De gauche à droite : Abiodun Williams, Erez Yoeli, Joel Rosenthal. Le 18 octobre 2023.

De gauche à droite Abiodun Williams, Erez Yoeli, Joel Rosenthal. Le 18 octobre 2023. CREDIT : Bryan Goldberg Photography.

Débloquer la coopération : Un événement spécial de la Journée mondiale de l'éthique

18 octobre 2023

Sur Carnegie Council, nous pensons que la coopération est une vertu essentielle dans la poursuite d'une vie éthique. Pourtant, il semble que la coopération soit souvent absente de la vie publique aujourd'hui. Si nous ne prenons pas de mesures pour renforcer la coopération - à la fois dans nos vies personnelles et collectivement en tant que société - il y a peu d'espoir de relever les défis mondiaux communs tels que le changement climatique, l'IA, la violence politique, etc.

Dans le cadre de cet événement phare de la Journée mondiale de l'éthique 2023le président de Carnegie Council , Joel Rosenthal, a mené une conversation avec Erez Yoeli du MIT et Abiodun Williams de l'université de Tufts sur la psychologie de la coopération, les façons dont les États, les institutions, les ONG et les entreprises peuvent travailler ensemble et la manière dont nous pouvons tous créer les conditions d'une coopération renforcée.

Regardez la vidéo complète de l'événement ou explorez les clips ci-dessous.

Débloquer la coopération Lien podcast Spotify Débloquer la coopération Lien podcast Apple

Lutter contre le changement climatique par une coopération à l'échelle mondiale

Erez Yoeli explique comment la coopération à grande échelle peut être efficace dans la lutte contre les problèmes mondiaux, tels que le changement climatique.

Institutions internationales et lutte contre la déraison

Abiodun Williams examine la "bataille entre la raison et la déraison" qui se déroule sur la scène internationale et le rôle des institutions internationales.

Coopération, multilatéralisme et montée de l'illibéralisme

Williams et Yoeli discutent de leurs points de vue sur la montée du populisme dans le monde et sur la manière dont la coopération peut être utilisée pour contrer la tendance croissante à l'illibéralisme.

KEVIN MALONEY: Hello, everyone. My name is Kevin Maloney, and I am the director of communications at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. I want to start off by wishing everybody a happy Global Ethics Day. Whether you are here at the Council or watching remotely, our team is grateful that you have chosen to join us.

It is a special day at Carnegie Council for a few reasons. First, today marks the tenth anniversary of Global Ethics Day. Over the past decade alone, individuals, institutions, schools, and businesses from over a hundred countries have participated in this day of ethical action. Together we have built a community that truly is working to empower ethical action in public life.

Second, this is our first event at the Council in over two years. After making it through COVID-19 and a series of building renovations, I know I speak for our entire team when saying how thrilled we are to welcome so many new faces to the Council community. For over a century Carnegie Council has served as the most trusted advocate for solutions at the intersection of ethics and international affairs. We know that ethics has the power to create positive change. It is a tool that can be applied to promote a more peaceful world, address emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and tackle climate change.

We are here today to discuss one of the virtues of an ethical life, cooperation. How can we motivate individuals to cooperate and how can we enhance cooperation at the international level? Critical questions for this very moment.

To lead today’s discussion it is my pleasure to introduce Dr. Joel Rosenthal. As president of Carnegie Council and editor of the Ethics & International Affairs journal, Joel has dedicated his career to empowering ethical reflection and action across the areas of human rights, war and peace, and pluralism.

With that, I pass the microphone over to Joel. Thank you.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Thanks, Kevin. You deserve that applause. Beautifully said and much appreciated.

It is good to be here with all of you, our live studio audience and all of you watching around the world. As you say, a good reminder, this is a homecoming for us and a reopening of our offices here, and so there is extra energy in the room today.

The fact that Global Ethics Day is now ten years old and growing fast is a testament to the need for ethics in our personal and public lives. We are glad that Carnegie Council can be the home and be the the place for that work.

This is especially true given recent world events. The war in Gaza and Israel is likely top of mind for many of you today with President Biden’s visit to the region, and of course there are many other challenges to peace and cooperation as we sit here, including the war in Ukraine, civil unrest in Africa, and ongoing crises like the climate crisis, the refugee crisis, and so on.

For this reason we thought we would engage in some counter-programming against the news cycle, and the idea is to feature some positive ideas on how we might work together on these difficult challenges. So our topic today is “Unlocking Cooperation.” It is no secret that cooperation is in high demand but in short supply. So what can we do about it?

That is why we called the two of you, and we are so glad that you would join us today. A brief introduction of our panelists.

Erez Yoeli is a research scientist and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Applied Cooperation Initiative. His recent book is Hidden Games: The Surprising Power of Game Theory to Explain Irrational Human Behavior.

Abi Williams, a dear old friend, welcome back to Carnegie Council. He is professor of the practice of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. As his title suggests, he has held several high-level positions in the practice of international diplomacy, including serving as director of strategic planning for two UN secretary-generals.

We are going to have a conversation for about 50 minutes. We will try to make it lively and conversational among us. We are going to open it up for questions, so get your questions ready, both in the room and out there in virtual space.

I am going to kick it off with a question to Erez. To begin, I would like to hear a little bit about your work on how to think about cooperation. At Carnegie Council we are working on global-scale issues that require collective action—issues like AI, migration, and climate. What does your research into cooperation tell us about people’s capacity to cooperate not just with their neighbors but across cultures and countries?

EREZ YOELI: Thanks for the introduction and thank you for having me.

One thing the research highlights is that even though, as you said, cooperation seems like it is in short supply, humans are actually exceptional cooperators, standing out amongst other species, particularly the ones who are closest to us, other primates, in terms of how effective we are at cooperating. We cooperate more and we cooperate on a larger scale than most other primates. It is pretty common to see other primates engaging in “You scratch my back, I scratch yours,” and so there is some cooperation amongst them, but humans are able to extend that into much, much larger groups.

