Inadequacy of Global Governance

The current global governance system is not good enough to deal with the issues confronting the international community. Rather, positive elements of the global structure are overshadowed by its downfalls, and it is clear that the demand for global governance far exceeds its capabilities.[1] This essay will explore how the system is inadequately set up to deal with economic issues. It will then argue that the largely unchanged neoliberal world order does not offer effective solutions to accommodate the rise of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). Furthermore, on perhaps the greatest challenge of our time and the issue most in need of global governance, climate change action in the current system is not good enough. However, there are some grounds for optimism when it comes to this problem as solutions beyond the state level are becoming stronger. The question of whether the current world system will suffice is deeply debated between academics, with some advocating for radical change and others that are more content with the status quo. This essay argues that although it has some auspicious elements, since the present system is not good enough, a move to depart from the current world order is needed to better address international issues.

As it is, the current system of global governance is not good enough to confront its economic issues. The international structure is built on a neoliberal platform characterised by deficient regulation and free markets.[2] Furthermore, since the world is deeply interconnected and interdependent due to globalisation, global governance is needed more than ever to prevent crises in one region from spreading worldwide.[3] It also has a risky, large and complex financial sector that dominates economies. This arrangement has seen multiple financial crises erupt from its “neoliberal excesses”.[4] For example, the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, the 2000 Tech bubble, and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.[5] Further observable in these was a tension between Western neoliberalism and other models, only to be followed by a deeper embedding of neoliberalism post-crisis.[6] This was encouraged by the ‘Washington Consensus’ that pushed the global south toward neoliberal policies in order to compete in the US driven global capitalist economy. For example, this was facilitated by the IMF, by promoting fiscal policies in the developing world via structural adjustment programs. In the process many of these states were marginalised. Since these crises, systemically not much overall has changed.

In addition, a further economic issue is the underlying inequality at the centre of the global order,[7] with the vast majority of wealth held by very few.[8] In a globalised market, the elite actors promote their interests and entrench their position whilst those less developed are left behind. It also has seen the increased divorcing of producers from their means of production, leading to alienation.[9] Therefore because the international system is at its heart the same as before, it is not ‘good enough’ to deal with these economic issues.

Another characteristic that contributes to why the global governance system is not good enough is the fact that power and resources to address these problems remain in the hands of states and not institutions of global governance.[10] An example of this issue is seen in democratic countries, wherein politicians pursue short term local benefits (seeking to please the electorate for eventual re-election) rather than long term worldwide responses to larger issues. This is a problem because global issues require global solutions. Realists see this state primacy and selfishness as a given in an anarchic system, however liberals would argue that further use of international institutions provides a genuine option for better global governance. In addition, as will be discussed later on, effective multilateral solutions are more frequently occurring outside of formal institutions.[11] State centralism is a feature of the global system that limits the international community’s ability to deal with issues that it faces.

The current international order is insufficiently built to handle the challenges created by the rise of the BRICS countries. The main global institutions are the UN, as well as leftovers of the Bretton Woods system such as the IMF and World Bank, with the addition of the World Trade Organisation. Rather than overturning this system, rising countries have entered more fully into it.[12] But at its current condition this may not last. One reason the system is not good enough is the nature of institutions of global governance themselves. Many of these arenas of negotiation are dominated by “clubs of elite countries seeking to govern in their own interests.”[13] Likewise they are under resourced.[14] Furthermore, membership of these ‘clubs’ often start by self-selection then are later expanded by invitation.[15] Therefore, it lacks representation and by extension legitimacy. The exception here is the clearly multilateral UN, but it suffers from a trade-off between representation and efficiency. And even so, the power vested in the privileged permanent five of the UN Security Council places them above other states. Furthermore, in an anarchic environment with diverse interests for each state, the permanent five often disagree and block action. Some scholars believe the solution to this is to make institutions more robust, strong and democratic, instead of radically changing or replacing them.[16]

There is also the question of “good enough for whom?”[17] Dominant western liberal states (eg. the US), the BRICS, and ordinary people all have different interests and agendas and thus global governance may be good enough for one but not the other. For example, the Arab Spring uprisings saw people oppose the neoliberal policies demanded by the IMF and World Bank on those countries.[18]

