results. While none of them was - or could be - ideal, each of them brought significant progress compared to the prewar situations.
In addition to their practicality, all these innovations were driven by ethical considerations. They expressed a high level of optimism regarding the human nature, and even a somewhat naive expectation about the nature of politics. But let us not be excessively harsh in our judgment: Optimism and even mild naivity are inseparable from truly ethical motivations and are vitally important for all creativity, including diplomatic creativity.
Let us just think about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN in 1948, by the war-weary generation of leaders who laid down the basis for later social progress worldwide. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains a true feat of ethical committment and diplomatic creativity. And it continues to inspire efforts to improve the human condition in all corners of the world. New international legal and diplomatic instruments continue to be put in place to strengthen human rights action and new methodologies are being devised, such as the use of quantifiable indicators to measure social progress and implementation of economic and social rights.
Diplomatic creativity, however, has its limits. Sometimes circumstances do not enable diplomats to put together satisfactory solutions. The 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a case in point. As a diplomatic instrument it has been a success insofar as it ended a brutal and vicious war. However, it fell woefully short of establishing a fair and prosperous peace. But then, let us be aware of a thought, expressed by Cicero more than two millenia ago, that the most unfair peace is preferred to even the most justified war. (Iniquissimam pacem justissimo bello antefero).
When judging success of the arrangements of peace one needs to think about the difficulty of ending the war. We can all see this difficulty in the current tragedy of Syria. Syria is reminding us that it will take much more than diplomatic creativity to stop the war and, immediately after that, to establish a decent peace. At present it seems that the international community still lacks the capacity to align around an agreed political approach, which could give a chance to diplomatic creativity. This is due, in part, to the inherent complexity of the Syrian drama and its cast of its actors, and, in part, due to the lack of ethical committment to ending the war. What is lacking is the heroic spirit necessary to make peace.
It is precisely this, essentially ethical domain that makes the key difference. Being heroic does not necessarily mean willing to fight a war. The key is in the will to take the necessary and far-reaching decisions. In the critical moments of history the heroic spirit helps to stop the suffering and guides the political decision makers and diplomats to formulate an innovative approach, a new political arrangement or even a new system of international relations, which enables durable peace and moves history forward. Such were the arrangements after four great wars that I quoted earlier. But practical and ethical conditions for such a conlusion of war do not often exist, as the history of international relations shows over and over again. Syria is but the latest in the series of examples of the tragic nature of international relations.
The need for creative diplomatic initiatives is not limited only to situations of armed conflict. It exists also in situations of peace. In such situations too, the need for major innovation requires a good level of ethical committment and an input of political and diplomatic creativity. However, very often even the most obvious and clearly identifiable need for ethically inspired political and diplomatic creativity does not guarantee the necessary outcome.
The ending of the cold war in 1989 brought an important lesson in that regard. It was clear at that time that the depth of positive and peaceful change that had happened in the second part of 1980s enabled strong steps forward, towards a better global system of peace and development. Diplomats and economic analysts talked about a "peace dividend". There was a sense of optimism and confidence. Practical wisdom and diplomatic skills of the first President Bush of the US had much to do with that. But, at the same time, there was no sense of urgency. Cold war did not end in ruins - with the exception of the welcome destruction of the Berlin wall. There was no urge to convene "a post cold war peace conference" - a major conference tasked to lay down the foundations of a new system or to put in place a blueprint for the needed changes in the international architecture. The necessary ethical committment for a major renewal was lacking.
What followed was a piecemeal approach: The UN Security Council met at the Heads of State level and requested the Secretary-General to prepare a report, an agenda for peace, and to propose improvements in the functioning of the UN system. Several global conferences were convened to analyze the key areas of development - ranging from envirionment to social progress and the role of women. One of them met here in Istanbul in 1996 to discuss the global phenomena of urbanization. I should say, in passing, that the venue, Istanbul, was extremely well chosen and that the conference put together a convincing vision of policy making for the improvement of human settlements. It was a creative meeting.
Creative, yes, but was that conference and all other diplomatic activities of that time creative enough? Were the conferences in Rio in 1992 and Kyoto in 1997 on environmental questions creative enough? They certainly created great hopes and a good platform, but their follow-up left much to be desired. And now, after the disappointment at the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change in 2009 and the meagre results of the Rio plus twenty conference of June last year we can safely say that the whole process of the past two decades lacked the necessary creativity and results.