We see, for instance, as far back as there is an archeological record, that humans engage in activities like collective fishing, collective hunting, and warfare—sadly, as we well know—and we have records of all of those, and they often involve dozens of individuals or hundreds of individuals, and that kind of collective action is something that is actually fairly unique. You really have to go to the eusocial insects to find other animals that will engage in cooperation at that scale.

To some extent it is true that cooperation is in short supply, but we actually have the ability to do it, and that is the good news. The fact that it is in short supply is only relevant because there is this good side to it, which is that we can do it, we can cooperate with strangers, with people from outside cultures, and so on. It can be more challenging. A lot of cooperation tends to be focused on helping our group, so working across group lines tends to be very difficult, but we have the ability to do it. I will start with that.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: That is a good setup that I will come back to, but I want to go to Abi maybe just to comment on Erez’s intro and any thoughts you have based on your experience in terms of capacity for cooperation.

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: I am delighted to be here. Thank you very much, Joel, for inviting me to this really important discussion. It is good to see you again. We are very good friends and we go back a long way.

I think what Erez has said highlights the point that the responsibility for cooperation falls to us at different levels. Most fundamentally, we are responsible as individuals for our actions, for our attitudes, for our approach to the world.

I also think that, at least at the international level, cooperation is a tool to achieve altruistic purposes at times, but it is also a tool to promote geopolitical interests, and it can also be a tool for states to try to enhance and burnish their reputations.

You asked about some of my own experiences. I joined the United Nations in the mid-1990s in peacekeeping, and my first peacekeeping mission was with the UN Preventive Deployment Force in what is now North Macedonia. It was the United Nations’ first, and so far its, only preventive peacekeeping mission. At the time, there were internal tensions, especially between the ethnic Macedonians and the ethnic Albanians, so the Security Council adopted a resolution and asked the special representative of the secretary-general to use his good offices to try to promote peace and stability in the country.

On the basis of that mandate we were able to work with the major political parties, and in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections in 1994 we brought all the major political parties together and they signed a code of conduct for the elections as well as principles for inter-ethnic cooperation. Both the code of conduct for the elections and the principles which they adopted helped to bring about a relatively peaceful election and to promote stability in the country. I think that is a very good example of the kind of work that we did and the kind of work that the United Nations does.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: That is great. That is a really good beginning. So cooperation is possible, and, as Erez says, we are actually pretty good at it as human beings.

The question is: How do we scale it up? I want to get to this notion that we have global-scale problems. For the purposes of this discussion let’s think about climate as an example. This is a global-scale problem which requires global-scale cooperation. How do we move from the capacity to cooperate in relatively small groups, or even regional groups, to solve particular problems to something broader? How would you think about that challenge?

EREZ YOELI: It is a tough challenge. I can imagine taking this answer in so many directions, but I will start by just talking about how we even think about the math of it: How do we get to the point where we are getting cooperation between more than two individuals?

We will start by defining it. Cooperation is paying a cost to benefit others at the most basic level, so you are demanding that somebody does that, and we have to give them some sort of motivation to do that. Typically, the way people think that this gets solved is through some sort of repeated interaction and future benefits from that repeated interaction. But that is usually the model of interaction between two people, there is no scale there.

So how do we go and expand the scale? Usually, what people do is write down models of norminance enforcement. Without going into too much math, basically now we have more than two players in these little game-theory games, and there can be as many players as you want, and it can be global.

What you do is you ask the individual to engage in some sort of behavior that is costly to them—conserving a resource; buying an electric vehicle instead of a gas-powered vehicle, and even though it is a little bit more expensive or maybe a little bit less convenient, something like that, so there is an individual-level cost—and then you have to motivate them in some way. What that requires is a little bit of rewards and punishments from everybody around and coordination around what it is we are going to reward and punish.

That kind of thing, the psychology that requires, and that kind of behavior is the kind of thing we think humans are really good at, and it enables us to then scale to levels like the ones that you are talking about because you are able to basically take everybody in the room and allow them to help to motivate the cooperative behavior.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: This is a perfect setup for Abi, because I know you said you teach a course in building capacity for global leadership. I am just curious, based on what Erez was saying, how do you then take this sort of insight as you think about leadership training to make progress in a global institution with a global mission?

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: As Erez was saying, international cooperation is difficult, particularly at the present moment, when you have intense rivalry among the major powers and also have conflict in different parts of the world, you have dissension in the United Nations intergovernmental bodies, and then we are seeing backsliding on a number of normative and international legal commitments.

I do teach a course on leadership in global institutions at Tufts at the Fletcher School, and I think the reason for that is leadership makes a difference, and if you are scaling up leadership matters. The quality of leadership is critical for us to address the range of global challenges that we are facing because leadership can help to bring divergent interests together and leadership can also help to come up with bold yet practical plans to address a range of issues, including the climate. Leadership is also important for reforming global institutions.

I think when all is said and done there is very little you can do without leadership, and leadership which is far-sighted, leadership which is underpinned by humane values, and leadership which is also courageous because none of these issues are easy and you are trying to bring together parties who all have to make painful compromises.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: You two gentlemen are very reasonable and we are speaking in the language of reason. I am looking out into the world right now, and we see a lot of emotion. We may also see it in the subtitle of your book, Erez, “irrational,” so we have to enter the world as we experience it and understand it. How do you deal with this? Again, we are talking about trying to think about unlocking cooperation around collective-action problems, and yet how do we deal with the problem of unreason or irrationality?

EREZ YOELI: A lot of what we do actually is attempting to engage those emotions. To some extent we may come at this as if, “Oh, we’re analyzing a game-theory model and everybody out there is a rational actor;” but really what we are doing is modeling emotions per se, so our aim is to use some of the same tools that we would use to analyze things—like the very simple model I just presented in front of all of you, we would use that to model where the emotions come from and then ask, “How would one activate them?”

We tend to use fairly simple things to do that. If we are talking about cooperation at the within-group level at least, then we would tend to do things like give people recognition for good deeds or try to reduce plausible excuses for not doing good deeds because those excuses basically undermine the motivation; or do things like communicate expectations very clearly, something that leadership is very important for. Oftentimes we are going to do things that are fairly simple, acting often at the emotional level—we do not think people are necessarily reasoning through this—but based on a reasonable, rational analysis at a scientific level.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Just so I understand correctly, you accept in a way the emotional or the irrational.

