February 23, 2019

The World Cup asa model for diplomacy?

By Barend ter Haar.

How should nations relate to each other? By ratifying the Charter of the United Nations all nations have pledged to “live together in peace with one another as good neighbours” and not to use force “save in the common interest”, but in practice they are tempted to disregard common interests and the interests of their neighbours and to put their narrow national interest not only on the first, but also on the second and third place.

In the light of that narrowmindedness, it is refreshing to look at the international football tournament that currently takes place in Russia. Take for example Saudi Arabia and Iran. Both are deeply involved, at opposite ends, in the wars in Syria and Yemen, and they seem not to be in a hurry to build peaceful relations as good neighbours. However, at the same time they both participate in a sportive event that is based on mutual respect and fair play, and, at least in that context, they both accept rules and an independent arbiter.

Should we therefore consider the World Cup tournament as an example to be followed by governments? The answered is a qualified yes. Like a football match, an international order cannot exist without the acceptance of a number of rules and an independent arbiter. This is for example how the World Trade Organisation works. If during a football match, one of the parties would decide to change the rules in its favour, the result would be a mess. The unilateral decisions of the American president with regard to international trade might have the same result. So, maybe president Trump should watch the World Cup and think again.

However, there are at least two crucial differences between a football tournament and the real world. Football has not fundamentally changed over the years, so the rules can remain basically the same. The world, however, is changing fast. New challenges, such as the growing resistance of bacteria against antibiotics, shortages of fresh water and rising sea levels, require new global rules. Countries can therefore not limit themselves to complying with existing rules, but have to agree on new rules. And that is a totally different ball game.

Luckily there is a second crucial difference between the World Cup tournament and the real world: whereas in Russia only one team can win the Cup and all the other teams will end up as losers, the current global match to deal with global challenges is completely different: if nations limit themselves to defending their narrow national interests, they will all end up as losers, however, if they are willing to take common interests and the interests of other nations into consideration they might all become winners.



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