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Dirk Messner, Co-Director KHK/GCR21

Planetary & Humanitarian Boundaries: Necessary Triggers for Cooperative Solutions?

18.06.2014 The ongoing debate about a new self-image for German foreign policy has had some momentum injected into it. Since the call went out from the Munich Security Conference at the start of February, and in particular from the German Federal President, Joachim Gauck, for Germany to adopt a new, more self-assured stance on the international stage, events—the ‘application scenarios’, as it were, of these discussions—have come so thick and fast that there has scarcely seemed to be time for concentrated reflection. Against the background of these truly dramatic developments in international security-relations, Gauck’s most recent remarks regarding the need for Germany to assume a military role appear all the more worthy of discussion. An increasingly audible voice in these discussions belongs to one of the directors of the Centre for Global Cooperation Research—Dirk Messner.

Also director of the Bonn-based German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) and co-chair of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU), Professor Messner has set out his views on these topics in a cogently argued strategy-paper on German foreign policy. Along with colleagues at the DIE, Professor Messner has been arguing for years that responsibility at the international level should take a more determined and binding form—and that Germany should, in this qualitative sense, be playing a more prominent role here. At the same time, he is explicitly ‘non-interventionist’ in his arguments, urging us to commit to transnational regulatory mechanisms and agreements before we are overtaken by a state of emergency that reawakens national reflexes and complicates, or entirely precludes, the cooperation that needs to take place.

Working on the core assumption that global interdependences generate forces that can only be channelled effectively through cooperation, the strategy-paper calls for us to pause before we start delivering what it recognizes to be entirely necessary ‘wake-up speeches’ and before we narrow our focus to purely security-related developments—an all-too obvious course in the present situation. Instead, what is needed, claims the paper, is a move towards ‘transformative pragmatism’—a capacity to shape developments and design solutions—motivated by the realization that if we are to manage global interconnections in a successful and lasting way, we need, and will continue to need, to cooperate beyond the familiar confines of established identity.

As clearly demonstrated in the latest policy-paper from the German Advisory Council on Global Change, when we adopt an integrated approach to environmental and humanitarian issues, we are addressing one of the key interdependences of global society. The paper also points to the important role played by science in shaping this highly topical policy-area: once the new global Sustainable Development Goals—SDGs—are implemented as part of the ‘post-2015 agenda’, the interface between science and politics will acquire particular importance and it will be up to all those involved whether that interface is used to foster new opportunities for cooperation or to create new knowledge-based hierarchies.

The notion that the demands of global cooperation also call into question the classic mechanisms of aid, in the form of humanitarian operations and interventions, was recently the subject of detailed discussion by a panel of experts at a meeting hosted by the Centre for Global Cooperation Research and held at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities in Essen. The meeting, organized by Volker Heins and Christine Unrau, directed significant attention to actors whose ostensibly selfless role in global affairs appears increasingly questionable. Global issues always also direct attention back to Western-inspired influences and perceptions, of which actors themselves are often not aware. It is not least this contemporary ‘enlightenment’ on the part of the West that will promote the process of equal mutual understanding in global development and open up space for shared convictions.

Dirk Messner, How can global sustainability succeed? A strategy for sustainable global development (12 June 2014), in Review 2014 - Aussenpolitik Weiter Denken

Human Progress within Planetary Guardrails: a Contribution to the SDG Debate, Policy Paper 8, WBGU, Berlin, 2014


Martin Wolf
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