EREZ YOELI: Yes, lean into it.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Then you try to apply reason from there, right?

EREZ YOELI: That’s right. Give the right emotions a good reason to come out.

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: You can think about the international institutions as struggling with this continuing battle within reason and unreason. Of course, the 20th century gave us some really awful and tragic examples of unreason—from the Holocaust, to the genocide in Bosnia, to Rwanda. You have lots of tragic examples of unreason. But you also have examples of reasons where you have a whole ecosystem of international institutions, notably the United Nations and its agencies, and you have regional organizations. So we are constantly in this battle between reason and unreason.

As I discuss with the students, you always have to be on guard and you cannot take anything for granted. I think history teaches us in its most tragic moments that the path toward progress is seldom linear and what it requires is continual effort, and not only continual effort, but expertise being shared across borders, across disciplines, and across generations. But it is a constant battle between reason and unreason.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: I was not going to go there, but I am just curious what you both think, because one of the themes I have been trying to think about is what in social science terms what we call “normative shift,” how norms change over time.

Just in terms of direction, I am curious where you see where we are now in terms of progress toward peace and cooperation, because on a normative level in terms of recognizing this aspiration I would argue that it is relatively high, but then in terms of what we see in the world, obviously relatively low. Do you have a sense of direction? How are we doing as a global society at this moment?

EREZ YOELI: You should take this one. [Laughter]

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: I think the record is mixed. You have some hopeful developments and developments which are not so hopeful, so it is rather mixed.

In terms of normative development, in the area of norms there is always a role for “norm entrepreneurs” who make a huge difference in terms of the development of norms.

The UN secretaries-general play a critical role in terms of the development of norms. So, for example, I think of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, my former boss, who was very acutely aware of the importance of developing norms. He challenged of course Member States to come up with the question of how do you deal with genocide and mass atrocities and really advocated two sovereignties, one for people and one for states, and was a great advocate for the responsibility to protect (R2P), which all the Member States unanimously adopted at the World Summit here in New York in 2005 as a way to set up a new norm, R2P, which will deal with this very intractable issue of human protection and how you protect the sanctity of human life.

So it is an important role norm entrepreneurs play in developing new norms for conduct, but as I say, it is sort of mixed. You have norms which are developed and then you have backsliding which occurs as well.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: I really appreciate that point, I think it is a really important one, that it is always mixed. You always have progress and regression at the same time and we have to try to understand that.

EREZ YOELI: Even norms that are good for most of us most of the time are sometimes not that good for one particular group, and they are going to push against them, and sometimes they will succeed.

An example of a norm that is at risk of backsliding is the norm against the use of chemical use, which has been upheld for something on the order of a century; and then Assad comes along, and it is not quite clear that we responded sufficiently strongly that it would prevent future use of chemical weapons, which worries me.

But an example of a norm that has been upheld that has been longstanding is the war against territorial incursions against sovereign nations. The West has stood pretty firmly behind Ukraine against Russia’s incursion, and I think it has been good to uphold that norm and make sure that for a new century and for a new era we are saying still we are at least united in upholding that norm.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: In addition to concerns about ideology or people who have a single moral truth and are committed to their own position to the extent of ignoring others, this is one basket of issues; but the other is the concern about what I would call apathy, “What can I do?,” or irrelevance.

Last year at Global Ethics Day we had Michael Schur, who wrote a wonderful book on ethics called How to be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question. What I recall from that conversation is that we had a very robust discussion of the free-rider problem, which is: “Okay, we look out into the world, and this is very overwhelming to us.” It is not just apathy. but this sense of helplessness or not being able to do anything in a collective-action problem.

I am curious how you both think about this free-rider notion or the bystander idea. How do we generate some discussion about individual agency?

Erez, I will start with you on that since it is your field.

EREZ YOELI: Usually when we are thinking about the free-rider problem, it is more in the space of things like: “Are you doing your duty when it comes to conserving energy and helping us, say, prevent the blackout or helping us have a modernized grid that does not use fossil fuels as much?” Or it might be using it in the space of a pandemic to get people to do things like vaccinate, wear masks, or things like that, where we are trying to slow the spread of a pandemic.

So, a slightly different space, but I think a lot of the same tools would typically apply. We look at this underlying norm-enforcement psychology and we ask, “How do we activate it?” Typically. we have three key tools that we use. I very quickly referenced them earlier.

Again, we tend to try to reward good deeds. We think of them a little bit like an investment: You put money into an investment vehicle and you want it to have a return. Cooperation is kind of the same way. The return is not in money, it is in reputation, good standing, and so on; so we try to give people that reputational return on their cooperative investment.

And then we also think about things that tend to undermine that reputational reward, in particular the role of plausible deniability and plausible excuses. The more excuses you give somebody, the less their reputation is really tied to the cooperative action. If you can, you bring that together, and the way you bring that together is you pull out the excuses that really drive the wedge between them. So we think a lot about what kind of excuses somebody can give and how do we eliminate them.

And then the third thing that we do is we really think very, very carefully about what we are asking people to do and how do we communicate that clearly. Here again we have a role for entrepreneurs, for leaders, to step in. They are often typically the folks who people look to to try to understand what they are expected to do in a particular context, and expectations are very important in cooperative contexts.

Sometimes there are cooperative things that you could do but you are not really expected to do them. An example that we give is that if you are from New York, you stand on the right on the escalator. If you are from the West Coast, which is where I live at the moment, people just hang out on the escalator. In both cases letting somebody by is cooperative, but only in one place are you expected to do it. So we think a lot about how we communicate expectations clearly. I think it is something that you guys are thinking a lot about as well.

Those are the three things that we do to try to fight the free-rider problem in our context.

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: Free riding is a huge problem for international cooperation. It is one of the biggest obstacles to getting nations to cooperate on important global issues.

We do not have a world government, and I do not think we are going to have one anytime soon. If we had one, it could help us deal with the free-rider problem as national governments help with the free-rider problem at the national level.

