Speech by Minister Cowen to the Royal Irish Academy (Part I)
It is a pleasure to be here again at the Royal Irish Academy to deliver the opening address to your annual conference. The theme chosen for today's conference – ‘New World Order?' – gives rise to many questions, and perhaps too few answers. What is new as we enter the 21st century? What are the concerns and issues on which we are trying to put order? What kind of new world order are we seeking? And most importantly, is it achievable?
Citizens here in Ireland, across Europe and around the globe today might be more inclined to speak of a new world disorder. The question-mark in your seminar title captures that sense of unease and anxiety about the current state and future direction of international affairs today.
It seems a long time now since the euphoria that greeted the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism. In those heady days there was much talk of a new world order and even of the end of history. All too quickly that optimism evaporated in sniper alley in Sarajevo, in the streets of Mogadishu and later in the killing fields of Rwanda. The threat of mutually assured destruction was lifted, only to be replaced by the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and international terrorism. Rogue states and non-state actors entered the lexicon of international affairs as new challenges facing the international community. The extent of these threats became all too vividly apparent in the attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001, the bomb attack in Bali last year, and in Riyadh just last week.
In discussing the proposition that a “new world order” is achievable, we have to ask ourselves what is new as we enter the first half of the 21st century?
A number of factors are new or have become more pronounced.
The gap between the developed and developing world has widened - the rising global economic and technological tide of the 1990s left the developing world behind. Poverty and disease are not new, but the appalling loss of life from HIV/AIDS, and other pandemics such as tuberculosis and malaria, are having a catastrophic effect on the continent of Africa and its potential for growth and development. Attacks on human rights in many parts of the globe, and the chilling fact that half the world's population try to survive on under two euro a day, raise new questions about the ability of the international system.
Another new element is the significant changes in the distribution of world power. The 19th century was the century of European dominance. The 20th century was the American century. Whose century will we speak of for the 21st century? Certainly US military and economic pre-dominance is of major significance as the century commences. But I would venture that over the course of this century the balances and inter-relationships will further evolve. The EU can and should assume greater global responsibility, and I will address the EU role shortly. Latin America has great potential if democratisation and development can take firm root and flourish in the coming decades. As already mentioned, Africa remains deeply troubled and disadvantaged. The one continent that will certainly play a much more significant role in the 21st century is Asia. When in 2103, the future Irish Foreign Minister addresses the Royal Irish Academy, he or she might very well be speaking about the Asian or Chinese century just ended.
Asia already accounts for 25% of world GDP – the same share as the EU. Economic recovery in Japan is under way and it will continue to be a significant player. China will become a major player as the century progresses. It is already the number one destination for foreign direct investment in the world. It is the fourth largest trader in the world after the US, the EU and Japan; it is the second largest exporter in the world after the US. As China continues its transition to an open society and to economic and political reform, it will become a central player on the world stage.
Likewise, India also has great potential. Overall, and taken as a whole, the south east Asian region will progressively grow over the century. The Government's Asia strategy is a recognition and response to this. During the forthcoming Presidency I look forward to hosting a meeting between EU and Asian Foreign Ministers to develop and advance the dialogue and engagement between the two regions.
Let me be clear. In projecting forward possible changes in regional balances, I am not suggesting that a more balanced multi-polar world is any more safe or secure than a uni-polar one. Relations between regional power blocks, unfettered by effective multilateral political and economic arrangements, could degenerate all too easily into competing military and economic rivalries. History has taught us that the balance of power model - the “concert of great powers” of previous centuries - ends up sooner or later as a funeral march. A multi-polar world that is not ruled and regulated by an effective multilateral architecture is not a viable or acceptable alternative.
What is worryingly new, and a deep concern for all of us in positions of responsibility, is the dangerous gap in understanding between the developed world and Islam. This has manifested itself most clearly in Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. Clash of civilisations or not, there should be no illusion that “the street” in the Arab and Islamic world is angry and disillusioned by the radically different world views and prospects that persist between themselves and the West. By the same token, a recent important UNDP report by Arab intellectuals starkly sets out the many strategic decisions Arab governments must take domestically to arrest any trends towards fundamentalist or anti-modernist thinking.
In the new century, all of this becomes a particularly acute concern because of the inescapable degree of global interdependence. Our security, prosperity and well-being is dependent on a vast array of factors which tie our island and our way of life to every corner of the globe. As such we are vulnerable to a range of external threats to which traditional foreign policy has to date been unable to provide answers.
To take one example. The flow of illicit drugs poses an increasing danger to our young people and our society as a whole. 90 per cent of heroin on our streets is from Afghanistan. Drugs cartels operate on an international scale, their tentacles reaching into our cities and towns with devastating effect. Organised crime feeds off the illegal drugs trade, but it also traffics in human beings and exploits migration flows in many cases. Drugs, crime and trafficking in persons cannot be contained by borders and state sovereignty – the crime lords actually exploit the existing approaches to tackle crime based on the nation state. The extent to which domestic and foreign policy are co-dependent simply cannot be over-emphasised today.
I would also mention the trend of assuming that there can be military solutions to many of these issues. The extent to which military might alone is seen as a response is one legacy that is not new. However, its re-emergence in the 21st century is of serious concern. Although military capabilities can and do have a role to play in conflict prevention or resolution, it is clear that more comprehensive solutions are always required to address the complex economic, social and cultural issues that underlie most conflicts.
If these are some aspects of what is new, where do we begin to arrive at a new order that can address some, if not all of these issues.
The first point of departure has to be the acceptance that the complex of challenges facing the international community cannot be resolved through unilateral action by any one country, or group of countries - no matter how large the resources or resolute the determination. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his Millennium Declaration Implementation Report, captured this point clearly:
‘…Challenges to peace and security today are predominantly global … They require complex and collective responses, which are possible only if the web of multilateral institutions is adequately developed and properly used.'
This is a view which I wholeheartedly endorse and support. Before looking at the role of the UN at the heart of the system of effective multilateralism, I want to take a few minutes to examine the role of the European Union and the contribution it can and should make.
The European Union grew out of the hard and bloody realisation that the balance of power approach to international relations is a failed model for ordering relations between states, regionally or globally. The European Union has been described as the most successful example of conflict resolution in history. It is true that armed conflict between European Union Member States is now unthinkable. But the EU is also a unique experiment in bringing together the Member States in a collective endeavour to advance the interests and well-being of its citizens.
The success of this approach is witnessed by the steady growth of the Union from its original six members to twenty-five. It has been said many times before that the enlargement of the European Union next May is a historic act. It will change the way the Union works. It will also change the way we look at the outside world and our place in it. Many of the countries which will join next May have a different historical experience and they will bring new perspectives to the way the Union shapes its external relations.
I believe enlargement will change for the better the lives of millions of Europeans, both in the new Member States and in existing Member States including Ireland, who stand to gain from the opportunities for trade, commerce and cooperation which the 1st of May will herald. I am proud that Ireland will preside over this historic step next year.