Intervention by Cardinal Tarciscio Bertone on Multilateralism

Author: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

Intervention by Cardinal Tarciscio Bertone on Multilateralism

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
Secretary of State

International justice and governance

On Monday, 30 April [2007], in the Vatican's Casina Pio IV, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, spoke to the participants in the 13th Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Speaking on the theme: "International justice and international governance in the context of the crisis of multilateralism", the Cardinal Secretary of State defined the difference between "government" and "governance", and explained the meaning of the latter. The following is a translation of Cardinal Bertone's Address, which was given in Italian.


I warmly thank the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences for inviting me to take part in the Plenary Assembly and for giving me the opportunity to present a brief reflection on the theme: International justice and international governance in the context of the crisis of multilateralism. I shall attempt to address this somewhat complex subject by examining in-depth the concept of governance.

This close examination, in addition to responding to the need to give a clearer outline to the profile of this concept on the basis of the Church's social doctrine, is proving very useful and necessary for determining how to deal adequately with problems linked to the promotion of international justice and those more specifically connected with the difficulties — I shall not speak of crises — of our time, in which multilateralism is being debated.

The weak vision of international 'governance'

In the political and social sciences, as well as in international relations, there is a lot of talk about governance with the specific intention of pointing to something different from government.

It is not always clear, however, whether it is something better or something worse that is intended.

I consider that this widespread use of the concept of "governance" can be explained by social complexity and globalization, rather than by anything else. Since "government" refers specifically to the State context, social complexity explains the need for governance at an infra-State level, whereas globalization explains its use at a supra-State level.

Social complexity means that today's social systems are divided into sub-systems whose codes and languages frequently differ; consequently, they can no longer be governed from a centre. The modern categories of planning, organization and centralized programming have reached a crisis point.

Globalization implies an interconnection between the various economic, juridical, fiscal, financial and social systems which crosses the boundaries of the world's States and Nations in such a way that it proves impossible to define a precise area for intervention or a clear separation between duties.

The two processes — social infra-State and global supra-State structures — have thrown into crisis the idea of "sovereignty" to which the very concept of government was formerly bound.

Thus, one might have the impression that governance is born from a crisis of governableness and expresses a lack, "a deficit", as it were; or given the complex situation, that governance is reduced to "possible" governableness.

This is a weak concept of governance, seen as navigation relying on the naked eye or floating on a confused situation and in no condition to give life to a world government.

One of the principal aspects of this weak acceptance of governance is its prevalent use in the technical sense, which fails to take into account its ethical and anthropological dimensions. At first sight, complexity and globalization put an emphasis on diversity and even heterogeneity, especially in ethical systems of reference, and therefore foster a certain relativistic vision of relations between individuals, peoples and States.

There is a strong tendency to reduce the area of governance to its solely technical or procedural aspects. Hence, international governance is understood to be merely a close network of contacts between chancelleries; governance of the use of resources and of the exploitation of the environment basically becomes no more than a problem of international protocols; and the governance of international trade becomes the skilful act of balancing taxes and prices.

In fact, it has been noted that chancelleries are often unable to prevent wars, that protocols on the environment are agreed upon only with tremendous difficulty, and that tariff agreements go through long periods of stagnation.

I can only make my own the serious concern expressed by the Holy Father Benedict XVI over the fact that even in the face of the governance of today's "humanitarian emergencies", many States do not do all that they could.1

Multilateralism and unilateralism in weak governance

Today, what is being put forward is a concept of a rather weak governance into which several dysfunctions in international relations have crept, as we have all been able to experience in recent years. The debate on multilateralism and unilateralism is an example.

Some of the limitations of international organizations is another such example and, moreover, is connected with the former. Multilateralism cannot, of course, be a merely quantitative factor. An international military intervention is not more justifiable because it was undertaken by several States rather than by one.

What could possibly justify it — in addition to responding to the requirements of international ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance, known to all as the legitimate defence against aggression and the proportional use of force — is its international legitimacy, that is, the fact that it was decided not only multilaterally, in other words by several States, but especially and essentially by the legitimate international bodies.2

This prerequisite refers not only and not so much to the organizational ingenuity of international organizations, and in the first place of the United Nations, but rather and first of all to their moral authority with regard to the human family.

Now, in a context of weak governance, such as we have attempted to describe above, the authority of international bodies is at risk. This paves the way to a wide range of different multilateral interventions.

Unilateralism becomes a temptation for the same reason, especially if the system of governance does not succeed in addressing seriously, first theoretically and then with practical strategies, the problems created by the new aspects that war — partly because of terrorism — has unfortunately acquired in recent years.

