“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”
John F. Kennedy, 1963
The great issues of our time – and we have identified only some of the most pressing – affect us all and can only be confronted globally. But our future depends not merely on finding technical solutions to the problems we face, but also on reaching a consensus about the ethical basis for our response. We believe that while there is no ready-made, universally accepted humanitarian code, there are a number of common values and important actors on the world scene whose influence can be, albeit not necessarily, a powerful force for positive change.
In identifying some of the potent new forces on the world stage – the newly independent nations, peoples’ organizations, women’s movements, the young, new technology, transnational corporations and the media – we are aware of the omission of many other significant actors. We believe, however, that mention must be made of some of those who in our view can contribute significantly to the shaping of our future world. Our intention is not to discuss the role of these actors in detail, but to indicate how they play a part in posing humanitarian challenges and moulding humanitarian responses.
The New Nations
The most dynamic factor in the post-1945 world has been the emergence of more than one hundred new nations as a result of decolonization. The principal effect of this multiplication of States has been the inclusion on the agendas of international organizations of a range of issues arising from the human needs of the great mass of people in the Third World. Coalitions of prominent figures from both North and South have come together to promote Third World issues. Development forms the core of these issues: development seen not simply as ‘aid’, but rather as a collective human aspiration to a basic level of existence. Without food and shelter, rights such as freedom of expression and of political participation may well appear secondary. Without literacy, freedom of the press may lose its significance. Moreover, basic security without which development cannot take place, is constantly threatened by the arms race.
In addition to their actions at the international level, the new nations have formed a number of organizations to pursue their objectives. They have been successful in raising broad humanitarian issues relevant to the Third World, but their capacity to promote these issues successfully in the global context has remained limited.
Nationalism is a dynamic creative force in many parts of the world today, especially in the new countries of the Third World, but it is also a cause of conflict. Newly independent Third World States and other non-dominant States are naturally protective of what they conceive as their territorial integrity. Very often, East-West struggles intrude upon Third World conflicts where they are fought out by proxy. Some wars are underscored by racial or religious divisions. A substantial proportion of conflicts in the Third World result from the existence of borders created by the former colonizers which divide ethnic groups.
At the same time, the power of the nation State has greatly increased in relation to the individual. While the individual has also become more aware and able to control the material environment, many contemporary developments have tended to concentrate power increasingly in the hands of the State . This has frequently led to the abrogation of civil rights and even repression of political opponents, ethnic and religious minorities and indigenous peoples. As a result, an increasing number of peoples have been displaced, deprived or rendered homeless.
Nationalism, if it is to be a positive force, must include the protection of all human rights including political rights and the cultures and religions of ethnic or indigenous groups. This is one of the great challenges of our times, and one humankind generally must not shirk.
There are a variety of causes animating peoples’ movements: the threat of nuclear destruction; environmental issues; mass hunger in the Third World; apartheid; torture and illegal detention. Mobilization by people and communities is not new. But what is comparatively new is the extent to which contemporary movements transcend national boundaries.
Issues such as the arms race, famine and other man-made disasters have brought people from different nations and cultures closer together. In recent years, people more than governments have responded to the shameful spectres of hunger and starvation in a world of abundance. Indeed, left to governments, the global response to famine in Africa would not have been worthy of our common humanity. The storage of grain and butter mountains in the Western countries, for example, was costing billions of dollars while hundreds of thousands died of hunger and malnutrition in Africa. Yet despite the relative indifference of governments, people acted on their own recognition of the starving as their neighbours on an increasingly small and fragile planet. There are resonances of this spirit in the wider fields of development and environmental protection.
Another challenge identified by people worldwide is that of apartheid. The anti-apartheid cause is a human issue comparable to some of the great struggles over the ages against injustices such as serfdom, slavery and colonization. Left to governments alone, it might not be as seriously challenged. That it faces the opposition of nearly the entire world community is due to peoples’ campaigns which have forced governments to take a stand. Ordinary people throughout the world recognize the moral and political imperative to end apartheid and demonstrate tangibly their solidarity with its victims.
Such popular campaigns inspire hope that many other major humanitarian issues will be addressed. Today, peoples’ movements have become an essential factor to bring about change.
Women have Jong been subject to political, economic, social and cultural discrimination in many widely differing societies. They generally have begun to achieve substantial measures of equality only in the last 100 years. In recognition of the need for international efforts to improve the lives and status of women, the United Nations designated the years 1975-85 as the UN Decade for Women. The United Nations estimated that women, although constituting half the world’s population, perform nearly two-thirds of the world’s labour yet receive only one-tenth of its income and own less than one-hundredth of its property. They have traditionally had much less access to education and vocational training.
