The World We Live In
Replay the keynote speech and read the summary below
“The world we live in”
A keynote speech by Susana Malcorra, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Argentina; former Chief of Staff to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon; current Dean of IE School of Global & Public Affairs, Spain
Chaired by: Mark Maloney, Vice Dean, PSIA. | Student Greeter: Louise-Anne Baudrier, PSIA student, Master in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action
In current circumstances, the prospects for the future may appear bleak. Nevertheless, the student greeter, Louise-Anne Baudrier, highlighted the example of Tunisia. The country is indeed a model of positive change and of “democracy and human rights among Arab countries,” demonstrating that evolution is always possible. As a panel chair and PSIA Vice Dean, Mark Maloney underlined the motivation demonstrated by the younger generation to take part in tomorrow’s geopolitical decisions: the number of people having joined the previous day’s discussions was a record!
3 recent shifts towards the world we live in
Susana Malcorra started by examining the three main recent events that have shaped “the world we live in.” The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 represented a unique moment “where there was a sense of a very positive future.” The concomitant spread of Fukuyama’s end of history theory participated to this period of optimism, in which democracy, capitalism, and globalization appeared to most as the only way forward.
9/11 abruptly put an end to this era of hope and placed security at the center of preoccupations. The notion of a probable clash of civilizations grew, and stronger military interventions and asymmetric conflicts materialized to fight against terrorism.
Finally, the 2008 financial crisis “brought to light the tensions between Main Street and Wall Street,” Malcorra explained. As many people around the globe were faced with scarce economic opportunities, disenchantment with democracy and globalization increased.
Main drivers of change
Throughout her speech, Malcorra asked three questions to the audience with the help of the Wooclap tool. The first pertained to the main drivers of change in the world we live in, which the audience ranked as climate change (65%), inequality (40%), and technological disruption (30%).
The speaker agreed with this assessment, although the considered climate change as an underlying issue and decided to concentrate on the speed of change, and technological disruption. Indeed, the speech of change nowadays is such that “no matter what changes, the speed is impossible to manage,” which leads to uncertainty. Technological disruption increases the notion of winners and losers between countries and even among citizens of the same country, which in turns makes inequality escalate. These two factors thus result in additional pressure from citizens onto governments as they lose their jobs, struggle to upskill, and are uncertain about the future of their children. As a consequence, populism, which “finds very easy answers to very complex questions,” has risen in many places, “accelerated by social media.”
Answering a question from the audience, Malcorra noted that fake news was not a new phenomenon. However, the speed at which they are spreading is precisely what makes them dangerous. By fostering a general mistrust towards democracy, fake news is “putting our overall system at risk.” This is especially the case since social media’s platform and its content are split: the platform is no longer responsible for the veracity of the content, and is not accountable to justice.
On questions concerning inequality, Malcorra highlighted future steps to be taken. Regarding the importance of female voices in transforming the multilateral system and improving it by making it more cooperative, the speaker insisted that women had much to bring to the table, precisely due to the differences between men and women. Both are needed to formulate a comprehensive solution. “We need to establish a trust scheme between men and women in conflict resolution,” she asserted. On the inequality pertaining to migrants, Susana Malcorra argued in favor of integration policies and of a new way of assessing the impact of national policies on residents as a whole rather than on citizens only.
Democracy versus authoritarianism: an efficiency trade-off?
“Should efficiency in delivery to citizens be the key indicator of a political system?”the speaker asked. While the no option peaked at first, “yes” eventually won with 54% of the votes.
By placing efficiency at the center of priorities, one may argue that authoritarian countries such as China have been better equipped to get most of their society out of poverty and into an upward trend. In difficult times, some may feel that “freedoms and rights, which are at the core of a democratic-value system” can be exchanged for a better future. The pandemic has proven that fear indeed makes people compliant with certain restrictions of rights when they are perceived as justified. Nevertheless, the authoritarian model should not be understood as the only ones able to deliver efficiently and in a sustainable manner: democracies can and will improve, according to the speaker. Responding to the audience, Malcorra underlined the need for a parliamentary system to limit the executive branch, even in democracies. At the same time, she signaled that while the basic measure of a country’s success is economic development, indicators of development and fulfillment of the population should be added in order to have a more comprehensive and less urban-centric understanding of a country’s progress.
Multilateralism as the way forward
“Is the multilateral system the way to address the current challenges?” Malcorra inquired. An overwhelming 88% of the audience answered positively.
Despite widespread interdependency, there are incentives for some countries to compete as geopolitical tensions arise. Thus, multilateral institutions need to be reinforced. At the core of these changes should be the understanding that, while consensus lay at the center of the post-World War II world, “it can also be used as a tool to block the operation of multilateral institutions.” Therefore, democratic states have to overcome the idea that democracy causes a lack of capacity to enforce rules, and must be willing to push the liberal agenda, as materialized by the 2030 UN agenda.
Middle powers can protect the multilateral system through asymmetric associations with other powers. These will come together to discuss broad issues on which their interest is common. In building such a system, there will be a need to guarantee that it is non-Western centric and to enlarge the net to include civil society and the private sector.
Finally, quiet diplomacy can serve to rejuvenate the UN and to mobilize the population behind the multilateral system, especially at a time when social media increases public pressure on governments.
To the audience, Malcorra explained that despite rivalry between some countries, a space for convergence has to be found within the UN, especially for the P5. The secretariat is able to do much more than what it is willing to in most cases. Indeed, the episode that ended with Syria’s agreement to become part of the OPCW and to give up its chemical weapons demonstrated that a space exists in geopolitics for a risk-taking UN secretariat.
(c) An article written by Emylie Bobbi, PSIA student in the Dual Degree program with MGIMO, 2021