Political theorists have for the most part focused on the state when thinking about how to make countries work better for their populations. This has naturally led to a concern with state-society relations, how governments are chosen and run, and institutions. There is wide consensus that social contracts play the central role in state building.
This thinking has heavily influenced how the international community approaches fragile states, post-conflict situations, and transitions as well as development in general. As the OECD/DAC explained in Concepts and Dilemmas of State Building in Fragile Situations:
Fragility arises primarily from weaknesses in the dynamic political process through which citizens’ expectations of the state and state expectations of citizens are reconciled and brought into equilibrium with the state’s capacity to deliver services. Reaching equilibrium in this negotiation over the social contract is the critical if not sole determinant of resilience, and disequilibrium the determinant of fragility. [page 7]
This focus on the state shapes responses to crises in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan, compelling the international community to prioritize the establishment of a transitional regime and fast track elections under the belief that this is the sole way to create legitimacy no matter the circumstances or the context.
But many of these countries have deeply-entrenched problems that a focus on the state cannot solve. Different religious, ethnic, and clan groups do not work together well, and see any competition for power as a zero sum game for exclusive control of the state. Government is weakly institutionalized, and unable to act as an independent, equitable arbitrator between different interests. Judges and officials are beholden to personal relationships, power politics, or money (and sometimes all three). In such places, winners of elections rarely see it as their duty to serve all their people, and often define their rights as whatever they can get away with—negating whatever social contract the process was supposed to establish. Continue reading
Honestly, the Westminster village can be so up itself in its sheer self-referentiality. More or less every piece I’ve read today on why David Miliband might have taken the job running the International Rescue Committee in New York has taken it as a given that his motivation must of course be rooted in Westminster factors, above all the “permanent pantomime” of his relationship with his brother Ed.
No doubt that will have been a factor, but it’s still astonishing that so little of today’s coverage stops to think about how Miliband’s decision might also have been influenced by a calculation about the politics of New York rather than Westminster.
- Since 2007, the senior UN post that has been informally regarded as ‘belonging’ to Britain is that of… why, Under Secretary General (USG) for Humanitarian Affairs. (The current postholder is my former boss Valerie Amos; before her it was career FCO diplomat John Holmes.) When Ban Ki-moon and his team finish their term, in 2016, David Miliband will have impeccable credentials on emergency relief and foreign policy and management of international organisations.
- Britain also has a pretty strong claim to an alternative, more senior USG post – or even to an additional one. Until recently, Britain had two USG posts (the other being the low profile but important role of running Safety and Security). Prior to 2005, Britain had a 12 year track record of filling the crucial post of USG for Political Affairs – the UN’s equivalent of Foreign Secretary (so another post that Miliband would be obviously qualified to fill). And for a little while, we fielded the post of Deputy Secretary-General too, in the form of Mark Malloch Brown. Who knows what Britain might end up with in 2016 if the government decided to make a strong push. And on that note…
- …when these jobs come up again in 2016, there’s a substantial chance that the government taking the decision on who to nominate for which post will led by one… Ed Miliband. Even if the Conservatives were still in power after the next election, the widespread respect for David Miliband on all sides of the Commons and in the Foreign Office (including William Hague himself) would still give him a strong shot at nomination.
Obviously the domestic political context will have been a factor in his decision. But David Miliband is far too experienced a foreign policy operator not to be competely aware of all the points above. And remember that he’ll still be only be 51 when Ban Ki-moon’s administration wraps up…
This summer will mark five years since 2008, the year of both the first flush of the global financial crisis, and of the peak of the combined food and fuel spike.
As David Steven and I have observed in various papers, the last decade was bookended by shocks – 9/11 at one end, and these two at the other. And while the resource spike and the credit crunch lacked the visual vividness of September 11, they were arguably just as significant in the way that they shook assumptions about the stability or direction of globalisation.
But it’s also intesting to look back now at that strange year, and reflect on how many of the initial fears, hopes and assumptions about the twin crises have been proved wrong with the benefit of five years’ hindsight – as well as various shifts that have taken place since 2008 that no-one foresaw at the time. Here are ten things that lots of us (well, I, anyway) got wrong or missed altogether back in 2008 – adapted from a futures presentation I gave to Oxfam last week.
There’s one measure of inequality that gets all the attention – the Gini index.
The Gini was developed in the early 1900s – in fact about 100 years ago – by Italian Statistician, Corrado Gini (see pic).
A century later it may be time for a rethink on measuring inequality.