Many international and global strategies have been formulated in the past decades. Some have been matched by detailed action plans that have resulted in a degree of implementation. In addition there have been many declarations of principles designed to inspire future strategies and initiatives.
Many view positively what has been achieved, possibly recognizing that much remains to be done. Others are scandalized with the ineffectiveness of collective response to problems whose dimensions continue to increase. They regret the degree of collective complacency. There are repeated calls by the highest authorities for "new ways of thinking", "paradigm shifts" and a new "political will to change". Failure to act on such calls is repeatedly deplored.
Where do the strategic opportunities lie?
It is useful to review some of the very different strategic extremes which different constituencies find credible or attractive.
1. Specialized action plans
This approach tends to be favoured by the United Nations and its Specialized Agencies. Typically such plans emerge from major United Nations conferences such as: United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) or the World Conference on Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995). A major issue in relation to such initiatives is whether they are primarily public relations exercises to create a semblance of action, whether or not any action actually results. The subtle process by which their "firm commitments" are subsequently watered down is often as significant as the process whereby any consensus was reached.
2. World governance
Frustration with the inadequacy of the modalities of the past decades has led to a number of initiatives to clarify the future requirements of world governance. The most recent example is the Commission on World Governance (Note 6.2). The difficulty with such high profile initiatives is that the people who give them authority through their involvement are often those who contributed significantly to the reinforcement of the inadequate strategic approaches of the past. A more realistic approach is that of Yehezkel Dror in his Report on World Governance to the Club of Rome (Note 6.3).
3. World government
Distinct from the "world governance" approach (above) is the continuing concern of some with the possibility of a world government. Given the continuing difficulties experienced with government structures at the local, national or regional level (European Union), the credibility of this perspective remains to be established.
4. World federalism
Often carefully distinguished from "world government" (see above), this approach continues to attract attention. It remains unclear how the transition to it is to be accomplished given the present nationalistic and regionalistic tendencies.
5. Superpower regulation
The realities of day-to-day international politics persuade many of the need to rely on the ability of major powers to effectively define acceptable strategies for the future. The USA is currently cast in the role of world policeman and is reflecting on its willingness to continue in that capacity.
6. Global free trade
As the result of the Uruguay Round, this could be seen as the ultimate strategic framework favoured by business and industry, and especially by multinational corporations. Its positive relevance to the many social and environmental problems is however debateable. This framework may also be seen as a means through which such corporations effectively control the world, as they understand it, on terms that they consider reasonable.
There still exists the belief that the world could be managed by technocrats through "centres of excellence". Recent decades have however seen a severe erosion of the credibility of science and technology through their failure to effectively respond to problems for which their proponents are seen to be partially responsible. The limited relevance of simplistic global modelling (to policy-making contexts severely distorted by corruption and vested interests) has also detracted from this approach.
8. Grass roots initiatives
In reaction to the dubious track record of top-down initiatives, many place their hope in community and neighbourhood initiatives and movements. Strategies are conceived locally, possibly in the light of recognition of global issues. It remains to be seen whether the cost of such fragmentation is not too high.
Convinced that any collective strategies supported by vested interests are bound to fail in the face of the range of problems, some individuals and families adopt a survivalist posture. The emphasis is on individual and family survival. It might be argued that this approach has been adopted by many in economic straits, notably in slum areas. As such it is therefore not restricted to those anticipating social chaos from country hideouts. It includes those who must already survive such chaos on a daily basis.
10. Awaiting Armageddon
Religious groups and movements, strongly influenced by predictions in sacred texts concerning the immediate future, attach relatively little significance to humanity's collective initiatives at this time. Social chaos may even be welcomed as announcing a more positive time to come. It is individual preparation for the Day of Judgement which is then seen to be of major significance.
11. Personal transformation
Whether as a consequence of a spiritual belief, or purely as a form of psychotherapy, individuals may be far more concerned with their psychic survival. Their focus may be on an individual journey of personal integration, possibly quite independently of their social context. The nature of this personal psychic strategy is then the prime concern. The argument may be that only through individual personal transformation can any meaningful and lasting social transformation occur.
It should not be forgotten that large numbers of people hold to prayer to be one of the most important strategies to which they can relate and in which they can engage, both individually and collectively.