Kudo's Blog;Wisdom must be gathered
to encourage anti-populist moves

June 24, 2016

By Yasushi Kudo, President of The Genron NPO

This is a translation of Yasushi Kudo's commentary that appeared in the June 21 morning issue of The Mainichi Shimbun, a leading daily newspaper in Japan.

The Council of Councils, which groups the world's 25 leading think tanks under the initiative of the Council on Foreign Relations of the United States, held an annual meeting in New York last month, and I represented Japan at the gathering. The CoC was inaugurated in 2012 as an international network in view of the instability in the international order and the unstable global economic situation, as well as the lack of global governance. The council is in its fifth year of activity.

What I keenly felt at the latest annual meeting was a strong sense of crisis among participants about the spread of populist moves around the world and the failure of the world's democracies to resolve these challenges.

As we did last year, we prepared evaluation papers this year about the international community's responses to global challenges in 10 fields, ranging from climate change and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons to global economic issues and terrorism.

We gave a grade of "A" (which means progress has been made) to efforts "Mitigating and Adopting to Climate Change" in light of the conclusion of the Paris Accord as an international framework for measures to alleviate global warming from the year 2020 on. The same grade was awarded to six other fields. Meanwhile, lower grades of "C" and "C-" (which mean little progress has been seen) were given to three fields, including efforts to prevent "Internal Violent Conflict," "Violent Conflict Between States" and "International Terrorism."

The global political order built around the United States is being shaken. As the actions of major countries have rather helped to increase tensions in regional situations, no prescription has been presented to end the violent conflicts around the world. As a consequence, European countries are threatened with a serious influx of displaced people from conflict areas.

As to cross-border challenges, not only governments but also citizens are sometimes urged to work for their countries' interests and as a result, citizens tend to be an obstacle to pure efforts to find a solution. When they come to represent national interests, they give priority to defending their own country.

Behind calls for driving out refugees and immigrants in European countries and the United States is a widening gap between the rich and the poor, and distrust about the globalism-oriented governance system. A solution must be explored while seriously addressing public anxieties, but support is rather increasing for political forces that capitalize on their anxieties.

Democracy has to be a monitoring system to check excessive nationalist moves, personality cults and any authoritarian system. Moves to favor these tendencies can be seen among major countries. This represents a challenge to democracy and liberalism.

At the CoC meeting, many participants stressed that well-informed people should work together across national boundaries to uphold democracy. This indicated their fear about the current situation in which politicians may behave opportunistically amid populist moves. A strong democracy tells us not to dodge the challenges facing us. We are asked, "Are you making efforts to this end?"

The CoC is an international network that circulates the conclusions of its deliberations to the world. Discussion there is not made within the framework of countries. The mechanism is designed to lead efforts to build a peaceful order across national boundaries, defend human rights and stabilize the global order, from a non-governmental perspective. It is difficult for a single think tank alone to overcome the difficulties. It is time for entrepreneurs, journalists, scholars and citizens in each country to join forces to revive democracy.

Populism exists not only in the United States and European countries but also in Japan. A recent Genron questionnaire targeting well-informed people found almost 70 percent of respondents were pessimistic about the future of Japan. Japan's politicians have not fully addressed people's fears about the future course of the country, but they can easily come into line on a crucial political issue - that is, postponing a scheduled increase in the broad-based consumption tax aimed at rehabilitating Japan's deficit-ridden public finances.

Can well-informed people change the current political situation? The forthcoming House of Councilors election in Japan should be an important opportunity to think about this.

Yasushi Kudo
Yasushi Kudo, President of The Genron NPO, previously served as editor of the business magazine Ronso Toyo Keizai published by Toyo Keizai Inc. He is the sole CoC member selected from Japan.