DIPLOMAT MAYJUNE 2021 WEB READY - Flipbook - Page 25
PUBLIC POLICY PROJECTS 25
Far from making change inevitable, in many ways it
did the reverse. It focussed attention on short term firefighting – and allowed policy makers to avoid addressing
societal challenges that have continued to develop.
It is important to reflect on this policy failure – for
that is what it was – as we develop our plans for recovery
American leadership is an
important influence on the
agenda of the international
There is some ground for cautious optimism.
The first steps of the Biden administration certainly
cannot be criticised for being overcautious, and the new
President can draw on significant international goodwill.
American leadership is an important influence on the
agenda of the international community.
But ambition and goodwill are not a substitute for
Repeated references by US Presidents to John
Winthrop’s image of America as a “shining city on a
hill” continue to be undermined by familiar internal
challenges while other potential sources of political
leadership in Europe and beyond face their own internal
Meantime, some profound challenges continue to
Within western societies the trend towards
deepening social inequality and increased polarisation
arises from a wide range of factors, only some of
which are the result of political choices. There is now
extensive evidence that the development of the digital
economy has driven a much greater concentration of
wealth and power into a small number of hands, and
that those same digital technologies have reduced the
importance of public space. Like-minded communities
exchanging social media messages with each other is
not the same thing as public discourse.
There is little room for doubt
that these trends towards
increased polarisation have
been significantly exacerbated
by both the financial crash
and the COVID pandemic
There is little room for doubt that these trends
towards increased polarisation have been significantly
exacerbated by both the financial crash and the COVID
These developments present immediate challenges to
policy makers. If they are not addressed, there is a serious
risk that they will increasingly undermine the basis of
consent on which liberal societies are built as well as
providing fertile ground for other political forces to feed
on developing grievances.
Furthermore, at the same time as our societies face
these significant internal challenges, they also face
external challenge from social and political cultures
which reject their values and have demonstrated their
willingness to take risks with geopolitical instability
to promote their interests. The global community can
only prosper if different countries both respect their
differences and agree to live by codes that define areas of
It is a founding purpose of diplomacy to provide the
context in which these codes can be developed – and the
need for it has never been more obvious.
The immediate challenge is to ensure that the
2021 round of international meetings demonstrates a
commitment to deliver real change.
Most obviously that focuses on COP26 – and
the commitment to move to Net Zero by 2050. This
is not simply an environmental (‘green’) imperative
(although that, by itself represents, literally a ‘drop dead
requirement’); it is also both a public health imperative
– the associated commitment to improved air quality
represents 1.6 million avoided deaths worldwide – and
an economic imperative because many agricultural
economies simply become unsustainable if Net Zero is
But the objectives of the COP process will only be met
if the international community develops its willingness
to address other issues by dialogue between nations.
Most obviously there needs to be a significant
strengthening of the public health infrastructure. The
COVID experience has demonstrated the importance of
both effective surveillance and timely policy intervention.
These are issues on which PPP and Diplomat magazine
are working, and which need to be reflected in the new
But most fundamental, and most difficult, are the two
issues both of which must be addressed if we are to ensure
that “things will never be the same again.”
First, we need to create structures for economic
development that are sustainable and inclusive.
Second, we need to restate and recommit to the
principles set out in the UN Charter, which define
conduct between nations.
Neither will work without the other, but if we address
both with purpose we can, for once, “build back better.”
DIPLOMATMAGAZINE.COM } MAY/JUNE 2021