December 31, 2009
If only our presidents and prime ministers were as good at the leadership game as they are at the blame game. Recent examples:
Copenhagen: British climate change minister, Ed Miliband, publicly blamed China for vetoing two key commitments on emission cuts. China accused Miliband of trying to stir discord among developing countries.
Protectionism: China called the EU extension of anti-dumping measures on Chinese footwear “blatant protectionism”; and then, without warning, imposed anti-dumping duties on imported metal fasteners.
Unless our leaders get their act together, what hope is there of meeting the challenges of protectionism and climate change being averted?
Our leaders acknowledge that both problems require common action, but then approach the negotiations on a “zero sum” basis. We are addressing common problems and common solutions are therefore required. We are all on the same side or, as the Chinese saying goes, we are all in the same boat.
How long will it take our publics to realize that, while these problems will not go away, the biggest challenge to their solution is the failure of leadership? Without real leadership, neither problem can be solved.
How many people understand that we would all suffer from a growth in protectionism and why?
Our publics are kept in the dark through the way modern ‘diplomacy’ is practised. All explanations from our politicians are based on what message will go down well domestically.
How many people understand what happened in Copenhagen? The 10-year review of the Kyoto protocol, preceded by two years of negotiations, ended with the presidents of the US and China cajoling Brazil, India and South Africa into signing an accord which was then “noted” by the full conference.
Western democracy has a vociferous and influential public opinion. Stable autocracies have to keep their publics satisfied, if they are to retain their legitimacy.
Most external policy decisions are made within a domestic context: short-term pain to achieve long-term gain is not a satisfactory political message.
The world desperately needs leaders who lead and also explain. We will head for catastrophe if our Neros continue to fiddle while the world burns. We will not be able to prevent protectionist ‘wars’ unless our leaders stop pursuing “beggar they neighbour” policies.
“The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” (Henry Kissinger).