Causes Without Borders

Who's in charge when so many issues are global?

So many crusading causes from genetically altered food to human rights have gone global that it's difficult to know which governing body should do something about them.

Take the protests yesterday against a biotechnology conference in Boston. People from many lands and disparate interests raised alarms about the ethics of genetic research.

But more than that, the protests were an echo of those in Seattle last year against the World Trade Organization (WTO). Both represent a new trend: Activist groups will go anywhere to find some authority that, maybe, just maybe, can deal with the new, perceived global threats.

It's not just activists that are at a loss about where to channel their concerns about universal issues that go beyond the nation-state or just writing a letter to your congressman.

A year ago, NATO was wringing its hands over whether it needs a United Nations mandate to intervene in a sovereign nation (Yugoslavia) to protect ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. It bombed with that global mandate.

And last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether a state (Massachusetts), without federal approval, can campaign for democracy in Burma by not doing business with companies that do business with that military-run nation.

A high court inclined to give states more power appeared worried over whether the United States might end up with a chaotic foreign policy. But, then, Congress hasn't passed a law overruling the Massachusetts law, even though it has put the US into the WTO, whose rules do not allow such state actions.

So who's in charge when it comes to bio-ethics, human rights, and other issues that reverberate more widely?

Difficult issues that aren't easily handled by the normal institutions of governance - whether local or global - sometimes require new forums in which to appeal to conscience and to reach consensus. As long as decisions are based on those two points - conscience and consensus - the world's on the right path.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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