Another reason why the system is not good enough is because international institutions such as the UN are often in a state of gridlock. The established Western powers and rising powers from the South (eg. BRICS) cannot agree on key issues. Thus, when neither side is willing to compromise, they go their own separate ways and develop their own institutions and form blocs. Further exacerbating this as an issue is the US’s trend toward isolation under the Trump administration. Also, in what may be both good and bad for the system, we are seeing a gradual fragmentation of global governance that challenges the monopoly of western governments.[19]  States, institutions, non-state actors, transnational corporations and other networks all work to address issues beyond state boundaries. Bilateral and regional trade agreements increase participation in the system and challenges institutions like the WTO.[20]

 As a result of inadequate options and slow reform of key institutions, the rising powers such as the BRICS look elsewhere to express their concerns and gain influence.[21] For example, the BRICS’s ‘New Development Bank’ is a step in the direction of shifting international economic momentum from the established powers to the emerging ones.[22] Nevertheless, these powers are not restructuring the system yet, and participate in conventional forums in a largely orthodox fashion.[23] In this way, the global system can be seen to be stable but also stalemated.[24] This setting is not good enough to effectively deal with complicated global issues.  

The environmental threat of accelerating climate change is a problem that the international system has thus far failed to properly address. This issue was caused by the massive consumption of non-renewables and its negative effect on the biosphere.[25] Furthermore, proper action requires steep short-term investments, whilst the benefits only materialise in the long run.[26] This is a challenge for governments acting within short electoral cycles.[27] Global governance is needed most in this area because no one state is responsible for or controls action against climate change.

From one view, as long as it is a capitalist system, global governance will not be good enough to deal with climate change. This is because capitalism relies on endless expansion for survival, and the exploitation of the natural environment for cheap energy. However, it is possible to shift the capitalist market towards renewables and away from fossil fuels. In that case, action against climate change makes economic sense and those who move first are rewarded the most.

In the past, failures with the system have been witnessed in Kyoto (1997) and Copenhagen (2009). We have seen institutions attempt to improve this complex global problem at its fringes, however more responses are occurring outside these formal bodies and instead through multilateral arrangements on an ad hoc basis as well as through the disaggregation of the state.[28]  It provides an avenue out of the political gridlock that the current global order finds itself in. As articulated by Ann-Marie Slaughter, states disaggregate into its component institutions that interact with their international counterparts.[29] It can effectively deal with smaller issues which can thus compliment the larger global efforts towards combatting climate change.[30]

Additionally, the Paris 2015 agreement is a cause for optimism towards the future of climate change governance. It recognises the role of a variety of actors, that includes the south, and offers a uniquely flexible approach (such as ‘nationally determined contributions’) with non-punitive compliance mechanisms.[31] For example, non-governmental organisations may name and shame as a compliance tool.[32] This collective effort aims to hold each other accountable and provides a potentially more successful solution than what has been traditionally suggested in the past. So while the system has not been good enough to deal with climate change, ongoing novel developments can be cause for optimism.

Overall, the global governance system is currently not good enough to deal with the complex issues of the international community. The setup of the world order is not well suited to dealing with economic issues. Likewise, the rise of the BRICS challenges the established powers and the system is not adaptive enough to accommodate this issue. At the moment, climate change is a problem that global governance does not address well. However, positives can be seen in new interactions between actors.

Bibliography

Acharya, Amitav. “The Future of Global Governance: Fragmentation May Be Inevitable and Creative,” Global Governance, 22, 4 (2016): 453-460.

Allen, Franklin and Elena Carletti. “The Global Financial Crisis,” IDEAS Working Paper Series from RePEc (2010). http://si2.bcentral.cl/public/pdf/documentos-trabajo/pdf/dtbc575.pdf

Buzdugan, Stephen, and Anthony Payne. “Conclusion: Global Governance Amidst Great Uncertainty,” In The Long Battle for Global Governance. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2016. 171-179.

Crotty, James. “Structural causes of the global financial crisis: a critical assessment of the ‘new financial architecture’.” Cambridge journal of economics 33, 4 (2009): 563-580.

Falkner, Robert. “The Paris Agreement and the New Logic of International Climate Politics.” International Affairs 92, 5 (2016): 1107-1125. 

Gill, Stephen. “At the Historical Crossroads: Radical Imaginaries and the Crisis of Global Governance” In Critical Perspectives on the Crisis of Global Governance : Reimagining the Future. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2015. 181-199.

Held, David and Kevin Young. “Crises in Parallel Worlds: The Governance of Global Risks in Finance, Security, and the Environment,” In The Deepening Crisis: Governance Challenges after Neoliberalism, edited by Craig Calhoun and Georgi Derluguian, 19 – 42. New York; London: NYU Press, 2011.

Patrick, Stewart. “The unruled world: The case for good enough global governance.” Foreign Affairs, 93, 1 (2014): 58-73.

