Looking at the roots, a prerequisite for change

Rafael Grasa
ICIP President

Important international meetings are taking place this autumn, which will lead to important commitments for the future or at least momentous decisions for various aspects of peace (justice, welfare, inequality) and their instruments (coalitions and campaigns, various movements and actors, international bodies, and research programmes, among others), as referred to in the titles of the ICIP declarations on the International Day of Peace 2009 and 2010 (see www.icip.cat).

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Some have clear specifications and objectives, while others are less specific, as they involve decisions that must be taken - or should be taken - in 2011, and require informal consultative procedures or meetings. The former category, those with a formal agenda and specifications, include the United Nations General Assembly summit that has already taken place on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the NATO meeting in November, which will adopt a new strategy for the coming decade, albeit once again without reforming the founding treaty.

Among the meetings and decisions with a non-specific agenda is the role of the United States and Europe in the negotiations between Israel and Palestine (on the verge of failure in the conventional format of recent years) and everything relating to the future of Iraq and the geopolitical complex known as Afpak, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and of course the financial and economic crisis.
In all cases, the outlook is not optimistic: the horizon contains plenty of grey clouds, and even a considerable amount of black ones. I would go so far as to emphasise one particular reason, linked to a failure to follow the golden rule of research for peace: always look at the roots, be radical, and make a distinction between ultimate structural causes, and accelerators and triggers. In other words, the problem with stopgap solutions is that they do not consider the roots of problems, and are not radical, at least in diagnostic terms; they only look at the triggers, or at best, at the accelerators. It is one thing to accept that in many cases, the realism created by possibilities means that lengthy treatment of structural causes, at the roots is necessary; failure to consider them is something different entirely.

A good example, which the ICIP has committed itself to focusing on particularly, (International Day of Peace, 2009), is the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). These were initially administered by the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate, solemnly adopted at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000, and reaffirmed after two partial progress reviews in 2005 and 2010.

As has always been said, although the MDG are just some of the international commitments made during decades of international organisations and specialised summits, they were especially significant. They could be seen as an agreement between neoliberal management models that are simply results-oriented, and social democratic approaches inspired by welfare and human development, enabling the establishment of coalitions - with private and public actors - and providing a range of specific means for monitoring and measurement that were unprecedented (goals, targets and sub-targets for each, clearly specified indicators of achievement and precise timeframe commitments) and for the first time, providing a unifying narrative and a framework of reference (in the way Lakoff uses the word), with powerful rituals and symbols that were easy to understand and even appealing for the media. However, after the Report, it appears that although it is not yet mathematically certain, the MDG will not be met in overall terms, and therefore the problems, beginning with poverty, will not be eradicated.

The reasons for this are misunderstanding of the causes, on one hand, and inconsistencies in the policies and instruments, on the other. The MDG paid a great deal of attention to things like poverty and the lack of capabilities, and emphasised that the solutions to them are relatively easy. However, by failing to consider the roots of the problems (inequality and exclusion, based on the international system as well as on national conditions and policies) it failed to address the issue of why a problem that can be solved persists. Even a recent report by the UNRISD dared to say it: too much attention was paid to measuring the things people are lacking, and there was not enough understanding of the reasons why. Furthermore, neither recipients nor donors believe in the MDG or in their practical effects. The governments of the countries of the South only concern themselves with what really affects their budgets, with ODA; they mention them and quote them rhetorically, but they do not internalise them. Even before the crisis, they amounted to a small proportion of the volume and composition of donors' ODA (to give an example, in the four priority sectors mentioned in objective eight, the combined volume of ODA only increased from 10.4% of aid to 10.9% between 2001-2003 and 2006-2008). That is without including the additional 40,000 to 60,000 million dollars that the World Bank calculated would be necessary to attain the MDG in 2000.

Meanwhile, the global drainage of funds from South to North has been ongoing since the 1980s: the mean net transfer of financial resources to regions with low income in the period 2000-2008 was -534,000 million dollars, with negative figures for all the regions!

To put it bluntly: scientific analysis leaves no room for doubt; North-South relations remain predatory, and predatory relationship can be partially offset with donations and charity, but cannot be resolved or transformed.

We need good analyses, which are radical in determining the causes, to create useful instruments, for the MDG, for the Palestine-Israel conflict, for the future of NATO and to have some hope of success in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Whether they are applied or not will depend on political will. It is time to be radical and look at the causes, ask for the possible and make it probable!