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Conference Concept

The Lack of Political Leadership in Contemporary World

With the fall of the Soviet Union, the world equilibrium based on the confrontation between West and East was broken and we lived in a society strongly influenced by the winner of the Cold War: the United States of America. However, many scholars argue that the world equilibrium has shifted towards a multipolar system, allowing other actors on the international stage to make their appearance. Given that, what appeared to be evident is that these quick changes in the world equilibrium have revealed what follows: national political leaders of liberal democracies have proved inadequate to adapt to this new environment and as a result the gap between citizens and their representatives grew. It is as if the national community was held together by the mere facts that there was an evident foe, a constant and direct threat to our life-style, customs and freedom. On Sept. 20th 2001, President George W. Bush Jr. said:

“Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber — a democratically elected government. […] These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us, because we stand in their way.”

This is not so different from the definition of “evil empire”, given by President R. Regan, in a speech on March, 8th 1983. Clearly, the methods of what we have come to define as terrorists are different from the ones used by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but the idea of confrontation between a democratic and an authoritarian system is still present. Unfortunately, terrorism has neither address nor nationality, as many have pointed out, but this is not relevant for this discussion. Curiously enough, only ten years after the end of the Cold War, another threat seems to appear. Were the wars in Iraq and in the Balkans no longer acceptable by the public opinion, since there was no Soviet Russia to present as the master mind behind these conflicts? What it is relevant is that in the past twenty years, we have not faced any direct and evident foe capable of striking worldwide. As a consequence of that, we can observe that Western democracies reacted by generating a two-fold phenomenon: the rise of xenophobic, racist and nationalist movements along with independence claims within liberal democracies (Scotland and Catalunya being the most recent).

Is this the result of a lack of political leadership capable of representing the national community or is it a natural evolution of liberal democracies? Another factor must be taken into account while confronting this issue: the acknowledgement of the existence of the civil society, which is also something rather recent. Clearly, civil society has always existed but it never played an important role as today: associations of citizens, such as NGOs or no-profit organisations, became vital to deliver certain services or act in contexts where states and international organisations fail to have an impact. As a result, we are now facing a globalised civil society that can successfully express a political will and exert political influence worldwide, whilst nation-based international organisations struggle to keep the pace with the international situation. However, states are still the only entities capable of demanding taxes, executing laws and retaining the right of exercising legalised violence. So, while the constitution of a state is a pact to establish a community of people sharing the same values, goals and rights, civil society must build its own recognition before and within the state, which is very often the main financial supporter. As a result, civil society is often dependent of the state, even though it acts transnationally.

In conclusion, the challenge of this UNISAMUN 2013 Conference is to explore the contemporary role of leadership in the international context, bearing in mind the current situation and the process of globalisation, which is affecting the previous political entourage, maybe making it inadequate to rule. Moreover, other factors to consider are the role of continuity and tradition versus innovation and evolution of society, to answer one question: are we ready for a new generation of leadership?