The weakness in the current system of international governance also emerges in the observation that nations and States have rarely been able to implement humanitarian interventions.
What is more, the right to so-called "humanitarian interference", proposed years ago by John Paul II, has not been given the necessary ethical, juridical and political in-depth examination.

The Church has proposed this time and again at international meetings. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, my predecessor as Secretary of State, recently defined the term as the "responsibility to protect".3

For the time being, the debate on multilateralism and unilateralism is focused on the legitimate duty to "protect oneself" from the new scenarios — many aspects of which are disturbing — of so-called "asymmetrical" international conflicts. Indeed, little has been done to improve the understanding of the profile of the "responsibility to protect" those unable to protect themselves.

A glance at the Addresses that John Paul II and Benedict XVI have given to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See in recent years, suffices to realize what the Church's expectations are in this area.

The authority of international bodies

The situation of weak governance described above is both the cause and the consequence of some doubt about the ability of international organizations to take over the leadership of governance itself. This argument is extremely complex and the Church has no intention of entering into the specific issues of the balance of powers and the reform of the institutional structure of these bodies.

I am anxious, on the one hand, to offer assurance, and on the other, to bring some recommendations to your attention.

The assurance concerns the Catholic Church's great interest in international organizations and her high esteem of their role in the world. They are a privileged means for the encounter between nations and peoples, for dialogue and for understanding.

Ever since the times of Populorum Progressio4which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year — the Supreme Pontiffs have frequently expressed these sentiments. The Holy See's diplomatic activity with these international bodies has also always demonstrated the same sentiments, together, of course, with the Church's other task which consists in "raising her voice in humanity's defence"5. Recently, on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Benedict XVI chose to express the Apostolic See's "constant support" once again.6

With regard to the recommendations, or more precisely, hopes, the first is that even in the necessary institutional restructuring, these Organizations should not lose sight of their original raison d'être or their ultimate goal.

They are at the service of the human being, of all human beings. They are at the service of the family of peoples in order to contribute to the "common universal good".

If they are to carry out their mission properly, international organizations must not lose the certainty that human rights and duties and the important values of human dignity and of justice and peace are rooted in a social order of things and do not depend on the vote of an assembly. If international organizations lose or even slacken this conviction as time passes, they will also irreparably reduce their authority.

For a governance that is intensive rather than weak, it is necessary to inculcate forcefully in the international organizations — both continental, such as, for example, the European Union, and global, such as the United Nations Organization and its multiple agencies — the conviction that the individual's rights and duties, in other words, his transcendent dignity, cannot be infringed upon.

Indeed, transcendence is the guarantee of inviolability. Benedict XVI said so solemnly in his Message for the World Day of Peace celebrated on 1 January 2007: "It is important for international agencies not to lose sight of the natural foundation of human rights. This would enable them to avoid the risk, unfortunately ever-present, of sliding towards a merely positivistic interpretation of those rights. Were that to happen, the international bodies would end up lacking the necessary authority...".7

It must be noted that at times international organizations make themselves messengers of a radical, materialistic ideology in sectors as important as procreation, the family and the protection of life. The Church has often voiced her perplexity concerning the inherent ideology, for example, in notions such as "reproductive health" and "reproductive rights", which international agencies have made their own and which often involve policies opposed to respect for life.

A second recommendation or hope is that international organizations can be made increasingly to work in a subsidiary network with others: from States and Governments to the multiple local bodies, from NGOs to the many members of the world's civil society, in order to create, as Populorum Progressio said, "international collaboration on a worldwide scale".8

In this regard, however, it should also be said that if cooperation is slow — and it is — responsibility for this should be evenly divided among all those who are actually or potentially involved. All, and not only international organizations or States, must develop a greater readiness for international collaboration.

I lamented earlier that the concept of the "duty of humanitarian interference" had not been sufficiently explored. This is a case in which it is not only the international organizations or States that are responsible but also the institutions of civil society, of the governments of the countries in greatest need of help and of the local Churches themselves.

A new governance that is intensive and not weak demands the contribution of all.

States continue to play a central role in global governance. I would like here to avoid a possible ambiguity. At the outset, I said that the level of "government" is above all the level of the State. But this does not mean that the State does not have a very important role in governance. Far from it! Of course, it is less and less possible to automatically transfer the logic of government to the international sectors which, instead, demand governance.

But for this very reason, without giving up governing, States are increasingly invited to concert their efforts not only with other States but also, as I have said several times, with bodies and agents other than those of the State in order to carry out a task of coordination for governance, both below and above State level.

