Lord Patten:


"Increasingly Important


to Think Globally Today"

The Right Honourable the Lord Patten of Barnes, CH

The last British Governor of Hong Kong and a former EU Commissioner for External Affairs describes changes in the international landscape and the continued need for strong international institutions led by the United States.

04.27.12

Overview

Lord Patten, or Chris Patten as he was known through most of his political career, is the epitome of a global citizen. He currently is chairman of the British Broadcasting Corporation and chancellor of Oxford University. As a Conservative Member of Parliament, he was a cabinet minister and party chairman and organized the party’s upset electoral victory in 1992. From 1992 to 1997, he was the last governor of the British colony of Hong Kong and oversaw the island’s handover to China. Over the years, he has made many trips to the United States, working for the 1965 campaign of New York Mayor John Lindsay and visiting Chicago the same year. In 1999, he became the European Union’s Commissioner for External Affairs, where he was a strong advocate of the Atlantic alliance and a critic of President Bush’s policy of unilateralism. He has written five books, the most recent being What Next? Surviving the Twenty-First Century, which was the subject of his recent speech to The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

After his speech, I interviewed him on the changes in the international landscape, including the shifting balance of power between the three axes of his career—Europe, China and America—and the continued need for strong international institutions led by the United States.

Q:

Richard Longworth

Lord Patten, in your latest book you call yourself a “liberal internationalist,” and proudly so. Can you define what you mean by that, what values this implies, and comment upon whether or not, in the world as it’s changing now, these values are in danger?

A:

I think that a liberal internationalist believes in cooperation internationally on the basis of a globally accepted rulebook, on the basis of shared commitments to the rule of law, to the development of accountable systems of government, to due process, and to the strengthening of civil society. A liberal internationalist believes not just in pluralism in a political sense, but pluralism economically as well. We want to remove trade barriers rather than put them up. We would see the advantages of globalization, in terms of human happiness, rather than all the downsides. 

I think that it’s increasingly important to think globally today because most of the problems that we face require international cooperation to deal with them. The institutions that we created sixty or seventy years ago to provide an infrastructure for that cooperation have been frayed by events in the last few years. To many, the United Nations has lost its credibility and its ability to act.

Q:

Richard Longworth

Well, these institutions are international institutions, but really they’re Western institutions because we, the West and the United States, dominate the world economically. Basically we signed the checks. That economic power is shifting, and it’s shifting to countries that may not share these same values, particularly China. Are these institutions going to adapt, or are they becoming irrelevant?

A:

You start with the United Nations. The United Nations reflects in its power structures the world in 1944 and 1945. The Bretton Woods institutions—the World Bank and IMF—reflect the world of the 1940s and 50s. 

Now, the U.N. has a Security Council with permanent members wielding a veto, and they don’t reflect the real power balance in the world. Both Britain and France have positions on the Security Council. We need, of course, to include in the Security Council countries like India, South Africa, Brazil, which aren’t there permanently at the moment. And we have to do something about limiting the use of the veto to issues where there’s only a real national interest and making it something you have to report to the general assembly. There are all sorts of arguments about how to reform the Security Council.
      
In my judgment, we in the West also have to give up control over appointing senior people at the World Bank and the IMF if we’re to retain the commitment and interest of the emerging economies in those institutions. So, yes, we have to make some changes. We have to recognize that the world has turned.

Q:

Richard Longworth

You said in your speech this morning that American leadership is absolutely necessary and probably irreplaceable as we head into the 21st century. I once heard a British academic asked what the greatest international problem was. He said it’s not global warming or nonproliferation, but rather the lack of American campaign finance reform, that the simple power of money in American politics would keep this country from taking stands on issues such as climate change, trade, international institutions. Without campaign finance reform, American remains unable to provide this leadership. Would you agree with that? And how serious is this breakdown, internationally, of American politics?

A:

I think it is very serious because, as several American commentators have pointed out, it very often looks as though you’re left with a can-do economy, but a can’t-do politics given the importance of money in shaping candidatures and in making politics more extreme, whereas Americans in the past were exceptionally good at finding compromise and consensus across the aisle. And I don’t think that those things can be denounced as sort of lily-livered or an agenda for decline, because it’s the way you used to behave when you were more obviously the overwhelmingly potent force in the world. 

The dilemma is this, that I don’t think the world can manage successfully without American leadership, but American leadership can’t on its own achieve what is necessary. America has to work with others. It’s much more difficult perhaps than it was in the past, but you’ve got to find ways in which you can make accommodations, for example, in order to deal with Iran and with China, above all. Russia I’m less concerned about. I think Russia just wants to make trouble wherever it can for the United States. It’s a rather tiresome international player.
      
But China, I think, and India really do matter, and I would like to see them brought much more into the diplomacy surrounding issues like Iran.

Q:

Richard Longworth

In your speech to The Chicago Council, you mentioned (and I don’t think this is limited to the United States) that politicians and leaders know what to do but they don’t know how to do it and still get re-elected. Has globalization and the global economy simply moved so far beyond national politics that nobody knows how to deal with it? Is this economic part of our life out of political control?

