Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Challenging Global Policy: A 21st Century Evaluation of Sustainability and Global Governance


The reality of the twenty-first century has revealed the need for a comprehensive, logical, coordinated effort from the various agencies responsible for the successful management of global threats. Prior to World War II, international relations occurred within a structure where blood ran thicker than water; conflict resulted over conflicting ethnic values and norms such as religion, race, and tradition. Today, while these issues are still ongoing, international relations and peace operations are occurring in a world where money and, even water, runs thicker than blood. International trade, fresh water supply, food supply, and disease control are key issues that are facing the world today. In short, management of sustainability issues going forward will be the key to peaceful international relations and peace will be the key to a sustainable world.

Keeping the Peace Then and Now

Prior to World War II, keeping the peace meant preventing conflict that resulted from expansionist ideals and opposing religious and cultural values and norms. As far back as 1095, the First Crusade set out with the goal of recapturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslim rule. These religious wars continued for the next two-hundred years, and the term “crusade” was later used to describe contemporary campaigns outside the Levant in the 16th century.

Over eight centuries later, the blurring of ethnic and cultural boundaries between the Germans and Slavs resulted in a racial, social Darwinism that eventually gave way to armed conflict. Following World War I, the first attempt at modern peace keeping agreements resulted in the Treaty of Versailles.

The Treaty of Versailles did not appease Germany, and did not provide the constraints necessary to prevent it from becoming the dominant continental power once again. Resentment amongst the Germans and Austria-Hungary grew when harsh monetary penalties, breaking of territory, and massive ethnic relocation resulted in the destruction of the German economy.

Hyperinflation and the subsequent German default on sovereign debt owed to the victors of World War I, demonstrated the failure of the Treaty of Versailles and Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. This failure was evidenced by a short-term goal which failed to evaluate the multi-faceted needs to obtain long-term peace.

Following World War II and progressing through the late Twentieth Century, the United Nations, World Bank, and the European Union were formed. These are just a few examples of today’s international organizations that play a role in international relations and peace keeping operations. In addition to international organizations, the advancement of technology and international business has resulted in many non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and international corporations becoming actors on the international stage.

Today, the international structure has become more complex. While armed conflict, or threat thereof, has decreased, the issues that give rise to conflict have become more abundant and diverse.

Water Wars

A great Twenty-First Century example of the complexity of today’s system and new challenges to international relations can be demonstrated by examining the world’s most abundant resource; water. Water has become a key issue for states, corporations and NGO’s. Privatization of water and an ever expanding global population has resulted in sustainability concerns and conflicts, now called “water wars”.

According to Vandana Shiva (2002),

Paradigm wars over water are taking place in every society, East and West, North and South. In this sense, water wars are global wars, with diverse cultures and ecosystems, sharing the universal ethic of water as an ecological necessity, pitted against a corporate culture of privatization, greed and enclosures of the water commons. (p. x)

In addition to the paradigm wars, real wars, explicitly over water, have already erupted in some areas of the world. The Middle-East has already seen conflicts arise solely over water between Syria and Turkey as well as Egypt and Ethiopia.

Sustainable, strategic, and coordinated policy will be critical to the peaceful existence of this region within the first quarter of the Twenty-First century. According to Adel Darwish’s 1994 lecture at the Geneva Conference on Environment and Quality of Life,

Israel's population is projected to grow from 4.7 million in 1990 to about 8 million in 2025. By that time Palestinians in the west bank - because of their higher birth rate, are likely to reach just under seven million - the two peoples are to share the same water resources which they both now say are not enough. (http://www.mideastnews.com/WaterWars.htm)

Current international law provides little guidance for the control of water. There are very

few agreements that exist today other than customary rights, established by long-term use of the resource. In the Middle-East upstream countries often control the water resources affecting downstream peoples dependant on the water supply. This is the case between Egypt and Israel as well as Turkey.

The conflict between Egypt and Israel dates to the mid 1960’s when Israel acted against the diversion of the Jordan River. Conflict continued until the early 1970’s when meetings at Camp David, resulted in a peace treaty in 1979. Originally, Israel suggested cooperation on water projects. Sadat, Egypt’s president, agreed, but rescinded when the Egyptian army rebelled against him.

Amazed that the army could plot against him, Mr Sadat questioned Field Marshal Abdel Halim Abu Ghazala, the defense minister, who said the loyalty of the Egyptian army could not be guaranteed if a coup was mounted `to stop Israel [from] stealing the Nile’. The president quickly dropped the water-sharing idea. (Darwish, 1994)

The lack of clarity in international law should be the focal point for relevant agencies going forward. Little precedent exists “that the UN International Law Commission or the International Court of Justice could [cite] to establish some rules to arbitrate on water sharing. . .” (Darwish, 1994).

