Begging Spain to Differ

Al Contrario: Sobre Liderazgo, Globalización e Injerencia (On the Contrary: On Leadership, Globalization and Interference) By Carlos Alonso Zaldívar 291 pages, Madrid: Espasa-Hoy, 2001 (in Spanish) Since dictator Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, Spain has weathered both an internal transition to democracy and an external adjustment to a more integrated world. Evidence of the distance ...

Al Contrario: Sobre Liderazgo, Globalización e Injerencia
(On the Contrary: On Leadership, Globalization and Interference)

By Carlos Alonso Zaldívar 291 pages, Madrid: Espasa-Hoy, 2001 (in Spanish)

Al Contrario: Sobre Liderazgo, Globalización e Injerencia
(On the Contrary: On Leadership, Globalization and Interference)

By Carlos Alonso Zaldívar 291 pages, Madrid: Espasa-Hoy, 2001 (in Spanish)

Since dictator Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, Spain has weathered both an internal transition to democracy and an external adjustment to a more integrated world. Evidence of the distance it has come: Spain belongs to the European Union (EU) and has adopted the euro; the country has become a destination for immigrants; and once a mere recipient of foreign capital, Spain now ranks among the top 10 foreign investors in the world and is the first in Latin America.

Carlos Alonso Zaldívar, a Spanish diplomat who is now deputy head of mission in Israel, symbolizes Spain’s conversion to a more outward-looking society. During the Franco period, the young aeronautical engineer was active in Spain’s Communist Party and demonstrated against the Vietnam War and for nuclear disarmament. But in 1981 the party evicted him for being too much of a "Euro-Communist" — too sympathetic to Social Democrats. Zaldívar promptly joined the Spanish Foreign Service of the socialist administration (1982-96), where he helped shape its 1986 campaign for a referendum on keeping Spain in NATO. Regularly published in the Spanish press, Zaldívar is now regarded by many fellow diplomats and readers as one of the most clear and original minds in the Foreign Service.

Zaldívar’s latest book reflects both Spaniards’ ambiguous position on globalization and their distrust of American global influence. In On the Contrary: On Leadership, Globalization and Interference, Zaldívar offers three contrarian views. He first attacks the idea that the United States is the sole world leader. "On the contrary," he argues, "the world has no leader and is not going to have one." He accuses the United States of pushing American-style capitalism and democracy on other countries, of bullying rather than leading. His main assessment is that the United States does not know what it wants and therefore is less capable of asserting leadership now than in the past.

Second, he does not believe the American model of capitalism will prevail everywhere. While China and Russia move toward capitalism, their brands of it are far off the American mark. He distinguishes between a global economy and open markets: While China, for instance, plays an important role in the global economy in terms of trade and foreign investment, its goods, financial, and labor markets are neither open nor deregulated. Similarly, he argues, Europe’s move to a single currency represents a deep commitment to economic integration without rejection of its social model. For Zaldívar, these examples point to globalization as a process rather than globalization as a policy of homogenization pursued mainly by the United States.

Finally, he contends that double standards on human rights have characterized Western interference in the affairs of other nations, which ultimately has hurt the human rights cause. Intervention in Kosovo (carried out with Spanish participation amidst divided public opinion) violated international law, Zaldívar argues, and one wrong should not be employed to redress another. The preeminence of law does not require nations to stop advocating ethics in world politics, but unilateral force is not the way to apply such values. Most Spaniards would agree with that view, but it perhaps too readily overlooks NATO’s success in helping to oust Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

Zaldívar would prefer that countries adopt international conventions that aim for universal implementation, such as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Yet the United States and China have opted out of it. Perhaps, he says, both countries "choose the good (as each of them understands it) rather than the just (as defined by the other nations)." With its recent role in the Pinochet case, Spain figured prominently in the debate over international law. Zaldívar believes that, without the International Criminal Court in place, Pinochet should have been tried in Chilean courts. Nevertheless, he recognized that the way the British and Spanish courts treated the case helped solidify the principles of international law — an outcome far preferable to powerful states intervening in the affairs of weaker states as they see fit.

According to Zaldívar, it is not possible to enforce all the rights outlined in the 30 articles of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are not always compatible, and each culture will inevitably decide which rights are the most important or even choose to emphasize rights not included in the declaration — for example, the right of the elderly to social safety nets. The question for Zaldívar then becomes, how does the world create international human rights laws while taking cultural variations into account? Zaldívar invites nations to agree upon a "short list" of individual and state rights and duties grounded in three basic ideas: forbidding aggression except in self-defense; setting some individual rights over the interests of the state, as established in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and requiring states to assist other nations that cannot apply these rights by themselves. Such a list should be acceptable not only to democracies but to non-democratic regimes as well, he reasons.

Implementing human rights should not mean prescribing how others ought to live, Zaldívar says, but making it possible for people to choose a way of life. In that sense, Europe should not only promote political pluralism within its own house but also accept a world where different political systems coexist. In doing so, the EU could follow Spain’s lead: The Aznar government has received Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez no less cordially than any other head of an important Latin American nation, despite concerns that his regime is increasingly authoritarian. In addition, a Spanish foreign minister was the first European official to visit China following Tiananmen.

Although Spain has advanced on many fronts, Spanish interest in foreign affairs and in Spain’s international role has lagged. Zaldívar challenges Spain to enter the debate surrounding globalization and to claim a role in shaping it, both because the trend greatly affects the country and because it can benefit from increased foreign investment and Spanish investments abroad, especially in Latin America and Asia.

Despite the limited enthusiasm with which governments will likely greet his ideas — particularly on intervention and human rights — Zaldívar is likely to succeed in stimulating debate, even if, at the end of the day, one concludes: Al contrario.

Andrés Ortega is a columnist and editorial writer at El País, Spain's main newspaper, and a former head of policy planning in Spain's prime minister's office.

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