Plesch, Dan, and Thomas G. Weiss. “1945’s lesson: “good enough” global governance ain’t good enough.” Global Governance, 21, 2 (2015): 197-204.

Slaughter, Ann-Marie. “Introduction” In A New World Order. Princeton, New jersey: Princeton University Press, 2004. 1-35.


[1] Stewart Patrick. “The unruled world: The case for good enough global governance.” Foreign Affairs, 93, 1 (2014): 58.

[2] James Crotty. “Structural causes of the global financial crisis: a critical assessment of the ‘new financial architecture’.” Cambridge journal of economics 33, 4 (2009): 563.

[3] David Held and Kevin Young. “Crises in Parallel Worlds: The Governance of Global Risks in Finance, Security, and the Environment,” In The Deepening Crisis: Governance Challenges after Neoliberalism, edited by Craig Calhoun and Georgi Derluguian, New York; London: NYU Press, 2011. p20.

[4] Stephen Buzdugan and Anthony Payne. “Conclusion: Global Governance Amidst Great Uncertainty,” In The Long Battle for Global Governance. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2016. 171-179.

[5] Franklin Allen and Elena Carletti. “The Global Financial Crisis,” IDEAS Working Paper Series from RePEc (2010). http://si2.bcentral.cl/public/pdf/documentos-trabajo/pdf/dtbc575.pdf

[6] Stephen Gill. “At the Historical Crossroads: Radical Imaginaries and the Crisis of Global Governance” In Critical Perspectives on the Crisis of Global Governance : Reimagining the Future. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2015. 191.

[7] Buzdugan and Payne. “Conclusion: Global Governance Amidst Great Uncertainty,” 171-179.

[8] Stephen Gill. “At the Historical Crossroads: Radical Imaginaries and the Crisis of Global Governance,” 182.

[9] Stephen Gill. “At the Historical Crossroads: Radical Imaginaries and the Crisis of Global Governance,” 187.

[10] Dan Plesch, and Thomas G. Weiss. “1945’s lesson: “good enough” global governance ain’t good enough.” Global Governance, 21, 2 (2015): 197.

[11] Stewart Patrick. “The unruled world: The case for good enough global governance.” 58.

[12] Buzdugan and Payne. “Conclusion: Global Governance Amidst Great Uncertainty,” 171-179.

[13] Buzdugan and Payne. “Conclusion: Global Governance Amidst Great Uncertainty,” 171.

[14] Plesch and Weiss. “1945’s lesson: “good enough” global governance ain’t good enough.” 202.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Plesch and Weiss. “1945’s lesson: “good enough” global governance ain’t good enough.” 203.

[17] Amitav Acharya. “The Future of Global Governance: Fragmentation May Be Inevitable and Creative,” Global Governance, 22, 4 (2016): 453-460.

[18] Stephen Gill. “At the Historical Crossroads: Radical Imaginaries and the Crisis of Global Governance,” 195.

[19] Acharya. “The Future of Global Governance: Fragmentation May Be Inevitable and Creative,” 453.

[20] Acharya. “The Future of Global Governance: Fragmentation May Be Inevitable and Creative,” 455.

[21] Stewart Patrick. “The unruled world: The case for good enough global governance.” 59.

[22] Acharya. “The Future of Global Governance: Fragmentation May Be Inevitable and Creative,” 457.

[23] Buzdugan and Payne. “Conclusion: Global Governance Amidst Great Uncertainty,” 171-179.

[24] Buzdugan and Payne. “Conclusion: Global Governance Amidst Great Uncertainty,” 171-179.

[25] Stephen Gill. “At the Historical Crossroads: Radical Imaginaries and the Crisis of Global Governance,” 182.

[26] Robert Falkner. “The Paris Agreement and the New Logic of International Climate Politics.” International Affairs 92, 5 (2016): 1109. 

[27] Robert Falkner. “The Paris Agreement and the New Logic of International Climate Politics.” 1109.

[28] Stewart Patrick. “The unruled world: The case for good enough global governance.” 59.

[29] Ann-Marie Slaughter. “Introduction” In A New World Order. Princeton, New jersey: Princeton University Press, 2004. 2.

[30] Acharya. “The Future of Global Governance: Fragmentation May Be Inevitable and Creative,” 455.

[31] Acharya. “The Future of Global Governance: Fragmentation May Be Inevitable and Creative,” 455.

[32] Robert Falkner. “The Paris Agreement and the New Logic of International Climate Politics.” 1107.