Address by Steve Howard, Secretary General of the Global Foundation, to the 3rd International Forum on Security and Strategy

Convened and hosted by the Center for International Security and Strategy, Tsinghua University, Beijing China, 23 & 24 January, 2021

by Steve Howard, Secretary General of The Global Foundation

‘International Order: Changes and Continuities.

What are the challenges and prospects for the existing global order? Can the world’s major powers manage their conflicts and differences within the existing international order? Is a common vision of the future global order within the bounds of possibility? What kind of reforms are needed in the international system? How do you envisage the world and China in 2035 and what are your expectations?’

Exactly one hundred years ago, the Irish poet, WB Yeats, wrote ‘The Second Coming’ in the aftermath of the First World War and as his pregnant wife suffered and nearly died from the Spanish Influenza pandemic. Yeats wrote:

‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.’

Last September, I channelled Yeats and his bleak pessimism in my address to another major Chinese international think-tank meeting, when I said:

‘Our world is fast fracturing into geo-political blocs and, like sleepwalkers, nations are stumbling their way through a kind of international governance fog. Is this what we want – the law of the jungle, of every nation, of every man, woman and child, for themselves? Of course not!’

The Trump era is over, thank goodness.

However, Trump was but one, albeit major, accelerating force in the ongoing global fracturing that has taken place over the past decade. This fracturing is happening within as well as between nations, with multiple forces at play.

Nation states and communities are atomising, just as the world desperately needs us to come together. Middle and smaller powers look aghast as the US and China draw further apart.


The planet demands a global human security framework

At the same time, there are bigger and more profound forces at play than geo-politics: nature, for example. The viability of the planet and our ability to continue to live on
it in decades to come, is up for grabs right now. As with effective responses to the Covid pandemic, it will only be solved through even stronger forms of global co-operation and collaboration than we have known in the past. With climate change, as with Covid, the human race is really only as safe as the most vulnerable of its citizens and species. We really are all in this together.

In my view, we need to grasp the pre-eminence of global human security, treating the whole of humanity and international relations as being greater than the sum of their many parts – incorporating society, environment, economy, hard and soft power security, into one overarching framework, whose primary objective is to secure the survival and flourishing of the human species.

Informed citizens of the world fully understand and instinctively wish this to happen. Yet, at a geo-political level, we are failing to marshal the collective will and adequate means to build an agreed global human security pathway for the planet and all of its citizens. In other words, political and organisational arrangements are failing the peoples’ aspirations.

The scary vacuum and opportunity in global governance

My contention is that the ‘rules-based international order’, American-led and Western inclined, that has served us generally well for the past 75 years, is broken. For now, there is a vacuum and there is no agreement about how best to go about replacing it, because what we are seeing for the moment is a dialogue of the deaf, not of the humble and willing.

China has risen from its ashes, a remarkable elevation from insularity and poverty to the first rung of nations, still unsure about how to move in the world. Many other States have also transformed their relative economic and political weight. Yes, America is wounded, but will surely heal and is certainly pivotal in bringing to bear the best
of its ideals and ideas that will help to shape the next international order.

China and the United States are both indispensable, as is the European Union. Europe is a success story, of repair, growth and unity after centuries of war and has much to offer. Middle powers, such as my own country, Australia, which have so much to gain and conversely to lose in an atomised world, could choose to reprise the roles they have played in the past, by helping to bring the great powers to the table.

The Covid pandemic has shown us two sides of the same coin: on one hand, fear of the other, sickness and despair, deaths and lockdowns; on the other, the realisation that we are one, connected human race and the possibilities for genuine co-operation and a recovery that is interconnected, not constrained by walls, literal or otherwise.

More than this, we can now see that post-Covid, we will at least need transformed systems and arrangements that will require borderless thinking and action, not simply a return to the previous ‘normal’.

So, what is to be done, to start work on this new international rules-based order, built upon agreement about an overarching global human security framework?

