The WANA vision: regional model for global survival

Prince Hassan of Jordan
29 July 2009

Many world leaders have emphasised the crucial importance of the global community acting to address climate change, by agreeing a comprehensive successor-pact to the Kyoto protocol. The United States president and United Nations secretary-general are among them. In looking ahead to the UN's climate-change conference in Copenhagen on 7-18 December, they declared that 2009 "must be the year of climate change".

Prince Hassan is a senior member of the Jordanian royal family, and president of the Arab Thought Forum. His official website is here 

Also by Prince Hassan of Jordan in openDemocracy:

"Annapolis: a view from Amman"  (26 November 2007)

"The failure of force: an alternative option" (16 January 2009)

"Palestine's right: past as prologue" (11 February 2009)

No one from the region of west Asia-north Africa (WANA) - an enormous area facing huge environmental, social, and human-security problems - could disagree. Yet it is notable that despite the all-encompassing and interconnecting nature of climate change, inclusion of this region in high-level climate-policy discussion is lacking. Not one of the fifteen countries involved in preparatory meetings for the Copenhagen conference has come from this region; the Arab states, Israel, Iran and Turkey are simply not represented.

This is a signal of a wider dysfunction. The climate-change crisis is but the most alarming sign of dramatic changes in the world's landscape, which require a move away from the failed unilateral strategies - lines drawn in the sand - of the past. If we want different results we all have to do things differently. For west Asia-north Africa, that means being included in global discussions.

The ingredients of change

The world is facing what amounts to an existential crisis, for which it has neither the principles nor the capacities to solve. The most visible evidence of this crisis are widespread conflict and insecurity; its root causes are climate change, competition for resources, marginalisation of the majority world and global militarisation. It is a crisis where we are all wholly interconnected - in everything but policy.

The west Asia-north Africa (WANA) region is at the centre of this global crisis. The region is of great strategic importance as the intermediary meeting-point of Eurasia. As well as being home to the world's greatest concentration of energy reserves, it also represents an arc of crisis; from Casablanca to Malacca, this is one of the most populous and poor and arguably the most volatile region of the world.

WANA must be at the heart of the efforts to address and remedy the crisis, rather than being pushed to the margins. But it must also generate its own solutions, involving approaches that dignify the human environment and ennoble people. In practical terms that also means partnerships to enable regional stabilisation, which bind the region together while looking outwards across the "energy ellipse" (from the Caucasus to the Straits of Hormuz) and beyond.

Both intra- and supra-regional dialogue is essential, but both must be driven by a vision and by people with the integrity to follow through. There are many precedents which can inspire this. The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the nucleus after two terrible world wars that began in the continent of what became the European Union, required the inspiration and the example of its large-minded architects. This could be the template for a Community of Water and Energy for WANA; more ambitiously, the Arctic Council could be the model for a Water, Energy and Petroleum Authority to oversee both the oil-possessing countries and those of the hinterland. Resource-scarcity and resource-wealth could thus be transformed from a source of conflict into points of cooperation.

Also in openDemocracy, a weekly column by Paul Rogers which tracks issues of human security, social inequality and the risks of climate change around the world - especially in the WANA region.

Some recent columns:

"A world in the balance" (13 November 2008)

"A world on the edge" (30 January 2009)

"A world in revolt" (12 February 2009)

"Climate change: a failure of leadership" (11 May 2009)

"A tale of two paradigms" (28 June 2009)

"The politics of security: beyond militarism" (2 July 2009)

"A new security paradigm: the military-climate link" (30 July 2009)

A regional community using modern technology could use the region's deserts to develop clean energy. The jobs created in the fields of water-desalination and solar energy, together with their service industries, would go some way towards meeting growing demands for employment - estimated by the World Bank as amounting to 100 million new job opportunities required by 2020. Sustainable governance of shared resources would enable us to replace fossil-fuels, solve our energy crisis, reduce carbon-emissions, slow climate change and maximise the carrying capacity of the trans-border area. But only a thematic and integrated approach that puts people, human dignity and preventive security at the forefront can create regional coherence and solidarity.

The international community has a vital role to play here. Instead of attempting to seek a balance of power and influence in the region, it would be more constructive for it to focus on fostering practical collaboration. But this too requires a recognition that to leave millions of people to subsist on the peripheries of society is irresponsible, amoral, and a threat to everyone. There must be inclusion, in policy and attitude, and at every level. This means moving beyond narrow and unrepresentative forums which inevitably produce policies to serve the few. Rather than a G8 or a G20, both of which have given primacy to the very corporate world which has brought the world economy to its knees, a G192 could begin to present policies that meet the needs of the great majority of humanity.

