Meine Merkliste Geteilte Merkliste PDF oder EPUB erstellen

"We will have to learn to be better listeners" - Double interview with Thomas Fues and Siddharth Mallavarapu | Weltstaatengesellschaft? |

Weltstaatengesellschaft? Editorial Rio reloaded - Essay "Wir werden lernen müssen, besser zuzuhören" – Übersetzung des Doppelinterviews mit Thomas Fues und Siddharth Mallavarapu "We will have to learn to be better listeners" - Double interview with Thomas Fues and Siddharth Mallavarapu Internationale Institutionen und nichtstaatliche Akteure in der Global Governance Globaler Rechtspluralismus Internationale Arbeitsregulierung für ein menschenwürdiges Leben weltweit Souveränität wiedergewinnen: Suche nach den Grundelementen eines neuen Multilateralismus Staat muss sein. Muss Staat sein? Essay

"We will have to learn to be better listeners" - Double interview with Thomas Fues and Siddharth Mallavarapu

Siddharth Mallavarapu Thomas Fues Jeanne Lätt Siddharth Mallavarapu Thomas Fues / Jeanne Lätt /

/ 19 Minuten zu lesen

Das Doppelinterview widmet sich den normativen Grundlagen von global governance unter den Bedingungen einer multipolaren Welt. Fehlt es derzeit an globalen Normen und Visionen?


The creation of global governance institutions is not so much a question of choice as a necessary response to the pressure created by global problems such as growing social and economic inequalities, climate change, financial crisis or international terrorism, some theorists of international relations say. Our efforts should therefore not concentrate on whether global governance is desirable or not, but on how it can be brought about in an efficient and inclusive way.

The first essential step on the path towards more inclusiveness in global governance will no doubt be to overcome the North-South divide. In order to achieve this aim, we will need to be more attentive to power unbalances in the current international system, but also to historical sensibilities and different perspectives between the regions on the global problems that affect us all.

Although the opinions advanced in the following interview are very personal ones, they might offer a glimpse of where major points of discussion could lie: Is international norm-creation as an inclusive process conceivable or is it necessarily mirroring the priorities of powerful states? Do current international institutions such as the United Nations (UN) have the legitimacy to coordinate the process of global norm-creation or are they tainted because they originate from a historical period of western domination? And will the role of emerging developing countries like China, India or Brazil - which are economically and politically strong enough to matter on the global stage - principally be an important and positive one?

Lacking shared global visions?

When we look at the difficult and often confusing negotiations during the Copenhagen climate summit last year, the incapacity of international institutions to come up with long-term and systemic responses to the current financial crisis, or the deadlock of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha round launched in 2001, it seems that the global community is having a hard time bringing about effective solutions to global problems. Could the reason be that we are currently lacking shared global visions and global norms?

Siddharth Mallavarapu: I would not see the current difficulties as a deadlock of global governance. Rather, the pace at which global institutions are evolving has been somewhat reduced ultimately. Notwithstanding the general pessimism after Copenhagen, we can see that there is a general agreement that more collective action and shared global values are necessary. However, global governance is not such an easy thing to bring about. The crucial disagreements relate to the modalities as well as the content of global governance. It involves contending with both pragmatic issues, such as institutional design, and more substantive issues, such as finding a consensus on what actually constitutes global justice in terms of burden sharing, how we may construct a genuinely global identity, etc. There is really no escape from these questions.

Thomas Fues: The notion of "normative crisis as root cause for the paralysis in global politics appeals to me. After the end of the hegemonic order dominated by western countries we now live in a world of multipolarity where rising powers from the South have moved to the apex. However, the international community has not yet come to an agreement on basic normative principles. This is a crucial factor in explaining the breakdown of the recent Copenhagen summit on climate change. Governments could not agree on a formula for equitable burden sharing in mitigation and adaptation. We now experience a fragmentation of global authority, a backslide to the "anarchic state of international relations envisioned by realist theorists. Trust, reciprocity and the construction of a cooperative multilateral order will critically depend on agreeing on universal ethics.

Despite the difficulties you see ahead, neither of you actually puts in doubt the necessity to find shared global values. Why, in your opinion, should norms be a constitutive element of global governance in the first place?