In addition to not having a world government, international institutions often lack the legal authority to enforce commitments and contributions which would eliminate the free-rider problem. So what are we left with? I think two things could help.

The first is to try to push for globally recognized and internationally legally binding agreements because most of the agreements dealing with issues, including on the climate, are voluntary; but I think if there is a push to have globally recognized and legally binding agreements this could help eliminate, or at least reduce, the free-riding problem.

I think the second thing which could help would be to try to push to have enforcement mechanisms. This is difficult at the international level, more so than at the domestic level, but it is not unprecedented to have enforcement mechanisms internationally, and the more enforcement mechanisms you have with states knowing that they will be held accountable if they are free riders I think would help.

I think these are two practical things that could help deal with this really huge challenge to international cooperation.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: So this, though, then raises the question of legitimacy in some way. As you are speaking, it requires an international institution that is seen in some ways as having that legitimate legal authority. I guess the way you get there is through treaty, through agreement, right?

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: Exactly. I think through international treaties, and you build these into international treaties, so that those who sign and ratify the treaties are legally bound by the treaty.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: I want to go back to unreason for a minute.

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: We are not being unreasonable here.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: No, no. I think you have provided a great normative framework. It is inspiring in many ways, and it also reflects, by the way, the history of our institution and the things that we stand for as promoting exactly that, that vision of international peace and cooperation through commitment to institutions based on laws, norms, values, and so on. It is a beautiful picture.

The world we are in today, though, is filled with all of this sort of unreason. We live in a very populist moment. I think we all recognize the rise of illiberalism—an illiberalism, by the way, which is proudly communicated, people describing themselves as illiberal.

I will give you my read of this moment, which is leaders are being rewarded—going back to the leadership question—for actually dividing people into smaller groups, into ethnic groups.

What is your reflection or your thought about observing this rising populism, this rising illiberalism, and this notion of group conflict in a way, and leaders being rewarded for serving their ethnic group as opposed to the interests of others?

EREZ YOELI: I think one thing to recognize is that that is one form of cooperation. It is a cooperation where the benefits are really directed toward a much smaller group of people. There is an analogy to trusts and cartels, organizations that arise to cooperate within the marketplace for their benefit at the expense of the consumer, and the United States has put together robust antitrust institutions, laws, and so on in order to combat that, something the founder of this institution would know something about. [Laughter]

JOEL ROSENTHAL: He got his comeuppance.

EREZ YOELI: He did. But, regardless, we do something about that kind of cooperation. The same psychology, the same tools that we have to do good for everybody are sometimes coopted to do good for just a small group. I think that can be very dangerous, and we are seeing a lot of it.

Sometime we can combat that using inverse tools to the ones we just introduced. To some extent, you can reduce the benefits to engaging in that kind of cooperation, you can introduce lots of excuses and muddy the waters, you can send messages that mess up expectations and to some extent make it harder for the group to coordinate on its cooperative efforts.

But to some extent it is going to require more than that. It is going to require really stripping the incentives that that leader has and aligning the incentives of that subgroup with other groups. That is a different toolkit and very difficult. I imagine that you can speak to that.

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: I think the rising nationalism and populism in particular are very dangerous trends because populism is essentially antidemocratic because at the heart of democracy is pluralism, and populists are allergic to pluralism, and they make a certain moral claim that they are the ones who represent “the people.” The reason why I think it is dangerous to democracy is because with the more power they have you have the potential for authoritarianism, and then they can decide which people in this polity are not part of “the people” and it is up to them to decide who constitutes “the people.” So it is a very dangerous phenomenon.

I think at the international level one way that you can try to counter populism is through effective multilateralism. It is not enough to say, “We need multilateralism,” but we need to show that multilateralism is effective. That means understanding the root causes of why lots of people, huge segments of populations in different parts of the world, feel as if they have been abandoned. When you understand why they feel they have been abandoned, you begin to put multilateral programs, multilateral activities and plans to address their needs, and they feel that multilateralism is making a difference in their lives. I think that is one way you begin to counter it at the international level.

In order for multilateralism to be effective it has to be networked, so the United Nations in this city has to cooperate closely with other international entities like the international financial institutions—the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund—and other agencies in the UN system like the World Health Organization (WHO) in dealing with the pandemic. You have to work with other agencies.

It is also critical to work with regional organizations, such as the African Union, the European Union, the Organization of American States, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

But you have to also go beyond the networked nature of multilateralism. It also has to be inclusive, which means bringing in nonstate actors like think tanks—Carnegie—working with the private sector, working with business, working with civil society, and working with universities so that you have an inclusive form of multilateralism.

But I also do think that in an era of rising nationalism and populism it is really, really important to affirm that global institutions and universal norms are not threats to particular identities or particular interests.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: That is great.

I want to take another moment on this very, very important theme—and I think you were just speaking to it at the end there, Abi—because there are communities that would be anti-plural, in other words, “We want to keep our community in a particular identity in a way.” So, if I am hearing you correctly, with that as a given, that does not mean that the prospects for cooperation end because there are still ways to find cooperation based on different views of community, identity, and so on. Is that correct, Abi?

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: Absolutely. I think all of us have overlapping identities. You can be a daughter, you can be a son, you can be a professor at Tufts, you can be a scientist at MIT. We have overlapping identities. What populists and nationalists try to do is to put us in little boxes and to emphasize singular identities, but we all have overlapping identities, and identities now in a globalized world are transnational.

I think it is important to reject the attempt to put human beings into boxes and to emphasize their singular identities because then you are setting them up and creating the conditions for conflict. But I think we all have overlapping identifies and it is important to emphasize those and to cherish those.

The thing about democracy is that you have pluralism within democracies and you can embrace different aspects of your identity, which is why it is so difficult and dangerous in authoritarian states, which tend to emphasize singular identities or restricted notions of who constitutes “the people.”

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Beautifully said. Thank you.

I actually have just one more question that I am going to raise, and then I do want to turn to the audience here and then also virtually out there, so get your questions ready.

