Typically, there is reason for optimism at the start of a new year. With President Obama's observation that the present crisis will "get worse, before it gets better," 2009 will likely be a lost year for the global economy.
It will also be a lost year for global governance, prognosticates Gideon Rachman in The Economist's ‘The World in 2009'. This is because numerous projects of global governance-from the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization, to the Lisbon Treaty of the European Union-are currently stuck in the doldrums. His article entitled, ‘A Bad Year for Diplomats', explains why 2009 will be a disappointment, saying that it will "take more than a new American president to breathe new life into multilateral diplomacy and international institutions."
If the new U.S. president is a necessity, but not sufficient condition for bringing about real change in the shape and functioning of international institutions, this raises the question: What more is needed? Looking beyond 2009, to longer-term developments through the next decade and through to 2020, what will the architecture of the international system look like? More importantly, how should it look?
As a crystal ball has not yet been invented by engineers at Google, the next-best guide to the future of global governance can be found in the Global Trends 2025 report of the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC), published in November 2008. The latest NIC study is particularly valuable due to its inclusiveness; the hundreds of experts from around the world who contributed to it help ensure that it is a representative survey of informed opinion on the likely shape of things to come.
The NIC report does not purport to predict what will actually happen, but rather identifies variables likely to have a disproportionate impact on the course of events. Three ‘relative certainties' are particularly salient for global governance: First, with the rise of China, India, Russia, and other non-Western powers, a multi-polar system is emerging. The result of this is that the United States will have reduced levels of relative power, ever less able to shape the international architecture. Second, the importance of non-state actors across national borders will increase, including businesses, tribes, religious groups, and criminal organizations. Third, economic and population growth in developing countries will put a strain on energy, food and water supplies all over the world.
Yet there are at least two additional positive trends that, if encouraged, could validate an optimistic outlook for global governance in 2020. The first is the move towards regionalization. The European Union is the foremost example of a successful regional organization, and naturally its structure cannot be reproduced across the globe. However, regional economic organizations, from ASEAN to Mercosur, if deepened to include political cooperation as in the EU, may help resolve conflicts and foster cohesion so that regional disputes do not spill over to become issues of concern for the international community.
The second trend is that towards more inclusive intergovernmental institutions, both formal and informal, embodied by the G20. These proliferating transgovernmental networks, described in detail by Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, Anne-Marie Slaughter, in her 2004 book ‘A New World Order', give hope that new regimes will emerge to fill regulatory gaps where governments are overburdened or disinterested.
The key to a future of successful global governance, in the face of all the evidence that speaks against it, is to embrace these trends towards regionalization and transgovernmentalism, and work constructively to support and develop the evolution of structures corresponding to these paradigms. Governments need to realize that they cannot manage the increasingly complex, transnational problems of the world. Instead, they should embrace the new models, ‘outsourcing' governance while keeping a firm interest in guiding how these networks and regional organizations operate.
Successful global governance through efficient regional organizations and transgovernmental networks will not be possible without strong individual leadership. A changing structural environment will not negate the crucial importance of human initiative in making these new systems function to the fullest. Thus, we should strive to make global governance as transparent, inclusive, and democratic as possible.
Jacob Comenetz is a MA Student at Georgetown University studying German and European Studies.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Jörg Gundelfinger: UN Minimum Standards are Key to Global Governance Processes
- Kay-Michael Dankl: The Longevity of the UNSC Will Depend on Successful Democratization
- John Dalziel Frew: Globalized Decision-Making Demands New Acting Styles