Friday, June 30, 2006

What are our global values?

By Otto Spijkers

What are the world’s values? What are the values that can give international cooperation between states, i.e. multilateralism, a sense of purpose and direction? This is the question I intend to answer here.

When searching for a list of global values to guide interstate relations, it may be useful to look at the United Nations. The work of the United Nations, the centre for multilateralism, is often divided into the following three categories: peace and security, human rights and humanitarian affairs, and development. From this categorization, the following list of global values can be derived: peace and security, humanity, and sustainable development. Following the interpretation of the UN values by the United Nations Intellectual History Project, I would suggest adding a fourth global value: independence. This list is not exclusive; there may be more.
I will - very briefly - discuss each of these global values in turn.
  1. International peace and security is regarded as the most important of all global values. Initially it meant peaceful coexistence of states. To collectively ensure international security was – and still is - the main purpose of the United Nations.
  2. The second global value is humanity. This value is about respect for human rights, the principles of humanitarian law, and the human dignity of all people in this world. The primary responsibility of every state is to care for its own people. When a state fails to fulfill this most important duty of all, i.e. when a state fails to be a proper state, both the individuals immediately concerned and the international order as a whole will be challenged, and thus other states may have a duty to assist and intervene.
  3. The third global value is sustainable development. Sustainable development is: development which satisfies the needs of the present generations of people without compromising the possibility of future generations to meet their needs. The environment is a global issue by definition, and a common policy is required.
  4. Finally, the fourth global value is independence, sovereignty. It is still a principle of international law that states can determine their own policies, without outside intervention, as long as they do not cause damage to other states, act within the limits of international law, and, one could add, respect the duties and responsibilities that flow from their membership of the community of states, which requires respect for the other three global values.

The four values listed above are closely linked. Some authors see, or desire, a broadening of the concept of international peace and security; to have it include not only the security of states to be free from outside (military) intervention (value of independence), but also the security of individual people to freely enjoy their human rights (value of humanity), and possibly the security of the environment (value of sustainable development). And thus, in general terms, one may say that in that view, international security is also threatened whenever the other values are trampled upon.

Not only are the global values closely linked, a balance of these four global values is also essential. An unconditional right to independence for all members of the global community could clash with the other values, and even with the very idea of a global community. A more balanced right to independence does not. As the ILA New Delhi Declaration of principles of international law relating to sustainable development (UN Doc. A/CONF.199/8) says, with regard to balancing independence and sustainability: “It is a well-established principle that, in accordance with international law, all States have the sovereign right to manage their own natural resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause significant damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.” And with regard to balancing the values of humanity and security with independence, the concept of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ is relevant. The two basic principles of this concept are as follows:
  • State sovereignty implies responsibility, and the primary responsibility for the protection of its people lies with the state itself.
  • Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect.

In the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document (UN Doc. A/RES/60/1), the responsibility to protect was accepted by the UN General Assembly, although only in exceptional cases (e.g. genocide).

Photos: United Nations General Assembly, United Nations Security Council, United Nations Secretariat.