PCDForum Column #35,   Release Date May 1, 1992

by Isagani R. Serrano

The growing threat posed by ecological destruction to the survival of human society has become so serious that meaningful debate centers not on whether action is needed, but rather on who will take the lead and how. It is here we face the frightening fact that no credible vision of a sustainable future is emanating from within either official agencies or corporate board rooms.

To the contrary, the leading decision centers in Washington, New York, Tokyo and Brussels steadfastly cling to the old development paradigm that has caused the crisis. Indeed, it seems their greater commitment is to creating regional trade blocks the triad of Fortress America, One Europe, and Japan's East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere that threaten to intensify competition over fast-dwindling resources and further diminish prospects for Southern countries whose economies are dependently linked to global markets.

Yet as the disastrous consequences of conventional development impinge on the daily lives of ever larger numbers of people, we observe an important and encouraging global phenomenon. More and more people find themselves asking basic questions about the meaning of life, community, human progress, and their personal relationship to all three. Their questioning is leading them to reach out to others in an effort to re-establish a sense of human community and purpose. The resulting convergence of social forces is melding itself into an increasingly powerful global movement for a sustainable human future. It is from this movement that the alternative development vision is emerging to challenge and redefine the mainstream paradigm.

Citizen diplomacy at the level of multilateral institutions has become one of the movement's major instruments for advancing its cause. Ironically, in many instances the UN system has proven more open to citizen influence than have the UN's constituent national governments. Consequently, citizen groups often find themselves influencing their own governments by mobilizing commitments from multilateral agencies to apply external official pressure on them.

The very success of this strategy has heightened awareness of a basic dilemma. The sovereign powers of a strong state should be the citizen's first line of defense against domination by powerful foreign nations, corporations and multilateral agencies. Consequently a nation's citizens have an interest in preserving state sovereignty.

Indeed it has been the failure of national leaders to make proper and appropriate use of the powers of sovereignty that has resulted in many of the desperate problems faced by the South's poor whose lands and marine resources have been expropriated to enhance the profits of foreign corporations and cater to the extravagance of foreign consumers. The resources of the poor have been further drained by the mendicant debt management strategies of governments in the face of external pressures from official and commercial transnational banks.

Citizens whose governments fail to responsibly exercise their powers of sovereignty in the national interest are left largely to their own devices to defend what is left of their forests, farmlands and fishing grounds, check polluting industries, and keep their communities from being torn apart. Indeed, the burden of citizen diplomacy at the multilateral level increases in direct proportion to this failure. Yet by looking to multilateral agencies for relief, citizen groups strengthen the hand of multilateral agencies vis a vis the state their own most important institution for shielding themselves against exploitative external forces. Rather than weakening state power, their interests may be better served by demanding state accountability to civil society.

To resolve this dilemma, citizen diplomacy must move into a new phase. In its older multilateral institutions phase, it concentrated on individual and collective efforts to influence multilateral agencies and government-to-government conventions. Its emergent new phase concentrates on forging citizen treaties or conventions, much like those among tribal nations, to cement direct people-to-people relationships and commitments. Such efforts are currently being launched within the UNCED process by the some one thousand NGOs that gathered in New York for UNCED PrepCom IV to draft twenty-eight citizen treaties for ratification by civil sector organizations when UNCED convenes in Rio de Janeiro in June.

Rather than shifting power from the state to multilateral institutions, this new phase of citizen diplomacy is building a ring of global citizen solidarity around state systems to demand their greater accountability to people's interests. In so doing citizen diplomacy is transcending both old and new institutional boundaries in the urgent task of changing the current development course.

Isagani R. Serrano is vice president of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM), Kayhumanggi Press Bldg, 940 Quezon Avenue, Quezon City, Philippines, and a contributing editor of the People-Centered Development Forum. This column was prepared and distributed by the PCDForum based on his paper "Global Citizens Diplomacy for a Sustainable Future."

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