In May 2023, the Robert Bosch Academy brought together some of our fellows who currently live in or around Washington, D.C. and are experts in different areas. We co-created a program based on the urgent questions that they wanted to discuss. The topics covered a wide range of issues, spanning from Social Justice and Human Rights to the future in the biocognitive Age to a new Marshall Plan for Ukraine.
Inqueality and Human Rights
The discussion’s premise was that since the end of the Cold War, there has been a growing acceptance that fundamental rights go beyond political and civil rights to encompass economic and social rights. The right to education, housing, healthcare, and a living wage, for example, are increasingly understood as essential components of human rights. Significant socioeconomic inequalities persist in many countries around the world – including our host country, the United States of America, one of the richest countries in the world. A very tangible example of this is how people in low-income neighborhoods of D.C. continue to face the persisting challenge of access to affordable food.
A substantial part of the conversation centered around the question of how much community and how much individualism is needed, and who should be the “duty bearer” for ensuring some of the most fundamental social rights and the “freedom from want”. Cultural, social, and philosophical differences between the fellows also highlighted how even supposed universal and objective criteria are rooted in specific values. Reaching international consensus on what constitutes universal values will be a challenge in a rapidly changing international landscape.
The future in a bio cognitive age
In biotechnology, particular gene modification methods like CRISPR have the potential to transform human life in unprecedented ways. These new technologies enable scientists to modify genes with greater precision, opening a wide array of possibilities: from curing genetically transmitted diseases and developing new treatments to enhancing agricultural production. However, with these advancements comes the need for increased regulation and ethical considerations, especially as the impact of biotechnological innovations is not limited to the scientific community. They have the potential to disrupt geopolitics, foreign policy, and international cooperation.
One of the most important aspects of this conversation was how neo-colonial patterns persist even in natural sciences. For the longest time, only the genomes of white individuals were sequenced, and norms on when to conduct embryonic research were often defined by white Christian traditions. Even a European-Enlightenment-inspired understanding of humans as individuals rather than as a part of a complex and interwoven ecosystem may sometimes impede critical thought, scientific creativity, and discovery. We must think more openly and try to shed our culturally determined and biased thought barriers.
The biotech revolution is part of a larger trend of technological and digital revolutions that are rapidly transforming society, especially given the increasing intersection of these trends. States are racing to develop and secure technologies as they realize their potential to revolutionize the economy and geopolitical power. Regulatory bodies must therefore work to create frameworks for assessing the risks and benefits of emerging technologies, and to ensure that they are developed and deployed in a way that benefits all members of society while also promoting international cooperation and collaboration.
Marshall Plan for Ukraine
The invasion of Ukraine has affected the world, and although fighting has not yet ended, the time is ripe to think about the future and what will happen when the war ends – hopefully sooner rather than later. The idea of a “Marshall Plan for Ukraine” to rebuild the country after Russia’s war of aggression has recently been a topic of foreign policy debates. The concept draws on the historic Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after the Second World War. The idea of international cooperation and support to rebuild a war-torn country remains relevant, considering Russia’s war against Ukraine. However, simply replicating the plan from 1948 is not possible in today’s context, as a plan for Ukraine would need to be adapted to the needs of the 21st century. Far too often, one misunderstands the plan as financial development investments and forgets that the Marshall Plan was a complex set of coordinated measures that the European countries largely developed themselves. This aspect raises a few questions – not only about how to deal with today’s perpetrator (Russia) after the conflict ends, but also about how to secure international cooperation on these issues. The original Marshall Plan required one country to support many; now the relations would be inverse.
However, critics of such an initiative have been vocal: They point to the unfair distribution of financial support compared to other regions of the world in need of such collaborative action. A “new” Marshall Plan for Africa is also asked for. The accusations include notions of double standards and selectivity in development cooperation, favoring countries that are closer to the West or willing to align themselves with Western interests. These are some of the issues that must be critically discussed and to which solutions must be found if we truly wish to be a part of a “multipolar world.”
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