The Decade derived great impetus from the growth of women’s movements worldwide over the last 20 years. Its scope and impact was global. It was concerned with the issue of economic equality and independence for women, as well as their full integration into the decision-making processes in national society. It called for the restructuring of society and family life to enable women to participate fully in and benefit from development. The important role of women in agriculture in the Third World was recognized. The Decade had a major impact in raising awareness of the position of women and gaining government commitment to address their needs. Women, particularly in the Third World, are now recognized as the major food producers and processors, providers of water and energy, and providers of health care. Everywhere, they are beginning to work increasingly in the non-traditional sectors such as industry, trade, marketing and services.
Discrimination against women is incompatible with an international humanitarian ethic and contrary to fundamental norms of international human rights law. It is encouraging that the global women ‘s movement has already had a substantial impact on the content and thrust of politics in many countries, not only by insisting on the inclusion of issues relating to their lives and status in political agendas, but also by affecting the way other issues are perceived, such as the issue of violence and exploitation to which many of them are subjected.
Women are among the leading new forces on the international scene. The prospect of their full participation in society at all levels – local, national and international- is one of the greatest sources of hope for the establishment of a new humanitarian order in world affairs. However, in many traditional societies, that promise is still far from fulfillment. A humanitarian ethic would seek to initiate changes in societies which oppress and suppress women. It would also facilitate the rapid rise to equality for women. In a number of governments, special ministries or departments have been established to deal with issues related to women and to defend their rights. We hope that others will follow this path in order to increase public awareness of the issues involved and to reverse traditional practices and attitudes regarding women that are an affront to basic human values.
As well as peoples’ movements and women’s organizations, another group which deserves special consideration is the worldwide constituency of youth. A youth culture began to gain momentum following the Second World War in the industrialized world and has since spread all over the globe. Over time, this phenomenon has had profound effects reaching beyond young people themselves. In time, as their numbers continue to grow, the young will be the single most potent force to shape society. It is estimated that by the end of the next decade, those below 30 years of age will constitute almost 60 per cent of the world population.
In the richer countries, young people have considerable purchasing power which influences the direction of economic activities. In leisure pursuits, and particularly those involving television, radio, popular music, film-making and fashions, they are powerful shapers of popular taste. Their culture is becoming increasingly disseminated worldwide. Their views have a growing influence on those in power. They are to be reckoned with as a force that will mould the political, economic and social structures of the future.
Young people are at present often manipulated. Their interests are frequently exploited for commercial, political or other reasons. It is understandable and to be welcomed that young people are demanding greater participation in decision making in areas of human activity which closely affect them. Moreover, young people in all societies, rich and poor, have been particular victims of widespread unemployment. It is important that education systems are geared to gainful employment and the job markets are adjusted to meet the new challenges they face.
Yet despite their serious special problems, young people, including many who are unemployed, are succeeding in acting as forces for change. There is evidence that young people feel particularly involved and committed to socio-economic development issues, to independence and to peace. They have demonstrated a particular enthusiasm and facility for fostering international understanding.
On the other hand, there is also evidence of increasing alienation of the young, particularly among those living in cities. Among the poor, there is anger and frustration and a growing tendency to use violence as a means to change their circumstances. Whether as soldiers or terrorists, freedom fighters or rebels, delinquents or demonstrators, they pose a threatening challenge to political stability and social order in many parts of the world. Their natural zeal and energy need to be channelled, through imaginative projects supported by governments and communities, to constructive purposes. Constituting the majority of the world’s populations, their needs and aspirations must receive the highest priority on the agendas of governments and the world community at large. Timely action is called for to avoid extremism among the young.
Since the 1970s, many people have increasingly come to fear that technological innovation matters more than preserving cultural identity or social traditions; that it will be the values of efficiency, reliability, speed and predictability that will prevail in future societies; that we must adjust to each new invention or drown in the indignity of not being modern. Much of the debate about development is turning to talk of technological revolutions capable of so radically changing the quality and characteristics of human existence that the past seems no more than a prologue to the awe-inspiring future that awaits us. Technology all too often seems enveloped in its own mystique – complex, remote, obliging us to bow down in fear and fascination.