Ours is not a heroic time. We live in an era characterized by underestimated problems and a false feeling of security. Insufficient attention is paid to the possibility of cumulative effects of the existing threats: Climate change has already resulted in wars for water and in situations of sudden rise of food prices - adding to social instability, violence and acts of terrorism. Nonetheless, the prevailing mood in the world public opinion is one of complacency, an early source of future troubles.
Moreover, in a media driven world of today, the culture of complacency is solidified by the prevalence of triviality, the suffocating clouds of chatter in the social media and a great amount of empty rhetoric at the level of politics.
So, how is an ethically driven and creative diplomacy expected to work in the specific circumstances of our "non-heroic" era? Two examples offer an insight - one relating to the general concept of development and the other involving the role of the business sector in the realization of ethical values.
In the late 1990s the UN engaged in an updated, post cold war definition of the concept of international development. Sectoral conferences that I mentioned earlier outlined a series of policy approaches in such matters as environment, human rights, social development, population policies, equality of women and others. While useful as tools of multilateral diplomacy, they said little to the political leaders and the general public. They lacked a mobilizing effect. In these circumstances Kofi Annan, then secretary general of the UN, initiated a process of "distillation" of the main development objectives in the form of what later became known as the "millenium development goals" or MDGs. The basic idea was deeply ethical: gradual eradication of extreme poverty. Organizing meaningful international activity for that purpose called for diplomatic innovation and creativity.
At the beginning, this process required a fair amount of networking and patient diplomacy within the UN, with the Bretton Woods institutions, key governments and NGOs. Later on the process was helped, as Kofi Annan explained recently, "by an accident of calendar". The fact of the beginning of the new millenium in the year 2000 opened the possibility of offering a concept of international development cooperation based on the objective of eradication of extreme poverty. This concept was offered to the summit of world leaders in September of 2000. The resulting Millenium Declaration identified eight clearly defined objectives and a set of quantitative targets and benchmarks, which can be measured periodically with a view to assessing progress.
The Millenium Development Goals helped to strengthen the efforts for the eradication of extreme poverty, for achieving universal primary education; for the empowerment of women, for the improvement of maternal health and the reduction of child mortality, for combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, for ensuring environmental sustainability and for establishing of a global development partnership.
Many governments have incorporated these objectives in their policies. The MDGs became an overarching framework for the international development agenda and proved to have a considerable mobilizing power. That potential was not limited to governments and international institutions. It also mobilized the non-governmental organizations, academic institutions and - to a lesser extent - the media. The strategies for the realization of MDGs were subsequently refined by a group of 250 leading world experts coordinated by professor Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University. In addition, the mechanisms of financing international development assistance were strengthened through the international agreement known as "Monterrey consensus", reached in that Mexican city in 2002 and later supplemented by the agreement of the G8 summit reached in 2005 in Gleneagles, Scotland.
The Millenium Development Goals initiative represents a good example of ethics and creativity in international relations of today. The whole action is being motivated by a major ethical concern of eradication of extreme poverty and has been pursued with the kind of political, diplomatic and media-supported creativity, which is necessary, although rarely seen in our "non-heroic" era. Kofi Annan demonstrated great sensitivity and understanding of the spirit of the time and the needs of our age as well as a unique capacity to lead a complex diplomatic operation needed for the success of this initiative. He was helped, as he himself put it, by "an accident of the calendar" - and a growing awareness in the world public opinion, which was generally supportive of both the idea and the UN role in it.
It should also be borne in mind that in 1999, at the time when the initiative was at its beginning, the world wittnessed a major outbreak of public dissatisfaction with the leading economic powers. The protests in Seattle, the "battle of Seattle" in December 1999, were directed againts a conference of the World Trade Organization and more generally against the profit-based concept of development, and were a stark reminder that the international institutions should address the most pressing social issues and eradication of poverty. Implicitly, these protests gave additional legitimacy to the UN, which, unlike the centers of real economic power, was now perceived as a credible source of new and creative ideas in the field of international development.
At present, in early 2013 it is still too early to make a final judgment about the final effects of the Millenium Development Goals. But it is beyond doubt that they have made a real impact and that they offer a good example of ethics and creativity in international relations of today.
My second example of such new and creative ideas relates to the role of the business sector in development. It is obvious that development does not depend on states alone. In fact, the role of the state in development has been diminishing in the past decades and the role of private sector is growing.
