A Nordic Perspective on the Future of Global Democracy with reference to Afghanistan and Central Asia. International Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy, Berlin 29.5. 2010

For several centuries world politics have been analysed and conducted on the basis of a Westphalian world order, created in 1648 by the Treaty of Westphalen where sovereign actors – originally sovereign rulers rather than sovereign nations states – were the sole actors who counted, or had the right to be counted. Now, in the globalized world of today the whole concept of absolute sovereignty has become a rather theoretical construction as interdependence has inevitably eroded its foundation. 
The growth of the world’s population has irrevocably changed the world and is the most obvious reason why interdependence – whether we like or not, in both thing good and bad, is a reality that no-one can escape. This applies to all and any countries, big or small, armed with nuclear weapons or not, and irrespective of whether they embrace globalisation or would want to opt out of it. 
The world’s population has during my lifetime grown threefold from 2,3 billion when I was born after WW2, to 6,9 billion today. And although it is now true that this growth has begun to even out, the number of people on earth will reach at least nine or ten billion before we can attain zero population growth. 
This has enormous consequences for how mankind interacts with its natural environment. It may be that, even at best, we have only a few decades time in which to adapt our behaviour to the exigencies of ecologically, socially and economically sustainable development.

What was still possible and workable in a world with a few hundred million or even 2 billion people is no longer valid in a world with 6,9 billion people, let alone with more than 9 billion. This undermines one of the defining features of the Westphalian order, namely the use of power politics, including resorting to war to further you national interest to and gain advantage at the cost of other nations or the environment.
Leaving all moral and ethical considerations aside one cannot deny that this way of furthering one’s national interest, and the power politics used as its instrument, could, in many cases bring benefits for limited periods of time anyway – limited, because no empire in history has lasted for ever. But the complex nature of today’s post-industrial societies make reliance on military power and force more and more unproductive as software and knowledge, rather than hardware and muscle power, are the key to success and well-being. 
In addition one must also recognize how Weapons of Mass Destruction have changed the scope and context of power politics. But even without resorting to WMD also the development of so-called conventional weapons has drastically changed the nature of war. If the aim of military power to defend civilians and society then it has been progressively failing as casualties in today’s wars mainly affect those not in uniform.

This is also the case in Afghanistan, although it is not easy to find reliable figures. If you google ”Afghanistan war casualties” you may have to surf the net for some time before you even find any mention of Afghani casualties, let alone exact numbers, whereas every single loss of the American and coalition armed forces is carefully and accurately recorded.

Increasing and deepening the international division of labour, which is essentially what globalization means, has brought huge benefits in terms of enhanced growth, strengthened potential for the realization of Human Rights and better environmental management, increasing wealth and wellbeing. And this has not been limited to the already more better off parts of the world. That hundreds of millions of  people have been lifted out of abject poverty and from living in the shadow of recurring famines, particularly in Asia, would not have been possible without taking advantage of the global markets created and opened by globalization

The challenge is, that these benefits are not distributed equally around the world or inside different societies with many people becoming distinct losers in this development. On the contrary it seems that income and wealth differentials are increasing, both within countries and regions and between them.

The second huge challenge is exercising democratic control over the processes involved in globalization. In a sense this means giving an adequate answer to the question ”who is in charge?”.  While democracy has never in history been so widespread in terms of the absolute number of people and the relative proportion of all people in the world who can elect or dismiss their governments in more or less free and fair elections, there is also a growing feeling, particularly in the older and established democracies, that democratic elections have become irrelevant as those elected are not really in charge and increasingly resort to mouthing  the slogans of the current TINA-doctrine – meaning  ”there is no alternative – used to justify whatever is the programme of the day of  the government in office.

Diminishing belief in the possibilities of democracy has led to growing voter apathy on the one hand, and increasing belief in the necessity of and justification for extra-parliamentary activism, which need not always be regarded negatively, as long as it firmly keeps to non-violent methods.

Democracy has been essentially a national project, and when the power of national governments to steer the economy have been eroded and taken over by international agreements and organisations and/or anonymous global market forces, they have been perceived to have become impotent. This perception corresponds to reality, even if this impotence has often been exaggerated with the intention of getting electorates to acquiesce more easily in what governments actually have themselves chosen and/or to dismiss the possibility for alternative choices.

Globalization calls for global democracy. This does not mean that we could begin to build this with a globally elected world parliament or, even end up with a world parliament. We shall have to realistically recognize that global governance will for the foreseeable future remain the domain and responsibility of  inter-governmental cooperation in international organisations.

Only the European Union can with any credibility claim to have tried to address the issue of bringing democracy into its intergovernmental supranational decision-making. And in the EU it is, in my opinion, rather the efforts to involve the national parliaments of the member states in exercising control over the proceedings and decision-making in the Council, rather than the European Parliament as it exists today, that can enhance the inadequate democratic legitimacy of the union.

I make a specific point of mentioning the European Union because I regard the EU at present, with all its well-known faults and shortcomings, as our best available instrument in endeavouring to achieve better management of globalization and enhancing global democracy.