The present concentration of highly active scientific research and of major technological achievements in a few countries should not obscure the fact that many cultures and societies have contributed to modern science, as can be seen by the study of, for instance, Chinese, Indian or Islamic sciences. Nor should prosperity be attributed to scientific achievements alone: colonization of new lands and the exploitation of their wealth contributed to the economic growth of a few countries and increased the gap between them and the rest of the world.
Modern science and technology derive their prestige from their contribution to economic growth in the industrialized countries. Only a few countries are in the forefront of advancing new technologies; others are essentially adapting to changes originating elsewhere. However, for large low-income countries, such as Brazil, China or India, there is a substantial capacity for indigenous development of a wide range of technologies. For Small States, options may be more limited but are by no means closed. In fact, some of the smaller States are doing very well in relative terms.
Technological innovation has been vital to economic growth by raising the productivity of human, capital and natural resources. However, the relation between technology and growth is a very complex one. Technological advance does not necessarily imply scientific progress nor does it always mean economic growth. Technological inventions are tools which, according to the way they are used, widen or narrow our scope for action, and enhance or diminish our control over resources. The changes they are now bringing about give rise to strong and often conflicting emotions. There is apprehension that the new technologies will be economically and socially disruptive, but also hope that the power and speed of technological change in communications may bring nations closer and foster a positive multi-lateralism.
An optimistic view is that less industrialized countries will be able to benefit greatly from advanced science and technology and could reduce the economic gap between them and the richer countries while bypassing many historical technological stages. Reference is often made in this respect to four broad categories of new technologies: micro-electronics, bio-technology, new materials technology and new energy sources including nuclear energy. These technologies can be distinguished from other modern technologies by the extraordinary speed at which their application is proceeding and by their wide scope which transcends narrow sectoral boundaries.
A less optimistic view is that the benefits of modern technology may be available only to a few. Today’s new technologies arise from systematic research programmes, largely funded by governments and major industrial companies. Advanced scientific research is no longer carried out by scientists working in isolation with a few assistants handling relatively cheap equipment and exchanging friendly letters with their peers. It has become expensive team work and its potential benefits are of such magnitude that secrecy is rigidly maintained.
The development of science and technology poses intrinsically humanitarian issues. On its outcome depends an increase or decrease in human suffering now and in the future. Human beings are endowed with potential creativity but can realize it only in certain cultural, social and economic contexts. Humanitarianism therefore aims not only at limiting the harmful effects of science and technology and re-directing the benefits of innovations to the most deprived in society, but also at removing the obstacles to creativity so as to multiply sources of innovations in all contexts, societies and cultures.
The potential of modern technological advances to contribute to meeting the basic needs of people throughout the world has yet to be fully explored. A humanitarian approach to science and technology demands greater priority for producers and services intended to meet the needs of the poor. These include improving water supply and sewage disposal techniques; lower cost construction, transportation and renewable energy, especially for rural households; drought and pest-resistant, high-yielding agricultural crops especially of food indigenous to developing countries; and finally greater emphasis on measures to eliminate debilitating diseases and improve access to health care. A humanitarian approach also requires that, to the extent possible, new technology is introduced after genuine and full consultation with those likely to be affected by it.
Transnationals in the Global Economy
A concern for the welfare of human-beings necessarily involves a concern for their material welfare. This concern lies at the root of the effort for development in the Third World. The fulfillment of the potential of every individual which is the ultimate goal of development cannot occur without a minimum level of material well-being. Below that level, both the rights and the powers of the individual are so restricted that effective choices to initiate personal development cannot be made.
Nothing illustrates better the global reach of current commercial methods than the activities of the transnational corporations. Transnationals, broadly defined, are the largest private commercial concerns on earth. The total value of foreign direct investment by transnationals in 1986 was over
$700 billion, with annual flows totalling about $50 billion, only one-quarter of which went to developing countries. With the growing globalization of capital markets, there is vast potential for transnational investment. However, the social and humanitarian implications of the globalization of the economy have been by and large ignored while the financial power of transnationals continues to increase. It is estimated that the total capitalization of markets for bonds, equities, precious metals and mortgages is $11 trillion. Transnationals, particularly in their relationship to developing countries, pose special problems of a humanitarian nature.
Transnationals operate in a territory of their own definition both within and between nations. Though private, non governmental and operated for the profit of individuals, they often possess the high degree of organization as well as the access to sophisticated technology and massive capital resources more typical of governments than of private individuals. They have established international networks of related companies, each of which may possess substantial economic power in the country- very often developing- where it is located. The fact that some transnational corporations have financial turnovers in excess of the public expenditure budgets and sometimes even the gross national products of quite a few smaller developing countries, gives them a power in some cases as great or greater than that of national governments. From a humanitarian viewpoint, this power gives transnationals a potential for either contributing to human welfare or causing human misery.