The sectors linked to the promotion of international justice, to humanitarian emergencies and to development are, for example, privileged places where States can put this capacity for coordination into practice for governance.

An intensive type of governance

In recent years, as I have already recalled, especially after the tragic events and aftermath of 11 September 2001, the Supreme Pontiffs have given important instructions for moving on from a weak governance of international life to more intensive forms of governance. I shall pause here to underline only three of them.

I have drawn attention to the fact that weak governance is based on a relativistic vision of cultures, which is why the openness brought by globalization has led to a breach in international relations and a sort of incommensurability between criteria of judgment has exploded. The code of international communications has felt its effect.

In the age of colonialism or that of the Cold War the codes of communication, although still erroneous, were clear. Afterwards, however, and especially since 11 September 2001, they have become ambiguous. A weak and relativistic conception of democracy existed on the one hand, and on the other, the commitment to export it; here, a war in the conventional sense; there, a war without any formal declaration or warning, a widespread and intangible war; people were unclear as to whether they were being exploited by supranational agents or by their own oligarchies; forms of integralism of technological reasoning on the one hand and on the other, religious fundamentalism.

To deal with this problem, a common code must be re-established, and to do this it is necessary to start looking at what brings us together, over and above our differences.

Weak governance, for the most part, is based on the perception of diversity. If government is no longer possible but governance is called for — at least this is what is believed and said —, it is because fragmentation and a mosaic prevail rather than uniformity: and this fragmentation prevents the international community from understanding itself.

This is why I consider it more important in this phase of history to recognize and foster what brings us together.

This is how I interpret the insistence, which in recent years has also become pressing, with which the Supreme Pontiffs emphasize the force of natural law so that it may once more be the reference point for a basic, shared ethics and an informal code of communication.

This seems to me also to explain why — and thus we come to the second point I wish to touch on — the teachings of John Paul II and of Benedict XVI insist on the truth in international relations. The Holy Father Benedict XVI dedicated his first Message for the World Day of Peace on 1 January 20069 to the theme of truth. I myself have had the opportunity to emphasize that "orchestration" among the States aims "to help build a society where each individual and each family has a place and can live in peace, making their own contribution to the common good".10

By the word "orchestration" I meant a profound and respectful dialogue, true in the sense of going to the heart of people and peoples, realistic and capable of living up to commitments. Truth in international orchestration requires that States in dialogue or even in debates among themselves, always keep in mind the people they represent and the entire world community, since their moral dignity consists precisely in this.11

The international agencies and organizations of international civil society can help States to constantly develop this awareness, but these agencies cannot replace States in all the duties that devolve upon them.

It should be noted that the subject of truth is closely connected with the previously mentioned subject of the rediscovery of what we have in common and also the reference to natural law. Indeed, Benedict XVI has said: "This search for truth leads you at the same time to assert vigorously what there is in common, pertaining to the very nature of persons, of all peoples and cultures, and this must be equally respected".12

My third point, which I make taking our present context into account, expands on the same theme of truth.

Since I am here to speak to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, I cannot fail to observe that today we are seeing the great need for the coordination of knowledge which concerns international life.

Many social sciences are dealing with this, as is only right. It would not otherwise be possible in theory to frame the enormous problems that await us.

The social sciences, however, demand coordination and an epistemological approach so that all may collaborate in the good of the human being.

Today, international relations are acutely feeling this need, precisely in order not to squander knowledge in weak governance.

I consider that the Church's social doctrine as it is presented in the Compendium published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has its own important contribution to make to this goal since by its very nature it has an interdisciplinary orientation.13

From a technical to an ethical 'governance'

In his Message for the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2004, John Paul II made two assertions — closely linked to each other — which I wish to recall here.

"Humanity today", he wrote, "is in a new and more difficult phase of its genuine development. It needs a greater degree of international ordering"; and he added, "The United Nations Organization needs to rise more and more above the cold status of an administrative institution and to become a moral centre".14

These two sentences connect the need to give ourselves not only a new international order but also a "superior" order and, at the same time, the need to focus on relaunching a new ethics in international relations. Of course, the hope that John Paul II expressed to the United Nations Organization does not exclusively concern this Organization, but rather all who play a role in international society.

I believe this is precisely the point. Weak governance, which I consider today's to be, ends by being solely or mainly technical. Yet in this way recourse to war is also facilitated, because basically, war, too, is the idolatry of technology. Whether it is waged with sophisticated modern weaponry or the simplest of explosives such as those used for terrorist acts, it cannot be denied that behind war — parallel to its multitude of dramatic causes — there is also the idea that a "surgical" operation may solve the problem.

