Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Risk and Resilience in the shadow of the Globalization Crisis

If, as the previous post suggested, the global socio-ecological systems are now tightly interconnected in a manner that produce unpredictable, non-linear effects, then a key question is: what form of human institutions, on scales from the local to the global, best facilitate adaptation and resilience in such a situation?

A recent report from The Center on International Cooperation at New York University, Confronting the Long Crisis of Globalization: Risk, Resilience and International Order, attempts to address these issues. Here is the abstract:

Globalization has entered a turbulent period. Over the past twenty years, the most significant threats to international security, stability, and prosperity have evolved rapidly. Global systems are now tightly interconnected, with risk proliferating freely across borders. The drivers of change – including population growth, climate change and resource scarcity, a major shift in economic power, and increasing state fragility – produce unpredictable, non-linear effects. Technology continues to diffuse rapidly, while information is corroding traditional hierarchies. Security-related risks have become increasingly asymmetric. Looking across the most important global risks, one sees that the world faces novel challenges (e.g. managing bio-security) and needs to develop both unprecedented institutions (e.g. resilient global carbon markets), and tough mechanisms for enforcement (e.g. for nuclear proliferation or emissions control). Power shifts must be managed both in the short term (economic imbalances) and over the long term (demographic change). There are complex interactions between risks (energy and food security, for example), while insurgent groups have attractive opportunities to disrupt global networks (especially when state weakness and access to these networks coincide). Pressure from these forces builds for long periods with no visible effect, but when released, it triggers abrupt shifts and cascading consequences across interlinked global systems. Shocks, rather than stresses, are the primary triggers of change, as three global crises – the September 11 attacks in 2001, the combined food and oil price spike that peaked in 2008, and the global financial crisis in the same year – have demonstrated over the last decade.

1 comment:

  1. I started to read this paper from the Brookings Institute. It gets even more amazing as you read through it. They talk about organizing international relations around a risk paradigm:

    "The overarching need is hence to move from a foreign policy paradigm that focuses on a usually ill-defined conception of the national interest, to one that aims to manage shared risk. Although agreement will still prove elusive, a risk paradigm provides a basis for cooperation between states (see box). It emphasizes uncertainty; increases the focus on future challenges; provides a long- term context to balance immediate interests in acute crisis; and can bind together disparate structures for cooperation.

    At the same time, it pushes governments and international institutions to increase their focus on long-term stresses, while preparing for acute shocks, and anticipating the deliberate disruption of systems."

    Then it talks about resilience, and offers a typical definition:

    "A strategy for resilience. Sustaining the benefits of globalization will depend on creating an international order that is more resilient in the face of a range of risks.

    Resilient systems are those that can absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change, so as to retain or enhance effective function, structure, identity and feedbacks.

    Resilience forces us to take the idea of failure seriously. It prompts us to plan for sudden and disruptive changes, while providing a rationale for investing in redundant capacity for emergency response (for example in humanitarian and peacekeeping systems). It encourages us to focus above all on the functions delivered by the international system, rather than its organizational form. And it demands sustained investment in innovation, allowing systems to respond to unfamiliar challenges such as climate change, fragile states, and biosecurity."

    It alks about complexity throughout the document. It talks about the need to develop strategies that "reduce complexity" and to focus on "functions rather than organizational form", both Luhmanian concepts, although I'm sure he wasn't the only one who conceptualized them.

    Its amazing that these concepts have emerged at the level of the Brookings Institute, which, while sometimes socially progressive, is not the most theoretically innovative think tank. Complexity/systems theory has gone from being an odd sub-discipline to becoming an internationally recognized paradigm.