Global democracy is also served by the emergency of a Global civil society and the technologies which have made it much more difficult for authoritarian regimes to control and censor the use of modern communication technology, such as the internet. Global democracy is also enhanced by reforms in international organisations which seek to give both parliaments and civil society some sort of, albeit limited and mostly advisory role, in international organisations and negotiation processes, even if they remain in the sphere of inter-governmental cooperation.

Democracy needs stable and legitimate institutions, but they are not enough. A vibrant civil society, free and accessible media and a fair distribution of resources for civic and political participation are also necessary. Here the globalization of civil society can be seen as having developed in some respects further than formal trans-national institutions.

This said it should be absolutely clear, that here can be no global democracy without democratically ruled countries and states. So far in history there is not a single example of any genuine democracy worth the name, which does not include freely constituted political parties, competing with each other in free and fair elections.
I state this categorically, not as an answer to those who in the 20th century used to claim that single party-regimes, whether of the Communist, Fascist or Nationalist variety, were somehow superior to multiparty democracies, which undoubtedly had, in many instances, rather poor track records in producing stability and welfare for their peoples, particularly in the 20’s and 30’s. In those circumstances, and even after the Second World War, apologists for single-party regimes could also point out how their single parties in an almost mystical way had solved class and other conflicts in their societies by harmoniously bringing together the nation in the only party allowed, usually under the leadership of a wise and benevolent Dear Leader.
Even in today’s world one may find such examples in many places, and not only in the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. China is of course a much more sophisticated and, at least in economic terms, an even admirably well-run country, but it nevertheless is a non-democratic single party state. The Chinese regime no longer seeks to justify its continuation primarily in terms of Marxist-Leninist or any other ideology, but rather as the system of government, which not only is necessary to achieve undeniable economic success, but is also the only reliable way, in which such a vast country can be managed and kept together in a stable manner.
But the remark about multi-party democracy is, at least in a European context, no longer needed to stave of off calls for single-party regimes. Rather it is necessary because in most if not all of our more established democracies in Europe there is a growing dissatisfaction with democratic institutions in general and with political parties in particular.
This dissatisfaction is often reflected in falling voter turnouts in elections and in a sometimes not so cordial loathing of political leaders, but so far not in any real demand for replacing democratic institutions with authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, with or without one or more political parties. Most of those dissatisfied with party politics are not calling for a new single-party or for other authoritarian solutions; rather they are engaged in a wishful hankering for some sort of more direct democracy, which gives a direct voice to citizens.
But however dissatisfied we are, and irrespective of how justified this dissatisfaction is, we should remember that political parties are a necessary condition for any real democracy, just as are parliaments acting as legislators, no matter how corrupt, undeserving or just plain stupid we may deem our elected representatives to be.
But while parties are still a necessary condition for real democracy, they are not sufficient. There are, of course, also many countries around with outwardly open elections and quite a host of parties, but which do not necessarily meet our understanding or real democracy, but this is not the point. The point, rather, is that even countries like the Nordic countries, which we like to think meet all the requirements of genuine democracy with a free press and no manipulation whatsoever of elections etc., would be sorely lacking if they did not have vibrant and free civil society working alongside with and sometimes challenging the political establishment and its established political parties.
Historically all the Nordic countries have a long tradition of civil society and popular mass movements interacting with the political system. In today’s Nordic societies parties and civil society have undergone substantial changes. The most obvious trend has been the steady erosion of membership in political parties and some of the traditional NGO:s. This does not necessarily mean that interest and participation in political participation has fallen in a similar manner. The Nordic countries have traditionally had a rather high rate of voter participation in National elections. This has slightly declined but remains at a relatively high level, except in Finland which has seen a more dramatic fall. 

As you can surmise I feel quite a certain satisfaction and even pride, in the Nordic Model of political organisation and of our Welfare state. But we all know that pride comes before a fall, and we cannot put forward any claims about being perfect.

Fortunately, for both ourselves and others, none of the Nordic countries are Great Powers. On the contrary we are small countries with a total population of 25 million people, we have very open economies, and we can harbour no illusions about using any form of coercion, economic let alone military, to impose our model on anyone. We are therefore forced to rely on cultural diplomacy if we wish to make our mark in the world.

This is just as well, for the values and principles on Human Rights and Democracy we espouse do not lend themselves for being successfully imposed on others by the sword. Dictators and dictatorial regimes can be overthrown by military intervention, but there is no guarantee that continued military occupation and engagement in Civil War will produce enduring freedom or sustainable democracy. At the end of the day a nations’s freedom can only be the work of its own people.

 Where do we stand on Afghanistan?

This is true also in Afghanistan. All the Nordic countries, Nato and non-Nato, were ready to support the UN resolutions which mandated the action against the Taliban regime after 911. As long as Al Quaida was entrenched in Afghanistan, there was clearly a case for eliminating this threat, and this was not only a case of solidarity with the US but also self-interest, as terrorism is a threat to all and any countries in the world today.

While supporting the action against the Taliban and Al Qaida the Nordic countries, and Europeans in general (apart from initially the UK), never subscribed to the American rhetoric about ”War on Terrorism”. We felt this war-rhetoric reflected a serious misunderstanding about the nature of the threat terrorism entailed and how to counter it. It also lead to costly mistakes in a conflict which could never be resolved only by military means, where body-counting the number of ”eliminated terrorists” was the criteria for success.

