A review of the book La diplomatie des droits de l’homme by PASCAL BONIFACE in an interview with author BERTRAND BADIE. Translated from French using Google Translator. Original version here.
PASCAL BONIFACE – Bertrand Badie, you recently published La diplomatie des droits de l’homme. Between ethics and the will to power . In this work, you develop an idea which seems to me to be particularly well illustrated by current events: what you call the emergence of “new international bourgeois”, that is to say new actors in international relations who, for example, spoke last month in Porto Alegre or during the world demonstrations of February 15, 2003 against the war in Iraq. Consequently, we are witnessing a complete change in the typology of actors in international relations with the emergence, beyond States and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), of the opinion of an international civil society such as that you describe it in this book?
BERTRAND BADIE – What struck me a lot in the past and which strikes me even more today, is the disintegration of power logics and their political relevance. Compared to the classic pattern of international relations, this is a very big change that we owe not only to the communications revolution and the flow of information, but also to the transformation of civil societies where there is a growing interdependence between individuals, making everyone feel at the same time dependent and responsible for everyone. Thus, the classic “Bismarckian” power game is thwarted, to the general astonishment of the main players in international relations.
The data of international relations are profoundly transformed, because behind this questioning of the monopoly of power, we realize that individuals feel more and more concerned by the international, putting an end to this commonplace that consists in saying that public opinion is only interested in itself – on February 15, 2003, we marched in the streets much more than we would have done to defend pensions -, and, at- Beyond this observation, the international becomes an object of public debate, which the princes are obliged to take into account. They do it in different ways. First of all, if they belong to democratic regimes, it is their voters who speak directly, and I do not see, in the present context, how Western democratic governments can continue to ignore what happened on February 15, 2003. On the other hand, we are witnessing – by allusion to my Habermassian metaphor of the “new bourgeois” – the appearance of actors who are in able to actively participate in the international game. This does not mean that the masses participate only passively in this debate, but alongside them other actors are involved in the very development of decisions, as do the NGOs which, on the ground, see and say things that states could hitherto hide or not denounce.
Indeed, NGOs can take initiatives that disturb or upset the classic game of international decision-making. The media can also – as we have seen with regard to East Timor, for example – bear witness to situations that state diplomacy needed to bury. Between the irruption of the masses into international life and the participation of these actors, who have technical knowledge and their own skills which enable them to dispute, on the very ground of decision-making, the monopoly that the princes held in the diplomatic game , there is indeed something completely new which constitutes, in a way, a call for human rights where we did not expect them. It was believed that human rights would only be manifested through moral and ethical incantations; gold,
EAN-MARIE FARDEAU – I fundamentally agree with you, but I would like to add a few additional elements. It is quite remarkable to note that, in France, until the beginning of the 1980s, almost none of the major decisions concerning foreign affairs and defense were taken under the pressure of public opinion. On the other hand, all the decisions relating to the very life of French society – questions of health or education, for example – have been the subject of multiple pressures from the public. However, today we can see an irruption of civil society on all questions related to globalization – foreign affairs, defense, multilateralism, etc. -, which is particularly new in France. It is, in reality, the extension of a more participatory democracy, our country being deeply marked by representative democracy and by a very strong legitimacy of elected officials, who find it difficult to accept this appearance of new actors in the political field. In other countries, the road in this direction was undoubtedly less long to be covered, in particular in the Anglo-Saxon countries where this tradition of civic engagement, individual engagement and associative life was, including on international issues. , much more anchored than in our country.
With regard to the actors of the international scene, we note the presence of an extraordinary multiplicity of actors with, in addition, the establishment of alliances which did not exist or which were unimaginable ten or fifteen ago. years. It is often external factors that provoked these alliances, in particular during the battle around the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) in France, which you cite in your book and which fostered a synergy between the union struggle , even cultural, and associations concerned with international issues. These alliances continue today on other subjects and other themes. In this regard, I would like to point out that it is not only NGOs that weigh in international relations alongside States, the latter using, instrumentalizing or otherwise allying with them when their interests converge. All the themes on which these new actors are working – human rights, environmental issues, development, emergencies, etc. – finally manage to cover the whole of the international space or, as you specify in your book, of the international public space, a concept which seems to me to be quite relevant to qualify what some people call “society”. international civilian ”.