This is a question with regard to the conditions for cooperation. I am thinking about in terms of maybe a natural disaster or something like this, or let’s say the electricity goes out in New York City, something like that. History will show us two types of results, and they may actually happen at the same time. You see enormous cooperation, people helping each other out, your neighbor and so on. You all know these great stories of altruism, people helping, good Samaritans. But you also see sometimes that these situations go sour and people start hoarding, they raid the grocery stores, and so on.

Is there any science on this, like what the conditions are, why does it go one way one time and one way another time? I am just curious what your work shows on the conditions for cooperation, when it works and when it does not.

EREZ YOELI: Specifically around disasters there is work from Joe Henrich’s group at Harvard and there is work from Michele Gelfand’s group based out at Stanford, both showing that when there are national disasters norms tend to tighten. That does tend to make it so that people basically adhere to norms more and enforce norms more, that is what tightening means, and as a consequence you do get more cooperation, but the tightening also tends to tighten who gets cooperation and sometimes leaves some folks or some behaviors out, and then you get things like hoarding.

There is very nice evidence. They do things like looking across different cultures; cultures that tend to have more conflict tend to have tighter norms. They do things like look at particular natural disasters or a series of natural disasters, and they find tightening and loosening over time. That pattern you are describing actually does show up in the data.

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: I think when natural disasters happen they remind us of our common humanity and they remind us that fate can be really capricious and things can happen to us. I think that is very important in motivating people to work together.

I also think that, at least at the international level, states’ reputations again can play an important part in this both with states and with international agencies because they can burnish their reputations in trying to foster cooperation, so there is a little bit of self-interest as well.

Oftentimes, there is the marrying together of moral imperatives and self-interest, like enhancing the reputation of a state or of an international organization in helping when tragedy happens. So our common humanity is a driving force and then enhancing reputations of individuals, of organizations, and of states.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: While we are waiting for questions, I am going to throw one out and then we will come to you.

We did not prepare for this one, but I am going to ask you about the effective altruism argument. This argument goes to the equal worth of all people. In other words, proximity really should not matter; what should matter is just utility. In other words, we should help those who are the least-well-off, no matter where they are.

What are your thoughts on that? Do you think this is a viable long-term strategy for global development? In other words, do we have the human psychological capacity to empathize on a global scale so that from a philanthropic perspective and from a health perspective resources will flow to the least-well-off, no matter where they are; or does proximity still matter?

EREZ YOELI: Perhaps. It does seem like the effective altruists want us to ignore the very natural tendency to empathize more and to be motivated more to help others who are very close to us, and it seems to me like there is a tension then between getting people who really need money the money versus getting people to be more motivated to give. I think there is a benefit to thinking about that tension. The way you phrased the question I think highlights that tension. I think the effective altruists often bury that question, and that maybe is a mistake on their part.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Interesting. I don’t know if you have any thoughts on that, Abi.

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: I think we certainly do have the capacity and the ability to help those who are not part of a community. This is what cosmopolitanism is all about because at the heart of being a cosmopolitan is that you care not only for those within your own community but you care for others outside your own community, and that you can have conversations across differences and bridge differences, and you have a spirit of empathy with those outside your own community.

I think one of the important things again that academia and universities can do is that we expose the students to the importance of these sorts of values and that cosmopolitanism is key if we are going to live in a world where we have interconnected challenges and global challenges, in a sense, in a world where you have “problems without passports.” If you have problems without passports, you need to find solutions without passports, and you cannot do that if you cannot relate and care for those outside your own community.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: If I could make one academic reference here based on your comments, Abi, the work of Kwame Anthony Appiah, who coined the phrase “rooted cosmopolitanism,” where he is trying to make the point of embracing one’s particular identity and yet also carrying a commitment to a cosmopolitan view of the world. It is quite an elegant and compelling view of the world which has made a great impression on me.

Another academic reference is Peter Singer’s work, which is really at the root of much of the effective altruism movement. Just a point of reference.

There was a hand up over here.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Jackson Lopez. I am a student at Bard College.

The question I am asking is: When we are thinking about the international system, a lot of people around the world will say that it has been led by the Americans, that, for better or worse, American power has undermined the norms and values that we have when we think about the international system, particularly at its most extreme regarding things like intervention. There are multipolar alternatives to this, but many of them are quite particularistic, and they say that nonintervention in state affairs is really the key value and there is much less about things like strong global policy or values altering how countries should think.

So I guess my question is: Can there be a decisive international system that prioritizes values—such as, for instance, legally binding climate agreements—without hierarchy, or without the hierarchy we are currently seeing; and, if so, how do we avoid falling into a particularism that prioritizes states above all else? How can we keep that cosmopolitanism while decentralizing the power that so far seems to be at the foundation of the international system?


ABIODUN WILLIAMS: Thank you, Jackson. If you are an undergraduate, you can think of coming to Tufts for your graduate training. An interesting number of questions there.

Let me just attempt this answer. I think in terms of the international system, states, for good or ill, are still the basis of the international system, and I do not think that is going to change in the short-to-medium term.

But it is clear that states cannot solve the whole range of issues that we are dealing with—from climate change, which you mentioned, to migration, to extreme poverty, to pandemics (we have been dealing with Covid-19)—and that states need to work with nonstate actors as well—civil society, business, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and universities—so that they can play a role in coming up with ideas and coming up with strategies to deal with these problems. So I think you have states, but they also have to work with these other actors who have knowledge, they have expertise, and they have resources.

In terms of values, I think if we are going to have an international system, it also has to be underpinned by certain values. It is difficult in a challenging international environment, but values such as solidarity, values of human rights, and values of the rule of law are critical.

I just refer—because you made a number of important points in your question—we had of course during the Cold War a bipolar system, and that was followed by a unipolar moment when we had unrivaled American hegemony. I think we are still in a period of transition, where we are not yet in a wholly bipolar world again if you think about the United States and China, but yet in some other areas it is multipolar.

So it is unclear what the world is now. We are in a transition as to whether it is going to be a bipolar world or is going to be a multipolar world—that is still in transition—but I think, whatever outcome we see, there will be no single power. Whether it is the United States, China, or rising powers like India and Brazil, none of these countries will be able to address these challenges on their own and you need to find ways to have cooperation amongst these states to address these issues.

QUESTION: Tom Gilbert. I am an expert on AI ethics, so I am entering into this set of questions from the perspective of how you make algorithms for social good. I think it actually bears directly on the free-rider problem that was brought up earlier in the sense that often when you are trying to optimize an AI system there are these questions about how you make it so that all the parties that are going to be affected by that system are actually going to feed into it in the ways that make it perform optimally.

That concerns me because if you look at the practice of the ways these systems are designed, it is a lot easier to just limit access from certain populations so that the only parties that can take part in the way the system works are the ones that have a self-interest in making it work well.

To analogize that historically, we are in New York. There is this guy Robert Moses, who is individually responsible for designing a lot of the urban infrastructure for roads in this city, and the way he solved the free-rider problem was to just exclude populations of people from riding free. You had to own a car to be able to use bypasses, highways, and all sorts of situations. So the way the built environment can condition who can even have access to the infrastructure to make pluralism, those sorts of agreements where we can even coalesce on shared features of identities—these are all things that AI is going to exacerbate now and in the future.

I guess my question to the panel is: How do you see the AI conversation playing out with respect to the themes that you have highlighted about this need for international norms, cooperation, and supranational standards possibly?

I just want to add briefly that I think the effective altruism movement has a mixed bag with respect to commitments to democracy and frankly also cosmopolitanism, but I am not a member of that community, so I do not speak for it. Thank you.

EREZ YOELI: I have done a little work that uses AI in the healthcare space. One of the things that I have seen in that space is—and it does not get as much attention—that what the AI does is in fact reduce discrimination because if the AI is looking for a particular outcome and a group identity does not play a role in how it looks for that outcome, it ignores that, whereas the human person trying to make that determination does not. One thing to recognize is that AI can play a role in both improving outcomes for groups that have traditionally been discriminated against in addition to exacerbating them, as you have pointed out.

You will know more than I do about this, but I think it is very clear that in cases where algorithms are basically imitating humans and humans discriminate we might want to restrict the algorithms from imitating us on everything and we might want to tell them: “You can’t imitate some things, in particular the discrimination part. We are not going to let you do that.” That may make the algorithm perform less well on some measures of performance, but we are bringing in some other concerns that those performance measures just did not include before.

To some extent I also think we should be using AI to combat the problems that human psychology has, and this is a case where we can do that.

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: I think generative AI is something we are all struggling with and trying to understand. Even at universities we are trying to figure out ChatGPT—we know our students are using it—how can we bring it in when we think about our syllabus and as part of education.

EREZ YOELI: And their exams.

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: So we have to think in an innovative way how we examine the students.

I do think that AI has tremendous potential to help in the digital age. That is not to say that there are not huge concerns, and we need to acknowledge the genuine concerns about AI. For example, is it going to exacerbate the misinformation we already see on social media in different platforms, the degree to which AI might displace human beings and human labor, and what AI might do in terms of increasing surveillance by governments? So there are genuine concerns about it.

I do think that it has potential to help with the achievement of all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), for example. That is one area where it could help internationally. But there is a need to engage in multistakeholder discussions on how you use AI so it can help with these global issues like the SDGs and how it can help with peace and justice. So that conversation needs to be had.

And then we have to begin to figure out how we have the international governance of AI and this new technology as we go forward. It is not going away. It is here and, like all good technologies, it is how do you make sure you use the benefits and you keep at bay the problems.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: While we are waiting we are going to have the next question up here, but I just want people to know that we have watching—I have the list here—people from Nepal, Norway, Ghana, Kenya, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Guatemala, Rwanda, Bahrain, Namibia, Mexico, South Africa, Panama, Nigeria, Haiti, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and the United States. That is pretty impressive.

QUESTION: My name is Hassan. I am an undergraduate at the City College of New York. Thank you for being here.

I have a question for you guys: On Global Ethics Day at a conference on cooperation we must address the elephant in the room. We can all agree that the Hamas attacks in Israel were irrational, as you guys mentioned, and should be condemned, but I think it is more than fair to say that the Israeli response has been beyond irrational and downright atrocious. The West has cooperated in their support for Israel but has abandoned the Palestinian people in their support. You mentioned that a lot of groups feel abandoned.

How does the international community cooperate multilaterally in addressing these severe human rights concerns in the region and for the millions of civilians at risk? How do we overcome the vested interests of the existence of an Israel in the Middle East in favor of saving millions from a bleak future?

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: Hassan, thank you very much for a very important and very thoughtful question.

As we watch the unfolding tragedy in the Middle East, of course the first thing is our hearts. You feel for the victims and those who have lost their lives. It is a huge tragedy. But I think, and from my own experience, that we must never despair even when a situation like this looks hopeless. We must never despair.

At this moment I think we can draw strength, hope, and inspiration from Ralph Bunche. Against all odds, that great Black American and UN mediator negotiated armistice agreements between the Arabs and the Israelis which brought about the end of the First Arab-Israeli War, for which Ralph Bunche won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. Again, it is important to look at those experiences and see what can be done and what an inspired mediator can do.

The peacemaker is blessed by scripture, but oftentimes we underestimate the role that individuals can play in trying to resolve seemingly intractable problems which are not insoluble and to bring warring sides together.

For me Ralph Bunche has always been a great inspiration. Ralph Bunche and his heroic efforts in the Middle East to bring about those armistice agreements between Israel and all the Arab nations remind us that we must never lose sight of our common humanity.

Again, to the point I made about leadership, the leadership is critical in bringing suffering peoples to the negotiating table to bring about painful compromises which are always necessary to bring about peace.

EREZ YOELI: I am afraid that anything I say is just going to make that answer worse.

It is a terrible situation. It is likely to become a worse situation. There are a lot of things that one wants to uphold in the region that are sometimes in conflict. There is a norm against terrorism that is currently being upheld at the expense of many, many lives in Gaza. It is unclear whether for the folks in Gaza that that is their preference and we are ignoring their preference in going ahead and nonetheless enforcing the norms against terrorism in the particular way that we are doing.

I do not want to pretend to think that I think that is an unambiguous good. I see some good in that. Enforcing norms against terrorism makes some sense. Doing so at the expense of millions of lives is a very, very serious cost, and I do not feel like I have the answer.

QUESTION: Hello, everyone. My name is Gilles Seulio from City College. Basically I want to go back to the framework of the values that guide cooperation and intervention. You have seen throughout the years that a lot of city-states or states have intervened in various conflicts but not for the right reasons, mostly because they were guided by self-interest. Unfortunately, because of that, they have taken kind of unreasonable actions and, because of that, devastating consequences have followed.

My question is: Where do we draw the line between cooperation and intrusion and what kind of framework do you think we should put into place to prevent intrusion?

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Do you want to talk about R2P a little bit? I don’t want to cue you on that.

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: Sure. It’s related to it. In terms of intervention, states intervene for a number of different reasons. It could be partly altruistic; they can intervene for narrow national interests; they can intervene for geopolitical interests; they can intervene for economic interests; and sometimes they intervene for human rights considerations. So there is always a whole range of different reasons why states intervene.

Joel talked about R2P, and I mentioned the case of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan because he looked to the experience of the international community not taking action in Rwanda with 800,000 lives being lost in 100 days and the genocide in Srebrenica. When he became secretary-general, he felt that the international community had to come up with a new norm, which is why we have the responsibility to protect and the acceptance that Member States have first the responsibility to protect their populations from the four mass-atrocity crimes. But if that does not work, the responsibility falls on the international community to take action to prevent these things from occurring.

Yes, we still have areas where there is a lack of action, but it is important to create that norm and to have a normative standard against which you can hold countries and make them accountable. But I also think we should not forget there are times when rather than intrusion states do not act when they should act or the international community does not act. So it is not only a question of intrusion or intervention, but sometimes you want them to act when it is not happening, and that usually has to do with a lack of political will, a narrow definition of the national interest, or simply indifference.

It is critical in those situations to generate political will, and that can be done both at the domestic level where you have students, you have young people, and you have civil society groups all mobilizing, and you have the media, so that political will can be generated, and then you also generate it at the international level, and this is one of the important roles of a UN secretary-general, to generate political will at the international level, to have action when it is necessary.

EREZ YOELI: I might just add one point, which is people’s sense of ethics, people’s sense of what is right and wrong, often will follow what is good for them. Sometimes creating an environment in which it is good for them to intervene—but perhaps not too much—is what we really need. That will, on the one hand, get you the motivation to intervene when that is helpful and maybe not go so far as to prioritize your interests over those of others. So aligning interests will often align the ethics as well.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Just to pause and build on that for just a second and then I will come over here, I am curious about the motivation of purely humanitarian, because your work is on altruism in a sense. How much traction does that have? Do you have a sense that my interest in this is humanitarian, period, that it is the right thing to do at a human level for empathetic reasons without interest? Have you looked at that?

EREZ YOELI: It is not that we were born or there is some innate desire to help all of humanity or something like that. We know that arises because of humanistic norms that have arisen. Most of these norms have origins in the 1500s and 1600s and the philosophy of that period. It has been strengthened over time, and we have a system of norms that undergirds those humanitarian intuitions as well. So there is a system in place that is aligning the incentives and sending the sense of ethics in that direction.

QUESTION: Hi, I am Ariana. I am a sophomore at Fordham University.

I wanted to go back to the initial question and get into multipluralism in the global order but in the context of private actors showing up. For example, with Ukraine we see Starlink emerge. How could private people such as Elon Musk or private businesses interrupt ethics in the global order and how could we regulate ethical implications for private actors?

EREZ YOELI: First of all, we just don’t really have a set of norms yet, so this goes back to the discussion that we had before that we need norm entrepreneurs and we need to start having those norms coalesce so we that know how somebody like Elon Musk should be behaving in this context. We know, for instance, in the recent attacks that were just brought up iPhones and social media played a critical role. Private organizations are playing a role there. We know that is happening in Ukraine and so on, and right now we do not have a global normative infrastructure to deal with that situation.

Maybe the one thing I will highlight is that we need to start thinking about having leaders come together and say, “What will that look like,” which will help a lot.

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: It is very difficult in conflict zones when you have not only states involved but you have international institutions, civil society groups, NGOs, and private actors. It makes it very difficult, and it is a huge problem for coordination as well.

One of the areas where the United Nations has been playing a role and one of the things that Kofi Annan did was he tried to bring companies and the private sector to work with the United Nations and to adopt certain human rights standards. That was the basis of what was the Global Compact because historically the United Nations had an antagonistic relationship to the private sector and the private sector was very suspicious of the United Nations. He believed, again in terms of leadership and being a norm entrepreneur, that you should begin to work with private companies, that private companies could sign up to certain norms and certain standards, and that the United Nations could also benefit and that could be a mutually beneficial relationship.

The Global Compact has really grown now into an international initiative. I think that is one of the ways you look at it. Whether Elon Musk will sign up for it remains to be seen, but many, many companies have signed up to it. I think it is a sort of initiative and the sort of practical way that you can get cooperation between states, international institutions, and the private sector.

QUESTION: I am going to ask a journalistic kind of question. I am dean emeritus of the journalism school at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

I want to thank Hassan for his question. Both of you are on campuses. His question I think reflects a lot of the mood on campuses, the divisions and the worry, and we are talking about cooperation.

You are talking about diplomacy, leadership, and action. Today the president has gone to the Middle East and there has been action. How do we think about that in this moment of cooperation? As a leader, with all the challenges he faces—and who knows what is going to happen later today?—I am wondering how both of you look at that kind of moment of leadership. Just some insight.

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: I have no insight into the presidential visit, but I think it is important for a U.S. president who has so many demands on his time and so many problems on his shoulders to go to a troubled region, to show leadership, to talk to the parties involved, and to try to bring a resolution to a very tragic situation which has been going on for decades.

