Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Branislav Gosovic
Global Leadership and Global Systemic Issues: South, North and the United Nations in a 21st Century World
The world is becoming more open, interconnected, interdependent and complex. This trend, propelled by revolutionary scientific and technological progress and change, will intensify in the decades to come. As the 21st century runs its course, it will give rise to an ever-growing number of needs and issues of general and common interest, with global dimensions and implications.
Dealing with such challenges will require global approaches, solutions and management, what has been referred to as "strategic transnational thinking", advanced institutions and "planetary" or global leadership.
Calls for world or global leadership are frequently voiced in public discourse, yet the concept remains vague and has no generally agreed definition. While attempting to contribute to its delineation, we touch on a series of interrelated issues and concerns that have to do with the nature of the evolving international order.
This exploratory, panoramic reflexion on the meaning of global leadership focuses on a policy and methodological problematique of central importance for a deeply divided and fragmented international community, namely: who will conceptualize and elaborate approaches to global systemic problems and challenges, approaches that will orient and assist international and national policy and decision-making?
We thus adumbrate one, limited yet all-important, strategic aspect of such "global leadership". It concerns the domain of political thought, theories and ideas which inspire or underpin policy and action on those issues that are systemic by nature, have worldwide implications and consequences, and thus concern the entire international community, for example: how and on what basis to organize and run the world system and contemporary human societies, and how to manage the world economy, bridge gaps in development and knowledge, overcome poverty, and respond to environmental challenges.
First, we devote a few pages to depicting the nature of the global leadership challenge in the evolving international system. Then we comment in somewhat greater detail on the recent unipolar phase in world affairs which was characterized by an aggressively hegemonic unilateralist variant of global leadership in domains of common concern. This backdrop is essential for a better grasp of issues involved and of obstacles that must be overcome in the quest for constructive change. Also, it serves to provide contrast in the juxtaposition with multilateral, democratic approaches to global leadership and visions of a different future.
In discussing the changing character and content of global leadership in a dynamic world setting, we identify growing and diverse sources of influence on global systemic issues.
We then proceed to argue that such global leadership needs to be institution-based and centred in the United Nations, and to highlight the critical role of analytical and conceptual work in dealing with the increasingly complex and controversial issues that are being confronted in the world arena.
Some broad suggestions are made for a more advanced, better equipped United Nations of the future to meet such needs. The UN is the world organization established and mandated to lead the international community multilaterally, that is to say with all of its members represented and participating in its work and endeavours. It is also the international organization where global systemic issues are on the agenda and should be dealt with in an integrated, comprehensive manner.
In the concluding section, we highlight some promising signs, as well as risks, on the road to what is a highly uncertain future.
The topic of this article is ambitious. It deserves a much larger, in-depth treatise. Ours is just an initial step and an attempt, using broad strokes, to outline the big picture, as we see it, of what is a controversial and complex subject.
In this presentation, we draw both on our academic backgrounds and on our observations and direct experience during decades of involvement in UN and world affairs. For the cognoscenti, we say little that is new or original. Indeed, we acknowledge our intellectual debt to the many who have confronted related issues at different points in time. Obviously, as we honed our arguments and conclusions, we have also drawn on ideas and insights that have become part and parcel of shared wisdom and common discourse.
Our commentary is likely to give plenty of reason for criticism, especially to many belonging to the academic fraternity and the political establishment in the developed countries. No doubt, the well-known arguments that deny the existence of a world system, of a hierarchical vertical order and "global conspiracies" will also be reiterated. As has been customary since the early 1960s when developing countries began to act as a group in the UN, differences and disunity among developing countries will be flagged by many in the North as evidence that there is no such thing as "the South".
This article may displease and possibly irritate some. One of the objectives of the undertaking, however, is to provoke debate and reflection by articulating perspectives unlike those that are usually encountered in the dominant, mainstream analyses emanating from the North.
Thus, it is likely that our discussion will have better resonance with those on the other side of the political divide, including UN-believers and "idealists", as well as those hailing from the developing countries of the South. These countries and their peoples have existed in the shadow of hegemonic powers and in a world system which these powers continue to run and dominate. And they all share to varying degrees an inchoate feeling of helplessness, frustration and often silent rage vis-a-vis that larger "invisible" system, to which they have no choice but to belong and submit. The essay is also likely to be appreciated by many of those who have worked or are working in the United Nations and the UN system, and who have intimate knowledge of the issues that we raise.
Indeed, by writing this rather lengthy yet inevitably very sketchy prolegomenon, as former "insiders" we expect to provide some seasoning for the ongoing discourse. Our objective is to contribute to awareness-building and to the study of international organizations and relations. We also wish to add to the intellectual and policy toolkit for use by those forces in the South, but also in the North, who struggle for positive change, peace and a cooperative global future in what one hopes will evolve into an equitable, democratic and sustainable world society.
Finally, we trust that the text and the perspective that it offers will be a useful introduction for students in class and younger readers in general who seek to orient themselves at the start of their academic, international and public service careers. They need to be sensitized about and understand the world system into which they will be thrust and which they will ultimately inherit and shape.
 The idea of jointly undertaking this essay first arose during our work in the South Centre, when revisiting the article by Boutros Boutros-Ghali entitled "Global Leadership: After the Cold War" (Foreign Affairs, March/April 1996) which postulated expanding global leadership roles for the UN Secretary-General in what was projected to be a promising period of international cooperation following the end of the cold war. The present article was published first in its Chinese translation in the Journal of International Economic Law, Vol.17, No.3, Peking University Press, 2010.