However, in your book, you put into perspective the positive contribution that NGOs can have in this international space, which goes against the theme most often used in contemporary thought on international relations.
BERTRAND BADIE – Behind the notion of NGOs hide realities so different that we cannot deal with the NGO in the singular. There is first of all the distinction that J.-M. Fardeau recalled a moment ago between the themes, but also between the NGOs of the North and the South, between the “GONGO” (Governmental Non-Governmental Organizations) and the NGOs, or between NGOs which do not have an international or transnational vocation and those which are explicitly so. On the other hand, we must not forget – even if this induces a desacralization – that NGOs are companies which have rationalities and specific interests to defend, and the easier their access to the international game, the more their logic of company will grow stronger, resulting in examples such as those we see today, where professionals in the direction of NGOs move from one organization to another. And, from the moment we enter into a business logic, we must admit that these NGOs are not only transmitters of orders, and I agree here with the position of J.-M. Fardeau, according to which NGOs are not only the echoes of social movements, they are also structured actors who have specific objectives to defend, which can sometimes distort them from the social movement to which they were attached.
Another point that I tried to address in this book and which seems very important to me is that, in the past, NGOs have often been associated with the privatization of humanitarian aid. From the Biafran war, and more after the American defeat in Vietnam and the tragedy of the boat people, there was an anti-political reaction with which the reconstruction of humanitarianism and the reference to humanity merged. It was said then that states, policies and ideologies had failed in dealing with the major crises affecting the Third World, and that it was almost necessary to abandon the monopoly formerly exercised by states to “borderless” movements and NGOs. as private actors. It was a moment of great generosity and, from a certain point of view, of great success, but I believe that today we are living the effects of the failure of this abusive privatization. The most spectacular moment of this failure was Srebrenica, in July 1995, when it was finally realized that, when politics abandon major crises, inefficiency immediately takes over.
Today we have left that time, this vision of a return to human rights, humanity and humanitarian aid in the name of private principles, and we are rediscovering something that we still master. evil, which is this interaction between humanitarian aid and the public, between the political and the reference to human rights. We know that we must rebuild this international reference to human rights in politics, but we do not yet know how.
This criticism of the counterproductive effect of NGO action comes on top of the criticism that it is always the State, and not the NGOs, that embodies the general interest. The latter would in a way be caught between the defenders of the State, like Hubert Védrine, and by those, like Bertrand Badie, who have a transnational vision of international relations.
JEAN-MARIE FARDEAU – First of all, it seems important to me today to desecrate the NGOs, which moreover sometimes do this work themselves, although some continue to want to claim to be totally disinterested paragons of virtue. and dedicated to their cause, while they are crossed by multiple contradictions, internal debates and, of course, corporate logic. In this regard, we must differentiate between NGOs which have always had an important social base, which gives them a certain legitimacy – here I take the example of the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development (CCFD) -, and those which are more technocratic constructions with an undoubtedly very noble goal, but whose logic of survival very quickly exceeds the cause they defend. For example, it is surreal to note, as you do in your book, that the credibility of NGOs is three times greater than that of States or nine times greater than that of the media. This seems excessive to me, and it is certain that the pendulum will return to a much more balanced vision of what the world of NGOs is.
