International Norms, International Standards

EDITORIAL, 19 Apr 2010

#108 | Johan Galtung

JICA-ASEAN-WORLD BANK Consultation on World Development Report 2011

Address to the ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta, April 2010

Your Excellencies, a World Bank World Development Report is a world view, and all the benchmarks are problematic conceptual tools defining world view discourses; indeed central to our concerns.

Thus, “international” spells Western, the leading norms and standards being those of the leading countries.  In no way does this mean that they are irrelevant, or harmful.  But it could mean that they are incomplete, dated, Western views, with the state system as the material, and secular enlightenment as the spiritual, pillar.

Today both are fading.  A world view based on a list of states draws a yawn.  People identify more with a cultural-religious nation (2000 of them) than with the territorial state (only 200, 20 uni- and 180 multi-national), and with the local level for development.  And with Nature.  And their region.  And with GAIA; the whole thing.

Without concepts articulated as words we are lost.  But like insects they come with right and left wings, focusing our attention on different aspects of the human condition.  Generally the West will pick up the right wing, and the insect flies badly, in circles.  The cure is not left winged only insects, however, but both-and.

Take conflict.  There are usually two things going on.  Actors, state or non-state, have incompatible goals, till one or both give them up, one prevails over the other, they go for a compromise like a federation, or they creatively find a new reality for them all.  A region?  An EU?  If acceptable-sustainable, the conflict is solved.

On the other wing, violence breaks out: a hurtful word, a shot fired in anger.  If violence subsides because one, or a third, party prevails, the conflict is settled. Use conflict for incompatibility, violence for violence.  Violence comes and goes.  Conflicts may be transformed or not. Post-conflict is meaningless, post-violence not.

The paranoid Anglo-American confusion of conflict with violence blocks for understanding of goals, blocks for creative solutions and opens for spirals of violence adding new conflicts.  Increase the space for creativity, decrease it for violence, care with Both-and.

Take security.  Whose? dignity for masses living in misery, or absence of violence for elites in gated communities?  Or both-and?

Take development.  West = universal is ending.  But the Western liberal model has more to offer than economic growth, not to be confused with the Wall Street epicentered 2008 crisis.  There are also human rights and democracy; like economism born in the West.

And there is a Western marxist model, focused on distribution and basic needs of necessity and of freedom, not to be confused with the former Soviet Union.  It has left strong impacts in this region.

And a buddhist model, of neither too little nor too much, with spiritual growth; an islamic model of togetherness-sharing, zakat, lifting the bottom up; a Japanese state-capital-labor cooperation model protecting workers; a Chinese model with creative shifts between periods of distribution and growth, inspired by daoism-confucianism-buddhism; like the Japanese focused on social harmony.

ASEAN harbors this diversity, with ten country majorities, one christian, four hinayana buddhist, one mahayana buddhist, three muslim and one Chinese.  And underneath the strong impact of the Japanese dai-to-a, the East Asian Co-prosperity sphere, guided out of the Ricardo “comparative advantages” trap by a Kaname Akamatsu; to development economics what General Giap was to military practice,

Whose standards, whose norms? Authoritarian regimes distributed general health, education and infrastructure in many and then growth and opening up. Flying geese add 71% flying range with the V-shape reducing resistance.  Hard on the head goose, though, now speaking zhong wen, not nihon go, incidentally.  Setting new norms all over.

Take economic growth.  Debunked, it measures something, but any economist with economic growth figures unaccompanied by growth of (in)equality (like PPP ratios between the 10-20% highest and lowest)  is like a geographer pronouncing latitudes only.  Go back to school.

Watch buddhist model Butan with GNH, gross national happiness.  Do not laugh, everything new begins small.  So did GNP back in the 1930s.  And, of course, the UNDP Human Development Index.

Take human rights, a Western gift to humanity. Individualistic,  based on I-, not we-cultures.  Asian voices argue the collective rights of villages not to be swallowed by cities; of traditional crafts to co-exist, unmodernized; of extended families as juridical persons.  And: freedom of expression is fine, but so is the freedom not be humiliated, like by hurtful Nordic caricatured of the razul.    Take democracy, rule by the consent of the ruled.  Debate with voting is I-culture, dialogue to consensus better for we-cultures. Like Kenya-Zimbabwe, could a council run all ministries, not divided like in a Western coalition government?  Moreover, democracy should also be practiced in the family, at school, at work, locally, and in the UN–the veto blocks that.  Good norms should apply everywhere, not only to nation-wide multi-party elections.

Take the Millenium Development Goals: excellent UN standards, with no chance before 2015 except in Cuba, Venezuela, China and some others, proving the technical feasibility.  The neo-liberal model does not produce that much trickle down that quickly.  Moreover, the elites like cheap, exploitable labor at the bottom, and agonize over “when they come up, will they treat us like we treated them”?

Take R2P: the right to protect applies to elites, but also to victims of trafficking in humans, toxic drugs and toxic derivatives, like CDSs.  An argument for intervention to close down growing fields, and Wall Street?  And to reduce the demand for the goods!

Take early warning.  Three factors: a structure of inequity producing massive inequality, a culture justifying keeping it at the top and changing it at the bottom, and a tradition of using direct violence to settle rather than solve conflicts.  They explain a lot.

Take terrorism.  Atrocious, a sign of deep unsolved conflict.  99 times worse is state terrorism, killing innocent civilians from the air rather than by IEDs and suicide belts.  Same norms for both.

And this is how the World Development Report 2011, or any year, produced in Washington DC USA, will be judged:  will it pick up both wings of these concepts, be even-handed?  Let us hope for the best.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 19 Apr 2010.

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3 Responses to “International Norms, International Standards”

  1. Hopefully, this article will be revisited in comparison to the final report:

    Here is more,,contentMDK:22503181~menuPK:6406102~pagePK:64167689~piPK:64167673~theSitePK:6406083,00.html

  2. Ragini Sen says:

    Just read the above address to the World Bank, ASEAN etc. and admire Prof. Galtung for spelling things out with no holds barred. I guess it’s time to break
    our silences and at times, even be, politically incorrect.

    Best wishes,
    Ragini Sen (India)

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