After the fall of the Taliban regime ISAF was established originally to take care of peacekeeping operations in and around Kabul. Subsequently it was put under Nato-command, expanded to cover the whole country and finally unified with Operation Enduring Freedom. This means that the original circumstances and conditions, in which prevailed when the Nordic countries originally decided to join the operation, have significantly changed.

Unlike particularly some of the newer Nato-member states, Sweden and Finland as militarily non-aligned countries have had no need to show Nato-solidarity. For some Nato-countries this is the only reason to be in Afghanistan, irrespective if many their people or even their leaders have little or no faith in the success of the mission and are agnostic at best about the more lofty motives for strengthening democracy and Human Rights as reasons for being in Afghanistan. The mantra of ”how Nato cannot afford to lose in Afghanistan” is, to my mind, dangerous for everyone, also including both Nato and Afghanistan. National prestige and saving face as reasons for continuing military engagements are always to be eschewed, and do not become more palatable if they are transferred from the national level to that of  an alliance.

I am not saying that this reasoning is dominant in all Nato-countries, nor claiming that Sweden and Finland are wholly free from this thinking. It explains why public criticism, private misgivings notwithstanding, have been so far relative muted, even if the original ISAF peace-keeping operation of a more traditional, although of a more risky and demanding nature than before, which we joined, has been transformed into part of a force engaged in full-scale war. But had this been known at the outset, I think it extremely unlikely, that our parliaments would have agreed to the operation, but have so far acquiesced in the ”mission creep” that has since than taken place.

If calls for re-evaluating our engagement grow continuously it is not because of a wimpish distaste for casualties, although concerns for these are not illegitimate either. When we took the original decision to join ISAF we recognized that this could not be a short-term commitment. We have been prepared to continue in the operation as long as we felt we are making a contribution towards peace, stability, respect for Human Rights and the consolidation of Democracy.

This has to be increasingly questioned. I will not refer to the military balance, which is not that convincing either and must be carefully evaluated. But what should we think about Afghan democracy after the massive fraud of the presidential elections and the adoption of a constitution based accommodating Islamic principles in brazen conflict with religious and other freedoms? What should we think about the drug situation with record numbers of drugs produced in and exported from the country, with the connivance of central figures in the administration? And how to evaluate the Human Rights situation in general and the position of Afghani women in particular?

These are questions central not only for the Nordic countries but also for all of those involved in ISAF. To be sure, on almost every issue (with the possible exception of the drug situation) we can expect the situation to be inexorably worse if an unreconstructed Taliban administration were to return to power. But would a negotiated solution putting and end to the war and indiscriminate killing be really worse than a continuation of the present situation?

These are hard questions which have been put on the table in all countries participating in ISAF, including the US. In principle these are questions which the international community within the framework of the United Nations should answer, and indeed there have been and will continue to be wide consultations in many multilater fora and meetings. But at the end of the day they will not be answered by the UN Security Council, nor the North Atlantic Council, but will be resolved somewhere between the White House and the Pentagon in Washington. It will mean that other countries too have the obligation to come to their own conclusions irrespective of how they are consulted.

For the Nordic countries the situation is, that even if on balance we still believe we can make a positive contribution in Afghanistan, we also have to ask, whether the limited resources at our disposal are being put to optimal use in Afghanistan, where the Nordic countries have c. 1800 soldiers. At the same time the Nordic countries have all run down their participation in UN-peace keeping operations where are experience and expertise are highly valued and which would sorely need the Nordic contribution, which totals only c. 250 soldiers today.

A Nordic military withdrawal from Afghanistan does not mean abandoning the country and efforts to build Democracy and Human Rights. If we no longer we do see a military solution that we could usefully contribute to, we must be prepared to continue and increase our contribution to civilian crisis management and development cooperation in the country.

The countries of Central Asia are different in many respects from Afghanistan. For one thing they are all members of the OSCE, which has a central role in monitoring elections, human rights and democracy in these countries. They are, of course, all rightly concerned about Afghanistan and the possible contagion of radical Islamic fundamentalism, but this does not make them vulnerable to any Domino effect. For them too, continuing war, rather than the nature of the Afghanistan government, is the biggest threat to peace, stability and ultimately also democracy.

The Central Asian countries are scarcely models of democracy and Human Rights, but they have all subscribed to the principles of the OESC and other commitments, and they should consistently be engaged on this by the international community. By consistency I mean resisting the often occurring temptation to turn a blind eye on violations of these principles when important economic, trade or even arms-trade or larger geopolitical interests are involved. I can only express the pious hope, that the Nordic countries are at least slightly more immune to these temptations than some other countries.

Up to 2001 Afghanistan suffered during its internal fighting from malign neglect, where both neighboutrs and more far-away countries were arming anf financing one party or another, not necessarily because they identified with or even approved of the party in question, but rather because it caused discomfort for those supporting the other party.

Today Afghanistan is suffering from bening intervention. For even if we could believe in all the very commendable motives for being in Afghanistan at their face value, we should remember that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.