Several years ago, Parisian-born writer and filmmaker Romuald Sciora noticed a dearth of French-American organizations in Washington, D.C. So he and colleague Estelle Moser co-founded the French-American Global Forum in 2011 to organize events on political and economic affairs. “The goal is to offer a view on international matters from an American and French perspective,” said Sciora, who had previously worked on a number of projects with the United Nations.
Now, in 2013-2014, the French-American Global Forum and French newspaper Le Monde diplomatique have brought a substantive debate series to American University’s School of International Service.
In association with SIS, the “Le Monde Diplomatique Debates-Washington, D.C.” tackles the most pressing, complicated, and consequential issues in international politics today. The most recent discussion in early December was titled, “The United Nations at Seventy: Is Global Governance Broken?”
It’s an admittedly large canvas for debate, but participants examined this matter in all its complexity.
The Glass Half Full
Though acknowledging some deficiencies, François Rivasseau made the case that world governing bodies are as robust as they’ve ever been. “Let me tell you some examples. The number of UN operations: 15. The number of people deployed: 115,000, which is unprecedented,” said Rivasseau, minister and deputy head of the Delegation of the European Union to the United States.
He also noted the accomplishments of some international specialized organizations: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has had success reducing hunger, while the World Health Organization has helped dramatically increase anti-retroviral drug treatment to people living with HIV/AIDS.
“You can see that global governance is at work,” he said.David Bosco, an assistant professor of international politics at SIS, put the issue in historical context. “If we’re going to answer a question like ‘is Global Governance dead?’...Was it ever alive?” Bosco posed. “If you had looked at the Security Council in the early 1980s, mid-1980s, that looked like an institution that was headed for the dustbin of history.”
“With all of the problems that we have with the UN and the Security Council, we are still worlds away from that period during the Cold War,” Bosco said.
The Glass Half Empty
Still, the panelists did not mince words while diagnosing what ails international governance. Bosco expressed skepticism about the UN’s new peacekeeping operations and challenged Rivasseau’s earlier point.
“When we say there are 115,000 peacekeepers around the world, in some respects by the time the Security Council has to dispatch peacekeepers, that already represents a failure of preventive diplomacy,” Bosco said. “When we talk about peacekeepers going to Mali or maybe eventually peacekeepers going to Syria, that’s because there was some failure in the system.”
Several panelists wondered whether current institutions were equipped to combat global economic inequality. Though some economists see progress on the horizon, SIS dean and moderator James Goldgeier said there are a host of issues that exacerbate economic suffering. “There’s war, there’s environmental degradation. There are all sorts of other factors that reduce life expectancies around the world. And those are the issues that global governance has to come to grips with. It’s not just about an economic model,” he said.
Anne-Cécile Robert, director, international editions of Le Monde diplomatique, opined that the U.S. is retreating from international engagement, while China is focused on its regional interests. She was particularly blunt in her criticism of the European Union.
“The European Union, I’m sorry François, but it doesn’t seem to be ready to rule anything. Not even itself,” she said. “The EU is absent in every major crisis—Syria, Libya, Iran.”
Rivasseau also discussed the rapid pace of technology vis-à-vis global governance. “Citizens are seeing in real time terrible tragedies created by nature or by man. But states and international organizations cannot react as fast as the Internet and social media communicate,” he said.
Some panelists disagreed on which international institutions have the capability and legitimacy to manage the world’s problems.
“I’m concerned with the G-20 being more and more important,” Robert said. “To countries in the [Global] South, it’s just a club of rich people who govern the world. And nobody has asked them to do that. So the UN remains to me the main body of global governance. But we have to fight for it.”
Bosco, however, defended the G-20. “In many respects the G-20 has a better claim to legitimacy or representativeness than the Security Council does. The G-20 is not just rich countries,” he said. “It involves China, it involves India—countries that have some of the larger populations of poor in the world.”
There was palpable friction between France and the United States during the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War. Then-French President Jacques Chirac emerged as a vocal opponent of the impending U.S. invasion, which led to recriminations from American policymakers and the infamously renamed “Freedom Fries” in U.S. House cafeterias.
But the situation has markedly improved in recent years, and the presence of the French-American Global Forum reflects that. “Relations between France and America are now better than ever,” said Sciora.
And collaboration and discussions are ongoing. In October, SIS held an event titled, “Five Years Later: Lessons from the 2008 Financial Crisis.” An event is scheduled on NATO this February, followed by a forum on oil and energy in April.