C 99/INF/9


Thirtieth Session

Rome, 12-23 November 1999

Twenty-first McDougall Memorial Lecture



Dear Friends,

Let me say how happy and honoured I am to be with you here today in Rome on the occasion of the 30th Session of the Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

I should like to thank the Director-General, my friend Jacques Diouf, for having given me the twin opportunity of acclaiming the prominent role of this Organization and of sharing with you my reflections on the new challenges of "Democracy in the Age of Globalization".

These observations might seem far removed from the political, economic and social challenges of the world of today. But allow me, if you will, to step momentarily beyond everyday international reality and to outline what I consider to be the main challenge of the International Community of tomorrow.

We have clearly entered the era of the global society in terms not only of economy and finance, but also of information.

The primary characteristic of economic globalization is the compression of space and time, which eliminates the very notion of distance and enables a tiny proportion of the population to act from a distance on the local domain.

We now have an extra-territorial - indeed global - elite at the top of a hierarchy based on populations rooted in the local dimension.

Mobility has become the privilege of the few and, as such, constitutes a new way of dividing individuals, with a daily gradual widening of inequalities between the "globalized" and the "locals".

At the same time, these significant changes are telling international public opinion and governments that some major issues affecting the future of humanity are essentially transnational issues. Whether it be, for example, protection of the environment, control of population growth or action against world hunger, these issues clearly exist at planetary level and can only be marginally addressed at the level of the nation-state.

Under such conditions and unless we take care, existing only at local level in a globalized world could well become an indication of degradation, deprivation and exclusion.

We must therefore urgently devise a new mode of coexistence if we are to hold out tangible reasons for hope to governments and nations, to the men and women of the entire world.

It is in this perspective that the idea of democracy, global democracy but also solidarity takes on its full meaning.

For if we do nothing to steer the world order towards democracy, it will turn into totalitarianism.

And if we do nothing to imbue it with a sense of civil integrity, citizenship and a new type of solidarity, it will end up crushing the individual and destroying societies and identities.

It therefore seems important to me, given the new perspectives of international life, to begin not only by promoting the democratic idea but also by conceiving of it in global terms. We need to clearly understand that if it is to have any real meaning, democracy must be exercised in all areas where there is authority: at national level, of course, but also at international level and now at transnational level.

For democracy is not only a form of government of the State or among States. Democracy should be the way of exercising all authority, whatever its form, in contemporary international society.

At this point, I should like to state unequivocally that globalization of the economy should go hand in hand with globalization of democracy.

This global mission of democratization can only be conducted by acting at all levels where authority is exercised in international society.

I should like in this connection to suggest a number of priorities.

Given the all-inclusiveness of the democratic imperative, we should perhaps start by furthering democracy within the United Nations system itself.

As I have said on numerous occasions, democracy among nations means that all States, big and small, should participate in decisions concerning world affairs. That is the only way that nations will hold each other in mutual respect and that conditions will exist for sustainable peace.

Just a few years back, nobody talked of democratizing the United Nations system, whereas now it regularly features on the agenda, although no solution has yet been found.

You will be as familiar as I am with all the deliberations on membership of the Security Council, its enlargement and its legitimacy.

This same desire largely explains the decentralization process that the UN has been conducting for some years and that needs to be further pursued.

Since the end of the Cold War, the regional organizations have been fostering a new regionalism, not as a new sphere of influence but as a healthy complement to internationalism.

Furthermore, at a time of growing demand for but lessening interest in international action, the potential of regional institutions to promote peace and security, but also development has gained in importance.

We all recall the cooperation between the UN and the Organization of African Unity in Somalia, between the UN and the Organization of American States in Haiti, between the UN and Ecomog in Liberia.

The integration of regional organizations in the United Nations system and also in inter-regional relations represents an important step towards the democratization of the International Community.

But, as I pointed out earlier, this move towards democratization risks losing some of its meaning if, at the same time, authority at world level bypasses governments, and if the new spheres of authority are themselves not also governed by democratic principles.

In a society embarking on globalization, the scope for action by national decision-makers will clearly diminish.

This new perspective imposes a fresh imperative, which is to apply a democratic stamp to the globalization of international life by generating new forms of solidarity.

