Dozens of issues populate the Global Issues Matrix. There are myriad interrelationships among them. The issues have been grouped into seven major headings. Below are global issues under the general heading of Politics, with comments on their characteristics and relationships. It has been said that all politics is local, but to a great extent, the implications are global.
Governance – The Cold War is widely characterized as an epic confrontation between two forms of government – totalitarianism and liberal democracy. Following the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a famous 1992 book by Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, (based upon a 1989 article by Fukuyama) argued that humanity’s evolution toward a universally-accepted form of government had ended. He wrote:
What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.
On June 2014 Fukuyama wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal on the 25th anniversary of the original article. Did events in the interim disprove his thesis? He wrote:
The biggest single problem in societies aspiring to be democratic has been their failure to provide the substance of what people want from government: personal security, shared economic growth and the basic public services (especially education, health care and infrastructure) that are needed to achieve individual opportunity. . . . Once societies get on the up escalator of industrialization, their social structure begins to change in ways that increase demands for political participation. If political elites accommodate these demands, we arrive at some version of democracy.
Many studies have noted the apparent advantages of a democratic form of government in developing countries in addressing poverty and conflict, including provision of clean water and health systems to combat disease.
History – Decisions made by political leaders of the past live on in the conditions of humanity as a whole and in countries and regions the world over. The tongue-in-cheek advice to choose your parents wisely is equally appropriate for choosing your history. Consider the impacts of the following sampling of major historical events that shape the current world order and development:
– Exploration and colonization by European empires of the 15th to 18th centuries subjugated indigenous populations and in many cases ruled them for centuries
– Revolutions in the 18th century replaced monarchies with republics and set the stage for the development of democracy
– The Russian revolution in the early 20th century established communism as the form of government of Russia, followed over the next 70 years by mostly central and eastern European countries
– World Wars I and II in the first half of the 20th century led to the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the redrawing of national boundaries with little recognition of cultural clusters
– Cold War competition for influence over countries in second half of 20th century yielded fluid alliances among countries with little in common in terms of governance and values
Lobbying – Legislators elected democratically are appointed to represent the interests of their constituents. How those interests are conveyed is left to the constituents, who may act individually or as a group. In the broadest sense, lobbying is the act of presenting one’s point of view to elected officials with the intent of influencing the officials’ decisions. In the narrower sense, lobbyists are people hired by a group or individual to influence legislation. The groups represented by paid lobbyists could be single businesses or business organizations, wealthy individuals, or nonprofit organizations. For example, lobbying occurs on behalf of non-profit organizations dedicated to improving health and welfare of underprivileged populations both in the U.S. and overseas.
Lobbying is common in Europe, Canada, and the U.S. Lobbyists are expected to register in the U.S. In 2013 there were over 12,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C., and spending on registered lobbying totaled $3.2 billion. As lobbying is also performed by non-registered individuals, the actual expenditure may be up to triple this amount.
The money spent on professional lobbying has become a contentious issue because of the rising costs of elections and the need for incumbent legislators to build large campaign funds. The election cycle in the U.S. has a huge impact on the success of various levels of government in addressing needs. While needs must be viewed with a long perspective in many cases, elected officials have the much more limited time frame imposed by the next election. Getting elected requires raising revenue from people, businesses, and other funding sources that have agendas which they want the candidates to follow. Once elected, the officials must respond to these agendas in order to raise the funds for the next election, as little as two years away. Organizations both public and private expend billions of dollars every election cycle to influence the outcomes of national and state elections. Incumbents have distinct advantages in raising funds. As they become beholden to special interests, the legal commitment to one man/one vote appears to be superseded by one dollar/one vote. The introduction of term limits was intended, in part, to both free elected officials to promote what they thought was “right” as opposed to what would generate the most revenue from special interests, as well as to turn out those long-term elected officials who tended to lose regard for the common interest.
Non-Governmental Organizations – First recognized by the UN Charter after the end of World War II, non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, are citizens groups, mostly nonprofit, organized on a local, national or international level to address service or humanitarian issues. Also referred to as Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), funding may come from charitable foundations, membership dues, individual donors, businesses, or governments. They advocate for a large number of causes such as health, as does Doctors Without Borders, environment, such as Greenpeace, emergency relief such as Red Cross, and human rights such as Amnesty International.