Thomas Fues: For me, the essential building block of governance is the individual human being. The legitimacy of global governance cannot be found in the pursuit of national self-interest or in systemic outcomes such as stability and prevention of interstate-war, but rather in improving the living conditions of every member of the human race while, at the same time, ensuring a healthy biosphere and the survival of fellow creatures on Earth. Following this logic, I think that there are different ways of explaining the necessity of ethics for global governance. According to the economist Amartya Sen, universal norms have an intrinsic value for human life and well-being, particularly as individuals become more interconnected in a globalised society. Younger generations begin to extend their horizon beyond national and group entities and to support global causes such as justice for all. Ethics also has an instrumental value in raising the productivity and resilience of the global economy. For example, poverty and exclusion exacerbate social tensions while equity and human rights favour innovation and sustainable development. And finally, ethics has a constructive importance. This refers to the observation that universal standards are not self-explanatory considering the diversity of cultures, religions and value systems in the world. In the process of ongoing conversations and negotiations on the principles and priorities of managing global affairs, societies continually experience shifting perceptions of the "self and the "other and learn to integrate a cosmopolitan dimension into their "radically incomplete identity. This last point is highlighted for instance by Homi K. Bhabha, Professor at Harvard University and one of the most important figures in contemporary post-colonial studies.

You both mention "burden-sharing as one of the main ideas of fair global governance. International negotiations such as, most recently, Copenhagen have shown that different countries apparently have very different views on the "burden they ought to carry. How can we reach a common understanding on global justice?

Thomas Fues: In my view, global norm-creation should be considered as a double-track process: deductively from above - for example distilling common ground from world religions - and inductively from below. A nice example for the second kind of approach is given by the current proposals for global climate policies, particularly regarding the allocation of the remaining environmental space - the so called "sink capacity - for greenhouse gas emissions. Policy-makers from Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh to German chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as scholars, do agree that the available environmental space should be distributed on an equal per capita basis - meaning that each person on this planet would ultimately receive the same emission quota. This, multiplied by the population of a particular country, would lead to the national emission quota. If nations would agree to that formula in climate policies, the principle of equal per capita rights to the global commons could be applied to other kinds of transnational environmental goods. This would represent a powerful component of global ethics coming from concrete intergovernmental dialogue and negotiations.

Siddharth Mallavarapu: When talking about a common understanding of global values, we have to make sure first of all that the provincial - any hegemon's values - is not masquerading as the universal yet again. Let me give you an example: The first generation of human rights focused more exclusively on civil and political rights, while the developing world was keen to lodge economic and social rights as equally fundamental in a charter of human rights. The second generation of human rights eventually incorporated these rights more squarely. This suggests that there may be alternative maps in terms of a hierarchy of values, in other words, there may be different answers to the question: What matters most? A solution to this problem would be to register these different maps and bring them into conversation. But this will be difficult - though not impossible - to achieve. Even within domestic spheres the establishment of common norms and a national identity are contested, and this is particularly glaring in situations of ethno-national polarisation such as between the Sinhalas and Tamils as witnessed until recently in Sri Lanka.

"Why always refer only to Kant?

You mention the establishment of a common identity at the national level: Can the process towards more global governance be compared to the state-building processes as they took place in Europe during the 19th century, for example?

Siddharth Mallavarapu: The analogy is certainly limited. Governance beyond the boundaries of the nation-state poses its own set of problems. While there is growing recognition that distinguishing too sharply between the domestic and the international is certainly inadequate, there still remain some differences. For the process of nation-building, clear devolution of structures is essential. Governance internally is about governments, about sovereignty and constitutionalism, all aspects which are relatively weaker outside the domestic sphere. So the fundamental issue at the international level would be to achieve governance in the absence of government. How do we establish a body of regulations without having a supranational authority? How do we arrive at universally acceptable standards?

Thomas Fues: The difference at the global level is that no world government is in sight nor is it desirable. Rather, global governance has to rely on the motivation for voluntary association and collaboration. The incentives for this will increase as the benefits of shared sovereignty become more obvious in the face of global interdependencies. Rather than looking for national models, it might be useful to look at the formation of regional blocks like the European Union (EU) or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Lisbon Treaty of the EU has a strong ethical foundation, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which embraces basic economic and social rights, alongside the more traditional civil and political rights. I see it as a crucial milestone on the road towards European citizenship in providing a single normative framework for the continent. The ASEAN Charter, adopted in 2007, also includes common principles of human rights and social justice, but at a more general level compared to the European document. It seems that political leaders, in the process of regional integration, have begun to recognise the essential value of shared ethics for supranational constitutionalism.

How can these experiences be transferred to the global level?

