Media  Global Economy  2022.08.25

Limitations of Rules-Based Order Formation Faced by UN, G20, Etc.

Sharing norms based on morality is needed, with non-state actors playing leading role

The article was originally posted on JBpress on July 20, 2022


1.Limitations of rules-based international order formation

In May 2022 when U.S. President Joe Biden made his first visit to Japan, a joint statement was issued by the leaders of the two countries.

In the statement, the two leaders emphasized their commitment to a “rules-based international order.”

However, looking back on the important issues facing the global community in recent years, we have found many cases in which, despite the existence of rules, nations have failed to reach consensus and accordingly, the necessary measures for the formation of international order have not been implemented.

For example, the UN Security Council failed to adopt a resolution condemning Russian troops’ inhumane attacks against Ukrainian civilians, because Russia, a permanent member of the council, vetoed it.

During the rapid spread of COVID-19 infection, the World Health Organization (WHO), an agency of the UN, failed to function amid the U.S.-China conflict, and they were unable to establish an effective international cooperative system to combat the spread of the disease.

In the World Trade Organization (WTO) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), attempts have been made to revise existing rules that no longer work well, but many reforms have been postponed owing to the inability to reach consensus on the alternative rules.

The UN, G20, G7, WTO, and EU are all dysfunctional because of the difficulty of reaching consensus among nations.

In the past, when conflicts among nations escalated, the U.S. played a leadership role in facilitating consensus building.

However, owing to the Donald Trump administration’s “America First” foreign policy, which put the interests of the U.S. above all else, America’s role as global leader has significantly declined.

Along with this, international rule formation has become even more difficult, destabilizing the world.

As became clear from the above, with the trend towards a multipolar world accelerating, the conventional global order formation that relies on rules based on consensus among nations is reaching its limits.

The main reason for this is that owing to the difficulty of reaching consensus among nations with different ideologies and values, we cannot determine effective rules for problem solving.

2.Rules dysfunctional even for domestic issues

The problem is not limited to the international order. When we look at domestic problems in major countries, we realize that rules-based order formation is not going well even on the domestic front.

Under the Biden administration, U.S. society has become increasingly divided over such issues as abortion, gun control, and racial discrimination.

Recently, a poll revealed that 44% of the public is concerned about the risk of civil war in which Americans of different parties kill each other with weapons (The Southern Poverty Law Center, June 1).

This is an unbelievable situation for a developed country with well-established democratic institutions.

Meanwhile, Japan is also facing a wide array of challenges.

Cases of human rights infringement and moral degradation are reported on a daily basis, such as child abuse, various types of harassment that continue in companies, schools, and other organizations, fraud and wasteful spending of taxpayer’s money by politicians, and unwillingness to take on new challenges among Japanese corporate managers and young people.

Companies and government agencies are trying to strengthen compliance, governance, and other rules and regulations in a bid to discipline their organizations, but to no avail.

Here, too, lies the problem of the limits of rules.

Even when companies and organizations formulate rules, their purpose is often merely to “create an alibi” or “pretend” to have done so.

This is because the managers and leaders fail to take ownership of the problems they face, and thus lack the fundamental attitude required of them, i.e., to strive to tackle the problems squarely and contribute to society and the community based on an altruistic spirit.

As seen above, whether we look at the international community or domestic issues, it is clear that although rules-based order formation is valued, rules alone are no longer enough to form a sound order in the world, nations, regions, organizations, etc.

3.Sharing norms and morals to complement rules

There is no substitute for dysfunctional rules, but what can be expected to serve as a complement to these rules is morality.

Norms essentially prevail over rules.

Norms are the axis or yardstick of our mind that we use when judging and acting based on the fundamental human reason of morals, morality, and conscience, even in a situation where there are no rules.

Specifically, they include compassion, courage to do the right thing, and courtesy and hospitality to respect others. These are also expressed in the term “human nature”.

Even if it is not required by rules, we will help people who are suffering in front of us. If evil is being done, we will not turn a blind eye but confront it.

If people always act in their own self-interest, except to follow the rules, human society will become a bleak place, and everyone will be unhappy.

In contrast, society will become brighter and people who feel happiness will increase if people act based on altruism, consideration for others, respect for justice, respect for others, and hospitality, even in matters that are not prescribed by rules.

Norms are the standards for self-discipline and social discipline based on human reason or human nature that prevails over rules as the axis or yardstick of the mind.

It goes without saying that society becomes brighter when people set store by norms. Confucianism emphasizes benevolence, righteousness, ritual propriety, wisdom, and trustworthiness, while Buddhism emphasizes compassion, and these are typical examples of norms.

4.Order formation by people with different values

Rules work among people who share certain values. However, it is difficult to form common rules among people with different values and ideologies.

This is the major reason why it is difficult to reach consensus on rules at the UN, G20, etc.