While most governments welcome the work of NGOs in their countries, China and Russia, for example, have treated NGOs with suspicion. Russia requires NGOs funded by sources outside the country to register as foreign agents, and some have been harassed. China, with some 4,000 foreign NGOs has realized the services provided to its citizens are valuable and has become more cooperative with NGO administrators. There have been attacks on NGO workers, particularly medical providers, in Pakistan and Afghanistan and some African countries.
Nuclear Weapons – The development and use of nuclear weapons not only hastened the end of World War II, but also changed the course of geopolitics for the 20th and 21st centuries and the foreseeable future. Inevitably, the technology for nuclear weapons spread to several countries with advanced scientific communities. Five of the world’s most powerful countries – U.S., U.K., Russia, France, and China – possess nuclear arsenals, as do India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. Iran is suspected of developing a nuclear weapons capability, although its leadership maintains that the country is only interested in peaceful uses of nuclear energy. There is general agreement that enough nuclear weapons exist today to destroy all of human civilization.
Many attempts have been made to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and reduce existing stockpiles. Success has been limited. The list of nuclear powers includes countries that have histories of aggression against one another. Knowing that no country can hope to defeat a nuclear weapons power without likely destruction to itself, nuclear weapons are maintained as a deterrent against attack. While this may be a reasonable conclusion applied to politically stable countries, the greatest threat comes from terrorists within a country like Pakistan, or non-state actors such as Al Qaeda that have no physical boundaries and little to lose.
Political Unrest – Forms of political unrest, from public demonstrations against government policy or social or economic inequities, to full-scale revolutions, have set the trajectory of history. The developed countries may lose recognition of the often-violent events of their formative years. Public demonstrations remain commonplace in developed and developing countries alike, but the more violent kinds of political unrest tend to occur in countries and regions in political transition.
In a globalized world with multiple treaty and trade alliances, the risks of unintended consequences and conflicts of interests present themselves. A country that considers selling technology or weapons to another country, knowing that the goods may be used against an ally, faces a dilemma impacting its economy and security. One country may hesitate to support an ally that engages in denying the rights of its own citizens or of adversaries and captives in a conflict. Civil wars involving multiple groups of combatants make it difficult to know who to support.
It is incumbent upon the developed countries to monitor and be cognizant of the milder forms of political unrest in developing countries. Legitimate complaints regarding basic needs such as food or medical care are a cry for help from a people whose government cannot or will not administer to those needs. Assistance could prevent the transition into more violent forms of political unrest.
Protectionism – Countries desiring to protect domestic businesses and workers from competition from imports from other countries have resorted to protectionism, which is the practice of imposing tariffs or quotas on imported goods, or providing tax cuts or subsidizing domestic sources of goods. Conceptually, it is the opposite of free trade. Many countries resorted to protectionism during the Great Depression in their attempts to revive their economies. There is general agreement that protectionism in the 1930s served to extend the Depression and intensify its severity. That lesson served to convince countries to resist the urge toward protectionism in the recession of 2008-9. The current level of global trade far exceeds that of the 1920s. Rejecting the benefits of production by least-cost suppliers would of course raise prices of all imported goods, from food and energy to clothing and luxury items. Countries without the resources to produce substitutes for themselves would potentially be forced to do without.
U.S. Foreign Policy – In a July 25, 2014 online article about the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, the Economist stated:
America, a superpower with no unfriendly borders, sees itself as the global champion of liberal democracy and the guarantor of the international order. America is quick to turn international conflicts into moral crusades, and to exploit those crusades for political advantage and greater geopolitical power. And, for all its flaws, the fact remains that America still is the global champion of liberal democracy and the guarantor of the international order. No one else is available to do the job.
Loved. Despised. Needed. Avoided. U.S. foreign policy provokes all these responses and more. Sometimes isolationist, sometimes activist, not always consistent, U.S. foreign policy could be called pragmatic in that it has had to find a balance in opposing expansionist regimes like communism and fascism by allying with totalitarian rulers. Thus, even many countries that oppose what they see as U.S hegemony look to the U.S. to keep a lid on evolving conflicts.