Today's date:
Spring 2001

An Open Society is the Only Path to Development

Joschka Fischer is the foreign minister of Germany.

Globalization has had different results for different societies. For Europe, the US or Japan the key issue of governance in the 21st century is how to cope with the transfer of power away from the nation state as a result of globalization. Indeed, the traditional role of the foreign minister has been turned on its head. A foreign minister used to represent his country to the world and other states; now the job is to explain the world to his country. This is particularly true in Europe where we are in the process of redefining sovereignty.

For much of Africa and South Asia, however, the key issue is not that of a superseding order, but of the collapsing state. This has also been true in the Balkans.

But there is one denominator of globalization that is true for all societies: The dynamic element of economic life has shifted from a manufacturing to a knowledge base. And a knowledge-based economy without an open society is impossible. Innovation and creativity can only come from the free exchange of information. Therefore, traditionally authoritarian societies like China face an enormous challenge. How do you unleash the creativity of people unless they are free citizens?
An open society means a culture of the rule of law, the division of powers and some mechanism for the peaceful transfer of office. Without these attributes, a country will not achieve the stability required for investment and it won't be able to develop the human resources base to create wealth in the new economy. Certainly, one of the key lessons of the Asian financial crisis was that societies which are more opaque than open in their political and financial structures will sooner or later run into trouble.

The basic message is clear: Development in the 21st century means to be part of the knowledge-based society. Otherwise you are out. And to be out means underdevelopment, instability and even civil war.

This is not some 21st century form of Western imperialism. These are facts of life. Good governance and an open society are the only way forward.

MULTILATERAL STRUCTURES | Sovereignty has become old-fashioned in the age of globalization. Cooperative, multilateral structures are the new wave. Unilateralism of any kind is doomed to failure in this day and age. Mankind is not organized unilaterally, but in many dimensions with many different languages, climates, cultural traditions and ways of life.

As mankind is organized in a pluralistic way, so too should be the globalized order.
The big problem in Asia today is that while there are many emerging economies, there is also a lack of cooperative security and political structures such as we have in Europe. This creates a very precarious situation.

For us in Europe, 19th-century nationalist thinking led to our 20th-century disasters. So far, the American presence has played a critical role in filling up the Asian vacuum. If America were to withdraw from that role, an Asia that continues thinking in 19th-century terms in the 21st century invites big problems.
Therefore, in Asia and elsewhere, UN regional organizations and cooperative security structures are crucial to peace under globalization.

CONTAINING THE MEDIA | Another aspect of how governance will change in the 21st century involves the state sharing power with non-governmental organizations, civil society and the media. An open society thus also implies a new form of division of power. Power, in a sense, is retransferred back to society from the state.
Then there is the "soft power" of the media. The media's new power, I believe, will lead to a split between reality and the perception of reality.

In addition, a very real danger for the future, and therefore a concern for good governance, is the concentration of power in the media, especially the vast global media companies.

The issue of the future, then, is not only the old one of government control of media, but the media's control of reality. Rights from cultural autonomy to freedom of information to free speech all need to be recalibrated according to the powerful role of global media today. These, too, must be guaranteed by privately owned media companies. Suppression of ideas and concepts is just as real if it is done by a dominant media concern as by a government. Being privately owned is in itself no longer a sufficient definition of free media. We need new rules.

back to index