Rise above, find harmony through dialogue

President Xi Jinping has spoken in recent years of the need for a better dialogue between civilisations, that rises above typical transactional international discourse. Such
a dialogue takes account of the deep and lasting values and beliefs, cultures and traditions of respective societies and seeks to identify and build upon what they have in common, at least in part.

My organisation fully embraces and prosecutes the concept of the dialogue between civilisations, through our ongoing series of global roundtables and dialogue discussions. This work requires us to focus on those universal principles about which we can agree and to put aside or least to manage differences through tolerance.

As challenging as this may be, it only then becomes possible for those in the positions of responsibility to derive the geo-political strategies and machinery that will be needed to guide respective human flourishing and peaceful global co-existence.

Do we have the will – and I would add – the humility to honestly embrace such a dialogue, with commitments to seeing philosophical perspectives of the world as viewed through the eyes of the other? I know this is hard work, stepping outside the comfort of the familiar and the known, all parties willing to take steps together into the unknown, for the sake of then learning together.

I was moved by the introductory remarks to his Senate confirmation hearing by Antony Blinken, the new US Secretary of State. I barely know Tony Blinken, but I respect him greatly and I am fortunate to know and admire his family very much indeed.

I remember when Antony Blinken’s mother, Judith and step-father, Samuel Pisar, joined a second track, Asia Pacific dialogue that we convened at Georgetown University in Washington in November 2000. The tone of that closed-door discussion, about very sensitive subjects that principally affected US-China relations, was such that the Chinese delegation approached us immediately after the event and invited us to meet along similar lines in Beijing the following year, which we did.

From there grew a mutual confidence in our dealings with Beijing that enabled us to convene many more second track and track one-and-half dialogues centred on China and the world. These included dialogues on climate change in Beijing and Washington in 2008 and a series of dialogues in Beijing and elsewhere that preceded and assisted the formation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank – China’s first successful move to lead a new international development institution, focussed on the global common good.

Harking back to that seminal event at Georgetown University 20 years ago, there a was evident a strong sense of shared humanity, also a warm intelligence and genuine humility among those taking part, together with a strong willingness to address global issues through the lens of the ‘other’.

It was the late Samuel Pisar, to whom Antony Blinken paid special tribute at President-elect Biden’s announcement of his nomination as US Secretary of State, who was central to that meeting. Sam recalled his own personal efforts, as a survivor of the Holocaust, in bridging the chasm that existed between the US and the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.

Commerce and co-existence, intertwined

Commerce and co-existence’ was Sam Pisar’s mantra, a theme since echoed and shared recently between younger American and Chinese leaders at our most recent Rome Roundtable meeting last November. One of them is Sam’s daughter; Leah; the other is Keyu Jin, the daughter of Jin Liqun, President of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

They spoke of the need to advance our dialogue between civilisations, involving younger generations capable of integrated thinking, where current generations have not been so successful. This flowering initiative is also centred on inter-faith co-operation as a vital way of crossing borders of all kinds, a theme also embraced by their peers in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation.

Under the banner of a renewed dialogue between civilisations, the Global Foundation is also encouraging and enabling many others who are affiliated with us to pursue to effective adoption and implementation of a breath-taking array of themes that serve the common good, at global scale.

These include: an effective global platform to ensure that vast private investments will be mobilised to address climate change; investor leadership and the creation of specific funds by global asset managers to enable a fair and just transition to better societies; new principles that link theology with action and will guide future faith-based investments of the Catholic Church; the consideration of all of humanity in the rollout of the Covid vaccine, particularly through the COVAX alliance.

Overarching all of this is our ongoing collaboration with the central Bank of Italy for the restitution of the G20 as the premier geo-political vehicle to lead in the construction of a new international rules-based order.

Blending the world’s best from the private sector and civil society, we realise that must do all we possibly can, quickly, to head off the continuing global drift and to avoid a fractured world and its deadly consequences.


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