Developing countries have looked with suspicion on these giants because they are motivated primarily by private profit rather than the interest of national development or individual human welfare. Nonetheless transnationals are often a valuable source of capital, technology and management expertise which developing countries badly need.
Over the years, developing countries have gradually gained experience in dealing with transnationals. The call for an improved regime of foreign investment based on mutual interest has on the whole been heeded, although some difficulties remain and the hoped-for increase in private capital flows so necessary to developing countries has not occurred.
Transnationals have sometimes been the targets of well founded criticism for their labour practices. They have also been accused of industrial pollution. The grim example of the catastrophe in Bhopal has alerted the world to the potential hazards of industrial disasters.
It is essential that transnationals should demonstrate a high degree of social responsibility, in accordance with their privileged situation as ‘guest’ concerns outside their own countries and operating across borders. In such situations, the formulation of codes of conduct agreed by all parties concerned has been shown to be advantageous. Such codes of conduct should be based upon the core values of an international humanitarian ethic. Furthermore, a multilateral code of conduct elaborated and monitored by the United Nations, which seeks to define standards to be observed by both transnationals and governments, would be a valuable advance in multilateral co-operation and in the acceptance of humanitarianism as one of the motivating forces.
The increasing influence of the media – the press, broadcasting and films – is a feature of our contemporary global society. It
has grown dramatically with the introduction of new technologies for communication, and for the reproduction, transmission and dissemination of information. For historical reasons, however, the major news agencies which collect and transmit news across the globe are mainly Western owned. This phenomenon of Western dominance has been strengthened by the emergence of radio and television, with their requirements of substantial capital outlays in the form of production facilities, transmitters and technical expertise.
The arrival on the international scene after 1945 of the independent countries of the Third World, with different national perspectives and priorities, has led to calls in international organizations for a more balanced network of news flows, to reduce alien dominance. However, there are suspicions that this initiative may mask a desire by some Third World governments for increased control, censorship and manipulation of news and information. In most developing countries, radio is widely used and is the most effective medium of mass communication due to the relatively low cost of output and receivers. The spread of transistors throughout the Third World is an important phenomenon of our time. Many Third World governments, in common with the centrally planned countries, own or control a substantial part of their national press as well as radio and television systems.
The position of the media raises issues which are important for human well-being. One is the relationship between free means of expression, such as the media, and individual freedom. A free press contributes substantially both to the creation and maintenance of a free and democratic society.
However, in view of the influence of the media it is appropriate to raise questions about social responsibility. Criticisms are often made about such matters as selectivity, lack of balance, trivialization and sensationalism. For example, a responsible attitude towards women, who are so often the subject of media exploitation and stereotyping, is essential. The media have a further responsibility to avoid national stereotyping and nationalistic bias. In developing societies, which are often struggling to overcome massive human problems of poverty, unemployment and lack of adequate health care, the media have a special educational role. Equally, the Western media which have the most powerful global reach, have also the greatest responsibility to foster internationalism. The modern media can either increase our awareness of the total human situation, or help to perpetuate attitudes of racial and sexual stereotyping and outdated nationalisms, thereby increasing divisions and disputes within communities and impeding national development and advances towards internationalism. The rise of expectation s, fuelled by the television of the North, is already contributing in the Third World to the growth of a very consumer-oriented middle class.
The media are sometimes open to charges of neglecting more abstract or complex issues which nevertheless bear directly on the everyday lives of people – for example, the debt crisis in the Third World with its consequences for the urban and rural poor. Here too, the media can make a humanitarian contribution by investigating and exposing structural defects in the global political, economic and social systems.
The communications satellites which are so instrumental in increasing the cohesion of our global electronic village, and hold such rich potential for the future, are also bringing into being a new era of television and a more vivid trans-border flow of information.
Television via satellite can spread knowledge of different cultures. But it can also put the cultures of smaller, poorer and weaker countries at risk. There is a need for the more vulnerable cultures to be protected in the face of the random importation via satellite of other cultures which may have a destructive impact. Direct broadcasting by satellite, by which the products of one country can be easily received by satellite dishes in other countries, emphasizes once again that the people of the world have the means to become even closer to each other on our ever-shrinking planet.