Jan Pronk

Honorary Doctorate ISS

Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, October 9 2002

Chairman and members of the Board ,
Rector, Promotor, fellow Honorary Doctores,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am highly honoured receiving the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa. I very much appreciate your decision to bestow this award on me with such a noble laudation. I have always considered myself a student of development processes. I will continue studying and I see this honorary degree as an additional stimulus to further deepen my insights in processes of development, within societies and worldwide.

More than forty years ago Jan Tinbergen introduced me into the field of development studies. I have never left it. In the end fifties I became one of Tinbergen’s students. For seven years thereafter I worked as a member of his team of researchers at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Tinbergen was much more than a professor. He was my teacher and master. He taught me to be systematic. He taught me to continue asking questions, to think twice. He also taught me to make choices, always to try to be operational and to see analysis and reflection in the service of policymaking. And, finally, he taught me that policymaking has to start by choosing values and setting aims consistent with such values. He was quite explicit about his values: equality, justice, peace. Economic policy, development planning and international cooperation had to serve the overall aim of eradication of poverty and human misery.

I have tried to remain faithful to these lessons, also after I had become a politician and a policy-maker in the field of development cooperation and international relations. I have made an effort to link policymaking with study and analysis, in order to advance my understanding, learn lessons and improve policies. Thereby I have learned a lot from people associated with the Institute of Social Studies. For half a century now the ISS has been a source of inspiration for many people around the world, a place where new developments were studied and new insights gained. Egbert de Vries, Louis Emmery and Geertje Lycklema have helped us to understand dimensions of poverty (rural development, employment and gender), Glastra van Loon and Wolfson made important contributions in the field of governance, van Nieuwenhuizen opened the eyes of many for the culture of peoples and Opschoor is leading the way from environment towards sustainable development. I have learned a lot from them and from many other researchers and fellows at the Institute: Hans Singer, Kurt Martin and my promotor of today, Bas de Gaay Fortman.

At the 35th anniversary of the Institute an honorary fellowship was awarded to Prins Claus of the Netherlands, who died three days ago. Prins Claus responded by advancing twenty-three propositions to be challenged. His first proposition was an enormous challenge indeed: “The object of ‘development cooperation’ is to help the recipient countries to achieve greater independence, in particular economic independence, in the light of the realization that the achievement of political independence alone means very little. In reality, however, the result of development cooperation in most cases is merely to confirm or even reinforce a state of dependence. One might dub this as ‘neo-colonialism with the best intentions”.

One year later I took office again as the Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation. Prins Claus was the highest ranking advisor in my ministry.. We had many discussions. I tried to take up his challenge, not by refuting his first proposition - which, after all, had not been phrased in absolute terms - but by showing that through deliberate policymaking along lines such as the ones advocated by Tinbergen, it is not too difficult to change the general case. Or, in the terminology of Prins Claus’ proposition, I tried to change the reality. The proposition could be invalidated by showing that, though in quite a few cases development cooperation still was confirming dependence, in most cases policy improvements could lead to less dependence and in reality were doing so.

I am afraid that I have not been successful in my endeavours to invalidate the proposition. As a matter of fact, such endeavours go back to the seventies. In that period the alternative to neo-colonialism was a threefold new paradigm: self-reliance plus the fulfilment of basic human needs plus a new international economic order. Neither of the three became reality. The eighties were a decade of complete stagnation. Until 1989, when the end of the Cold war between East and West created new perspectives, also for the South. The new paradigm for development cooperation could again be defined with the help of three concepts: democracy, eradication of poverty and sustainable development.

They did not last long. In a address to this Institute, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary, I foresaw that the ninety-nineties would neither produce development nor cooperation. At most it would be a decade of transition towards development and a decade of conflict management. The main reason for this pessimism was, in my view, that the world simply lacked the capacity to translate the new dream into reality, even if there would be political will to do so. There was not enough political will: it was distorted by unbalanced approaches towards issues of so-called ‘good governance’. But even if that would not have been the case, domestic conflicts in many societies and the erosion of the international public system were weakening the capacity to bring about democracy, poverty eradication and sustainable development.

