Speech ”Global Swing States and the Future of Democracy and Human Rights Promotion” at The FIIA Seminar 21.1. 2013

A complex global task

Saying that we are living in a world of accelerating change is not something that will cause anyone to prick up their ears, a discreet yawn is the more likely response.

Even this picture, which is the key to understanding global change, is unlikely to elicit as much interest as it should. 

World population growth is the central factor behind globalization and the fact that we are living in a world characterized by growing interdependence.

Interdependence – in both good and bad – is something no country or nation can walk away from. It is also something that determines that either we have common future, or no future at all. We may, at best, have only a few decades time in which to attain ecologically, socially and economically sustainable development.

Despite the fact that we will share a common future, we do not necessarily recognize this, or see  this common future in the same manner. Although we in the West tend to take our long dominance of the world as given, or even as a more or less natural state of affairs,  supported with pseudo-science, it is neither. Before the industrial revolution it was not self-evident or inevitable that ”the West” would come out on top.

As a historian I always stress the importance of knowing your own history, but not only your history, but also that of others. Understanding how the world and its history looks from a non-Western point of view is something that most of us in the West are quite ignorant of.

While the West may have, at its worst, been quite united in its condescending attitude to the non-Westerners, it was otherwise disunited on who should be the Western ”top dog”. It took two World Wars and countless lesser ones to settle the issue.

The rise of the Soviet Union brought a precarious kind of balance to world politics which was sometimes welcomed by many of the non-aligned countries and in the so-called Third World for sometimes rather secular reasons and national interests which had nothing to do with ideologies the two blocs claimed to represent.

Globalisation is no longer determined by the western powers, which by and large created the international order with its norms and institutions.

The symbolic turning point took place perhaps only a few years ago when the G 20 replaced the G 7 as the most relevant forum for global governance.

The reason I began with reiterating these chapters of history is that when dicussing the present trends of global transfromation there can be detected a whiff of the old western condescendence vis-à-vis the new arrival on the world scene which challenge the established balance of power.  This can arguably be also seen in the title of our seminar, which implicitely assumes, that the promotion of human rights and democracy was in safe hands as long as the Western powers had the unchallanged leadership in setting the international agenda.

The problem is not that the values the West professes to believe in are wrong or in anyway suspicious. On the contrary, I have no problem identifying with these values, and I do think that our values on human rights and democracy are universal. This is also why I feel uncomfortable when we portray these as ”Western” or ”European” values.

To be credible our views and policies on human rights and democracy have to be consistent, also regarding how we implement them ourselves. We do not have to go back to history to look for inconsistencies: the present is enough, with violent demonstrations on the streets of Europe, the use of the death penalty and tacit approval of torture, the way money and corporate interests distort democratic processes, domestic violence, racism and xenophobia.

Nobody is perfect. In recognition of this we have developed peer judicial processes, peer reviews and other mechanisms for monitoring human rights which must apply equally to all countries.

So when we conclude, rightly, that the promotion of democracy and human rights has become a genuinely global task, we have to approach this in a consistent and balanced manner. The task has certainly become quite complex, as both the established and emerging powers and other states are facing domestic and external changes and reassessing their policies.

The shift of economic and political power towards the Global South has rendered emerging democracies and in particular what we call in this seminar global swing states a new and growing role in human rights and democracy promotion.

The swing states at times express dismay at western policies related to human rights and democracy, which they find interfering with state sovereignty. Simultaneously, however, there seems to be fundamental agreement on the need to protect and promote human rights and democracy. What is missing is agreement on the provisions and means of reaching these universal goals. 

Several Fronts in Democracy Promotion

We must not approach the issues on the mistaken premise that the human rights and democracy regime, built on the universal and indivisible right of an individual to human dignity, and monitoring the protection of such rights, is somehow challenged by the rising powers.

What is at stake is how the international community will go about fulfilling those universal obligations. Sensitive issues are the primacy of sovereignty and non-interference and, on the other hand, also the use of sanctions or force in protecting such values and principles.

Many established democracies are shaping their approaches on how – and with whom  – to promote democracy and human rights. Finland and the EU as a whole need to consider ways to cooperate  and engage with swing states.

It is obvious that promoting democracy and human rights will continue on several fronts, by multilateral and bilateral diplomacy and through development programmes supporting the foundations of democracy, including promoting women’s rights.

The role that the rising democracies can and will play in international relations is linked to each country’s historical background, domestic challenges and regional context.  

What they have in common is that a genuine – and not only a nominal – democracy  requires economic reforms combined with a fair distribution of the results of economic growth and development, alongside an enhanced exercise of democratic rights and participation in societies.

Economic, social and cultural rights, or socio-economic rights, have to be recognized as human rights which have to be respected and implemented on an equal footing with freedom rights. Any juxtapositioning of these must be rejected.

