In Search of a New Paradigm for Global Development


The World Academy has recently launched an initiative to bring together like-minded organizations and individuals to examine the root causes of the multiple challenges confronting humanity today and formulate a comprehensive strategy for addressing them. Its central premise is that viable, effective solutions can be found to meet the entire spectrum of economic, ecological, political and social challenges by formulation of an integrated perspective, comprehensive strategy and detailed policy framework attuned to the realities, needs and emerging opportunities of the 21st century. This article is intended to serve as an initial discussion paper for a WAAS e-seminar, an international conference at UNO in Geneva and a workshop at the Library of Alexandria in May-June, 2013.

The world faces unprecedented challenges. Expanding opportunities are emerging side by side with intensifying problems. A proliferation of money, technology, education, trade and communication links is fueling ever more rapid global development. The growing global capacity to meet human needs has come face to face with insurmountable difficulties. Persistent poverty co-exists side by side with unprecedented prosperity. Rising levels of inequality and unemployment are spreading discontent and social unrest at a time when social welfare nets are overstrained by an aging population. Economic growth is depleting the world’s natural resource base at an alarming rate, while threatening long term catastrophic changes in climate. The competition for scarce resources is aggravating nationalist competition at a time when international cooperation is essential for coping with common global challenges. Globalization is breaking down the barriers insulating national economies, making states increasingly vulnerable to destabilizing impacts from beyond national borders. Proliferation of nuclear and other weapons poses new threats to national and regional security. Humanity seems driven by mutually exclusive, contradictory goals leading to apparently insoluble problems.

These multiple challenges share common attributes: They all transcend narrow disciplinary boundaries. They are interrelated and interdependent and defy solution by partial, sectoral approaches. They are all global in nature and cannot be fully addressed without coordinated actions by the international community. Approaches to resolving these challenges are subject to conflicting claims, priorities and interests. Viewed as a whole and in relation to one another, they present to humanity a nexus of interconnected problems of unparalleled complexity.

1. Quest for New Paradigm

Each of these global issues is a subject of on-going analysis by leading organizations around the world. Many strategies have been formulated and projected for dealing with each of them individually in a piecemeal manner, often at the expense of the others. Solutions to ecological problems usually involve economic tradeoffs that neglect the irrepressible rising aspirations and expectations of developing societies and are also unacceptable to most prosperous nations. Efforts to balance budget deficits and control inflation appear to be in conflict with efforts to stimulate growth and generate sufficient employment opportunities for all job seekers. Investments in security typically neglect the destabilizing impact of rising levels of unemployment and inequality on social stability. Managing ever growing global financial flows, arms trade and other essential aspects of global rule of law is undermined by the reluctance of national governments to cede authority to international institutions.

The lack of significant progress on addressing these issues in recent years has raised serious doubts about the collective capacity of the human community to effectively address them. There is presently no consensus as to whether real, effective solutions are possible to meet the full spectrum of global challenges and what those solutions should be. Is there any way in which apparently mutually contradictory goals of prosperity, security, sustainability and social justice can all be realized? If so, what is lacking?

Frustrated idealists and cynical pragmatists frequently cite absence of leadership, vested interests, conspiracies of the rich and powerful, and lack of political will among the principal obstacles to coherent policy and effective action. But the skepticism, cynicism and failure to act have deeper intellectual roots. Current thinking on these issues has failed to present a clear alternative to addressing the totality of the challenges and their complex interrelationships. The public has yet to be convinced that there are viable solutions that do not involve unacceptable sacrifices. Decision-makers are yet to be convinced that there is a comprehensive policy framework that can be instituted within a democratic context. Some believe the only solution is to wait until a natural catastrophe or social revolution compels leaders to desperate measures.

The root cause of the current paralysis lies in the fundamental conceptions and perceptions which govern global society today. Prevailing theory and conventional wisdom stand in direct opposition to effective action. Outmoded economic dogma is used to support unbridled financial speculation, unsustainable depletion of resources and growing inequalities. Concepts of competitive security and balance of power are used to justify the prevailing security environment. An international legal system predicated on a dated conception of national sovereignty is applied to sustain an undemocratic system of global governance. Without challenging these conceptions, solutions will continue to evade us.

Ivo Šlaus: President, World Academy of Art and Science; Dean, Dag Hammarskjold University College for International Relations and Diplomacy, Zagreb
Garry Jacobs: Chairman of the Board of Trustees, World Academy of Art and Science; Vice President, The Mother’s Service Society

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