At the 45th anniversary of the ISS I was given the opportunity to review and appraise my previous analysis. In my address I said that in one respect I had been too pessimistic. Economic growth was higher than expected and this could help enlarging the capacity of the international community to address poverty and sustainability questions. However, globalisation was resulting in a rather uneven development: not more but less sustainable, at least in social and ecological terms. Globalisation also made international cooperation very unbalanced, by directing political attention mainly towards facilitating the workings of the world market, while neglecting other concerns. I foresaw globalisation to lead to ever-greater ecological distortions, a sharpening of inequalities, a greater conflict potential and to a weakening of the capacity of the polity to deal with these concerns, rather than a strengthening of that capacity. I ended my speech by suggesting a developmental approach to globalisation, consisting of four steps. First, a prudent phasing and sequencing of globalisation, rather than speeding it up. Second, to strengthen public international institutions in order to countervail trans-national economic power. Third, to strengthen the capacity of the world polity to deal with the so-called non-economic dimensions of the global market: climate, disease, poverty and the prevention and management of identity conflicts. Fourth, to support movements within nations which enhance democracy, human rights, civil liberties and the cultural diversity of society.

In the terminology of the first proposition of Prins Claus: such an agenda might help to turn the exceptional case into a general case. An international development cooperation policy consisting of these four points would turn the trend: less, rather than more dependence.

Today, at the 50th anniversary of the Institute, we have gained five years of experience. In those five years we got a nearly operational treaty to combat global climate change. And at the Millennium Assembly of the United Nations world leaders committed themselves by 2015 to reduce by half the proportion of people living in poverty. However, as so often was the case during previous decades, a few promising steps were overtaken by major adverse developments of a much more structural character. This time it was the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre, the symbol of global power and global capitalism. It was not an incident, but a reaction to a ‘Global Apartheid’, to use a phrase coined by President M’beki at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Indeed, at the turn of the millennium globalisation is leading to worldwide Apartheid. To phrase it differently: globalisation is occupation. Occupation of space - living space -, expropriation of resources, sealing off societies, subjecting cultures.

Poverty does not lead straight on to violence. Poverty without any perspective whatsoever, plus the experience of exclusion and neglect, the perception to be seen as lesser people with an inferior culture, to be treated as dispensable by those who do have access to modernity, to the market, to wealth and power, all that together will lead to aversion, resistance, hate, violence and terrorism.

Since the 11th of September 2001 the world stands at the crossroads. The choice is between two paradigms: security or sustainability. Security is exclusive: ‘our’ security, which we presume to be threatened by others - outsiders, foreigners, potential enemies - and which we try to protect through exclusion. The other paradigm, sustainability, is inclusive: a safe and secure place for all human beings, a safe habitat, a safe job, secure access to food, water and health care, secure entitlements to resources which are essential for a decent and meaningful life, worthy of human beings. Sustainability as an inclusive concept implies the mutual thrust that justice will be maintained and secured for all people, without any discrimination, the ultimate guarantee of mutual security.

In international policy security is all the go now. This implies a predominance of inward attitudes, more exclusion, pre-emptive strikes, retaliation, more violence, more terrorism, war. Going for absolute security kills. Embracing sustainability means sowing the seeds of life.

It is not too late to turn the trend. The trend is negative, more so than in 1988. A year before the fall of the Wall in Berlin perspectives were brighter than a year after the collapse of the Towers of Manhattan. There is more structural dependence today than at the time of the proposition made by Prins Claus. Globalisation is worse than what Prins Claus called ‘neo-colonialism with the best of intentions’: the intentions at the global market are a mix of a belief in the blessings of modern technology and a selfish, materialistic, and commercial approach to notions of welfare and progress. These are no longer ‘the best intentions’. At best, such intentions are naive. And in combination with other intentions - to exclude and neglect - they are bad.

Development policymakers and students of globalisation should not be naïve. We need value based aims, analysis fed by scepticism - never stop asking the next question - and well directed action. This is what Jan Tinbergen taught his students to do. A mission statement for a think tank: reflection, dialogue, a sceptical attitude towards common wisdom and mainstream thinking and a willingness to help shifting frontiers. A mission statement for the ISS in the next fifty years?


Jan Pronk
Institute of Social Studies
The Hague
9 October 2002