Abstract: "Global governance" has increasingly become political-economic common
sense — often articulated in the call for transparency and accountability. But
the question is: transparency and accountability to whom and towards what end?
This essay examines the Nature and Need of Global Governance; Governance, as it
is expressed in association with Power, Ethics and Accountability. It is argued
that Power Structure, Ethics and Accountability are the most important aspects
of governance. It concludes with the basic and relatively evident limits of the
concept of Global Governance and recommendations.
"The Central challenge
we face today is to ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for all
the world’s people, instead of leaving billions of them in squalor" - Kofi Annan (Secretary-General UN)
Globalization today is not working for many in the world. To some, the answer
is, Abandon Globalization. However, realistically this is neither feasible nor
desirable. Globalization has brought huge profits as well as huge implications.
Reversing globalization, even if it could be done, would be an enormous setback.
It must be understood that the major problem is not with Globalization but with
how it is managed. As Stiglitz rightly points out that part of the problem lies
with the international economic institutions, with the IMF, World Bank and WTO,
which basically hold the strings. They do so in many ways often serving the
interests of advanced industrialized countries rather than those of the
Globalization has to be reshaped, reformed to allow it to realize its true
potential. This requires a review of interests and ideology, the need for
stronger International Public Institutions which focus on issues of collective
action, transparency in decision making, and finally general reform. However,
the most fundamental and crucial change that is required that will enable
globalization to be a force for good, is a change in governance.
This concern has given rise to a now-fashionable interest in "global
governance," or the design of institutions that authoritatively manage and
regulate actions, processes, and problems of global scope or effect. While some
believe such governance is desirable but lacking, others think it is in fact
emerging in the work of various international organizations and groups active in
civil society. Though advocates of global governance portray it as enhancing
democracy, defenders of traditional democratic values and state interests have
questioned such claims.
The Nature of Global Governance
The study of Globalization appears rather abstract and ‘out there’ rather than
part of our daily lives. This is not surprising and, indeed is one of the
fundamental problems of globalization. According to Leslie Sklair , there are
two sides to globalization a subjective and an objective. Subjective looks at
globalization from an individual’s perspective (what can be called the ‘worm’s
eye’ view) while objective looks at the global perspective (‘bird’s eye’ view).
Global governance is part of this objectivity. There is no universally accepted
definition of ‘governance’, but this term is often used to refer to
interpretations of order, stability and politico-economic management. The
Commission on Global Governance has, for instance, defined governance as ‘the
sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, manage
their common affairs’. It has posited that governance is ‘a continuing process
through which conflicting and diverse interests may be accommodated and
cooperative action may be taken’. The World Bank and the International Monetary
Fund, on the other hand, use ‘good governance’ to refer to a particular type of
political and economic order. For them, ‘good governance’ is associated with the
spread of democracy and transparency in governments and free markets . ‘Good
governance’ is the opposite of arbitrary and self-seeking rule, corruption and
cronyism, which have been endemic in some Third World societies. However, the
World Bank and IMF’s version of ‘good governance’ has been costly to Third World
peoples. Although the World Bank and the IMF started to emphasize different
priorities following the crises in East Asia in the late 1990s, their ‘good
governance’ is still associated with reduction in public expenditures, emphasis
on exports and charges in hospitals and schools.
The concept of global governance, as distinct from ‘good governance’, refers to
formal and informal sets of arrangements in global politics. It implies that
states alone cannot manage global affairs, and therefore it accords roles to
international governmental organizations (IGOs), non-governmental organizations
(NGO’s) and multinational corporations (MNC’s). Global governance refers to
transnational networks, institution building, norm entrepreneurship, regime
creation and the management of global change. It covers many issues, such as
women’s rights, human rights, development, democratization, the environment,
security and investments. Its recent achievements include the treaty banning
landmines, the Kyoto climate convention, the international criminal court, the
World Trade Organization, and the ‘new generation’ UN peacekeeping operations.
In a nutshell, global governance describes regimes or systems of rule, embracing
both formal and informal regulatory mechanisms.
Underlying global governance is tolerance and a willingness to manage
differences and reconcile self/other, us/them and inside/outside. This can take
place only where there is a common set of values, norms, beliefs, ideas and
institutions. As these values evolve, the nature of global governance has
necessarily to change. Indeed, global governance ‘is a broad, dynamic, complex
process… that is constantly evolving and responding to changing circumstances’.