I am convinced that only a new conception of solidarity will help avoid, or at least attenuate, the inevitable exclusions that are inherent in the global society.

But solidarity cannot be decreed. Solidarity is first and foremost a conviction of belonging to the same world. Solidarity is also a desire to build a future based on a new social contract.

Solidarity will therefore only emerge from a collective commitment embracing the States but also the private actors of contemporary international society.

One component of this new phase of democratization is the vast collective reflection of recent years on economic and social matters, at international conferences on major transnational issues that condition the future, indeed the destiny, of humanity.

That is how we need to view the Conference of Rio in 1992, that of Vienna in 1993, Cairo in 1994, Copenhagen in 1995 and Beijing in 1996; and, again in 1996, the World Food Summit held here at FAO Headquarters.

By inviting all States to focus on issues that relate to the global future of the planet, the UN in effect demonstrated its desire to move imperceptibly from inter-State consultation to transnational cooperation and to set itself up as a genuine democratic world assembly.

But, for all this, more has to be done, because in the final analysis nothing can truly happen without the determined will of the majority of States to engage in world affairs.

Today, only a small proportion of States seek to play their role in the UN system or on the international stage to the full.

We all know of small States with low populations and modest economic and military potential that nevertheless carry considerable influence.

Conversely, other economically and politically powerful States shy away from the international stage, often citing domestic, political or constitutional constraints.

I am convinced that there can be no international democratization, no effective solidarity so long as certain States continue to opt for a policy of no change.

But, as I said, this move towards democratization needs to go further. It also requires the involvement of the private sector.

In this connection, the transnational corporation is now a fundamental global power and, as such, should be more closely involved in international decision-making.

At the same time, it should also agree to consider the general interest and collective welfare perspectives in its economic strategies. We all know that we can no longer propose some form of general plan or allow the profit motive to determine the economic future of the world and subsequent generations.

Transnational corporations must therefore be involved in the democratization process so that they are seen not as predators that would relish the shortcomings of the international social order, but, rather, as practitioners of development and of the fundamental elements of social integration.

This involvement of the business sector in establishing a new transnational social order is all the more important given that the weakened means of government control, the increasing irrelevance of territorial boundaries - as I mentioned earlier - and the dissipation of national economic interests require the invention of new rules and new practices to apply to competition.

I am convinced that the important economic players of the private sector need to be involved in drawing up these rules. It is by democratizing the decision- and rule-making process that the transnational company will be able to participate in shaping a new social order and will also, in a way, be able to see itself as a citizen of the world.

I should like finally to stress the importance that I attach to the role of the non-governmental organizations in the process of democratization of global society.

If we are to build an open and vibrant democracy, we need to take into account not only the wishes of the political activists and the behaviour of the economic operators, but also the aspirations of the social and cultural players.

The non-governmental organizations play a key role in representing contemporary society. And their participation in international organizations offers a form of guarantee of the political legitimacy of these organizations. NGOs are mushrooming on all continents, from 1 300 in 1960 to over 36 000 in 1996. Only a few weeks ago, they held an international conference in Seoul.

This trend is symptomatic of the aspiration to freedom and democracy that - today and in different forms - motivates international society.

With this in mind, we also need the involvement of international public opinion and the capacity of the media to sensitize, inform and mobilize.

In outlining what I see as a new social and democratic order for today's global society, I am well aware that I am looking largely to the future.

But I am convinced that societies are based, legitimized, structured and governed by ethical values as much as by economic realities.

Perhaps more than anything else, the international community is primarily a society with an end in view. It needs to be based on a democratic and universal perception of the future to be able to go on growing and moving forward.

That, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen is what I wished to say to you today. I am particularly pleased to be able to convey my thoughts to you here in FAO as we share the same objectives; as we share the same desire for cooperation, as witnessed by the agreement recently signed between FAO and the "International Organization of French-Speaking Countries and Regions"; and as we know that peace is not only a political issue but is also a matter of economic development.

Everyone needs to clearly realize that underdevelopment is a cause of political discontent.

Let us state quite clearly: Hunger is as unacceptable as war.

And it is only by mobilizing everyone - world organization and regional organizations - that we shall be able to move forward towards that world of our ideals and of our ambitions.

Thank you.