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Dossiers and Documents : Discussion Papers : Rethinking Global Governance

Rethinking Global Governance

The rupture effect

Rethinking Global Governance


Arnaud Blin, Gustavo Marin ¤ 2 January 2008 ¤
Translations: Español (original) . français .

Before talking about the architecture of a global governance, let’s summarize the current situation of “international relations” marked, even if by an accumulation effect, by a deep break with the past.

  • Strong Westphalian heritage with the preponderant role of the State, with power struggles favoring the major powers and inter-State relations governed by the rules of the past
  • Retreat, relative and maybe momentary, of two superpowers from the Cold War, including the USA after the Iraqi fiasco that demonstrated the limited projection of its power and a legitimate weakness of the United States political model.
  • Increase in power of new actors, generally ancient, and even very ancient, superpowers: China, India, and Iran.
  • End of the western hegemony, dating back many centuries, on international relations.
  • Globalization that allows certain countries and peoples access to prosperity, even liberty and democracy, but that also projects other countries into historical ruin.
  • Stagnation of the U.N., the institution that, in spite of it all, incarnated the model of collective security that was meant to replace the Westphalian model.
  • Breakthrough of democracy as principle model of political organization, in spite of the dissatisfaction that it can generate.
  • Significant move forward of peace and an almost complete end of classical conflicts between States.
  • Irresolution of endemic conflicts (Near East, Great Lakes Region of Africa, Sri Lanka, Columbia).
  • Stagnation of entire areas of the planet with, as in the Middle East, serious risk of potential crisis.
  • Unexpected and quick demographic transition over the last three decades.
  • Rejection of certain principles of the Westphalian system, such as respect of national severance (duty to interfere).
  • Increased role of non-State actors such as Al-Qaeda.
  • Significant progression of religion in the political sphere.
  • Potential problems concerning nuclear proliferation.
  • War increasingly considered as a collapse of politics and no longer as its continuation.
  • Increasing awareness of environmental threats, of the importance of ecology, more generally, of the human being’s place in the environment.
  • Technological revolution and its consequences, including on international politics.

Contrary to a sentiment shared since 1991, and especially since 2001, the world is, globally, much more safe and peaceful than it was during the previous time period, a fortiori during the first half of the 20th century, in spite of the eruption of new conflicts and the non-resolution of ancient conflicts. Now, if the state of the world does not allow us to let down our guard, or even more, to make merry, almost every single study on this matter demonstrates that the world, on the whole, is much more peaceful today – or more to the point, “less bellicose,” than it was during the previous decades, and even centuries.

This observation is important, even very much so, because it allows us to focus our attention and energy on other problems that, even if not new, seem today to be of first priority whereas they seemed inexistent a few years ago. This statement of peace is essential, above all because today’s challenges are no longer only within the scope of the State as was previously the case. This allows civil society to make a strong showing, giving an idea of what it can accomplish (with)in a democracy. Environmental issues, for example, affect not only the State, but also its inhabitants. Yet, this less bellicose world is not less unstable and uncertain, perhaps precisely because it is more peaceful and, therefore, because these problems of stability seem less urgent. In effect, and contrary to the previous periods of geostrategic rupture, the end of the Cold War is unique in the sense that it did not produce a “geopolitical contract” (in other words, international treaties) between constituent States of this new chessboard. It is this absence of a “contract” that poses a problem today, as it means that a crisis, from out of nowhere, could possibly set the world as a whole on fire — a world that everyone agrees is increasingly interdependent and decreasingly organized.

Today, the problems that concerned us before have either disappeared or are markedly diminished. Let us take a look:
- End, or almost, of inter-State conflicts that defined the very essence of international relations;
- End of the threat of a nuclear disaster, the major threat from 1945-1991;
- Disappearance of the great colonial empires of which the last to fall was the Soviet Union;
- Emergence of a peaceful and united Europe whereas, for centuries, it had been the primary nucleus to armed conflict;
- End of the ideology shock characteristic of the 20th century and disappearance of the great totalitarian State;
- Disappearance of the “superpowers”, the United States, last superpower to date, has compromised its chance to durably maintain this status with the post-9/11 events, mainly because of the politics of George W. Bush which were, paradoxically, destined to amplify this status.

Period of deep rupture, post-1991 has a particular characteristic in that it did not engender a revolution in the realm of international relations, which was the case, for example, in 1648, in 1815 (in this case, a “counter-revolution”), 1919, and 1945. The institutions have remained essentially unchanged; the geopolitical architecture, excluding the dismemberment of the USSR, was hardly changed. There has been, as in 1945, neither a creation of new modes of international regulation (Bretton Woods, the U.N., etcetera), nor of “Marshall” plans, nor even of a more or less coherent driving political thread (containment strategy). The theories of the end of history or of the clash of civilizations constitute no more than interpretations – dubitable, even ill-fated, in the eyes of many observers – of new, undoubtedly complex, realities of contemporary times.

The September 11 attacks, even if they have barely changed the world as did the fall of the U.S.S.R, have nevertheless had the effect of revealing, principally in an indirect or involuntary manner, the gap that has become entrenched over the previous decade between, on the one hand the new reality, and, on the other hand, the dominant vision of this reality presented to us, in particular by governments, in other words by the principle actors of international politics. The negative effects of globalization; the erosion of the State power; and the increase of inequalities, notably between nations; seem unacceptable at a time when the dominating ideology promises us a world that is increasingly free, prosperous, safe and egalitarian. The State, the great international institutions (and the NGOs) and the “market” know only how to respond to threats and challenges already present in the 21st century and of which we only see the tip of the iceberg.

This is why the elaboration and construction of a new architecture of global governance appears as a necessity and even as a moral duty in a world where everything, for better or worse, is possible and whose outcomes depend, in large part, on the way in which the matter of global governance will be approached in the years to come.

Whereas today’s main “emerging” powers – China, India and even Europe — with some reservation on its abilities to progress in the future – are potentially going to play a considerable role in the resolution of this issue because they, in their own way, embody various models of economic (for China and India), social and political (for Europe) success, the powers of the (recent) past – Russia or the United States –still accord their actions in reference to the Cold War, such as George W. Bush’s anachronistic foreign policy – in a way a continuation of the Cold War— and Putin’s brutal domestic policy as brutal and his foreign policy as anachronistic. This type of dialogue is, in a way, a continuation of this Cold War. Although our egalitarian resolve would push us to believe that all countries, big and small, have equal say, the reality that characterizes international politics shows us every day that main actors have much more say than do “second string” actors, the European model, moreover, allowing the latter, when they have the opportunity to occupy a geographical space within Europe, to integrate themselves with a participating body of main actors. It remains that each of these three political entities has problems – political, economic and social – that can constitute paralyzing impediments for the superpowers of the future.

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