Furthermore, war is an expression of the "technological spirit" — one of the principal ideologies of our days. We must pass from a weak governance, which all too often relies on war since it is unable to prevent conflicts through development and justice, to a governance with a high ethical intensity that produces an order for the good.

The person who governs himself is free; but who can truly say that he governs himself, that he is governed by truth and by goodness? "Being governed by" seems in opposition to "governing oneself", since it is usually considered that to govern oneself it is essential to be entirely free from the obligation to follow any one route.

However, when a person reaches this point, he seems more of a slave than ever. Free from everything and everyone, even from truth and goodness, he is nonetheless (and for this very reason) a slave to himself and is even prepared to resort to blackmail to satisfy his own interests.

Thus, his inner freedom is compromised,15 sacrificed to what is presumed to be total exterior freedom. This is also what happens to political and international communities. In the course of history the social body, like the individual, has also frequently attempted to govern itself without letting itself be governed by truth and good. It has tried to govern itself, that is, absolutely, removing any reference superior to itself and proclaiming itself legibus solutus with regard to everything and everyone.

Passing from government to governance can thus be a salutary change if, in governance, we all take the opportunity to govern ourselves, indeed, not without the obligation to respect anything beyond our own interests but on the contrary, with respect for the authentic being of every person and every people, whom we did not give to ourselves but have received as a vocation.



1 "But a greater effort is needed from the entire diplomatic community in order to determine in truth, and to overcome with courage and generosity, the obstacles still standing in the way of effective, humane solutions. And truth demands that none of the prosperous States renounce its own responsibility and duty to provide help through drawing more generously upon its own resources. On the basis of available statistical data, it can be said that less than half of the immense sums spent worldwide on armaments would be more than sufficient to liberate the immense masses of the poor from destitution" (Benedict XVI, Diplomatic Corps Address, 9 January 2006; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, [ORE], 11 January, p. 5).

2 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, [English edition], Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 2004, n. 501, p. 282.

3 Cardinal A. Sodano, Address to the Summit of Heads of State and Government during the 60th General Assembly of the United Nations, 16 September 2005; ORE, 21 September, p. 8.

4 Cf. Populorum Progressio, n. 78.

5 Benedict XVI, Address to the Holy See's Representatives to International Organizations, 18 March 2006; ORE, 5 April, p. 5.

6 Benedict XVI, High-Level Plenary Assembly in Honour of the 60th Anniversary of the FAO, 17 October 2005; ORE, 9 November, p. 8.

7 Benedict XVI, The Human Person, the Heart of Peace, 1 January 2007, n. 13; ORE, 20 December 2006, p. 7.

8 Paul VI, Encyclical Populorum Progressio, n. 78.

9 Benedict XVI, "In Truth, Peace", Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 2006; ORE, 21 December 2005, p. 6.

10 Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, Diplomatic Corps Address, 29 September 2006; ORE, 25 October, p.5.

11 "States must be at the service of the authentic culture proper to each (see UNESCO address referred to above), at the service of the common good, of every person under their jurisdiction and of associations. They must seek to establish for everyone favourable living conditions for all" (John Paul II, Diplomatic Corps Address, 15 January 1984, n. 4; ORE, 30 January, p. 6). John Paul II says that States enjoy an authority whose goal is the good of the nation, the people and the culture, and at the same time helping to build up the common human family (cf. G. Crepaldi, lntroduzione a Pontificio Consiglio della Giustizia e della Pace, Giovanni Paulo 11 e la famiglia dei populi. 11 Santo Padre al Corpo Diplomatico (1978-2002), Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 2002, pp. 11-15).

12 Benedict XVI, Diplomatic Corps Address, 9 January 2006, op. cit., p. 4.

13 Cf. G. Crespaldi e Stefano Fontana, La dimensione interdísciplinare della dottrina sociale della chiesa, Cantagalli, Siena, 2006.

14 John Paul II, "An Ever Timely Commitment: Teaching Peace", Message for the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2004, n. 7, in ORE, 17 December 2003, p. 10, two citations: from John Paul II's Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 43, and his Address to the United Nations General Assembly, 5 October 1995 [ORE 11 October, p. 8].

15 "Inner freedom", Benedict XVI said, "is in fact the condition for authentic human growth"(Address to Participants in the 12th Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, 27 April 2006; ORE, 10 May, p. 4).

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
20 June 2007, page 9

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