With regard to the NGO-State debate, we cannot simplify the discussion to this point and generalize it to all NGOs. Each has its own strategy and we, at the CCFD, were in direct confrontation with the “emergency workers” and the “borderless” in the 1980s and 1990s, to denounce an apolitical vision of solidarity and the acceptance by these associations. to serve as a cover-up for the bankruptcy of states or diplomacy, or to be their accomplices. The most glaring example being the operation “Turquoise”, with the acceptance by the association Équilibre to go and work in the “Turquoise” zone defended by France in Rwanda which protected the Interahamwe and what was left then. of the regime of Juvénal Habyarimana. We are then witnessing the paroxysm of the confusion between state logic and NGO logic. So, Within NGOs there are all possible scenarios, and I do not see myself in a vision separating NGOs and civil society because I believe that we are one of the expressions of civil society, without being the only one. Compared to the States, the trial that H. Védrine made us, even if he moderated his remarks subsequently, was a somewhat inappropriate trial because it was mainly directed against extremely professionalized Anglo-Saxon associations which did not symbolize the French vision of international diplomacy. Moreover, it revealed the difficulty for diplomats to accept the appearance in the international game of these non-governmental actors whose legitimacy seemed to them doubtful. In this regard, within our own NGOs, we still have to do, among other things,
BERTRAND BADIE – For my part, I do not think that we can establish this symmetry between the position of H. Védrine and mine because I do not pass an overall judgment on the NGOs: this is not the point. of this book nor the fact of my competence. I am only interested in knowing to what extent NGOs can be an effective vehicle for new international relations, which greatly reduces the scope of the debate and leaves out many other questions. The path that led from the conflict in Biafra to that of Vietnam and Yugoslavia, by integrating Rwanda, showed that there was an international moment, from the end of the 1960s to the mid-1990s. , where it was found that States had the possibility either to withdraw from a certain number of conflicts, or to bea priori disqualified to play a decisive and determining role. We have seen NGOs take the place of them to carry out important and extremely interesting work, and as this work was accomplished, it was done in the mode of depoliticization, even that of criticism of politics. Rony braumanasserted very clearly that this privatization of humanitarian aid has not only resulted in dead ends, but sometimes in contradictions giving to these emergency borderless movements the appearance of the anesthesiologist who intervenes on the ground to make the conflict bearable or to create with the States relations of complicity and often disturbing division of labor. This therefore implies the reinvention of the mode of insertion of NGOs in this critical international game, and that is what I am wondering about.
It seems to me that in the new international relations which are in the process of being built, these new actors are reconsidering their role from an extra-state, even anti-state conception, to a conception which reintroduces the State and which appeals to it: during the Srebrenica massacre, NGOs were the first to demand the return of states. It is precisely this change of discourse and the definition of the point of balance in which NGOs must intervene that are interesting. It remains, to resume the beginning of the discussion, that this question leaves in the shade the transnational social movements such as they tend to be built – becoming a parameter of this new conflictuality – and which the NGOs do indeed have difficulty in siting. ‘articulate. So I am not doing a wholesale criticism of NGOs,
JEAN-MARIE FARDEAU – It is precisely on this point that I was surprised by your approach, which focuses a lot on this movement without border, which is, it seems to me, a French specificity compared to the Spanish, German or British reality. It is moreover France which was the cradle of this thought. In associations focused on the long term, on development and international solidarity, such as the CCFD, our natural interlocutors in the field of human rights are the large associations created at the beginning of the 20th century. century and until the 1960s – Amnesty International (AI), the League of Human Rights, as well as the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) -, and I think it would be just as interesting to study how these organizations, AI in particular, influenced and challenged States.
Indeed, their action was just as strong as that of Médecins sans frontières (MSF) in Ethiopia in 1985 and they had already carried out, long before the borderless, actions against the regimes of Eastern Europe and the Latin American military dictatorships. We find here a whole process of interpellation vis-à-vis States which seems to me an important component of these humanitarian actions and which constitutes a reference for our associations when we undertake today to carry out activities on macroeconomic issues. global issues such as trade, debt, development aid or financing, that is to say all the major themes of United Nations conferences.
BERTRAND BADIE – Indeed, the privatization of humanitarian aid is a particular aspect that mainly affects this type of “NGOist” actor that is the movement without frontiers. What you are referring to is integrated in the last chapter of my book on international public space. We then come out of this particular moment that was the privatization of humanitarian aid to somehow enter into the interaction between the different actors that you are quoting. I am referring here as much to the boycott campaigns of firms that do not respect human rights as to the denunciation of breaches of human rights where States and diplomacy prefer to remain silent, or to major campaigns and transnational mobilizations. As the parenthesis of the privatization of humanitarian aid closes,
JEAN-MARIE FARDEAU – It should also be noted that emergency or borderless movements have evolved a lot. In fact, over time, all of these movements – including MSF and Action Against Hunger (ACF) – entered the political field and helped legitimize politics. In the 1990s, the parenthesis was effectively closed, leaving room today for the creation of a common base of references on the role of the State and institutions, as well as on the place of society. civil and associations. Little by little, thanks to the movements that participated in the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, we are able to agree on the respective place of the different actors in the international game.
