I was reminded of our many discussions about why it is in a state’s self interest to adhere to the human security road map when reading this blog post by Dan Drezner discussing the role of global governance in responding to the Swine Flu outbreak.  In it, he quotes John Ikenberry’s defense of the need for global collective action by states.

National governments need to strengthen their capacities to monitor and respond. International capacities – at least the sorts that I propose – are meant to reinforce and assist national governments. This international capacity is particularly important in cases where nations have weak capacities to respond on their own or where coordinated action is the only way to tackle the threat. When it comes to transnational threats like health pandemics, everyone everywhere is vulnerable to the weakest link (i.e. weakest nation) in the system, and so no nation can be left behind.

Human security calls upon states to recognize and act upon this need for global cooperative endeavors to protect and enhance individual security in our most vulnerable communities around the world.  Again, not simply because we should do the right thing by helping those in need, but also because it will serve to enhance our shared collective capacity and as Ikenberry emphasizes, “states need collective capacities so they can make good on their own national obligations to respond.”

That said, as one commenter to Dresner’s blog points out, in our current global community of nations states, this is easier said then done.

There’s a natural tension here between a caste of international mandarins, largely unaccountable, who are supposed to put global concerns over their individual national ones, and the basic accountability that comes from representative national governments.  In the first case, it’s questionable whether international mandarins would adhere to the rules during a true crisis if it meant sacrificing their nation’s vital interests. In the latter case, the accountability that comes from representative governments is supposed to insure that government puts the good of the individual nation’s people above others… and it becomes difficult for these governments to mandate sacrifices, because they can then be replaced through the ballot.

While I acknowledge these tensions, I don’t think they have proven or will prove to be insurmountable obstacles to effective global cooperation. Why?  Because publics around the world recognize their futures will be in part determined by the effectiveness of our global governance architecture — the failure of it in the case of the global financial crisis, the success of it (we like the WHO in HK) in grappling with health pandemics.   People will select their political leaders based on that leader’s abilities to effectively manage and respond to these global realities.  A recent example — the US public elected Obama, despite his clear message of shared sacrifice.


Is the world truly flat?

September 18, 2007

I have a love/hate relationship with Thomas Friedman‘s writing on globalization. I appreciate his thoughtful boldness in trying to communicate the impact of profound global changes. I find his writing to be accessible and provocative and I, unlike so many others, enjoy his metaphors. That said, I am instinctively suspicious of his conclusions because they appeal to my emotional tendency to want to simplify these profound changes into something that I can easily grasp, a tendency that experience has taught me doesn’t mesh well with global reality.

For those of you with a similar love/hate relationship, I would recommend Edward Leamer’s review “A Flat World, A Level Playing Field, a Small World After All, or None of the Above?” in the March 2007 Journal of Economic Literature (thanks to James Fallows’ blog for the link). While Leamer’s defense of the glorious field of economics is tedious at times, he successfully challenges Friedman’s “the world is flat” metaphor with statistics and insights borne from his quantitative approach to understanding globalization. If you have a few hours (no exageration), happy reading.

Reading through Allison’s “Conceptual Models and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” I found myself wondering how the recent Chinese missile test to destroy a satellite would fit into his framework. The action was provocative since it came amid growing concerns about China’s military intentions. But was it supposed to be provocative? There has been some speculation that the test was a deliberate policy aimed at pressuring the United States to negotiate a ban on weapons in space, something that Beijing has been pushing for for some time. This explanation would appear to place the move in the rational policy construct; China made a top-down decision with a clear objective in the belief that the outcome would be to China’s advantage.

However, it seems to me that there is also a convincing case for placing the action within the organizational process model. Perhaps the test was conducted as part of the Chinese military’s ongoing and acknowledged efforts to develop systems that would disrupt US capabilities, in a war over Taiwan, for example. Perhaps the diplomatic fallout didn’t figure in the military’s calculations. A New York Times article (IHT, Jan 22, 2007) shortly after the test looked at how US officials were puzzling over why Chinese officials had been so slow to respond to US protests over the test. The article said that an unusual lack of information from Chinese officials following the test “raised the possibility that top officials were either intentionally provoking the United States with their silence, or that the test was conducted without the full involvement of the one official who has authority to coordinate the military and civilian bureaucracies: Hu (Jintao).” It seems odd that China would deliberately set out to provoke the United States at a time when relations have been getting increasingly cordial, so that second proposition seems worth considering.

I’d be interested in hearing what you all think. Was the test the result of momentum within the vast Chinese military machine (in line with Allison’s construct of government behavior being “the result of outputs of large organizations”) or was it a rational policy on the part of the Chinese leadership?