At a time when innocent people are targeted by suicide bombers or by armies equipped with high-tech weaponry, when children are abused as soldiers, when climate change puts the survival of our planet at risk, where do we stand with regard to our responsibilities?
Where does the responsibility lie for mass starvation that causes the deaths of tens of thousands of people every day, for neglect of the most basic human needs and for those who suffer most from the destruction of the environment? Is it that people lack a set of shared values? How can we translate our responsibilities into actions?
When we try to answer these questions we have to acknowledge two plain facts: One, respect for human rights, the rule of law and good governance are the basic preconditions of lasting peace and security. We know that conflict is often caused by systematic violations of human rights and contempt for the rule of law.
Two, the nature of modern-day conflicts. The lines on the battlefield are becoming blurred: States and non-state actors are getting intermingled. Armed groups, warlords, terrorists and criminals are often in command. Guerilla wars are being fought by regular troops. Soldiers are adopting the guise of civilians, civilians are taking on the role of soldiers, and military arsenals are developing at an exponential rate.
Traditional concepts of security primarily aim to ensure the security of states through defending their borders and institutions. Today, the idea of security is evolving, and focusing increasingly on human security, the security of ordinary human beings. Human security is a response to the highly complex conflicts which have in many cases replaced conventional wars between states. These new conflicts involve different actors using different weapons; they inflict new levels of destruction and suffering on civilian populations. Besides: traditional concepts of security have left aside new threats to human security, like destruction of environment.
The policy of human security seeks to get states and non-state actors to respect a number of shared rules and values. It presupposes respect for the most fundamental humanitarian standards, the Geneva Conventions. Henry Dunant, the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross, understood how to translate the principles of basic human needs and ethical behaviour into action.
Today, we are working to implement them for civilian populations all over the world. There is a lot to do. Hunger, human rights violations, the crimes against humanity of today will be the political problems of tomorrow. Our best sources of hope are to search for common solutions and to strengthen dialogue. But thinking and talking about dialogue can only be useful provided it is combined with real changes in behaviour.
Simply discussing our different values does not automatically increase mutual understanding. On the contrary, it can lead to deepening rifts if our dialogue serves only to confirm our differences of positions. The value of political and diplomatic mediation should also be seen from this perspective: as the practical manifestation of the ethic of responsibility. It seeks understanding through the concrete interpretation of standards, aiming to balance interests and to achieve small but clear steps towards change. Diplomacy correctly understood changes people's lives and turns words into actions because it knows that while theory often prevents compromise, practice enables it. This is why it is worthwhile continuing human rights dialogues, engaging with conflicting parties, pursuing negotiations and promoting peace.
We are constantly being reminded of the gap between standards we have agreed and reality, and of the need to adhere to our obligations, and we are criticized about the half-heartedness of our efforts—and rightly so. But a sober analysis also shows that more effort and commitment have led to fewer armed conflicts, fewer deaths and injured people, more development, people who live longer and suffer less. Human security has been increased despite all the dangers. Commitment brings results. None of this would have been possible if, behind the standards and their implementation, and behind the institutions and their spheres of influence, there were not people actively driven by an international ethic. Civil societies are witnessing a previously unknown dynamism: more than ever before people are helping each other to help themselves, coming together to form communities to create solidarity and to fight for their rights.
Globally active companies are increasingly committing themselves to taking on social responsibilities. Academics are laying the foundations of political awareness and transparent decision-making processes. But we also know that there are people who resist, people who try to discredit commitment as mere do-gooding, and to undermine taking the responsibility to protect by claiming that it is interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. There are also armchair pundits who like to be heard but don't want to think, discuss or make a contribution, some who see neutrality as inactivity, and others who want to render political debate and action irrelevant. We cannot simply dismiss such talk; we need the discussion about new ideas and their impact; objectivity in our thinking and actions; openness towards dilemmas and contradictions; and the honesty to acknowledge difficulties. And we must have ethically active global players, people like you, who accept social and economic responsibility, because the world needs it.
In fact, political successes have only been pushed through and implemented where it has been possible to form transregional coalitions of like-minded states which are able to overcome religious and cultural barriers and commit themselves to the real problems at hand and the solutions to them. This seems to me to be the model for the future. Success has been achieved through openness towards others in the world, through intercultural skills and the acceptance of pluralism, and through recognising similarities in each other and respecting differences. It has been achieved through alliances based on shared interests and values, which permit at the same time flexibility and the existence of differences. Soft power rather than military might.
The International Criminal Court, the Human Rights Council and the Land Mine Convention have been created by coalitions of leading states from every region of the world. They all share the same fundamental values and visions about the basic standards of human society.
Ladies and Gentlemen
The big question of our time is still "How can human beings find a way to live together in peace, freedom and dignity?" A solution to this question demands practical philosophy rather than genius. It also requires ideals and people who stand up for them, defend them and champion them when the going gets tough. And it demands institutions that can make the necessary contribution to achieving these objectives. Finding a solution requires a coherent and effective multilateral system.
And anyone who speaks about global issues today knows that we as representatives of states cannot solve everything alone and cannot solve anything at all unless we rapidly improve our partnerships with business, academia and society as a whole.
We have different tasks but the same goals, and we must act together when problems are too big to solve on our own. There is no better example of the need for partnership and cooperation than the work for the preservation of our natural resources and environment. With this thought in mind, I hope that we can succeed in strengthening the culture of implementation. We have made progress in defining and setting standards for globalisation and in overcoming its negative consequences. It remains for us to direct our energies with an even sharper focus on action for real change.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to Davos, a place where we can share our experiences and make things happen.
Neither the Catt Center nor Iowa State University is affiliated with any individual in the Archives or any political party. Inclusion in the Archives is not an endorsement by the center or the university.