The World Bank, often criticized for its role in the privatization of water resources, financed a dam project in India in the late 1940’s. The bank set precedent by requiring an agreement between surrounding nations that established usage and rights prior to the dam being built. While successful, this practice by the World Bank has been criticized by those like John Perkins (2004), who argues that the financing of such projects is a manipulative move which places emerging countries into large amounts of debt, leaving them no choice but to give into the demands of the Bank and global politics. Perkins (2004) stated,

Ecuador is awash in foreign debt and must devote an inordinate share of its national budget to paying this off, instead of using its capital to help the millions of its citizens officially classified as dangerously impoverished. The only way Ecuador can by down its foreign obligations is by selling its rain forests to the oil companies. (p. xxiii)

These issues combined with a culture that has demonstrated the willingness to use armed force over less crucial matters is a recipe for disagreement. In addition, water plays a primary role in many religious beliefs throughout the world. According to Vandana Shiva (2002),

Those who control power prefer to mask water wars as ethnic and religious conflicts. Such camouflaging is easy because regions along rivers are inhabited by pluralistic societies with diverse groups, languages, and practices. It is always possible to color water conflicts in such regions as conflicts among regions, religions, and ethnicities. In Punjab, and important component of conflicts that led to more than 15,000 deaths during the 1980s was an ongoing discord over the sharing of river waters. However, the conflict, which centered on development disagreements including strategies of the use and distribution of Punjab’s rivers, was characterized as an issue of Sikh separatism. (p. xi)

Twenty-First Century Sustainability

As evidenced by the previously mentioned examples, peace is critical to sustainability and sustainability is important to peace. Conflict of any type reduces the resources that might otherwise be available to a nation’s citizens. In addition to the reduction of resources, war affects human lives, infrastructure, and the global economy. By obtaining peace, critical resources such as human capital, money, and environmental resources are freed for the betterment of a nation’s people. The quality of life is therefore improved and the threat of discord is thereby reduced.

A similar argument was presented in the United Nations’ document titled, Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, (“the report”). The report concluded that,

[a] world in which poverty and inequity are endemic will always be prone to ecological and other crises. Sustainable development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to satisfy their aspirations for a better life. (http://www.un-documents.net/ocf-02.htm#I)

This leaves one question. What creates and defines sustainable development in a globalized world? The interdependent nature and challenges of today’s world often conflict with the nature of institutions that currently exist. Most of these institutions tend to be “independent, fragmented, and working to relatively narrow mandates with closed decision processes” (http://www.un-documents.net/ocf-02.htm#I).

The solution to this problem is simple; sustainable management processes and good governance of the nation state, NGOs, and international corporations can help to bridge the gap that currently exists in the international system.

A 2009 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI), found that,

… the quality of governance is most important in ensuring sustainable policy outcomes. Countries with ‘good executive management performance, a sound democratic order and an effective inclusion of societal actors into policymaking processes are more successful in terms of sustainability and also in terms of social justice’. (http://www.sgi-network.org/pdf/SGI09_Brochure.pdf)

The quality of governance for a nation, NGO, or corporation should be evaluated by the

willingness to recognize a need for change, and the ability to adapt the policies and processes necessary to implement such change.

If this principle is applied to the current international system, the probability of achieving peace will be much greater. The inclusion of varying societal actors and an open, coordinated, policymaking process will reduce fear, define clear standards, and optimize the existing standards of governance and management.

In conclusion, the Twenty-First Century, while arguably a globalized world, can seize the opportunity to leverage globalization through good governance and sustainable management practices. It should not be seen as a need to “undo” or “reinvent” the current system and hundreds of years of international relations precedent; rather an opportunity to evolve and optimize the current system for the attainment of long-term global cooperation.


Darwish, A. Geneva conference on environment and quality of life. Retrieved from Lecture

Notes Online Web site: http://www.mideastnews.com/WaterWars.htm

OECD. (2009). Policy performance and executive capacity in the OECD: Sustainable

governance indicators 2009 [PDF document]. Retrieved on May 9, 2010 from http://www.sgi-network.org/pdf/SGI09_Brochure.pdf

Perkins, J. (2004). Confessions of an economic hit man. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

United Nations. (1987). A/42/427 Our common future: Report of the World Commission on

Environment and Development. Retrieved on May 9, 2010 from http://www.un-documents.net/wced-ocf.htm

Vandana, S. (2002). Water wars: Privatization, pollution, and profit. Cambridge, MA: South

End Press. Retrieved on May 9, 2010 from http://books.google.com/books?id=J7CGlu3qAOIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Water+Wars&source=bl&ots=LlvX3JQ3Xc&sig=flTYmk8BczM83XEgNK9K-z4W3OI&hl=en&ei=UxjmS6C9CYGC8gaZvqiiDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CEAQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q&f=false

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