In January 1999 the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan challenged the meeting of business leaders gathered in Davos to work proactively and to engage with the United Nations in what became known as the "Global Compact". The participating business leaders were invited to introduce good practices in the areas of labour standards, human rights, anti-corruption and environmental protection and to engage with the UN in a global compact for that purpose. This engagement is particularly necessary in those countries where the standards in the mentioned areas are not enacted by national legislation. True, accepting such an approach means a certain burden on the competitiveness of the companies in the short run. However, it brings dividends over time. It strengthens the sense of social responsibility of the business sector and helps putting global markets on a fairer and more sustainable footing. Kofi Annan's appeal has received a good response. Since 1999, more than 10.000 business participants and other stakeholders from 145 countries have joined in this initiative, which helped to start changing the business culture worlwide. It reintroduced, in a new and modernized form, the hitherto almost forgotten concept of social responsibility into the mainstream of business thinking, and hopefully, in the general public opinion. Both ethics and creativity were necessary for this subtle change to happen.
The more general conclusion one can draw from the two chosen examples is that, indeed, ethics and creativity do exist in international practice and that they yield real results. But that conclusion leads to a larger question: Are the existing practices sufficient given the needs of our time? Do they meet the expectations of the people and the capacities existing today? One could mention a number of noble initiatives of our time that confirm the existence of both ethics and creativity in international relations. Numerous initiatives of non-governmental organizations in the fields of humanitarian work, human rights and poverty alleviation provide parts of the picture. Activities of prominent philantropists such as George Soros and Melinda and Bill Gates offer encouraging examples. And there are others.
However, all the existing activities may prove insufficient in the light of the latent threats to global stability, development and peace. Some of the major risks are clearly insufficiently addressed both within states and internationally. This year's Global Risk Report prepared by the World Economic Forum has identified two major areas of concern. One of them, "the stress put on the global environmental resilience" is broadly understood - but inadequately addressed as I mentioned earlier. The other, "a severe and growing income disparity" is already felt as real - but not yet taken seriously.
Let us think about the problem of severe income disparity. Around the world, the "Occupy" protests, the protests of the "Indignados" and other civil society based expressions of anger demonstrate the increasing public discontent. Policy responses, however, are lacking. Inequality has gone too far. According to Oxfam, inequality in the UK has returned to the levels not seen since Charles Dickens. In some other parts of the world, including in some among the most successful countries, the problem is getting worse. In China and South Africa the top 10 per cent take home nearly 60 per cent of income. This kind of inequality is unsustainable.
The Millenium Development Goals initiative I referred to before is an important part of the global effort, which has already lifted hundreds of millions of people from the state of extreme poverty. According to Oxfam again, this aq historically important achievement and the world should be proud of it. But now, the protesters such as the "Occupy" movement and organizations such as Oxfam insist that it is necessary to look not only at the poorest, but also at the richest. Extreme wealth and inequality are economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive, environmentally destructive and, above all, unethical. There is a broad realization about this, not only among the humanitarians and the protesters, but also among the "hard nosed" economists.
There is no inevitability or historic justification for this situation to continue indefinetely. Furthermore, some solutions are known and well-tested - fairer regulation and taxation, respect for the principle of decent work, investment in - and better access to - public services etc. Some countries, including South Korea and Brazil, have been successful in reducing extreme inequality. The current initiatives in the EU to reduce bankers' bonuses and similar privileges are an early sign of the needed change. But the question remains whether more can be done at the international level. Activities such as those of the International Labour Organization devoted to promotion of decent work are necessary and have to be strengthened. International non-governmental organizations are doing useful work in creating the awareness of the problem. Civil society initiatives are increasing pressure for change. The media report about the problem with an increasing, albeit not yet sufficient intensity.
Is there something that creative industries can or should do? The tentative answer is: yes! Let us look at the good practices, understand their ethical message and present them to the general public in an imaginative way; let us make the messages of protesters better understood and more central in our global culture.
Advertising of specific proposals for greater equality and common decency is a necessity of our time. There is no doubt about the need or the audience. Ethics and creativity are called for in dealing with this central task of our time. The question of how this is to be done is more difficult to answer. But for that the international actors should turn to the creative people. People like you.
I wish you every success in your work and I thank you for your attention.
Prof. Dr. Danilo Türk
Former President of the Republic of Slovenia
Foto: Rok Tržan