One of the most notable aspects of post-industrial living is that, as time goes on, the provisions of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia (which continue to represent the legal foundation of international law, as we know it) appear to grow increasingly outdated. The reason for this is that, whereas the conventional paradigm of international relations (IR) presupposes that only the sovereign nation-states can be this law’s actual subjects, there can be no doubt as to the growing capacity of different non-state corporate agents (such as NGOs and transnational corporations) to affect dynamics in the arena of international politics (Barnett & Sikkink 2008, p. 63).
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In its turn, this causes many political scientists to question the appropriateness of maintaining the status quo, in this regard, and consequently – to promote the idea that the actual methodology of many contemporary IR-theories is conceptually inconsistent because it does not take into account the phenomenon of the so-called ‘global governance’, closely associated with the realities of post-modernity. According to Rosenau (1995), the concept in question is best defined as such that, Includes systems of rule at all levels of human activity – from the family to the international organization – in which the pursuit of goals through the exercise of control has transnational repercussions” (p. 13).
The term ‘global governance’ is also commonly used in conjunction with the idea that the most effective way for the agents of ‘global governance’ to exercise control in the political domain of their interest, is applying ‘soft power’, in the sense of creating, maintaining, and leading the universally recognizable hegemonic discourses of socio-cultural and economic importance. Hence, the main theoretical premise of global governance – the agents of change in the domain of geopolitics should not seek to exercise a direct (often prohibitive) control over the political developments in one or another part of the world, but rather to ‘steer’ these developments as they come into being, in the way favorable to the practitioners of the mentioned type of governance.
As Avant, Finnemore, and Sell (2010) pointed out, “Global governors are authorities who exercise power across borders for purposes of affecting policy. Governors thus create issues, set agendas, establish and implement rules or programs, and evaluate and/or adjudicate outcomes” (p. 2). The most likely practitioners of global governance are usually classified as the ‘transnational’ (NGOs, multinational corporations, social movements), ‘subnational’ (ethnic minorities, trade organizations, cities), and ‘jointly sponsored’ (cross-border coalitions) participants of the public domain. (Rosenau 1995, p. 22).
In its turn, this can be explained by the fact that, due to not being considered the international law’s rightful subjects, these semi-independent political entities need to rely on the unconventional methods of expanding their discursive influence, which in today’s world can be converted into many concrete dividends of practical importance.
In this paper, I will outline what accounts for the main analytical advantages and disadvantages of this conceptualization of global governance, while promoting the idea that the latter outweigh the former rather substantially. I will also aim to substantiate the validity of the suggestion that despite its formal affiliation with the Constructivist model of IR, the very discourse of ‘global governance’ in fact confirms the validity of the specifically Realist outlook on the actual significance of socio-political developments in the world.
Body of the paper
As it was implied in the Introduction, the theoretical model of ‘global governance’ (in the contemporary sense of this word) is comparatively recent. One of the main factors that predetermined the eventual emergence of this model was the social scientists’ realisation that the human society can be conceptualized in terms of an open thermodynamic system. In its turn, this presupposes that, in order for just about anyone to be able to understand the innate essence of qualitative dynamics in such a society, he or she would be much better off assessing these dynamics within the methodological framework of ‘systems theory.
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This theory’s main provision has to do with the synergistic principle that, “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts” (Alaa & Fitzgerald 2013, p. 3). Hence, the only notable advantage of different theories of ‘global governance’ – they are scientifically sound, in the sense of insisting that, given the exponential progress in the field of informational technologies (IT), it is specifically the deployment of the thoroughly systemic approach to governing, which should prove to be the most effective one. This approach has to do with the assumption that the informational transactions between the elements within the system, define the overall quality of this system to a much greater degree, as compared to what is the case with the concerned elements’ actual substance.
In part, this explains the reason why the proponents of ‘global governance’ stress out the importance of understanding that the effectiveness of this kind of governance directly relates to the ‘governors’’ varying ability to communicate the message of ‘authoritative legitimacy’ to the would-be governed on a continual basis – “The governed should be much more inclined to defer to and recognize the authority of a governor they perceive to be legitimate” (Avant, Finnemore, & Sell 2010, p. 360). There is, however, even more to it – within the context of a particular group of people being subjected to ‘global governance’, the factor of communication has the value of a ‘thing-in-itself’.
As the same authors pointed out, “It is not the type of actor but the character of relationships, both among governors and between governor and governed, that is key to understanding global politics” (Avant, Finnemore, & Sell 2010, p. 3). It is understood, of course, that being consistent with the scientific discourse of ‘systemness’, the concept of ‘global governance’ does hold a number of clues, as to what are the actual forces behind the political developments in today’s world.
Consequently, there is indeed much rationale in referring to the concept in question, as such that may come in handy for the statehood-lacking and yet powerful players, engaged on the chessboard of global geopolitics. After all, one’s ability to indulge in systemic reasoning has been traditionally considered the main prerequisite for the person to succeed in setting and fulfilling his or her long-term objectives. The same applies to the nation-states and the non-state subjects of international relations.