At the beginning of your book, Bertrand Badie, you assert that the search for the universal, understood in terms of human rights and democracy, constitutes a ruse of power. What is it?
BERTRAND BADIE – This question touches on a very important and dangerously paradoxical aspect of international relations. Indeed, history shows that the affirmation of the universal, and from a certain point of view also the affirmation of rights, is often made by the powerful. being powerful pushes you to proclaim the universal, to want to achieve it and to present yourself as capable of achieving it. On the contrary, the one who is in a position of dominated tends to take refuge in the particularist withdrawal, which is a way of asserting his defense or of safeguarding his identity, because he has the feeling that the universal belongs to the tricks of the powerful. Two remarks follow from this observation. First of all, mistrust has its reasons: the universal resembles, of course, the mind of the one who constructs it. Since the Age of Enlightenment, Western thought has somewhat unilaterally shaped this reading of the universal. On the other hand, the first globalization took place at the initiative of the West and of Western thought. Thus, all those outside it could either consider themselves excluded or feel compelled to play on the ground of the dominant and the powerful.
That being said, and it is for this reason that I spoke of paradox, things are in reality more complex, because behind the affirmation of human rights, even of the universalist enunciation, there is the idea to limit power. Fundamentally, human rights translate the desire, at the very least, to remember that power is not an end in itself and that it only exists at the service of humanity. This constitutes a very strong paradox, because, on the one hand, the powerful is effectively the one who is in a position to assert human rights and their universalization but, at the same time, his assertion has the function of containing the power. Without being too polemical, I wonder if, through this contradiction, we do not find the current debate between the United States and old Europe; between a power which wants to be unlimited and which considers that the values have a certain instrumental function in relation to the security of the United States, and the old Europe which is aware of the need and the necessity to contain this power. The European Union itself is being built by reference both to this desire for the universal and to that of limiting the effects of power, and this, because Europe has experienced the effects of overpower through war and totalitarianism.
What is at stake is therefore to persuade the dominated that he has something to gain by accessing the universal and that he can do so actively. There are two elements here: the particularist affirmation leads to a dead end and one must strive to overcome it, and, at the same time, one can only do it by actively associating with it, that is, that is to say by not only being the holder of a folding seat on the international scene. This requires on the part of societies or cultures in a situation of dominated to renounce particularism by gaining a position in this universality, an approach which requires understanding that it is more important to develop universal human rights than Arab, Asian or other human rights. However, I believe that it is up to the powerful to build this conviction. Non-Western societies will only enter this game if they feel that they are seen first and foremost as real actors and not as passive actors – and the Iraqi crisis shows how they can be marginalized as passive. In addition, we must commit to rebuilding real multilateralism, without necessarily reinventing it but simply by updating it in relation to the UN system of 1945, which allows these new actors to gain full access. foot to the definition of the universal.
JEAN-MARIE FARDEAU – It is political realism to note that the universal is today controlled according to the balance of power and that little by little this notion of respect for rights is imposed on those who would prefer to use only the power to manage international relations. Here I take the example of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which is the prime example of a universal rule that is forged against the interests of States, as shown by the attitude of the United States, which is trying by all the means to escape this new universal legislation. This conquest of universal rights is against the immediate interests of States, and many do not yet see their long-term interest in it. In 1948,
What is dangerous today is that some states, including the United States, have an almost messianic vision of the values they hold, without any respect for the values of others. When one mixes strategic interests, economic interests and a certain messianism in terms of so-called democratic or Western values, there is a confusion which makes even more detestable, in the eyes of the dominated of whom you speak, the values which we claim to be universal. You assert that it is necessary for the dominated to agree to enter the game of the universal, but we must also insist on the fact that it is up to the dominant to make room for it and to accept – and not to relativize – fundamental values which are recognized today from Beijing to New York: let us not forget that the deaths of Tian’anmen in 1989, de Antananarivo in 1991 and Bamako in 1989 were fighting for the same thing and the same values. The powerful must therefore leave them not only the opportunity to express these values in their own way, but also to position themselves in the international game with their capacities, their vision of things and their culture.
