Editions : January-March 2014


What is the relationship between peace and development, and what might be done to ensure that the achievement of either does not impede progress on the other? Let's start with an observation about the international situation within which the potential for peace and development must be considered: the striking emergence of political/economic questions as central axes for struggle, both within and between countries. The central questions today are not political, if by that we mean able to be ad­dressed by governments acting alone at home, or by the normal routines of diplomacy. Nor are they economic, if we mean problems to be addressed by market forces operating in the shadow of wise regulation.

The prospects for peace and development must be considered against the background of this transformation. The globalization of production, distribution and finance has reduced the policy au­tonomy of national authorities to address either economic or politi­cal questions within the domain of their territorial jurisdiction and mandate. As a result, the most significant strategic issues are both political and eco­nomic, and are being fought out nationally and internationally at the same time.

How will economic growth be distribut­ed within and between nations? How will the gains and vulnerabilities that come with trade be distributed? In today’s massive global value chains, how will the opportu­nity to generate and retain rent, and to “up­grade” to higher value modes of production be distributed?

In this, classic “economic development” questions have become those of everyone. The central questions for policymakers in the developed world should be familiar: identifying a national economic strategy for participating in the global economy, mobiliz­ing resources for competitive advantage in a global economy and managing the internal and external imbalances that result, to avoid being undermined by social instability or vi­cious cycles of economic dualism.

These are not struggles between “busi­ness” and “government” or “public” and “private.” The axes of conflict run orthogonally to these ideologically freighted alterna­tives. Governments are diverse, divided. All are available in some way to instrumentaliza­tion by economic players. Public forces are as prone to shield private action as to regulate it, and business is also diverse and divided. Upgrading here or defining the market stan­dard “my way” means someone else’s com­petitive advantage has eroded.

At the same time, there is an increasing awareness of asymmetries - not everyone is equally vulnerable. Things turn at different speeds and people get left out, both nationally and internationally. Some are too big to fail, while others are too small to count. Countries feel this way, regions on the periphery of growth centers feel this way. The middle classes in my own country feel this way.

Unfortunately, in responding to this chal­lenge, the public hand everywhere has be­come a force multiplier for leading sectors, nations and regions, harnessing “national” resources around national leaders. How many political parties now promise to make their nation, their city, their region a leader in green, high-tech, knowledge-based prod­ucts? But these are niche market dreams, just like cornering the market on low-wage as­sembly. For most people and in most places, it can’t be done. Moreover, a global economy generates dynamic dualisms of its own: you can get caught in the downdraft, downgrade or be downgraded.

This is the key point: the national de­velopment strategy common to countries everywhere today of mobilizing resources behind leading sectors exacerbates dualism both within and between nations, making conflict more - not less - likely. It threatens to make national economic development seem like a zero-sum game. The result is more populist and nationalist political move­ments, more attention to national economic leaders and further asymmetry.

As a result, economic development, as it is currently being pursued, increasingly threatens political conflict. This is not a mat­ter of “rising powers” not wanting peace - quite the contrary. Everyone understands that conflict threatens development.

It is only possible to say peace and devel­opment go hand-in-hand if development is something you can do at home, so long as the world is stable and you are left alone. But this is not how it is. Development is some­thing that you and everyone else do in a dy­namic relationship with others.

We can anticipate more, not less, conflict as the global economy comes to be ever more integrated. In recent decades, we have seen an astonishing global process of factor price equalization. With it has come a with­ering of the public hand everywhere, and a rise in political populism/nationalism as a framework for interpreting what is happen­ing and what should be done in response. Economic competition has become political competition.

The wild horse to be ridden by policy­makers at all levels today is the dynamic of dualism between sectors, regions, industries and nations. The key objective for political economic policy at the national and in­ternational level should be to productively link those who lead with those who lag in reciprocal and virtuous cycles, rather than allowing growth here to impoverish there, in the hopes that one day the losers will be compensated or just get used to it.

Unfortunately, there is no global policy process or platform for riding this wild horse. There is no constituted space for the resolution of these political/economic com­petitive struggles. The policy process is itself fluid, subject to capture and instrumentaliza­tion. It is itself as much a matter of struggle as cooperation or problem-solving.

How did we get here? We have con­structed a world in which economics and politics are pursued on different scales - in different metaphorical spaces, if you like. The economy has become global, organized as an infinitely scalable horizontal structure of mobile products and factors of produc­tion, while political order remains lashed to local and territorial governments.

The result is a rupture between a verti­cally oriented politics and a horizontal ar­rangement of economy and society. Political and economic leadership have drifted apart. People don’t feel politics can deal with eco­nomics that are important to them. It’s no wonder they are attracted to other centers of meaning, often precisely those excluded from mainstream political life: religion, eth­nicity and extremism.

Managing minority identities and al­ternative traditions of social meaning has been an enormous institutional challenge. Globally, the emergence of “nation-states” was part of the toolkit for managing the alternatives. Public and private institutions have developed their own machinery for managing diversity. Across the world, we see these tools reaching a limit.

That old question - will the center hold? - must be asked again. The widespread strat­egy to reinforce the dynamics of dualism is hardly reassuring. Meanwhile, will political and economic life pull away from each oth­er? Will we have the technical management of global economic affairs on the one hand, and a media-centered form of politics as gladiatorial spectacle and allegorical morality tale on the other?

Think of the territorial disputes that have become political flash points throughout this region: the mixture of political spectacle and economic interest threatens peace and development. There are certainly ways to defer, delay and depoliticize areas of dispute. It would be better to link the interests, both political and economic, in productive col­laborations.

At the global level, turning things around would require reconnecting political and economic life piece by piece, such as link­ing economic life to community and terri­tory, while generating transnational political constituencies for new solutions. This could mean disaggregating and rearranging eco­nomic and political interests to link the lead­ing and lagging in productive and reciprocal upward spirals. This means addressing "dis­putes," not simply by splitting the resources and getting on with it, but looking for op­portunities to find dynamics of collaboration that pull divergent political and economic interests into productive engagement.

If we hope to take this direction, one thing we can say is that law is increasingly the vernacular and currency of both struggle and settlement. It should be possible to think about addressing local ethnic struggles, na­tional political struggles and international conflicts over sovereignty and resource allo­cation as opportunities to rearrange interests and incentives to link leading and lagging political economic regions, populations and nations in mutually productive chains.

This is all much easier said than done.


David Kennedy is director of the Institute for Global Law and Policy and the Harvard Law School. This essay is adapted from a speech he delivered at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies in Putrajaya, Malaysia last November.

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