Thomas Fues: In the first place, regional associations which enshrine common normative principles could well become a model for global governance. And to take this line of reasoning a step further: There might be ways of synthesising existing and evolving regional value systems into an overarching universal body of norms and rules. To move into this direction we would need a comparative analysis of the ethical substance of regional integration regimes. Additional insights on common value systems across regions could come from a focus on continental human rights regimes which exist in Africa, America and Europe. A similar methodological approach has been followed by the Parliament of the World's Religions in 1993, when it claimed that a global ethic already implicitly exists through a common set of core values - non-violence, respect for life, tolerance and solidarity - found in religious teachings.

Siddharth Mallavarapu: Certainly, there are some basic ideas everybody agrees on: the importance of a good quality of life, human well-being, the right to life. But if we are talking about global or regional norm setting, I think we have to bring in the concept of "geo-cultural epistemologies as employed in the work of the Argentinian Walter Mignolo, the fact that each region has its own referential frameworks about concepts and categories, its own approach to recognise the world. Mignolo is even suspicious of the way our current regions of the world - Latin America, for instance - have been framed as part of the Area Studies tradition. The issue of power comes in here, too. Historical asymmetries of resource exploitation have become part of the political consciousness of the global South, and for this reason there is a certain degree of suspicion about the actual establishment of fair global standards. The most glaring backdrop of this was centuries of colonial rule. But asymmetries and power relations are not only present at the global level; they are also reproduced in the regions. The process of consensus building within the EU is often idealised. Neither the EU nor the ASEAN are monoliths, both comprise more and less powerful countries, some which are more influential than others. So the question would ultimately be how to arbitrate the different claims. Whose norms will we chose? How can we ensure that there is real inclusivity? We have to think about this when we talk about creating global governance structures based on supposedly regional or global value systems.

How could the gaps you mention - geo-cultural, related to historical experience, etc. - be overcome? Are there existing models which have more legitimacy than others? Or do we have to look for new solutions?

Thomas Fues: I would be very pragmatic and look at what already exists: Under the umbrella of the United Nations, the international community has, over the years, adopted an impressive body of binding legal agreements as well as soft law in the form of political commitments which constitute a comprehensive framework of global ethics. Early examples of this are the UN Charter (1945) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). More detailed provisions are to be found in the array of human rights conventions and intergovernmental agreements on labour standards which have been ratified by most countries. High moral norms are embedded in the aspirational paradigm of sustainable development which was successively passed by the UN General Assembly at the world conferences of the 1990s, such as the 1992 Rio Earth summit, the Copenhagen social summit and the women's conference in Beijing (both of 1995). Of particular relevance for the ethics of global governance is the Millennium Declaration of 2000 which sets high standards for universal peace, prosperity and sustainability.

Siddharth Mallavarapu: The UN is undoubtedly the international body which enjoys the widest legitimacy globally. However, in my opinion it is essential in the interest of legitimacy that we get back to regional or local sources to find global values. In India, Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, a popular Bengali poet, novelist and musician, are excellent exemplars of locally anchored cosmopolitan beings. Why always refer only to [Immanuel] Kant when we think of cosmopolitanism? Sure, he had some very important ideas to offer the world but we need to also take into consideration sophisticated thinking in other parts of the world. In my view, regional references are essential in order to find a global consensus on values and norms. The archive must be opened up to include thinking available in both past and present in Africa, Latin America and Asia. This has to be done with genuine interest, rather than merely as token gestures of goodwill. To begin with we must all be better listeners. The rest follows only subsequently.

Thomas Fues: I would agree that many examples from history can also be valuable sources for the constitution of global norms. I am thinking for example of the governing principles of the Indian Emperor Ashoka (304-232 BCE), who established a political system based on ethical commitments in regard to equality of all human beings, respect of religions, non-violence, prohibition of slavery and the death penalty, environmental protection and animal welfare. His kingdom is also seen as the first to provide humanitarian assistance to neighbouring countries, including medical personnel, facilities, medicine as well as engineers. Another interesting example is the Tang dynasty in China (618-907 CE), with its cosmopolitan achievements such as peaceful coexistence of ethnic communities, religious and cultural freedom, equality of women and, to a limited extent, rule of law. In my understanding, any global ethical framework derived from historical experiences, religious teachings and cultural values would have to be deliberated and negotiated in an inclusive, transparent fashion, preferably under the aegis of the United Nations. For this purpose, I could imagine both a decision of the UN General Assembly by consensus or a majority decision which allows for a limited number of dissenting votes.

"Nobody forces a government to ratify a human rights agreement

And where do you see the main challenges to these universal projects?

