Cooperation in the 21st Century

The changes that our world saw and lived after the collapse of the USSR, and that drive us into the end of the bipolar system established after the World War II, lasted until the last days of the 20th century. The USA alone in the world, being the sole military superpower and with the most mature financial system in the world (mainly due to the role of the dollar and its deep control of International Institutions), have to get used to this odd situation which drove the three administrations who were in the White House to a world where they’re not alone. The wolrd is evolving, in fact it has evolved. I don’t know if we are ready for this… I think the Western world is not ready, but the facts are clear and stronger than perceptions.

Not only during the Cold War, but mainly after the fall of the USSR, the hegemony of the liberal order was superb. It was the “end of the History”, and the Washington Consensus was expanded all over the world based in a System of International Organizations that only answered to one question: How can the market drive us to a better and freer world? There were no different choices, no alternatives, and the alternatives which appeared where qualified as revolutionary. The IMF, the World Bank, the WTO (these are the famous ones, but there are others: BIS, CPSS, IADB,etc.) and all the elites around them where the ones who ruled the world. The world had to be pledged to what these institutions said, which were the “multilateral” arena of the Western governments, and mainly Southern governments. They had to move in a world unregulated that in fact was more regulated than ever in history. They regulated how to unregulate…

The main actor in this context was the United States of America, who enjoying the role of supremacy that the dollar and military strength gave them, were able to move in it according to its main interests, wether economical, political, energetic or geopolitical. There were no difference between the different administrations, and all the governments were moving in the same economic mainstream. Everything seemed perfect, and the economical statistics reflected positive trends eventhough they were the ones that the economical elites considered as valid. But as Plato stated centuries ago, there was another reality outside the cavern.

During the first years of this century some realities started to push in order to show that this world was not sustainable and that another world was possible and necessary. One of the crucial moments was in 1999 when during the celebration of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle appeared a riot of people who claimed for a change in the governance and the politics that WTO was implementing. This was one of the first steps that made us conscience that something was going wrong and that there were many people who were concern about it. Then came 11/S, the Cancun WTO Conference, the Invasion of Irak, the high-oil prices, the changes in a lot of governments turning into left, the World Social Forum, the Asian crisis, “el corralito”, the lies about Irak, the unresolved Israel-Palestina conflict, the consolidation of China as a world economical power… all these factors plus others eroded the structures of the system and started to configurate another one. Finally the economical and financial world crisis hit this system and has opened the door to a new one, a new one that we are living and that we are seeing born and grow up.

This new world, that must be named a multipolar world, has seen the emergence of some developing countries which are consolidating as regional and even world powers. Not only the most known BRIC countries ( term coined by the now archifamous Goldman & Sachs), but also countries as Venezuela, Iran, Nigeria and Indonesia are also “finding” its place in the new international system. Eventhough we are listening about this emergence since some years ago, nowadays it can be “touched” and felt in every international meeting and event which is held in the world, wether it’s about security (Munich’s Security Conference), climate (UNFCC), trade (WTO), finance (IMF, WB, ), etc, but maybe where this is going to be more noticed is in all the related with development and cooperation.

On last december it was held in Nairobi the South-South Conference. This UN conference was preceded by the one held in Buenos Aires in 1979, having “triangular cooperation” as its main concern. The aim of  2009 was to “promote South South Cooperation for Development”. It can be said that it was just another UN Conference, and it’s right, but sometimes these conferences shown the world how things are moving, and how will be the next stage for mankind. As Roberto Bissio stated “The South also exists… and it is joining together”.  In his article Bissio explains how in trade the “Sao Paulo round” has finished with the deep idea of “liberalization but also development”. South-South trade has grown at an average of 13% since 1995, and for example China had in 1993 a 2.5% of world exports; in 2006 an 8.2%. The empowerment of China goes hand by hand with the decline of the USA.

China is maybe the best example of these structural changes. Becoming many African and Latin American countries as their priviligied partners; the Pacific rim is maybe the most important geostrategical region of the world; its control over the Indic Ocean is growing; it is demonstrating that world system’s pillars have moved and the new configuration won’t be as it used to be.

When I talk about the implications of the economical and financial crisis and its main causes, I like to explain it through a simile. For me, you can see the world as if it was a bucket. This bucket was suposed to be filled up with sand, but the sand was not introduced directly to fill up the whole bucket. Instead it had a tube in the center of it which was many times narrower and higher than the bucket. This narrow and high tube was filled up with sand during centuries, and mainly in the last decades, leaving the vast majority of the bucket empty and with no sand. This tube has became so high that it finally has collapsed and it looks like if the sand was reallocating in the bucket, but it only looks like…

With all these facts in mind, there’s now an ingent task by all the actors involved in development and cooperation issues in order to aknowledge that all these structural changes will be reflected in the new paradigm that must shift the world we’re living in. The United Nations which has been deeply criticized, forgetting that are the states the ones who legitimaze its job, has now begun a process of “rethinking” of all the issues related to development. This initiative, known as “The FUNDS project” is aiming to determine wether the Un Development System goes into decline, or re-emerge as a major force. The battle of the ideas has just begun…I hope we are not arriving late.


About Hernán Cortés Saenz

Nacido un frío diciembre de 1982 en Barcelona, hijo de padre colombiano y madre catalana, mi nombre es Hernán. Resido en un pequeño pueblo de la Costa Daurada con un encanto espectacular y a orillas del Mare Nostrum. Soy licenciado en Ciencias Políticas por la Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, y estoy especializado en Relaciones Internacionales, cursando un Doctorado sobre la materia. He trabajado como Policy & Executive Officer en UBUNTU - Foro Mundial de Redes de la Sociedad Civil analizando temas relacionados con el sector financiero, alimentación, gobernanza mundial y desarrollo. Actualmente estoy en Nueva York (EUA) como investigador asociado con la Initiative for Policy Dialogue de la Universidad de Columbia y la Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung investigando sobre las protestas globales acontecidas como respuesta a la crisis y las medidas de austeridad.


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