Knowing how to resolve global problems is one thing, but how do you make sure that it actually happens? That’s the real challenge, because there are powerful movements everywhere that want to reconstruct the walls of nation states. In an attempt to resolve this issue, Leiden researchers are experimenting with new forms of consultation.
Making institutions more inclusive
The time is long past when a handful of national states took decisions in the seclusion of the Security Council, says Professor of International Relations Madeleine Hosli. ‘Everyone throughout the world is linked to one another and everything moves so fast. Problems can only be addressed within a complex and broad network. It’s important that governments are part of these networks, as well as international organisations, regional interest groups and NGOs, to name just a few.’ Hosli and her colleagues are studying how these networks function most effectively. Their findings indicate that some international institutions are lagging behind. ‘The UN Security Council, for example, still represents the victors of the Second World War, and it’s questionable whether it functions as it should. Without the veto of Russia and China in the Security Council, we may not have witnessed the horrors in Syria that we are now faced with. One question we need to answer is how you can shape new, more inclusive institutions where emerging countries such as India or Brazil can have a place.’
A crisis can help!
An alternative form of consultation that’s becoming increasingly popular is the round table discussion, and there are many of these already in existence. They are international and can look at a vast array of topics, such as the sustainable production of soya, palm oil, beef or biomaterials, for example. All the parties concerned sit around the table together. The aim is to determine sustainability standards through discussion that will result in reducing the pressure on the environment. Public administration expert Gerard Breeman carries out research on how these round tables function and on dialogues in which many parties participate. ‘What we see is that the participants learn a lot from one another, even if they do not hold the same opinions. Another noticeable finding is that a crisis forces the parties together. We saw that, for example, with the outbreak of the Zika virus and bird flu, and we see it too with floods. Such calamities as these appeal to people’s desire to work together to put things right. It generates a lot of energy when we roll up our collective sleeves and work together. But at some point the crisis ebbs away and then we return to an ‘every man for himself’ situation. We have to find mechanisms to hold onto that feeling of togetherness for longer. That could be something like a common problem definition maybe, or a joint budget.’
A sustainable policy is not just about sustainable content, according to Breeman. Sustainable also means that the policy remains in place even if the issues at stake are already three hypes further. It calls for political courage. And sustainable policy is impossible without sustainable relations and mutual trust. Then you have the question of how you can build up this trust. Breeman believes it’s vital for all parties to continue their dialogue. They need to develop an understanding of one another’s viewpoint, by means of a role play, for example, or formulating a shared goal and keeping on referring back to it, and by really looking at and accepting the facts, not escaping into ever more research, as so often happens. ‘You can have a fantastic plan, but if the people who have to put it into practice don’t trust one another, the plan will go nowhere. That’s why mutual trust is one of the focal points of my research.’