January 8th, 2008

The following is the Preface of a book titled Future Positive: International cooperation in the 21st century first published in 2004.


Future Positive

Michael Edwards

True freedom is attainable only through relations with others, since in an interconnected world I can never be safe unless you are secure.

These words, from Chapter Ten of Future Positive, have been widely quoted in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC on September 11th 2001. If ever we doubted before, now we surely know what it’s like to live in an increasingly interconnected world, where problems and solutions stretch across national borders and no one has a future unless we learn to work together. Our welfare is affected by events from Argentina to Afghanistan, decisions made in distant capitals, and threats from enemies we may not see until it is too late – like global warming, new diseases, and international networks of terrorists and criminals. In this scenario, global cooperation is essential. Either we pursue a narrow definition of our “national interests” against the background of growing inequality, insecurity and environmental degradation, or we embark on a new era of collective action, much as the international community agreed to do in the aftermath of World War Two. The question is, do we have the courage, clarity of understanding and imagination to rise to this historic challenge?

In dealing with the threats posed by global terrorism, poverty and conflict, two very different approaches are emerging. The first is “Pax Americana”, meaning global regimes for security and development led – and if necessary imposed – by the United States. The second, more popular in Europe and the rest of the world, is “global governance”, meaning rules and institutions that embody the collective responsibilities of states, citizens and businesses to address global threats through democratic negotiation and burden sharing. Future Positive provides a roadmap for those who support the second of these approaches, and much argument and evidence that casts doubt on the viability of the first.

In the first part of the book, Chapters One to Six look back in time to evaluate the record of international cooperation, foreign aid, and humanitarian assistance since 1945. The lessons learned from recent history form the backdrop for the second part of the book, which outlines a series of reforms aimed at improving the impact and effectiveness of the international system in achieving three things that are necessary to overcome the terrorists and deal with the root causes of violence and alienation:

ï a climate of security (economic, political and religious) that makes it less likely that people will vent their frustrations on others using violence

ï a shared commitment across the world to stem the flows of people, money, weapons and information that sustain diffuse but deadly networks of terror; and;

ï coalitions that legitimize the necessary use of force through negotiations built on reciprocity and mutual respect

Chapters Seven and Eight show how to reduce the inequalities and insecurities that encourage people to turn to violence by “humanizing capitalism”: making globalization work for the poor by changing incentives in markets and allowing developing countries to protect themselves while they strengthen their competitiveness; pooling foreign aid in a network of “National Development Funds” governed by – and accountable to – a partnership between government, business and civil society on the ground; and increasing accountability among businesses using codes of conduct that guarantee workers a fair share of the proceeds – by purchasing coffee produced by cooperatives, for example, or making sure that soccer balls are not stitched by children working as slave laborers.

Chapter Nine looks at the gaps and weaknesses that exist in our current institutions for global governance and shows how they might be corrected so that large-scale threats to human life and human rights are properly addressed – unlike the silence that greeted the recent genocide in Rwanda or the lack of legitimacy and planning that is undermining the effectiveness of intervention in Iraq. The New York Police Department spends as much money each year as the UN does on intelligence-gathering and peacekeeping, and (contrary to popular opinion) there are more permanent employees at Disneyland than in the UN Secretariat – a good illustration, perhaps, of a world with its priorities turned upside down. Now is the time for a standing United Nations army and police force to back Security Council resolutions, and an International Criminal Court to hold the abusers to account.

Such measures will not work without support from the widest possible number of countries, and that support is unlikely to be given unless those countries have a louder voice in global decision making. We won’t find lasting solutions to global problems until everyone has a say in the answers and a stake in the outcomes, and that means increasing poor countries’ voice in the World Trade Organization and other international bodies (voting weighted by population as well as Gross National Product), and more space for civil society – citizens’ groups, labor unions and churches – in the corridors of power.

This is an ambitious agenda for reform, and who will lead it? Chapters Ten and Eleven answer this question by looking for new ways to build constituencies for international cooperation in support of a different form of engagement in the world by governments, especially in the rich countries of the North. In democracies, the bottom line is always a constituency willing to make difficult issues matter in the political process, since all politicians need permission from their constituents to do things differently. We desperately need a new social movement in favor of international cooperation, but who will join it when most people (even in the rich world) have pressing domestic problems of their own?

The best way forward, I think, is a joint appeal to self-interest and social conscience, convincing people that their future, and the future of their children, is best provided for in a world that cooperates to manage the opportunities and costs of global integration. That process should start in schools (no education without a global dimension), and extend through colleges and universities, political parties and civic associations, and into our own workplaces and homes. As citizens of an increasingly internationally minded polity, we don’t need to switch off our citizenship when we go shopping, or face difficult issues at work, or have the opportunity to be active in politics. We can all be an advertisement for the virtues of cooperation in every walk of life, and look to make connections between problems and solutions at home and abroad.

In the 21st Century, we will prosper only as members of a global community of active citizens. Is that the kind of world we want to live in and bequeath to those we love? If so, our responsibilities are clear, for all of us share in the work of building a Future Positive.


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