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  • Writer's pictureMichael W. Doyle

The Coming Age of Global Governance

Michael W. Doyle

Stephane Hessel

The world is becoming increasingly governed, but just not well enough. Global governance, not world government, has stepped in where national governments do not reach and markets do not effectively operate. It operates at global, regional, and national levels. Solutions are being provided by state action and private action. But to protect a vulnerable planet, encourage economic development and improve the prospects of peace, the world needs better governance.

Some aspects are global governance are effective: the Law of the Sea, where a set of rules has earned the acceptance and compliance of the major stakeholders; in healthcare, the WHO served as a forum for the management of the SARS epidemic. We also see public private partnerships including the Global Fund making increasingly available antiviral drugs; and we recognize that private civil society organizations have made major contributions toward global governance including the eradication of polio and lobbying for the anti-mines treaty.

But current global governance is far from sufficient. In climate change business as usual scenarios point to a global environment that in the long run is unsustainable and whose most immediate and dire consequences will bear on countries least able to manage them. We lack measures to manage WMDs, and in particular an ability to accommodate legitimate desires for nuclear tech and energy. Here the danger of nuclear proliferation combines with the unwillingness of the existing nuke powers to outline a strategy in which nuclear dominance plays an increasingly small role in international security. We observe the failure of the Doha round that reveals an inability to agree on a trade system that encourages the kind of development that alleviating global poverty will require.

And these failures are connected, making them difficult to resolve separately. Who believes that WTO members making sacrifices to curb global warming will tolerate a trade regime that prohibits them from discriminating against exports of goods produced with polluting technologies? Who believes that the nuclear powers can deny the benefits of nuclear technology to non-nuclear powers without some legitimate global process of adjudication? Neither tension is technical or merely economic. In both the tension is one of moral economy -- a debate over legitimacy, responsibility and rights -- and thus inherently political.

Governance failures are rooted in three deeper structural failures of the world political economy:

Global market failures. Efficient as private markets can sometimes be in matching effective demand and adequate supply, they don’t sufficiently address externalities that are public and global in nature. The weak, the poor cannot make their preferences heard and those with market clout seek to pass costs along, if only because everyone else is trying to do the same.

Sovereignty failures. Sovereign states which can sometimes provide legitimate order at home do not adequately address problems that reach across borders because, much too often, indifference and a lack of global citizenship combine to preclude collective solutions to common problems.

Intergovernmental failures. Important as collective action is, intergovernmental institutions lack the necessary authority, vision, expertise, and resources to govern the problems that have been put on the multilateral agenda.

All three of these failures reflect failures of imagination, political will and in particular an unwillingness to re-think the foundations of international order and the responsibility that comes with them. None of this is inherently new. But what is new about the crises today is a global context that includes radically increased interdependence, both among countries, and across issues. This is the world of globalization. Globalization reverberates with the spread of democracy at the national level, which raises expectations that the voices of the people should be raised and heard at all levels. And it occurs in the wake of the rise of new centres of industrial and financial power, particularly in Asia, whose role fails to be reflected in global institutions and practices, many of which date back to 1945.

As a result, in too many areas global governance today fails as a generator of norms, underperforms as a mechanism of coordination and collaboration, stalls when it comes to enforcement and lacks adequate accountability.

As we face the crises of global governance today, solutions must attempt to incorporate principles of genuine dialogue. Better information is needed both to set standards and to understand where the gaps in responsibility and accountability lie. And solutions must be flexible and right-sized to the particular contours of the problem. Problems that can be solved at the national level do not need regional solutions and regional solutions can substitute for difficult-to-achieve global solutions.

Public and private partnerships will need to exploit the synergies between public authority and regulation, on one hand, and private entrepreneurship and resources on the other. In this way serious and large problems can be addressed by leveraged solutions. Climate Change, for example, calls for hundreds of billions of dollars in new investment only a small fraction of which we can expect to come from public finance. None of this will take place without a public regime establishing a framework that encourages innovation and assigns responsibilities

Thus we need to reform existing international institutions, not for their own sake, but in order to ensure that genuine global demands are better met. For example, dealing with conflict resolution and peace keeping requires, both stronger regional organizations and more responsive global organizations. We need a UN Security Council that better reflects the 21st century and, because it does, is therefore more legitimate and better able to elicit respect and mobilize the resources that conflict resolution and peacekeeping require. The ongoing devastation of the Democratic Republic of Congo comes to mind in both regards as a dire example of absent reform of global governance. In order to provide a forum for genuine dialogue and norm setting available to all countries, large and small, the UN General Assembly needs a radical revision that removes it from the dialogue of the deaf to a dialogue that listens as well as it talks, raises questions no matter how controversial, and provides judgements that are coherent and useful. For example, migration is an issue with global implications both political and economic that require new thinking about who controls borders and in whose interest that control takes place.

No matter how deliberative and responsible, global action is much needed and will continue to be inadequate without additional resources. These resources can come through partnerships, international taxation and other innovative forms of market solutions and financing that are designed to fit each particular crisis and to fit the real needs defined in a scale that fits the extent of the problem.

Lastly but far from least is the gap in crisis management at the global level in finance that is evident today. Crisis management needs to take place in a much more timely fashion. It should incorporate the most essential stakeholders so that both understanding and action are enhanced. Solutions available soon, as imperfect as they are, are better than solutions wise only in hindsight. The global financial crisis roiling world threatens to evolve into “beggar-thy-neighbour” policies in the way in which the financial crises of the early 1930s produced the global depression of the entire decade. As part of this, institutions such as the IMF and the WTO need restructuring to better represent new stakeholders. And existing rules, regulations and for a need to be rethought to embody insights pertinent to the highly globalized world in which we live.

There are no easy formulas to solve global governance challenges. But change can begin with a deliberative dialectic. We need to confront and combine two logics. The first is the traditional logic of delegation from principal to agent, when the first cedes political authority and resources to an agent for a particular purpose. The agent acquires legitimacy and effectiveness through delegation and is then monitored by the principal to ensure compliance. This is the classic traditional model though which states establish intergovernmental organizations, such as the first member states did at San Francisco to create the UN. The UN’s authority and capacity is a function of delegation by “We the peoples..” through their member states (Article 2.1),. The authority embodied in the powers of the General Assembly (such as the taxing authority of the budget, Art 17) and the authority embodied in the Security Council (under Chapter VII) to bind members states in peace and war. Reformers now seek to deepen delegation, accountability and introduce an element of democracy, in all its many senses that include more representation for new powers and more representation for “We the peoples” through popular election.

The major limitations of the delegated approach are, first, the danger of foot-loose agents institutions that escape the principals’s control. But a more serious threat at the global level lies in the danger of governance deadlock. Here state principals and their international organization agents control outcomes by structures of monitoring that preclude solutions to genuine global problems as vetoes and log-rolled majorities preclude genuine attempts to address global problems.

The limitations of delegation call out for a new logic that is quite different. Rather than principals defining and controlling legitimacy and capacity, instead legitimacy and capacity need to become diffused and disaggregated in problem-solving networks. Legitimacy of governance is here a product of shared values among an “international community” which shares a commitment to peace, human rights, environmental sustainability, poverty eradication.

Agents are the multiple actors in networks composed of lower level officials, legislators, judges and ngo and private sector specialists engaging in problems with a focus on practical solutions wherever they are to be found. “Coalitions of the capable and willing” appoint themselves to handle problems by setting about implementing shared values. States, international and regional organizations, transnational civil society, popular movements: each bring separate and different capacities to networks for dialogue and action. Recent successes of this governance model include the Land Mines campaign leading to Ottawa Convention; corporate social responsibility initiatives such as the UN Global Compact and public private partnerships such as GAVI, the Gates Foundation and the Kimberly Process to manage illicit diamonds. Monitoring is also diffused. It is not managed through delegation of authority and capacity, but through transparency and diffused agency and measured collectively by whether the shared values and goals are achieved.

Networks can be effective – especially when traditional delegation is deadlocked. But it too has characteristic failings, including: To whom is accountability owed and for what? Are the values genuinely shared or imposed by a global elite? If the values are shared, with what priorities – and who decides? Who should implement and how?

In short, one important task ahead is to marry the ingenuity of the networks with the authority of the states and their IGO agents. Solutions will need to draw upon many different disciplines of thought, but also the political leadership that comes from inspiring leaders supported by more effective institutions and a deeper public understanding that we live in a world where human problems do not come permanently attached to national passports.


Michael Doyle is the Harold Brown Professor of International Affairs, Law and Political Science at Columbia University, and former Assistant Secretary General and Special Adviser to UN SG Kofi Annan for Policy Planning at the UN (2001-2003). Stephane Hessel is an eminent French diplomat and a father of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Both are members of the Collegium International and these remarks draw upon their dialogues at Monaco, December 2008, and Trouville, July 2009.


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