The UN World Social Summit, currently taking place in Copenhagen, could easily be mistaken for an international forum for the promotion of social justice, as clearly envisioned in the much-mentioned emerging concept of “human security”, a state of being employed and thus empowered. Achievement of this, it is argued, would put an end to the phenomenon of social disintegration being experienced the world over and, more especially, by the poorer nations.
Crime, conflict and the many varieties of violence are, it is asserted, brutalised human conditions caused by poverty – an existence suffered by at least a fifth of the world’s population. And, much of this is due to under-employment or, more unfortunately, unemployment, conditions which almost a third of the world’s labour force is subjected to.
Were it a problem confined to national boundaries, the summit might have remained on the drawing boards. But, the search for human dignity by the unfortunates, in one form or another, has led to cross-border afflictions – migration, drug-trafficking, terrorism and diseases, to name but a few.
Globalisation, therefore, is an undeniable reality ignored at great risk; a risk referred to by some as a “social time bomb” comparable to the nuclear threat of old.
Despite such dire warnings, and true to the character of former UN summits, powerful member nations persistently insist on agendas which appear to place narrow national interests before the good of the world. The Social Clause, for instance, if pushed by the industrialised countries could derail the paramount objective of the Copenhagen assembly – that of poverty reduction if not eradication. (Pushing for labour rights as preconditions for aid and trade cannot but be viewed as a transparent disguise for continued hegemony of the North).
As the Chilean President rightly observed, in the context of the summit: “Democracy is neither achieved nor strengthened while social disintegration continues to affect our society.” Until the North openly agrees with such a position doubts must persist regarding their sincerity.
For, as Malaysia’s position at the summit makes clear, social development resulting in and from social justice, fair play and equal opportunities can come only with economic growth. Putting barriers to growth, in the name of so-called democracy, is a disingenuous ploy that could only lead to instability. Furthermore, the continued denial of the paramount importance of democratic economic rights to life by the West and their disparaging disregard for its primacy in a country’s stability make nonsense of what would otherwise be their laudable insistence on political rights.
In the final analysis, however, North and South could be at cross- purposes, working on an obsolete and excessive paradigm of loving your neighbour as you would yourself. Would not Adam Smith’s maxim of treating oneself as one would have the neighbour treated be a more realistic proposition, less demanding of the world’s resources – which though adequate for all of us in not unlimited.
And, given the UN Secretary-General’s highlighting of the link between the promotion of development and the preservation of peace, finding the right paradigm for action is imperative. Failure would spell the impotence of Copenhagen billed as the “summit of hope” and lead us, instead, into an abyss of despair.