Globalization at Mid-Course

What challenges does globalization’s rapid course present to the world?

March 31, 2004

What challenges does globalization's rapid course present to the world?

Global integration continues to accelerate. As it does, we are learning that even seemingly insignificant events often have unforeseen global consequences. In this Globalist Document, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin explains why cooperation still matters in addressing these challenges.

Without barriers or borders, our world is rich with promise for the future.

Globalization encourages technological progress and the expansion of trade. But it also accentuates prosperity gaps, speeds up the spread of viruses and damages our environment.

I was born in Morocco and raised in Latin America. For me, those inequalities are shocking. They are also dangerous. They create a feeling of injustice and fuel resentment.

Can we really pay no heed to the lack of development in some African countries because the fight against terrorism is taking up so much of our energy? Can we turn a deaf ear when social divisions grow and threaten to turn limited tensions into full-fledged civil wars?

At the Cancún summit in September 2003, the failure of the World Trade Organization to agree on further trade liberalization was a wake-up call for all of us.

The South — driven by countries like Brazil, India and South Africa, to mention but a few — is clamoring for its place in the international institutions. We must make room for them. We have to recognize that all countries have equal rights.

We must realize that, in a radically changing world, we won't regain peace and security if we deal only with emergencies.

We can build a new balanced world order only if we forge the conditions for it.

There used to be protective borders. Modern means of communication have removed them. There used to be legal and technological barriers to prohibit the movement of weapons. Now trafficking prospers.

Twenty years ago, no one paid attention to China's economic growth. Today it is the focus of the whole world.

Finally, there were conflicts then considered to be peripheral, not seen as affecting the balance of the major powers. When the war broke out in Afghanistan in 1979, who could seriously have feared their security was threatened by the toppling of a regime in Kabul?

Many thought, to use Neville Chamberlain's words, that Afghanistan was another of those "far-away countries of which we know little."

It wasn't right in 1938, it wasn't right in 1979 — and it isn't right now. Today, interdependence is the norm.

No state can turn its back on the Afghan situation. On the success of that country's reconstruction hangs the success of our battle against terrorism, our efforts to stop drug trafficking and maintaining the main balances in southern Asia and beyond.

No international order can be built upon the power of a single country. So what path must we take? To go the unilateral route is utopia. It is also — more importantly — obsolete.

We all know that no one state is in a position to respond on its own to the challenge of security, economic growth and social development.

People everywhere in the world are no longer prepared to accept solutions imposed on them from outside. The times when a minority decided and a majority obeyed are over. What is true in our own societies is also true at the international level.

Only negotiated decisions — only decisions agreed between all partners — command support. If we want to be effective, we must have legitimacy.

So the multilateral route is the only realistic one. This choice is in our interest. If we all share the same risks, we must share the same decision-making. And it is up to all of us to define the ways and means to achieve genuine collective responsibility.

My country isn't naïve. Every day the constraints on multilateral action are clear to everyone.

Far from discouraging us, all this must prompt all of us to mobilize. Let us not forget: It took two world wars before the international community — at long last — established the UN. This is a legacy we must enrich, expand and enhance. For without world democracy, there will be no stability.

Editor’s note: This essay is adapted from Dominique de Villepin’s remarks (PDF) at the BBC Dimbleby Lecture, on October 19, 2003.