A. The Concept of Global Studies
The NZ Centre for Global Studies has designed its Work Programme to reflect its statutory mission – to encourage and facilitate informed inter-disciplinary research into global affairs in the 21st c., and the challenges for New Zealand in playing an insightful and constructive role proportionate to size.
‘Global affairs’, in the view of the Board, can be comprehensively approached through three structural subjects (citizenship, governance, law) and two thematic subjects (security, sustainability).
Research in global studies, however, requires some judgement on a prior consideration: is humankind, in the 21st century, experiencing a continuation of ‘linear’ evolution or is it confronting challenges of unprecedented magnitude and urgency? What is required – more of the same (linear reform) or a sharp break with the past and present (qualitative change)?
Linear reform or qualitative change?
It is now accepted that, after ten millennia of the stable Holocene, we are experiencing a new geological era, the Anthropocene, in which the fate of the planet and its life-forms are determined by the actions of one species, humankind, over the next century.
The development of Westphalian international relations and the formation of international organizations occurred over recent centuries during the Holocene. The question arises whether political and diplomatic activity in the 21st c., during the Anthropocene, requires a recognition that humanity has entered a period of global crisis.
- If the answer is ‘no’, then studies of this kind can focus on traditional method and methodology pursuant to 20th thought, periodically updated.
- If the answer is ‘yes’, then such studies must adopt qualitatively new approaches before programmatic work can commence and become productive.
This is not a purely academic matter: if the wrong conclusion is drawn, the work in global studies, and indeed all political-diplomatic work around the world, will have the wrong focus, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
In the past decade, new institutes and think-tanks have been established to explore this ‘prior question’. The three main ones in this respect are:
- Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University (2005); Prof Nick Bostrom, Director
- Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, Cambridge University (2012); Lord Martin Rees, Co-founder
- Millennium Alliance for Humanity & Biosphere, Stanford Univ. (2013); Prof Paul Ehrlich, Co-founder
Authoritative articles and interviews on this subject include the following:
- Can a Collapse of Global Civilization be Avoided? Ehrlich & A. Ehrlich (Proceedings of the Royal Society, 2013)
- Existential Risk Prevention as Global Priority, Bostrom (Global Policy 4(1), Feb. 2013) pp. 15-31
- On the Future: Prospects for humanity, Rees (Princeton UP, Princeton, NJ; 2018)
- Working Together to Face Humanity’s Greatest Threats: Introduction to the future of research on catastrophic and existential risk, A. Currie & S. Óh Éigeartaigh in Futures 102 (2018) pp. 1–5
Several others monitor some of the recognised risks: The Foresight Institute focuses on the risks of nanotechnology, and the Machine Intelligence Research Institute assesses the ‘risk of catastrophe’ from Artificial Intelligence. The Global Challenges Foundation produces an Annual Report on the State of Global Risks.
In addition, a leading historian and author, Yuval Noah Harari (Oxford Univ., Hebrew Univ.), has written perceptively, if controversially, on these issues:
- Sapiens: A brief history of humankind, Harari (Random House, London; 2011)
- Homo Deus: A brief history of tomorrow, Harari (Vintage, London; 2017)
- 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Harari (Jonathan Cape, London; 2018)
These questions require judgement whether ‘global studies’ should be regarded as a natural and linear extension of international relations, or whether it adopts, as a starting-point, the judgement that humanity has entered a period of ‘global crisis’ that requires qualitatively new approaches to the new reality of the 21st c.
Board members make their individual judgements about this issue, but much of the work in the five programmes assumes that humanity is indeed facing a global crisis, particularly in regard to sustainability. This is explored further in each of the five Programmes.
B. The Centre’s Work
The Centre’s work on global studies focuses on five inter-related programmes, namely:
- Global Citizenship
- Global Governance
- Global Law
- Global Security
- Global Sustainability
While working on each programme in its own right, the Centre seeks to demonstrate the inter-relationship between them through its distinctive methodological approach (see methodology section).
Under this approach, global citizenship forms the basis of legitimacy for global governance and global law. With law and governance secured and strengthened, the international organizations and national governments, and indeed corporations and civil society along with the individual human, can more clearly perceive the common interest and find solutions to problems in the two main themes: global security and global sustainability.
A book, edited by the Centre’s Director Dr Kennedy Graham, has sought to identify a central concept that might underlie all aspects of global citizenship, governance and law in a common theme. The Planetary Interest had chapter contributions from leading MPs from some 20 parliaments around the world. The book applied the concept of the ‘planetary interest’, and its associated concepts (the ‘legitimate national interest’ and ‘legitimate global power‘) to the three existential challenges facing humanity at the dawn of the 21st century — global strategic security, global environmental integrity and global sustainability.
- The Planetary Interest: A new concept for the global age, K. Graham, Ed. (UCL Press, London; 1999), foreword by UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan
In pursuing its Work Programme, members of the Board seek to offer individual insight, guided by the International Advisory Panel, into the following questions (these are, of course, not exhaustive of the total purview of the subject):
- To what extent do individuals think of themselves as ‘global citizens’ in the 21st century, and are there historical and cultural differences in this respect? In particular, to what extent might humanity be described today as a ‘global community of peoples’?
- To what extent is the international community of states engaging in ‘global governance’, and are there historical and cultural differences among countries in this respect? In particular, how might ‘global governance’ be reconciled with the principle of national sovereignty, and might the concept of ‘multi-layered jurisdiction’ be useful in this respect?
- To what extent is traditional international law contributing to the strengthening of ‘global governance’, and what are the weaknesses in terms of its legitimacy, procedural methods of legislation, and enforcement power? In particular, what scope is there for the UN Charter to be taken as a prototype constitutional document of global governance, for ‘global law’ to be developed and applied to problems of the global commons, and for individual accountability of leaders to be further developed under international criminal law?
- To what extent can ‘global security’ be developed from the existing legal concept of ‘international peace and security’ in the UN Charter? In particular, can all weapons of mass destruction (biological, chemical and nuclear) be prohibited under international customary law? Might a reformed UN Security Council acquire greater legitimate powers of jurisdictional competence and enforcement for the Charter’s vision of ‘universal peace’?
- To what extent can ‘global sustainability’ be secured, under existing international law and organizational structures and procedures, for the preservation of all existing life-forms on Earth? Might the concept of ‘Earth trusteeship’ be a potential solution, having regard to the global commons and planetary boundaries?
These questions underpin, respectively, the five programmes managed by the Centre.