A:

Well, I think that politicians have been reluctant to explain to their electorates the limits on what they can actually achieve. I think they still like to give the impression that they can do a lot more than is actually possible. To borrow from a great Illinois politician, Adlai Stevenson, the average man and woman is a great deal better than the average. On the whole, politicians these days don’t err on the side of believing in people’s intelligence.  Maybe some do. Maybe President Obama did in his last election campaign. I hope he won’t give up on the human race.  

Q:

Richard Longworth

Now, you were a strong critic of the second Bush administration’s unilateralist policies, especially leading up to the war in Iraq. The Obama administration certainly seems more respectful of the world’s opinion, but do you have the feeling that the United States and its government still understand the needs and priorities of other parts of the world and consider them when making American policy?

A:

Yes, I do. I think that it’s been extremely difficult for the Obama administration in the last three years or so to get out of some of the entanglements America has found itself tied up in. I think that the second Obama administration (if there is one) or a Romney administration will find that it’s got much more of a clean slate for dealing with international affairs.
      
America also has had to deal with a European ally which is going through its own turbulence, and which is reluctant to help the United States carry burdens but very happy to criticize the United States. Now, I don’t think that that could be a charge leveled against Britain in the context of Libya, France, for example. But I always laugh when I hear European politicians talk about the importance of us doing more militarily together when they’re so reluctant ever to deploy the military we have. 
 

Q:

Richard Longworth

A lot of people here are distressed by what seems to be the trivialization of American politics. You reviewed Tony Judt’s book, “Ill Fares the Land.” You didn’t accept all of his analysis but you agreed that we seem to have lost the ability to talk about big and alternative ways to organize our society, such as social democracy. He asked how we can restore an argument about broad values, not just narrow sectarian interests, to our political debate. What would you answer? You’re a chancellor of one of the world’s great universities and chairman of possibly the world’s greatest TV network. How do we deal with this?

A:

Well, first of all, the death of Tony Judt has snuffed out one of the great radical voices of our times, a man whose politics were rooted in values, a great historian. 

And I think there are others who challenge us to think more intelligently about politics and political issues. On the BBC we’ve recently been running programs of Michael Sandel, the great Harvard public philosopher, talking about justice and economic issues. I hope that the enthusiasm and the appetite for that sort of public education will be recognized by politicians.
      
Let me give you, in a British context, a small example of what I mean. In Britain one of the cultural growths in the last few years has been book festivals, literary festivals, all across the country. You go to a book festival and hundreds of people turn up to pay good money to listen to a serious discussion of, well, the last one I went to was a discussion with Vikram Seth, the Indian novelist and poet. Hundreds of people are paying a lot of money to listen to us talking together about his work and about the Indian novel. 
      
Nobody goes to a political meeting. How come they go to one sort of meeting but not the other? They don’t go to political meetings because they just get a lot of pap and a flag put in their hand and a few bromides and rather bad stale jokes. They don’t get a serious discussion about matters which are hugely important. And I think that it’s extraordinary that in an age where we have more information available and more choice, political argument has been so vulgarized. 
      
So I hope that one or two people will go back to that Adlai Stevenson remark and recognize that most people are a lot better than average.

Q:

Richard Longworth

And you have the feeling that if a few brave politicians dared to rise to that level they’d find people willing to listen and follow?

A:

Well, of course there are risks in it. I think it was Adlai Stevenson again who remarked, after somebody said to him that all the intelligent people in the country were on his side, “Well, I’m afraid that’s not enough because I need a majority.” But that sort of wit would not, I think, go down well in politics today. Yet it’s very odd, two hundred years after the Enlightenment that we have some people whose careers advance in politics on the basis of the denial of reason and science. And I don’t think that that position politically has a long-term or healthy future.

Q:

Richard Longworth

Let me ask one last question. As you’ve said, global power certainly is changing: economic power in the face of China’s rise and America’s relative if not absolute decline. No great power declines willingly. Most do it badly. How can we work now to accept our changing role in the world as gracefully as possible?

A:

Your role is changing because very large countries have seen increases in their per capita income and there are so many “capitas” that inevitably the U.S. has slipped back in its share of what’s happening overall in the world. 

I would hope that the United States would react to that by addressing some of the weaknesses which many of your commentators and academics talk about: falling standards in school; the importance of maintaining your reputation of having the best higher education system in the world; improvements in infrastructure; the recognition that while the market is the best way of allocating resources, it’s not perfect and needs to operate within rules; that there is a role for government in promoting economic development. 

So I think addressing your own underlying economic issues is the best way you can help the rest of the world, and not to draw in on yourself or not to shut yourself off from global markets but to embrace them, which you’ve done to the great benefit of other countries and to the benefit of the United States as well.
 

Q:

Richard Longworth

In other words, maintaining and strengthening values instead of, say, compromising them with values in places like China that may be different.

A:

Yes. I don’t think that you should compromise in asserting your belief in core liberal, with a small "l," pluralist values. And it would be amazing if you were to say to China, well, we’re not going to raise those issues with you anymore. But it shouldn’t prevent you from having as good an economic relationship as possible with China, while insisting that if you’re going to be open to China’s products, China should be open to yours.