Thomas Fues: We have to acknowledge that the impact of normative frameworks such as that of the UN is weak since member states ignore them at their will with impunity. There are huge gaps in monitoring and no sanctioning mechanisms - except in international security and trade. These gaps structurally privilege the arbitrary exercise of sovereign rights - the pursuit of narrow national self-interest - over the ethically based concept of "enlightened sovereignty (Stephen Harper) which puts equal emphasis on global responsibilities and multilateral cooperation. Another challenge to UN norm-creation comes under the guise of anti-colonial emancipation. It is claimed by some quarters that ethical standards in general and the particular hierarchy of moral priorities have been created to serve the interests of western states. This position disregards the broad participation of political leaders and scholars from the developing world. Still, in a historical perspective, the contested documents originate from a period of western predominance. It may therefore be advisable to initiate a new process for global ethics which reflects multipolarity and explicitly draws on value systems and historical experiences from the South.

Siddharth Mallavarapu: This is not only a question of historical perspective. One of the big challenges is the contradiction between the principle of equal legal standing between all UN member states, and the stark differentials in the world system in terms of actual state standing. The UN is probably the most attractive forum to jointly discuss global values. But even within the UN system, the Security Council is an exclusive club. The UN General Assembly, which is far more representative than the Security Council, is not half as influential. The structures of the UN are in high need of reform. Outside the UN system too, the lives of some appear to matter more than the lives of others. The initial international inaction surrounding the Rwandan genocide is a case in point.

Does this mean that the real problem lies in the structure of the current global governance framework, rather than in the values on which it is based?

Siddharth Mallavarapu: It is certainly a question of values as much as of structures. As far as the values are concerned, the devil is in the detail. For instance one issue that has irked the developing world considerably are subsidies to farmers in the developed world when the terms of trade are extremely unequal to the disadvantage of the peasantry in the developing world. These examples can be multiplied. What we really need is to engage the question of democratising the international system.

Thomas Fues: It is true that western countries have in the past, and sometimes still today, utilised moral concerns such as human rights and good governance for the pursuit of a hidden agenda towards developing countries. One example for this is the ongoing controversy on the "responsibility to protect which some see as important cosmopolitan innovation while other accuse it as a pretext for neo-imperialist interference. However, a total rejection of UN ethics would not do justice to the broad participation of political leaders, scholars and activists from the South in the design and implementation of such normative frameworks. And it also disregards the voluntary consent and accession of nation-states to proposed declarations and conventions. Nobody forces a government to ratify a human rights agreement, though there may be pressures from within. But once they do that they need to be made accountable to the substance and procedure contained in the document.

Siddharth Mallavarapu: Political leaders from the South have indeed played an important role in designing global normative frameworks. If you look at India, a great deal of faith was placed in multilateralism and the UN system particularly in the Nehru years (1947-1964). The issue of legal sovereignty was then a key issue for India and other recently decolonised countries, who were keen to be full members of the international community and to receive legal recognition. Even today, the UN undoubtedly is widely recognised, also in India. At the same time, much of the promise of the movements of the South has not been realised. A good example is the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which was never really able to challenge the dominance of the great powers. Even positive and constructive ideas like the New International Economic Order (NIEO) were never allowed to breathe freely in the international system. They were nipped in the bud. I do not deny that there is an agreement on some core values, what I want to say is that structures and political processes matter. Look at what is being done under the flag of democracy promotion or even international aid. There is simply a gap between aspirational values and the practice of politics. I do not think modern international law has had an untarnished reputation in terms of its lineage. In this context, I find the work of Antony Anghie very instructive. He argues that the colonial encounter was critical to the constitution of modern international law and that the language of contemporary sovereignty is an outcome of a not very distant Eurocentric past. We have to be aware of this lineage when we talk about "global values.

Thomas Fues: In my eyes, the best way to move forward would be a double tracked strategy. On the one hand, existing commitments must be monitored and non-compliance must be exposed. The mechanisms for this, however, must be independent and impartial in order to eliminate any hint of power-based influence on process and outcome. On the other hand there must be a new political initiative which is based on a genuine synthesis of value systems and cultures from all parts of the world. Even more importantly, the voluntary character of any commitment should be protected under all circumstances. Therefore, western states should refrain from any sort of ethics conditionality attached to development assistance or other benefits.

"The new heavyweights from the South have to lay their cards on the table

You mention the problem of non-compliance. In the absence of a global government, how can the global community ensure that global rules and principles are respected? And who would most probably be the major "rule breakers?