There are some ‘instrumental’ advantages to the concept of ‘global governance’, as well. The main of them has to do with the fact that this form of governance is better than any other suited for addressing the issues of global importance, such as environmental pollution or the preservation of the rare species of animals, for example. The logic behind this suggestion is quite apparent. Since the discursive context of such issues presupposes the sheer irrelevance of the factor of national borders, no nationally-based governmental authority can be in the position to consider making any notable difference, in this respect, without willing to yield some of its legislative and executive functions to the higher-leveled governmental body of some sort.
To illustrate the validity of this idea, we can refer to the signing of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol by 83 countries, as the ‘global governance’ initiative that was meant to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide, emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere on an annual basis (Urpelainen 2013). Nevertheless, as practice indicates, it would be too early to assume that the practical advantages of ‘global governance’ are spatially stable.
The mentioned signing of the Kyoto Protocol is also quite exemplary, in this respect. After all, the only country that claims to have what it takes to be able to exercise ‘global governance’ is also the one that refused to ratify this Protocol – the U.S. (Ivanova & Esty 2008). This raises some preliminary doubts, as to whether the practical implementation of the concept of ‘global governance’ should be deemed just as beneficial to humanity’s well-being, as its promoters would like people to assume.
These doubts will multiply rather dramatically once we get to recognize the concept’s major disadvantages. The foremost of them can be formulated as follows. Even though the concept of ‘global governance’ provides a scientifically sound/systemic insight into the synergistic functioning of human society, and into what are the most effective strategies for keeping it well-managed, this conceptualization is based on the misleading (neoliberal) assumption that it is specifically the economics that defines politics and not the other way around.
After all, it does not represent much of a secret that the proponents of ‘global governance’ claim that the effectiveness of the associated governing-practices positively relates to these practices’ ability to serve the causes of privatization and deregulation. As Bortolotti and Perotti (2007) suggested, “The transfer of operational control over productive assets to the private sector often yields a desirable governance system… The gradual creation of institutions partially shielded from political power must become central to the development of an optimal model of regulatory global governance” (p. 54).
Partially, this explains why the idea of ‘global governance’ became especially popular in the U.S. – a country where the privately-owned transnational corporations stand behind the adoption of just about every legislative initiative – all due to their immense lobbying power. Essentially the same can be said about the situation in other major Capitalist countries, “States transferred public enterprises and state functions to private actors, and increasingly encouraged private actors to ﬁnance policies such as education, municipal services, and even security, which had once been the exclusive responsibility of states” (Avant, Finnemore, & Sell 2010, p. 5).
What appears to be the most problematic with all of this is that, whereas the notion of ‘global governance’ presupposes the practitioner’s ability to plan at least a few decades ahead of time (and to be willing to invest in the long-term infrastructural projects), the potential agents of this type of governance are very unlikely to think further than a few years into the future. Moreover, they are also unlikely to conduct ‘global governing’ in an ethically sound manner (Sanders 2012).
The reason for this is that the privatization of the public sphere, as one of the main preconditions of ‘global governance’, will inevitably result in ‘governors’ beginning to prioritize their corporate interests, often at the expense of acting contrary to the interests of the society. In its turn, this development will make it quite impossible for the practitioners of global governing to ensure the systemic and moral appropriateness of their approach to tackling the governance-related challenges.
As Doane (2005) aptly pointed out, “Investments are particularly unlikely to pay off in the two to four-year time horizon that public companies, through the demands of the stock market, often seem to require… investments in things like the environment or social causes become a luxury” (p. 25). The main discursive implication of this is quite apparent – when used in conjunction with the term ‘free-market-economy’, the term ‘global governance’ ceases to be conceptually legitimate. The reason for this is that under the condition of Capitalism, the latter term becomes synonymous with the notion of ‘exploitation’.
A good illustration of the validity of this statement can serve the fact that, in order for a particular country to qualify for receiving a substantial monetary loan from the IMF or WTO, its government must be willing to reduce or to eliminate social spendings – something that automatically results in the drastic lowering of living standards in this country. The mentioned organizations clearly fit the category of ‘global governors’, while being directly responsible for the fact that, as opposed to what is the case in Western countries (where the interest-rate, charged by the banks, is rarely higher than 2%), the interest rate in the Third and Second world countries is often set as high as 20%-30% (Feldmann 2013).
In its turn, such a high-interest rate prevents the growth of these countries’ economies, because it discourages locally based business from thinking strategically (long-term). As Mariarosaria (2012) argued, “The WTO trade rules have not automatically resulted in economic growth, nor in gender-sensitive development. Rather impact has been generally contradictory and rife with tensions” (p. 7). This, of course, means that ‘global governance’ cannot be considered ‘global’ in the full sense of this word, because it is mainly concerned with serving the economic and geopolitical needs of the West, with very little attention paid to the would-be ensued systemic (all-planetary) effects. The sheer disadvantageousness of such a situation is self-evident.
