#03 development cooperation
Franz Nuscheler

Global Governance: Rationale – Hurdles - Perspectives

1. Challenges of globalisation

The concept of global governance is not an academic mental exercise. It is the attempt to find a political answer to the challenges of globalisation. It is not a myth or a phantom, but a historical reality and for many “globalisation opponents” a dreadful and threatening scenario. The multilayered development trends in global society, world economy and global politics upon which the diffuse and controversial phenomenon is based are consolidated here into the following theses:

Firstly: Globalisation is neither something completely new nor the acceleration of the “Europisation of the world” begun centuries ago. It is also not a fateful natural event, but rather the result of politically desired deregulation strategies. Vilifying it is pointless, since it is impossible to opt out of development trends in world history. It is, however, absolutely essential to politically manage its momentum and strengthen the formative powers of politics.

Secondly: Globalisation holds risks and opportunities; it has winners and losers on the level of the world of states and inside the societies of every region in the world. One the one hand, it makes use of the technologically superior “OECD world” and offers competitive emerging nations new opportunities on the world market deregulated by the WTO (World Trade Organisation). On the other hand, it threatens to further marginalise entire regions both economically and politically.

Thirdly: The world market functions as a global court ruling on competitiveness and as such on the development capacity of nations. Under more intense international competitive conditions, social and environmental standards are subject to increasing pressure everywhere, even in OECD countries. Increasingly deregulated free trade increases the temptation to create competitive advantages at great cost to humans and nature. If the principle of competition were not tamed through regulation, the social-Darwinist principle of “survival of the fittest” would hold sway.

Finally: The question of the controllability of global problems from which no nation can withdraw in our “global risk society” (Ulrich Beck) has become a central issue in global politics. The globalisation of the economy and technology, of communication and transport systems, has also rendered undesirable developments international. Problems from regions that seem so far removed – such as impoverishment, environmental destruction, and migration driven by poverty or wars – have global boomerang effects. Three centuries years ago in his introduction to the report of the North-South Commission he headed, which came to be known as the Brandt Report, Willy Brandt emphasised:

“Whether we like it or not: We are increasingly faced with problems that affect all of humanity, so that, logically, their solutions need to be increasingly internationalised as well. The globalisation of dangers and challenges – war, chaos, self-destruction – require a type of ‘global domestic politics’ that goes well beyond the horizon of church steeples but also well beyond national borders.” (North-South Commission 1980: Ensuring survival, p. 27).

The diagram illustrates the global system risks that have been brought to our attention by the global economic crisis, the harbingers of “climate wars” (Harald Welzer) and the collapse of states.

2. How can the “world risk society” be governed?

Dimensions of the “world risk society“

The Israeli political scientist Yehezkel Dror (1994) asked a sceptical question in a report to the Club of Rome: “Is the Earth still governable?” His answer was: Not using conventional methods. Because the gap between the globalisation of the world’s problems and the ability of the world of states to manage nation-state power and interest politics using conventional methods and instruments is growing ever wider, politics must find new approaches to domestic and foreign policy. When problems become globalised, politics must go global too. Selective and reactive crisis management is no longer enough. New organisational structures need to be created. Ulrich Beck goes so far as to posit the inescapability of “compulsory cosmopolitism”.

Some call the attempt to find answers to meet the challenges of globalisation global politics or world domestic politics, others world order politics or global structure politics. By now many refer to it as global governance after the Commission on Global Governance called into being by Willy Brandt introduced the term into international discussion. But even this term is interpreted in a variety of different ways.

3. Building blocks of the global governance architecture

In the discussion of possible ways to organise world peace and solve the world’s problems, a small group of “globalists” holds fast to the vision of a global nation. The global governance architects do not share this vision of a global state. Instead they emphasise:

Firstly: Global governance is not global government. A global nation is neither a realistic nor a desirable option because it could never win democratic legitimacy and would be too far removed from the problems that need to be solved. Worldwide decentralisation is on the political reform agenda. The vision of global governance corresponds more to the world federation of free republics envisioned by Immanuel Kant with a necessary minimum of global stateliness. The philosopher Otfried Höffe condensed this vision to the term the “subsidiary and federal world republic”.

Secondly: Global governance is based on different forms and levels of international coordination, cooperation and collective decision making. International organisations assume this coordinating function and contribute to the development of global points of view. Regimes translate the will to cooperate into binding guidelines. In such regimes, nations sign contractual agreements, pledging to work on common problems. Even hegemonies agree to such regimes because they regulate something important to their continued well-being, something they cannot regulate alone, but can influence to their own advantage by virtue of their power.

Thirdly: The obligation to cooperate requires a relinquishment of sovereignty that globalisation effects and interdependent structures have already exacted. The increasing dissolution of boundaries in the world of states and economic world has turned the traditional concept of sovereignty into an anachronistic relic of the Westphalian system of states. Even the Great Powers will have to resign themselves to being “divided sovereignties” which could increase rather than decrease their mutual ability to act and solve problems.

Fourthly: The new distribution of global economic and global political weight referred to as the “multipolar world” has been accompanied by a process of regionalisation that has been strengthened by globalisation pressure. The simultaneity of globalisation and regionalisation is part of the structure-building development trend in the global economy and global politics. More or less successful cooperation or integration zones are forming in all regions. Global governance has to build on such regional cooperation cores and use them as an organisational base because the subsidiary principle remains meaningful even in a global context.