Thomas Fues: In the same way as there exists organised crime at the national level, we can expect that certain "rogue actors of global governance will not abide by ethical norms, so we will have to find a way to constrain them. Such malevolent actors could be authoritarian governments or private entities, for example from the business sector. Effective, independent mechanisms of monitoring and adjudication have to be established, with coercive power to a certain extent. In a key area of global governance - trade - we already have well functioning sanctioning mechanisms under the WTO. Conflicts are dealt with by impartial dispute settlement bodies. Numerous countries, weak and strong, successfully make use of this arrangement. Of course, this presupposes that these countries forgo part of their sovereignty to a supranational authority. The key challenge here is how to transfer this enlightened understanding of national sovereignty to other areas of global governance.

Siddharth Mallavarapu: Indeed, the key obstacle is that of national sovereignty. Unfortunately, I think that the global community has not yet fully internalised a feeling of "we-ness. Global institutions might play a crucial role in creating some sort of global identity, but in the meantime, traditional notions of sovereignty prevail. This is regrettable in an increasingly global world, and it certainly is part of the problem, but that is where we are. The global community has elements of a deeper constitutionalism present, yet the tendency for countries is also to lapse back to various national logics.

Thomas Fues: I would not be that pessimistic. As I said, some mechanisms are already there: The WTO has an impartial process of dispute settlement, all WTO members are subject to it. Or take the human rights conventions, where shadow reports from non-state actors exert significant pressure on deviant countries, although there is no formal sanctioning mechanism in the human rights area.

Siddharth Mallavarapu: Sanctioning mechanisms may work better in some domains than in others. However, the overall legitimacy of the institutions involved as well as the instrumentalities chosen remain crucial to scrutinise from the perspective of the disadvantaged. As long as they are perceived as unjust by virtue of being uninclusive they are not likely to be very enduring bases on which to erect a new architecture of global governance. Apprehensions also relate to double standards. For instance if we look at the International Criminal Court. What is the likelihood that any powerful head of State from the advanced industrialised world would be hauled up and questioned for his or her political excesses? In my view, the notion of perception is very important: We can have great rules and institutions, but as long as they are not universally viewed as fair, we are back to square one.

Western scholars and policy-makers have been increasingly aware of the emergence of big developing countries - China, India, Brazil, South Africa and others - on the global stage. Do these countries play a particular role in the establishment of a normative global framework? And do they have the potential to achieve more global justice?

Siddharth Mallavarapu: This does offer an interesting conjuncture in history. What will be made of this opportunity is as yet an unsettled question. Realists in international relations are likely to remind us that the grammar of power is similar in different parts of the world. Once countries belong to the first league, they will represent their own new interests. I am more inclined to explore whether the Brazilian or Indian or Chinese styles of foreign policy will bring to bear a degree of exceptionalism stemming from their unique locations and backgrounds in world history. To take the case of India, this country was far more vocal on several issues (decolonisation, disarmament, development issues) under the stewardship of Jawaharlal Nehru than more recent Indian governments. This does not necessarily mean that current governments in India care less about these issues. However, in terms of the stylistics of foreign policy, India today is much more circumspect and some argue far more pragmatic. I do not think that Nehru was any less pragmatic merely because he articulated himself more regularly and visibly on the world stage.

Thomas Fues: In my opinion, their very economic and political importance represents a big challenge for the rising powers themselves. Today, the G20 has practically displaced the G8 in terms of global agenda-setting. But it still has to find its own identity and purpose. It was established as an ad-hoc guardian of global public goods particularly with regard to the stability of the financial system, global growth and open markets. Now that rising powers have joined the club, they have voluntarily accepted the privileges and obligations of global leadership. Nobody forced them to join. Now they have the responsibility to promote global institutions based on normative foundations. Clearly, this will not be the western-biased values of the past, but the new heavyweights from the South have to lay their cards on the table and let the world public know what they stand for in terms of global order and equity.

Siddharth Mallavarapu: Still, I view emerging powers as extremely cautious political actors when it comes to making international commitments. South-South cooperation today has a different flavour to it, different from the days of the Non-Aligned Movement. States are accountable both domestically and externally. Countries like India are aware that they are faced with internal development challenges while also recognising that their current economic growth rates if sustained over the next decade or so fundamentally alters their overall standing in the world economy. It is a difficult balancing act in terms of the extent of importance to assign to one over the other but quite clearly there is recognition that there is a shift in the global mood and it is generally speaking a positive one.

The interview took place on 13 April 2010 in Bonn.

Ph. D., born 1973; Assistant Professor at the Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi/India. E-Mail Link:

Dr. rer. pol., born 1952; head of Training Department and senior researcher at the German Development Institute, Tulpenfeld 6, 53113 Bonn. E-Mail Link:

M.A., born 1974; fellow researcher at the German Development Institute, Tulpenfeld 6, 53113 Bonn. E-Mail Link: