If only we had the political will.
Congolese police patrol amid the coronavirus outbreak in Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo on March 19.
On this week’s episode of Amicus, Dahlia Lithwick was joined by David Miliband of the International Rescue Committee for a sweeping conversation about the rule of law, global justice, and our age of impunity, before, during, and after the COVID-19 crisis. A portion of their interview, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, has been transcribed below.
I’ve read a lot of your critiques of Brexit and of Trump and Trumpism, and I wonder if you’ve given up on government or if you think that constitutional government has lost its way.
I haven’t given up on government. It’s been more accurate to say politics gave up on me before I gave up on politics. And I don’t believe you can have big social change without government. But the formula I give people is: If you want to have big social, economic, environmental, other change, you need three things. You need government leadership, you need business or NGO innovation, and you need mass mobilization. But you don’t necessarily need them in that order. And at a time when governments are in retreat from big problems, then my narrative is that you need business and NGOs and civil society to mobilize to lead.
So you’re not saying that NGOs and big business are rushing in to fill the voids that government left?
Well, we’re filling a void in leadership, but we can’t solve the problem without government. We’re in an age of impunity, where there’s a retreat from core commitments that were instantiated in some of the international legal regime that grew up in the post–Second World War period. The age of impunity abroad is fueled by democratic recession at home and a loss of soft power in democratic countries, which you’re seeing in the COVID crisis. The troubles that America’s having dealing with this crisis at home are being used around the world to say, “You see? Democracy doesn’t work.”
Can you talk a little bit about what COVID has meant for the work on the ground that you do?
I was on a Zoom yesterday morning wi