Finally: Global governance is not a project in which only governments or international organisations are involved as an instrument of the world of states. This new and distinctive concept developed by the Commission on Global Governance lies not just in an increase in governmentally organised multilateralism, but in the “interaction of governmental and non-governmental stakeholders from the local to the global level”. The resulting global political networks involve not just the globally operating multinationals and media companies, but also integrate the increasingly trans-nationally organised non-governmental organisations (NGOs) into the consulting and decision-making mechanism. NGOs have long been part of the dramaturgy of world conferences and have been granted an organising function in some “soft” political areas (environmental, human rights and development policy) in addition to their consulting and corrective roles. The world of states can no longer do as it pleases with diplomatic exclusivity as was the case at the Congress of Vienna. This is why UN General Secretary Kofi Annan spoke of a “silent revolution” behind the wings of the world of states.

The nation states, however, remain the central actors in international politics and retain their power to independently make authoritative decisions: they continue to represent the supporting pillars of the global governance architecture. This architecture is no longer sustainable, however, unless it incorporates a network of struts with the worlds of business and society. “Public-private partnership” (PPP) means the state has to collaborate with societal groups to develop mutual solutions to problems. Participatory “bottom-up” decision-making processes have long since proven more effective than centralistic “top-down” processes.

4. Unfulfilled prerequisites for global governance

The Commission on Global Governance emphasised three preconditions necessary for global governance to work which Kant had already demanded as his three first definitive articles in Perpetual Peace: Firstly, lasting peace can only take place in and between constitutionally structured (“republican”) states. Secondly, while a global politics capable of peace does not require a global state, it does necessitate the regulatory power of authoritative international law within a federation of free republics. Thirdly, the global society created hereby must be based on a “world citizenship constitution” with “world citizenship rights”, which is to say the foundation of universal human rights that theologian Hans Küng referred to as global ethics.

In addition to generally accepted rules and standards and a code of conduct for systems of negotiation, the emergence of an international culture of cooperation also requires a foundation of shared values and principles of action along with a minimum level of trust, reliability, the ability to compromise and respect for the legitimate interests of others. Binding rules and regulations create the preconditions for any sort or order whether on a national or international level.

Principal agreement on the normative structural principals of global governance is extensive. But moving from a consensus on principle to acting in accordance with the principals is, as experience has shown, a long and arduous journey. It is true that global political stakeholders have increasingly acknowledged that globalisation is overtaxing the ability of nation states to solve problems and that the international crisis management mechanisms applied thus far – whether as part of the G7/G8, the G20 or the UN Security Council – are no longer adequate to meet the emerging challenges. Increasing pressure from problems has forced this acceptance. But so far it has only been followed a hesitant muddling through to a reactive ad hoc form of crisis management that works best when the interests of important nations are threatened.

At the beginning of the new millennium we are not, as was the hope at the end of the Cold War, closer to a “new world order”. In fact we are experiencing a relapse into a “world order” only partially ordered by international rules and standards and a crisis of multilateralism because the old Superpower USA and the new Great Power China are following a common maxim: As much unilateralism as possible, only as much multilateralism as absolutely necessitated by self-interest. Some illustrative examples:

  • The WTO is a comprehensive trade regime, but we still have no social or ecological guardrails that could set limits for the exploitation of human beings and nature and “predatory capitalism” (Helmut Schmidt). Even after going through the current economic crisis, we still have no international rules for competition that would deter rewarding such behaviour in international competition; and we are still without international currency guidelines that could restrain speculative “casino capitalism”.
  • While Agenda 21 concluded at the Rio Conference in 1992 is a comprehensive action programme for dealing with global environmental problems, at later conferences we experienced a mortifying haggling of nations who, under pressure from powerful interest groups, attempted to avoid as best they can having to set binding stipulations for reducing environmental pollution.

These observations seem to invite the conclusion that all the calls for global governance are unable to prevent the feared “world war for prosperity” (Gabor Steingart). Another very different conclusion could also be drawn: Because the world of states cannot solve the world’s problems using conventional methods and instruments, the course of world policy needs to be reset – in the service of global governance.

5. Conclusion: vision or illusion?

The Global Governance Project has been confronted with a multiplicity of objections: It is a construct without a theory that retreats from a critical analysis of raw reality into a voluntaristic vision of the future; it is blind to the power factor and hegemonial interests and therefore, in view of the real power relationships in world politics and the global economy, cannot even deliver a concrete utopia for the world of tomorrow. “Realists” in politics and science instead recognise amplified competitive situations, races for deregulation and trade conflicts as a result of globalisation. At the beginning of the 21st century, it is true that global governance is still a fragile project, in particular its architecture which is still on the drawing board.

But there are also developments that make global governance more than just an illusion: The creation of a series of regimens that establish rules for and deepen international cooperation in the different political fields; the founding of the International Criminal Court set up to punish crimes against humanity worldwide; a “policy of involvement” to improve human rights and the development of rule of law; the development of an international civil society that no longer leaves politics to the state; the intensification of “public private partnerships”; the attempt of world conferences to develop cooperative solutions for the most pressing world problems.

The pressure of the problem of increasing transaction costs will also force the old and new Global Players, now organised as the G20, to regulate the uncontrolled momentum of globalisation into international cooperation. Global governance is not a romantic project for an idealised notion of “One World”, but rather a realistic answer to the challenges of globalisation. There are good reasons why the German Bundestag’s Enquete Commission on the “Globalisation of the World Economy” upgraded global governance, declaring it the ideal solution for shaping globalisation.