Populism is destroying globalism

by Shinji Fukukawa

Globalism is now faltering. The international community can neither exert its power to block the Syrian government forces from taking repressive actions nor take any effective steps to deter nuclear developments in Iran and North Korea. Security deterioration continues in Iraq while threats of terrorism remain in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is in a critical situation and the Yemeni civil war shows no sign of settlement.

These developments are taking place against the background of the United Nations’ failure to fulfill its original function of ensuring security around the world. The deterrence of the United States is weakening and both Russia and China are maneuvering to place priority to their national interests.

In the economic arena, equalization of national power has helped to deepen polarization and the Group of Eight has passed on its role of discussing global economic issues to the Group of 20. But no effective measures have been worked out yet to cope with the serious financial crisis and business recession confronting the world. In addition, the European Union’s sovereign debt risks have destabilized the euro system and put international financial markets into confusion.

The new round of negotiations under the auspices of the World Trade Organization for trade expansion remains stalled. There is the possibility that expanding free-trade agreements may turn into mechanisms for protectionism or mercantilism.

As for the social aspect, freedom of thought, respect for human rights, conservation of the environment and improvement of medical services were expected to advance over the years. But in some areas, security deterioration and coercive government continue.

Regarding the environment, the coordination of international actions toward creating a post-Kyoto Protocol system has not made any progress and the U.N. millennium program — intended to play a standard-bearer’s role in promoting respect for human rights —has not attained the desired effect.

When the Cold War between the Western and Eastern blocs ended, people around the world expected that internationally coordinated peace and market economy-based economic development would be realized through the progression of globalism. They also expected that they could enjoy social stability through the spread of human-rights awareness. However, globalism has now come to a crossroads.

Globalism primarily has the function of polarizing the world structure and equalizing national power. Emerging nations can expect to achieve high economic growth thanks to effective learning of policies and extensive attraction of foreign enterprises. China, a typical example of this case, is expected to catch up with the U.S. by 2030 in economic scale. As the world structure becomes polarized, the number of countries involved in formation and management of the global order will increase and consensus building among them will become difficult. Such a trend is observed typically in the recent developments involving the U.N. Security Council and the G-20 centered process of international economic coordination.

These developments will also enhance the tendency of the countries involved to place priority on their domestic interests. If the degree of involvement in the formation of the world order weakens, any country will naturally be tempted to pursue its own national interests. The recent behavior of Russia and China in the political arena symbolizes such a trend. Fiscal expansion by Greece, Italy and Spain in the European Union are also exemplary cases.

Politicians are primarily required to present a vision of their country’s future course and call for tough policy choices for the sake of security and progress of their country and its people. But in reality they are inclined to try pleasing people by taking such steps as lavish fiscal spending because of their desire to win majorities in elections and assume power.

In short, my point is that as long as politicians are in the grip of populism, the progress of globalism will be undermined.

In Japan, the three major political parties agreed to raise the consumption tax and carry out integrated social security reforms in an attempt to meet people’s expectations. But after the agreement was reached, members of the ruling and opposition parties began to oppose the restart of nuclear power plants and the launch of talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade scheme because they want to retain or wrest power in the next national elections. Regrettably Japan’s political parties have no serious intention to maintain and expand globalism. In other countries, too, politicians’ behavior is more or less the same.

But I believe that globalism is an excellent policy principle, as people around the world had expected it to be when Cold War ended. It is a value that they should continue to pursue. Major countries should endeavor to arouse international public opinion to reaffirm the significance of globalism through vigorous activities by politicians, administrative officials, intellectuals, enterprise officials and think tanks. If they fail to do so, the world will fall into a whirlpool of confrontation, stagnation and distrust.

Japan in particular cannot expect to continue to exist as a nation without progress in globalism because it relies on collective security under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and depends on foreign countries for much of its markets, resources, energies and foodstuffs. Japan should become a leading voice in calling on the international community to help maintain the progress of globalism.

For this purpose, it needs to clearly uphold its right to collective self-defense, participate in international peacekeeping activities, propose a “new” new round of WTO negotiations and an “expanded TPP” concept, and present its vision for globalism-based economic management and foreign policy. It also needs to provide the world with capable global leaders and workers as well as play an active role in supplying international public assets as much as it can.

Overcoming populism is the key to reviving globalism.

Shinji Fukukawa, formerly vice minister of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) and president of Dentsu Research Institute, is currently senior advisor of the Association for Technological Excellence Promoting Innovation Advances.