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Another important disadvantage of the concept of ‘global governance’, as perceived by the promoters of the neoliberal agenda, is that it contains a number of clearly erroneous theoretical provisions. For example, within the concept’s discursive framework, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are assumed the independent ‘governing’ actors, solely concerned with trying to benefit humanity in one way or another, “NGOs… almost always make moral claims and are able to do so in part because no one thinks they are in it for the money” (Avant, Finnemore, & Sell 2010, p. 13). This, however, is far from being the actual case.
As indicated by the recently occurred ‘democratic’ revolutions in Syria, Libya, and Ukraine (and the sub-sequential transformation of these countries into the arena of a civil war), the NGOs’ primary function is to act as the agents of foreign (American/Western) influence in just about every country on this planet. Despite the fact that most NGOs deliberately refrain from disclosing any information, as to the source of their financing, it does not represent any secret that just about all of these organizations are on the unofficial payroll of the U.S. Department of State, “In a speech to the National Press Club on December 13, 2013… the U.S. State Secretary Victoria Nuland boasted that the US has ‘invested’ $5 billion in ‘organizing a network’ to give Ukraine ‘the future it deserves’”(Grant 2014, p. 1).
Thus, assessing the significance of NGOs through the lenses of the Constructivist theory of IR, as do many advocates of ‘global governance’, cannot be considered appropriate. Apparently, NGOs are nothing but yet another instrument of Realpolitik (along with diplomacy and war), used by Western countries, as the mean of retaining their geopolitical dominance. It is understood, of course, that this undermines the validity of the concept of ‘global governance’ rather substantially – especially given the fact that the mentioned example also points out the fact that it is much too early to assume the discursive ‘outdatedness’ of nation-states, as the only legitimate subjects of the international law.
The above suggested directly relates to what can be defined as the third major disadvantage of the discussed concept – the fact that the paradigm of ‘global governance’ is inconsistent with the qualitative essence of today’s geopolitical developments in the world. This simply could not be otherwise – the main theoretical premise of ‘global governance’ is based on the assumption that America’s (Western) geopolitical dominance will forever last into the future.
According to Levi (2010), “The theory of ‘international public goods without international government’… shows that the functioning of the international market requires a ‘stabilizer’, a hegemonic power that guarantees that the international actors comply with common rules… assures a minimum of international order, and an economic function, which provides an international currency and the rules for international trade” (p. 5).
However, given America’s enormous budget deficit of $17 trillion, and the fact that the U.S. is clearly losing in its confrontation with Russia and China, this country’s chances to succeed in retaining the status of the world’s main ‘global governor’, and in continuing to take control of this planet’s most valuable resources, in exchange for the tons and tons of valueless green paper (USD), appear rather slim. Apparently, the promoters of the ‘global governance’ concept, as such that is meant to serve the purpose of global exploitation, have a hard time understanding that, in the geopolitical sense of this word, the world had ceased being unipolar a long time ago.
Therefore, as time goes on, the concerned concept will be perceived increasingly meaningless – Russia’s recent launch of 26 cruise missiles against ISIS-targets in Syria, and the subsequent withdrawal of the USS Theodore Roosevelt out of the Persian Gulf, proves the validity of the statement better than anything else does (Kube & Ortiz 2015).
The paper’s main discursive implications, regarding the discussed subject matter, can be summarized as follows:
- The concept of ‘global governance’ is indeed advantageous, in the sense of containing many valuable insights into what should be considered the best strategies for affecting the societal dynamics in just about any part of the world. It should also prove an asset, within the context of humanity addressing the issues of environmental concern. At the same time, however, ‘global governance’ cannot be deemed the actual precondition for ensuring humanity’s continual socio-cultural and economic advancement. The main reason for this is that, as it was shown earlier, the concept in question presupposes that ‘governing’ is just another word for ‘moneymaking’, whereas the former is actually about establishing the objective infrastructural prerequisites for humanity to have a sustainable future.
- As of today, the discussed concept servers the interests of the world’s most powerful nation-states, because it enables them to affect the policy-making processes in the countries of their geopolitical interest, without being charged with violating the international law. This, of course, suggests that the true significance of ‘global governance’ should be assessed through the lenses of the Realist theory of IR, which insists that the dynamics in the arena of international politics are defined by the never-ending competition between nation-states for a better place under the Sun (Hall 2011).
- The concept of ‘global governance’ (as seen by neoliberals and neocons) does not take into account the fact that there are many objective reasons for the hegemonic power of the West to continue growing ever more weakened. Consequently, this will make it much more difficult for the Western-based transnational corporations to exercise quasi-governmental authority in the Third and Second World countries. As a result, the discussed concept will soon be deprived of the remains of its former theoretical validity.
In light of what has been said earlier, the number of the concept’s discursive and practical cons can be confirmed to be much greater than that of its theoretical advantages. As such, ‘global governance’ hardly deserves to be given much of a thought. I believe that this conclusion fully correlates with the initially provided thesis.
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