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James Steinberg (Maxwell School), at ESADE: “Citizen mobilisation is the key to driving political agendas on a global scale”

“We must tend towards a global economy that is sustainable and human in scale,” commented the former US Deputy Secretary of State

“For the first time since the financial crisis of 2008, we are seeing the synchronisation of economic growth around the world and, at the same time, a political fragmentation that challenges the idea that international cooperation is necessary in order to respond to global problems.” With this reflection on a contemporary paradox, Javier Solana, President of ESADEgeo, opened a debate with the former US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg at the most recent session of ESADE's Big Challenges series, entitled “The United States and its New Global Role”. Responding to certain politicians' scepticism regarding multilateralism, Prof. Steinberg – currently a faculty member at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University – acknowledged: “The mobilisation of civil society plays a key role in drawing politicians' attention to certain causes and promoting agendas for the common good on a global scale.” He added, however, that “in order to generate a real impact, these social sensitivities must ultimately be translated into concrete policies”.

A new social contract

“The collateral effects of globalisation have undermined citizens' confidence in the political classes, with a pessimistic idea not only about where we are now but, more importantly, about what the future will be like. This has exacerbated populism and nationalism,” commented Prof. Steinberg. This lack of confidence can be explained in part by the fact that “politicians have failed to convincingly convey a message about how certain policies benefit citizens”, he added. To restore this confidence, he argued, “we need to write a new social contract, and this process must involve communities and politicians on equal footing”. He added: “Markets cannot determine everything. We must tend towards a global economy that is sustainable and human in scale.”

Everyone against everyone?

“According to Trump, it's a mistake to assume that countries want to cooperate with each other to achieve a common good,” observed Prof. Steinberg. “His diagnosis of the world is therefore one of confrontation, of competition: a war of everyone against everyone.” He added: “In this competition among various parties in disagreement, each one wants to prevail and there is no place to meet, because there is also distrust between the parties.” From this perspective, Prof. Steinberg commented, “Trump's goal is to get the best deal, and he does this through an aggressive negotiation exercise. He pushes this principle as far as he can to see how far he can go.”

It is necessary to recover this multilateral trust “through incremental commitments” such as those of the Paris Agreement, Prof. Steinberg argued. “The internal problems of the European Union have served as an argument for nationalist discourses and have reinforced figures such as Donald Trump,” he concluded. “However, this can also be an opportunity for the European Union to show the world that it is possible to overcome the difficulties involved in a project of international cooperation and shared sovereignty in a community of countries that is not necessarily homogenous.”