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The Unfinished Global Revolution: Book Review

Caroline Jaine's picture

When I first met Mark Malloch-Brown several years ago, he was a newly ennobled peer and part of the Gordon Brown lead British Government, serving as a Foreign Minister. Wearing the ermine of a Lord together with his Make Poverty History wrist-band, Malloch-Brown was a figure of both rebellion and conformity.  Given his outspoken stance on the war in Iraq and his uneasy relationship with America’s neo-cons, I wondered then whether he would be forced to compromise on his principles.

His latest offering to the world is certainly no compromise.  In The Unfinished Global Revolution, as the title suggests is all to aware that it is written at a time of immense change, less at the cusp of revolution – more in the thick of it.

This is a book about Malloch-Brown’s personal journey, and whilst the writer candidly shares remarkable anecdotes, he also offers unique insight into some of the world’s most challenging conflicts and commentary from inside both government and international organisations.  Ultimately, however, true to character, this reads as a call to action.  As he writes: We need to get on with it!

The Great Reformer

This “pursuit of new politics” is poised to be a core text for any student of international relations or economics, as it includes a rich explanation of the struggles and systems of the United Nations and The World Bank – including an intriguing account of Jim Wolfenson’s time at the helm. Whilst at the United Nations Malloch-Brown helped develop an ambitious reform agenda, endorsed by many world leaders. He helped forge the Millenium Development Goals and he is accepted as the force behind the doubling of UNDP resources to over $4 billion, as well as strengthening UNDP operational leadership in natural disasters and post-conflict situations.  In addition, he successfully pushed for wider UN support in all developing countries.  His successes, described by him as an “uphill slog”, were rewarded by a brief - but effective - stint as UN Deputy Secretary General –thus becoming the highest ranking Brit to serve in the United Nations.  It also earned him the reputation as one of the world’s most ardent reformers – Time Magazine called him an “evangelist for change”.

In his book he advocates yet further UN reform – going far beyond seats for India, Brazil and South Africa at the Security Council table – calling for more responsibility and commitment and a “NATO-like capacity to lift blue helmets quickly into trouble spots to contain trouble or police the peace”. He does not shy away from underlining the political caution, archaic procedures, underfunding and lack of ambition that mars the Security Council, and he is perhaps in one of the best positions to offer plausible solutions.

Everything Changes

It is in both acknowledging the incredible time of change we are living in and in it’s call for yet more change that The Unfinished Global Revolution has real strength.  As a former journalist, and communications professional Malloch-Brown is in a unique position to comment on both extraordinary changes in gender and social mobility and on our new connected world – that is “crowded, teeming and younger and more connected than ever”. 

He notes that in a world of blogs, cable news, Twitter and twenty-four-hour global news cycles, corporations are under extraordinary scrutiny. These new technologies he says “allow people not only to combine globally but also to bypass established power centres”.  My own interest is in not simply seeing this dispersed power and infinite number of new stakeholders as an obstacle to effective international organisations and government – but in finding ways to harness this for common good.  And whilst Malloch-Brown’s call for a “global contract” might frighten some anti-globalists, the ethos of a system that “builds on the emerging common values of solidarity and compassion in a shared world” rings true for many working at both a macro and micro level. 

Local interest in global matters

Malloch-Brown does not come across as pro or anti globalization, he merely sees globalization as inevitable. “Globalization is likely to become the twenty-first century’s most local and most perennial political issue”, he writes.  What he calls for is to harness globalization to a vision that benefits all. 

The challenge, which is eloquently described by Malloch-Brown as the “Gordon Brown problem”, is for national politicians to appease a home audience whilst simultaneously being drawn into bigger global debates. But perhaps running along-side an inevitable globalization is an equally inevitable micro-empowerment that is happening thanks to the new technologies he describes.  Despite Malloch-Brown’s musing that Britons at home cannot relate to the global, and want “homespun solutions” – it could be that the solution is already with us.  In my own lifetime, I have witnessed an increase in both local level concerns, but also a global awareness of world events – albeit sometimes distorted via the media. 

For the UN to “matter to people”, it needs not simply structural reform, but a robust communications programme that reaches into people’s living rooms and tells them why they should care. But perhaps the answer has already arrived –  the mechanism to deliver this is already here in the form of our radical new global connectivity that unites people around issues rather than national boundaries.  As he sums up at the end of the book, “when we look back we will see the revolution”.

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Photo credit: Portrait of Mark Malloch-Brown by the author.

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