BERTRAND BADIE – Indeed, we realize that as this universal is built, especially in the context of multilateralism, values and their relativization are not understood in terms as worrying as some had predicted. . When the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) invented the concept of human security in 1994, no one considered that this human security was not really universal, nor that it led some to relativize their values. Food security has exactly the same meaning in Beijing, Moscow, Tehran or Riyadh, as does health security. We realize in reality that the famous conflict of civilizations and the debate around cultural relativism was a smokescreen which was a good alibi for not drawing up major international conventions. Having regard to the results of all the international conventions which have followed one another since 1945 – which are very numerous and which have been signed by an ever-increasing number of States – we can see that the most successful relate to subjects for which no one is concerned. dares to raise the issue of cultural exception: neither on the Convention against Racial Discrimination, against Torture, for the defense of children’s rights, nor on slavery, to name but a few . When environmental safety or health security are mentioned, who would dare to say that this is a more Christian value than a Muslim value? I believe that the defeating of Samuel Huntington did indeed benefit humanity. We see that the reference to culture was a convenient political means to prohibit the debate on the universal.
JEAN-MARIE FARDEAU – However, you describe the universal as being the result of a power play, which you qualify as “a hint of the search for power”, without mentioning a certain number of structures which are in search of this universal. – I am thinking in particular of the Church, despite the errors she may have made. Protestantism, for example, which you rarely mention in the historical fresco you are developing at the beginning of your book, has also played a fundamental role in this awakening of freedom of thought and reflection in relation to the role of the State. It seems to me important not to reduce the universal, over the last four centuries, simply to the game of States, because, today, an organized civil society manages of itself to thwart or impose a certain number of values. which go beyond the interests of States.
BERTRAND BADIE – I agree with you, with two amendments. The first is that the universal is such a beautiful and convincing benchmark that it will always be manipulated. It is not so much that the universal is in essence an object of manipulation, but that it is tempting and therefore perpetually manipulable. The second point is that I am willing to admit that religious actors play a positive role in this area, moreover not only those you mention: there were great moments of universality in Abbasid Islam, for example. All religions are inhabited by this tendency towards the universal, which they can promote, except perhaps those which strongly display their particularisms and their exclusion, that is to say sects. However, there is, in connection with religion,
Later in your book, you raise the question of the difficulty of imposing democracy from the outside. Are we not here facing a paradox where we would like democracy to spread throughout the world, but where we realize that imposing it does not turn out to be an effective measure?
BERTRAND BADIE – I would like to take up what J.-M. Fardeau said earlier when he made the difference between “easy” democracy, which is procedural democracy, and “demanding” democracy, which is participatory democracy. What we are referring to, particularly from a human rights perspective, is, of course, participatory democracy. However, it is eminently contradictory to think of participation through taxation. It suffices to use the two terms to see that they are perfectly antagonistic. In doing so, we put our finger here on two major current problems. On the one hand, we are confronted with the political practice of the imposition of a model which often joins the messianic logics and the logics of power: “I am the strongest and I have a mission so I impose my model by force. On the other hand, the other aspect that I denounce in my book is that, procedural, of the game of democratization: it suffices that one shows the realization of a certain number of procedures for one to consider that the sick state of democracy has entered democratic paradise. It is an uneasiness that I felt deeply when I observed, like everyone else, to what extent the “international community” was satisfied with more or less stringent elections in Cambodia, Angola or Yugoslavia to consider that it was was the balance of all accounts and that one had entered, by the only gesture, in the democratic game. However, it is not enough to impose or model a few procedures to create a democracy,
JEAN-MARIE FARDEAU – I agree with you: I do believe that it is a Western illusion to think that this democratic model could be unique in its implementation and in its application. Countries are certainly not given enough time to invent their own democratic model: in order to have access to a certain number of international forums and funding, countries must comply with rules that are imposed on them too quickly or in different contexts. quite different from those we have known in the West in decades, if not centuries before. In addition, I think that this vision of the imposition of democracy by Western powers considerably lacks credibility, due to the “double standards” rule:
Finally, to extend the examples you cited, we note that democracy can only be put in place if there is real internal mobilization in society. Kosovo can now experience a certain democratic practice – thanks to the Rugova experience of the 1990s: ten years of underground democratic life and the structuring of Kosovar civil society – despite all the difficulties it encounters today in building this fragile democracy. Thus, the liberation of the Kosovar people through external intervention resulted in a relatively democratic experience, because there was already a favorable ground. The case of Afghanistan is a perfect counterexample: we thought we were going to suppress a dictatorial regime and replace it with a democracy, and we end up with something which is not a democracy but which perhaps corresponds more to the reality of this country. We may regret it, but this is the reality of Afghanistan. And I fear that we will find ourselves in the same situation in Iraq tomorrow, where we will be dealing with clans which will have to live together under international protection, but which will ultimately not be at the service of the development of their country and serving the well-being of their population, which should constitute,a priori , the concern of all democratic leaders.