With that being said, history has shown that even among nations and peoples with different values and ideologies, mutual understanding develops over time, and eventually mutual trust emerges, forming the basis for shared norms.

More than 400 years ago, just before the Tokugawa shogunate was established, vassals of the Toyotomi clan in Osaka and the Tokugawa clan in Nagoya and clans that supported each family split into two groups and killed each other.

In the first half of the 20th century, European nations fought two major wars against each other, while Japan entered the Pacific War against the U.S. Both wars produced far more casualties than the war in Ukraine.

But now, no one would think of a war between Japan, the U.S., and the democratic countries in Europe, let alone imagine people in Osaka and Nagoya killing each other in Japan.

This is because we are now able to share norms and have common ground of reason that values each other’s lives.

The factor that made this possible is that relationships among nations or people with sharply conflicting values, ideologies, and political, economic, and military interests have changed, and they have now come to share values and economic interests.

Even in sharp conflict with each other over values and ideology, mutual understanding is deepened and relations of mutual trust fostered as human interaction increases gradually through transportation, communication, economic exchange, etc., in line with the development of technology and services. This development of human relations has brought about such fundamental changes.

Such history teaches us that the key to stabilizing the current unstable international order is to increase human interaction through transportation, communication, and economic exchange.

This can be promoted by non-state actors such as private companies, NGOs, universities, and individuals on their own, even if the state takes no action.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 10 million Chinese tourists visited Japan annually.

These Chinese people have eased Japanese people’s feelings toward China in many parts of Japan. It is difficult for Japanese to hate Chinese who love Japan and come to Japan many times as repeat visitors.

In this way, mutual understanding and mutual trust are being nurtured gradually.

Consensus building is difficult between nations with different ideologies and national systems, and rules-based order formation often comes to a standstill.

However, if an arena for human interaction where people can share common values is formed by non-state actors playing the central role, it will create the basis for shared norms that transcend rules.

Once this basis is formed, it will increase the possibility of sharing the norm of cherishing human life as the most basic part of morality.

Once people have come to cherish human life, it is only natural that they will then come to cherish the earth, which nurtures human life, and subsequently cherish animals and plants, not limiting the scope of life to humans alone.

This is the fundamental reason for the elimination of wars and the increased emphasis on the global environment among today’s advanced democratic nations.

5.Education needed to promote sharing of high-level norms

However, there remains another challenge: a variety of problems continually arise even within a country or organization that shares values and ideologies.

To deal with this challenge, we need to make the content of norms more sophisticated. The content of the basic shared norm mentioned above is to value life.

In order to address problems within organizations that share values, we need to go one step further and share the norm of respecting others.

Examples of this are the typical normative concepts of Eastern thought, such as benevolence, righteousness, ritual propriety, wisdom, trustworthiness, and compassion.

When promoting a higher level of shared norms, spontaneously generated trust relationships led by non-state actors are not enough; it is necessary to share morals through education.

Before the modern era, religion played the role of teaching norms in many countries and regions.

That said, wars tended to break out between monotheistic religions such as Christianity and Islam, because they exclude people of other religions.

In case of polytheistic religions that are tolerant of each other’s differences, it is easier to achieve shared norms. Religious thought having this characteristic is Eastern thought.

There are five major schools of Eastern thought that developed in East Asia: Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, and Shinto.

Of these, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Zen were introduced to Japan from China, while Shinto developed independently in Japan.

As each of these schools of Eastern thought has developed with the help of the other, different types of religious thought coexist within one country.

The establishment of this relationship makes the sharing of norms possible even among people with different ideologies and values.

In the past, war was the final means of resolving conflicts between nations and ethnic groups with different ideologies and values.

However, in today’s rapidly globalizing society, the idea that war should not be used as a solution is now widely shared.

I believe this is due to the fact that the increased human interaction across national borders has nurtured mutual understanding and trust, thereby enabling people to have a shared norm of cherishing each other’s lives. This is a benefit brought about by globalization.

Meanwhile, amid the ongoing trend towards globalization, relations among nations have become closer, and it has become increasingly difficult for nations to reach consensus on the complex issues that arise. This is a new problem created by globalization.

To overcome this situation, it is necessary to raise the level of shared norms, to tolerate different ideas as is seen among Eastern thought, and to form relationships that help and complement each other.

In the past, churches and temples played this role.

In today’s global society, it is non-state actors, namely companies, universities, NGOs, think tanks, individuals, and others, who play the role because they can overcome the constraints on the state.

The experts of the non-state sector will form groups in their respective fields of expertise that voluntarily tackle issues and strive to share norms mutually tolerant and complementary even among people with different values and ideologies.

Being private organizations, these groups do not have the enforcement power of a state. Accordingly, it will take some time for them to spread shared norms.

However, by utilizing new technologies and networks such as social media, they have a greater chance of spreading them.

The most important thing is to continue expanding the circle of cooperation among people who are committed to norm-sharing until the goal, i.e., the creation of a stable order, is achieved.