It is vital to reduce and eliminate economic, political and social inequalities as well as to bridge gaps between ethnic, cultural and religious divides. The equality of citizens is a prerequisite for a functioning democracy.

All countries have developed at a diverging pace. Also the so-called swing states consist of full-fledged and hybrid democracies, with differing views on the utility of international human rights standards and democracy promotion.

The Responsibility to Protect and the dispute over Libya

A prime example of the ambivalence between interdependence and non-interference, and also reflecting the changing balance of power, is the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The implementation of the R2P in the Libyan conflict continues to linger as a diplomatic and political dispute which does not bode well for its future use.

The Libyan case was an extreme example as it did not only involve a UN Security Council mandate to use military force for the protection of civilians but also led to regime change creating a controversial precedent.

Even though the Brazilian proposal for the concept of Responsibility while Protecting (RWP) has been met with resistance, it has placed the issue of rethinking or redefinition of R2P on the international agenda.

I do not think anybody would argue against the primary responsibility of states in protecting their citizens and their rights, as well as the priority of exhausting all peaceful means before sanctions or military force as far as the intervention of the international community is concerned.

What is of vital importance is that the Libyan case should not be allowed to weaken further the authority and capability of the UN Security Council as the primary body in international peace and security. A reform of the Council should remain on the agenda between western powers, rising powers and swing states.

The preferences of the global swing states to engage in global governance through soft means, such as mediation, quiet diplomacy and constructive engagement is an encouraging sign.

The issue of sovereignity is often regarded as a dividing line between the West and the swing states, but here too there is a tendency to oversimplify. The US view, for example, on sovereignity is closer to some of the swing states than that of the EU countries, which recognize the value of shared sovereignty in an interdependent world.

We therefore need open and constructive dialogue to bring closer the sometimes diverging views on the utility of sovereignty, self-determination, intervention and sanctions.

The Arab Awakening- a new wave of democratization?

Democratisizing events – in particular in the wider Middle East – cannot be initiated or controlled by the traditional power of political or economic intervention or by targeted development projects. The right response therefore has been to adopt policies of practical support for building social and material infrastructures in countries and societies in transition and cooperating with them  on their own conditions and understanding that change will take time.

The new wave of democratization, in particular in the wider Middle East, has led to a reassessment of policy instruments in the United States as well as in Europe. The Arab Spring has been a sombering experience for all. The empowerment of people and individuals is making history in a region which for a short time ago seemed to be left behind in progress and development.

Although the situation in the wider Middle East and South Asia today looks unstable, and in some places chaotic, there are possibilities for international cooperation where different ways to democracy are recognized.

Democracy and development go hand in hand. They are inseparable and mutually reinforcing. Therefore democracy is also a theme that could and should be promoted as one of the long-term goals in the post-2015 development agenda.

The emerging powers and the swing states in particular also seem to favour a focus on democratization and human rights promotion on a regional level, which is the approach also favoured in conflict resolution. This should be encouraged and seized as an opportunity for a closer dialogue.




Efforts made by Finland

Finland considers the global normative framework for promoting and protecting human rights and democracy to constitute an integral part of global governance and international law. It is of pivotal importance that the emerging democracies share the overall goal of promoting these universal norms and values by showing willingness to shoulder their global responsibility as should be expected of countries with increased political and economic influence in global affairs.

Finland has taken the call to promote democracy and human rights seriously. Finland´s foreign policy leans strongly on the respect and implementation of International Law. Our official development aid in support of democracy is based on the commitment to the international human rights standards.

Finland promotes women’s rights as a part of the democratization processes. This is a great challenge in the democratic transition in North Africa and Middle East. Irrespective of cultural differences women have the same rights as men under the international law and human rights conventions mostly ratified also by the Arab States. Finland shares its experiences of the women’s role in education, working life and political decision-making. 

Within the domain of the UN, we have vested significant efforts into developing a global normative framework for mediation together with Turkey. Our two countries have established a Group of Friends of Mediation, encompassing 42 member states, and formulating the UN Secretary General’s Guidance for Effective Mediation. We believe this initiative will have a significant impact on preventing future serious human rights abuses and will be of great relevance to global promotion of democracy.

We see that promoting democracy and human rights requires steps in other fields of global governance as well, especially in the economy. Stable economic development requires new tools in governing global economy.

As a member state of the EU Finland supports placing human rights at the heart of the EU’s external relations. The EU’s High Representative together with the EU’s first Special Representative for Human Rights must enhance the effectiveness and visibility of the EU’s human rights policy. In addition, the European Union has a unified Strategic Framework for Human Rights with a wide-ranging plan of action for its implementation.

Finland also supports cooperation on a regional level between organisations and countries, such as the EU, the OSCE ,the ASEAN and the AU. This, by means of the exchange of best practices and experiences, could constitute one promising way forward.