BERTRAND BADIE – I believe, moreover, that it would be a mistake to think that the lack of democracy is the only pathology of the international system. Of course, authoritarian political systems are more belligerent and warmongers. But we must not forget that there are other social disturbances that are a source of war, conflict and international violence – underdevelopment, for example – and it is not the accession to democracy that will cure the countries in deficit of development of the evils which they suffer on this plan. We must also admit that the identity fever is not reduced to authoritarian logics but that, very often, it finds a certain revival in democratic expression. The sudden emergence of democratic consultations in the early 1990s in Yugoslavia probably precipitated identity intolerance, as did poorly prepared and poorly controlled elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is not enough to hastily proclaim the advent of democratic regimes, they must also be part of a culture of the social contract and the desire to live together. Upstream of democracy, there is the social contract – that is to say the acceptance by individuals to coexist with the Other, which is different – and if we do not respect this social contract, we risk of perverting democratic logic and making it an accelerator of conflicts. It is not enough to hastily proclaim the advent of democratic regimes, they must also be part of a culture of the social contract and the desire to live together. Upstream of democracy, there is the social contract – that is to say the acceptance by individuals to coexist with the Other, which is different – and if we do not respect this social contract, we risk of perverting democratic logic and making it an accelerator of conflicts. It is not enough to hastily proclaim the advent of democratic regimes, they must also be part of a culture of the social contract and the desire to live together. Upstream of democracy, there is the social contract – that is to say the acceptance by individuals to coexist with the Other, which is different – and if we do not respect this social contract, we risk of perverting democratic logic and making it an accelerator of conflicts.
Finally, the hypothesis which emerges from this discussion and which is set out in this work is that the power is now under surveillance. I believe that, paradoxically, the powerful can do less and less as they please. Even in the case of the Iraqi crisis, it is clear that the superpower could not carry out as easily as it expected a company it had chosen unilaterally. The power of George W. Bush is much more closely watched than it once was that of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. More monitored by the people, by the international public space, by social movements, by public opinion, by the democratic game, by communication, by information, by the media or by free discussion. States will probably never give up the power play, because, in a way, this game brings them to life. But what changes in international life, and what will change profoundly over time, is that they will be forced to accept what the Anglo-Saxons call thepower monitoring , i.e. the power under surveillance. This is perhaps the point of equilibrium at which we arrive and which is an infinitely banal point of equilibrium because it is a question of the repetition, on an international scale, of what happened at the scale of nations as democracy was built. We know very well that internal democracy is not the government of the people by the people, but the government by the elites and by the representatives, watched by the people and possibly sanctioned by them. This monitoring and sanction are carried out differently at the international level; however, they are happening more and more frequently.
JEAN-MARIE FARDEAU – For my part, I do not believe in the humanism of States, except perhaps in the case of Norway which, in part thanks to its oil rent, can afford to play a neutral role and advocate good offices in many conflicts. I believe that the role of NGOs, public opinion and the media is fundamental in forging this international humanism and in ensuring that States agree to give up some of their prerogatives and some of their interests for the benefit of the general international interest. In this regard, the interest of Sri Lankans or Beninese is not the same as that of the French. Also, accepting to take into account the rights of others to live normally is a constraint for all States of the world.
On this subject, we even come to hear today that there is not much difference between Porto Alegre and Davos, because both forums applaud Luis Ignacio Da Silva, says Lula. But it is precisely then that these two forums applaud Lula that associations and unions must be even more vigilant and ensure that these values and these social, environmental or humanist standards that we defend will indeed be respected: that ‘we do not limit ourselves to words but we commit to actions. This is what is at stake in the social control of States, of international institutions and now, more and more, of the market itself. The balance between civil society, States,
(Interview by Pascal Boniface, March 7, 2003)