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
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."