The world's poor can no longer be regarded as falling beyond the bounds of what are regarded as harmonious social systems, their plight little more than collateral damage (what the Brazilian senator, Cristovam Buarque, describes as "one and a half billion people protected by gold curtains"). The most marginalised and vulnerable must be involved as stakeholders in their own development. In the WANA region, this means encouraging young people to stay in their countries of origin by guaranteeing them positive opportunities and incentives to contribute to their own communities - rather than, as so often happens now, turning them into migrants who carry burdens of bitterness across the globe.

The partnership approach

The key requirement of a new approach to these problems is to avoid reinforcing processes of exclusion (as with "in or out of the club") or securitisation (as with "stick and carrot"), which only create various forms of abandonment and entrapment. Instead, the goal must be a synergy of partnerships. This will require enlightened leadership from within WANA, working closely with Europe, and the Barack Obama administration in America - as well as the countries of a future G192 - in pursuit of a human-security approach to both development and security.

I would like to see a synergy between a regional and a global economic and social council. The economic council would oversee alternative sources of financing; the social council would assist in the guidance of the activities of citizens, local groups, regional systems and networks in the management and protection of global common goods to meet the Millennium Development Goals and other programmes.

This effort also needs to mobilise the "third sphere" of ad hominem participation by government officials, the private sector and civil society as the only way to gain consensus on the multiple challenges. A partnership can only be developed when partners on both sides of the equation can project an authentic foreign and security policy based on the promotion of human dignity and the empowerment of the poor.

The idea and the project

The establishment of regional stability cannot be based on projects alone. It requires the formation of concepts - a stability charter to address people, land, economy, demography, supranational cooperation; supported by a perspective that looks at the region as a whole, rather than adopts futile attempts to micro-manage it. Moreover, creativity is needed in formulating a regional approach to cultural and humanitarian issues via lateral linkages.

A regional cohesion fund - to which all countries within WANA would contribute - would aim to reduce economic and social disparities; for as well volcanic rifts, the region is pervaded by huge social fissures. This fund must also address the issue of building from the bottom up, creating participation as well as stakeholding. The G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy agreed on the need for a "global jobs pact"; welcome though that is, it needs to be supplemented by an agency that supports inclusion in the economy: an international labour-compensatory facility, or an international labour-training facility.

Such a facility would ensure that human-resource flows - the "brain drain" from the WANA region - receive the training to enable these valued citizens to contribute to shared economic advancement and to provide them with the social compensation they richly deserve. This will enable them to become the conduits for compensatory funds earmarked to contribute to the social progress, and particularly the education and training institutions of the country of origin - thereby turning migration into a "win-win" situation.

These concept-led projects, if backed by an international commitment to contribute to stabilisation, could be a mechanism for real progress: creating a complementarity between human-resource-rich countries and oil-producing countries that results in a WANA being seen as an area of stability rather than of instrumentality (a place for the extraction of oil or the sale of weapons). To get from here to there means to define common interests and priorities according to clear criteria that enables those involved to think globally and to act regionally and locally.

The regional vision

A vision is also needed for the development of a regional structure. The context of the Helsinki process on shared security is a guide to what is needed: freedom from insurgency, violence and weapons of mass destruction; an economy with a human face, with particular emphasis on social development, bridging the human-dignity divides; and a legally binding framework as regards culture and humanitarian norms.

Human rights are the first casualties of war and conflict. The degradation of human dignity in the WANA region has undone generations of agreement and convention on the rights of civilians to protection and wellbeing. Such a structure would offer policy instead of politics, regionalism instead of narrow nationalisms.

Independent and sustainable democracies depend on more than just the holding of elections. The challenge is to create a new culture of democratic participation in a diverse region, recognising the specific characteristics of each country. The focus has to turn very clearly towards human-security approaches to political violence. This means that the public discourse must redefine its purpose as world solidarity to ensure that détente is not at the expense of small nations and peripheral peoples.

The actions taken now will dictate the quality of peoples' lives for many years to come.  Their results will decide whether there is to be hope or a continued downward spiral towards chaos and war, and hopelessness for the drifting and the dispossessed - an outcome that will mean disaster for everyone.

Again, no one - in west Asia-north Africa or beyond - can dispute the proposition that 2009 "must be the year of climate change". But it must also be the year of casting off narrow nationalisms, private clubs and power-plays, and embracing a shared and inclusive WANA regional policy, for the sake of our peoples and our planet.  

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