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Fostering Ethical Globalization

An interview with Michael Doyle

By Sacha Tessier-Stall | March 19, 2008

McDonald's in the Baghdad green zone.
Photo by Kjirstin Bentson (CC).

Tackling issues of international ethics is Michael Doyle's day job. A former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, he is currently the Harold Brown Professor of U.S. Foreign and Security Policy at Columbia University, where he teaches global governance. Policy Innovations recently sat down with Doyle to discuss globalization.

Globalization means many things. Some define it as increasing international trade and migration. Others see globalization as the creation of a "global village" based on ever-expanding technological innovation. Many have suggested that globalization could replace anarchy and antagonism as a template for understanding international politics. Some say it explains political and economic developments, as international actors adopt pro- and antiglobalization positions.

For Doyle, this approach, "though a descriptively accurate representation of increasing interdependence, remains uninformative." Globalization is not of much use as a doctrine, he argues, since it does not contain implicit prescriptions flowing from a political context. Neither does it constitute a relevant moral or political template for addressing the needs and responsibilities of various participants.

"For some, globalization is good; for others, it's bad; and for still others, it's trivial," he points out. Doyle is one of the leading proponents of democratic peace theory, which, in some circles, has become known as Doyle's Law. In general terms, democratic peace theory holds that liberal democracies rarely go to war with each other due to their internal cultures of tolerance and respect for the rule of law.

In a famous 1992 article, Benjamin Barber argued that the post-Cold War era would increasingly see the forces of tribalism and globalization clashing as the trend toward cultural standardization provoked a violent backlash. He called this struggle "Jihad vs. McWorld." While conceding that globalization is not a smooth and linear process, Doyle argues that making it a scapegoat for the world's problems is unfair. Radicalism in the Muslim world does not stem from globalization, he says, but rather is "a product of their failed modernization, over which we [North Americans and Europeans] superimpose our own chauvinism."

Does this mean that globalization has no culturally homogenizing component?

"No," says Doyle. "To a certain extent, globalization does mean Westernization and some loss of cultural integrity." The main beneficiaries of current trends are Western; they are the market models being adopted throughout the world and the culture of human rights being exported to all corners of the globe. But globalization does have some advantages: alleviating poverty (especially in China and India), increasing opportunities for individuals and groups alike, liberating individuals by giving them access to technologies that can transform the way they communicate, and validating our multicultural selves. Globalization affects all cultures. And each culture must maximize its opportunities and minimize its risks.

Doyle offers a recipe for a fairer globalization. "First, rich countries need to assume their responsibilities. That means investing a lot more to fight epidemics like those of HIV and malaria, and allowing or supporting the sale of generic drugs." To date, only a few countries, namely Canada, have pledged to supply the world's poorest countries with affordable generic drugs. And even Canada has yet to match words with deeds. Worse, many pharmaceutical companies actually buy up drug patents to prevent the creation and use of generics.

"Second, we need to genuinely tackle the remaining barriers to fair international trade. We need to eliminate the most egregious subsidies" to Northern farmers, and to "tackle radical agricultural inefficiencies." Subsidization of North American and European farmers depresses world prices and prevents farmers in poor countries from entering markets they could use to pull themselves out of poverty.

"Finally, we need to address the issue of international migration. We've created the worst of all possible worlds: illegal immigration because of insufficient legal immigration." Rich countries need labor, and the citizens of poor countries need jobs. Therefore, Doyle suggests, More Developed Countries (MDCs) should issue renewable licenses for short-term workers. In this system, workers could enter an MDC to work, return home after fulfilling their contracts, and come back to work the following year. After a few such cycles, workers abiding by the rules could apply for citizenship. As Doyle argues, "If you can return home and then come back, you're less likely to stay illegally."

For Doyle, the most important issue in the next fifty years will be the world's relationship with China. With one-sixth of the world's population, a growing economy, and increasing international assurance, the Asian giant seems ready to make a great leap forward. A prominent defender of Kantian liberalism in international relations, Doyle offers two approaches to dealing with China: "trade and mutual education, in hopes of long-run mutual democracy."


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