We do know that many international disputes and many international conflicts are not solved without American leadership and American involvement. Of course, the involvement and the willingness to cooperate of the parties to the conflict is always critical, but you always need American leadership and American assistance to help bring parties together. So I think it is a good thing that the president is going so that the killing can stop and that you can find a resolution to a really longstanding conflict, as I said, a conflict which is difficult, intractable, and is not insoluble.

As I mentioned Ralph Bunche earlier on, he was a practical optimist. All leaders that I know, the leaders that I have worked with, are practical optimists. Even when a situation looks dire and it looks hopeless, they try to find a way and they work hard to find a solution, the international agreement. The solutions are never agreed on by everybody, but they find a way to bring people together.

I think of another example, that of Nelson Mandela in a very difficult situation in South Africa. When we look back, these things always seem easy, but are extraordinarily difficult. He was able to bring a suffering people to the negotiating table to make these painful compromises and to bring about a transition from a brutal, oppressive apartheid system in South Africa to a multiracial democracy.

So I am hopeful. I am a practical optimist in the Ralph Bunche mold, and I think it is important to remember even at the darkest moments.

EREZ YOELI: I think, from the standpoint of norm entrepreneurship, my guess is Biden saw an opportunity and he probably recognized that the strongest statements he can make are from there, they will be seen differently from a symbolic standpoint, and I imagine that his motivation is to jump on the opportunity in order to set certain norms. We will see what he makes of it.

I have in general been impressed with his moral clarity, not per se on this conflict but in general throughout his career and especially as president, and I am glad that he is the person showing up to this kind of situation because he tends to show leadership in these kinds of moments. I think this is a strength of his. I look forward to seeing what he does, and I hope it is helpful in making people suffer less.

QUESTION: My name is Noah Hemley. I go to Fordham University as well.

I just wanted to ask—we speak on this cooperation, we speak on accountability. The international space is at its root an anarchist thing because there is no higher authority than the sovereignty of states. We should look more at motivations and what states fear and how do we get them to cooperate in a more practical sense, as you speak of practical optimism. My question is more: Do you feel that we should spend more time and effort trying to change the cultural side of the international space, how the individual people view and how they should pressure their own representatives to act, or should we influence more the entrepreneurs, the technocracy aspect of it; should we try to promote the ideas of these organizations outside of governments having more power and doing more good, or do you think that is a bit of a slippery slope situation?

EREZ YOELI: I think that is a very good question. Do we need to put an “or” in the question?

QUESTIONER: Effective altruism, like what is the more effective? To change the cultural aspects of people is always going to be harder, but it is almost more effective because the people determine the governments and they determine the actions that we see in the international space, but it is quicker and a little bit more of a shortcut to have these NGOs, businesses, and outside organizations that do have this incredible influence in the 21st century. So I was just trying to think: Would it be more worthwhile to go for the longer solution rather than the shorter, or do we just not have enough time in this day and age?

EREZ YOELI: I do not see them as being in conflict. It does feel to me like one takes time, a large coordinated effort that can take a lot of resources and a lot of time but has huge benefits. The other one is something we can do in the meantime.

There is an analogy. I worked a little bit in health, as I mentioned, and in particular I have worked on combating tuberculosis. If you ask the Gates Foundation how we are going to combat TB, it is, “We are going to find a cure for TB,” and that is where they are putting a ton of their money. That may take 40 to 50 years. They are probably right that eventually we will find a cure for TB, and that is going to be awesome. But in the meantime what should we do? Well, we should get people to take the existing medications and we should make improvements around that.

So I think there is an analogy here: we can fight on both fronts.

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: Thanks for the question. Again, you fight and work at different levels. Individuals are always the key to the puzzle as I see it. I am a great believer in individual agency. We come together in our communities. You are at Fordham, as you say, you come together and work with universities, you cooperate at the local level. There is a role for cities, and cities can work to deal with issues and problems which national governments cannot solve. National governments are important, and certainly, in line with much of what I have been saying this afternoon, international institutions are also key. So you work at different levels to bring about change, systemic change and also then change in terms of institutional change.

QUESTION: This is Najia from Afghanistan. I’m a student in the Master’s program in humanitarian action.

I have a question: How can we develop a cooperative environment among UN agencies and also non-UN agencies for cooperation? I can give you the example of Afghanistan right now that some UN agencies are present in the country but the other NGOs are just waiting for the government to be recognized or just for the EU government. How do you think we can create a sort of cooperation among the UN and non-UN agencies?

ABIODUN WILLIAMS: It is usually a challenge. It was a challenge that I faced of course in three peacekeeping missions in North Macedonia, in Haiti, and in Bosnia, in Sarajevo, because you had a plethora of different UN agencies on the ground and then you also had non-UN agencies, and how you bring them together is always a challenge.

One of the things that usually helps is that you focus on the comparative advantage that each agency has. So, if you are working on education, then the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is in the lead on that. If it is a health issue, you try to get the World Health Organization (WHO) involved. So you look at the issue and try to utilize the comparative advantage of the particular agency.

In some of the missions there is a great deal of advance which has been done with integrating, say, the development side of the UN system with the political and peacekeeping sides, and that has helped.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: With that, I want to thank you all for being here with us, both in person and online. Ethics is almost meaningless without conversation and dialogue, so we need you and we welcome your engagement, particularly on Global Ethics Day, Our sincere thanks for your time.

I always want to thank the Carnegie staff, who worked extremely hard, especially Kevin Maloney, for organizing this event, and also commend the staff on the title of this event—I was thinking about this—“Unlocking Cooperation.” This conversation makes me believe that it is within us if we can just find a way to unlock it and access it in some way.

Finally, thank you to our panelists, Abi and Erez, for showing us the way. Our job is to imagine a better future based on experience and principles, but there is a path there, and you are practical optimists, so thank you for sharing this time with us today.


EREZ YOELI: Thank you.

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Carnegie Council pour l'éthique dans les affaires internationales est un organisme indépendant et non partisan à but non lucratif. Les opinions exprimées dans le cadre de cet événement sont celles des panélistes et ne reflètent pas nécessairement la position de Carnegie Council.

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