The need for Global Governance
Contemporary policy challenges commonly require co-operative international
approaches to transnational policy challenges that have a direct impact on
individual states, requiring both the strengthening of global governance
mechanisms and also its continuous extension to address new policy challenges.
Globalization brings with it both new opportunities and many challenges.
Pollution does not respect international boundaries while terrorism, drugs, the
proliferation of small arms, and other transnational problems not only dominate
the political agendas of individual states, but require international
co-operation if they are to be dealt with effectively.
These new global policy challenges share several common features:
a. They are often transnational and have direct domestic impacts.
b. No one can successfully control them.
c. Solutions therefore require a multilateral approach which accounts for, and
where possible incorporates the interests and inputs of key stake holders.
d. Decisions have an effect and it is impossible to isolate policy options and
outcomes from each other.
e. Policy development must be holistic to the maximum possible.
f. Multilateral institutions must adapt to accommodate these challenges. States
must therefore work to strengthen and where necessary create the processes
needed for effective global governance.
The individual processes which, in aggregate represent globalization can to a
certain extent be regulated and shaped, though imperfectly. Successful
regulation of these trends requires multilateral co-operation and domestic
institutions capable of managing international governance in the absence of
Given the complexity of global governance it is helpful to think in terms of
increasingly interdependent levels of governance. Decisions at the international
level have direct impacts on both states and their citizens, conversely
individuals acting through a variety of channels are increasingly able to
influence the international system, whether mobilized in favour of policy by an
NGO or other group or by appealing directly to multinational legal bodies
instead of domestic legal systems. Thus policy challenges cut across these
different levels as transnational trends, the governance challenge is for
institutions at all levels is to co-operate. States must balance the sovereignty
they are required to sacrifice in order to achieve the benefits of a global
Governance and Power
Power in world politics clearly matters; new realties have changed the nature of
power necessary to affect policy as well as the forums in which that power is
exercised. Some continue to argue that power remains the key and the search for
security, the inescapable purpose of international relations. It can be said
that there is an increasing ability shown by states to work with non-state
actors. The nature and exercise of power has, in short changed. States exercise
power not only when they influence a decision, but perhaps more importantly when
they shape the context, framework and norms by and within which any decisions
are arrived at.
Recent trends such as the growth of treaty law, human rights declarations and
other similar institutions and organizations suggest this. The state still plays
a central role both in aggregating domestic influence and as a primary
participant in a multilateral process. The sovereign functions of the state have
therefore been transformed and not simply been eroded. However, it cannot be
denied that it is power that determines whose interests, rules and standards
become ‘global’. The development discourse has crystallized in practices that
contribute to regulating the everyday goings and comings of people in the third
world. How is its power exercised in the daily social and economic life of
countries and communities? How does it produce its effect on the way people
think and act?
Thus, while global governance requires tolerance and accommodation of
conflicting interests across national, racial, class, gender and ethnic
boundaries, it is often the preferences of the most powerful actors that are
accommodated. This is and will be a fundamental challenge to the concept of
Global Governance and Ethics
Increasingly matters relating to global governance are faced with ethical
decisions. The British have to take decisions about proposed Europe-wide forms
of governance pertaining to the control of migrants and asylum seekers. These
involve difficult issues concerning the rights of migrants to freedom of
movement versus the rights of citizens to protect their own interests. Israeli
citizens face questions with explicit ethical content about an appropriate
structure of governance for Palestinians in the region. In both these cases we are aware, from the outset, that whatever decision will
be made will be based on both ethical and political considerations. Sometimes
the decisions are easy to make but at most they are difficult. If Country X
proposes to buy equipment and arms from Country Y, which ‘Y’ knows will be used
in a war. – will Y be ethically justified in going ahead with the sale.
Governments often have to confront with such questions.
It is ironical that though the importance of ethics is stressed upon, it is
power that determines not only the actors, the influences as well as the ideas
behind the ethics itself. The focus remains on power rather than on ethics,
which is a huge stumbling block in the path of international governance as a
Various questions that raise ethical questions in a governance - globalization
a. Reform of the UN.
b. Distribution of financial aid - to whom, by whom and what conditions.
c. Environmental standards.
d. International Monetary Fund (IMF) - To be or not to be.
e. Land reform in developing countries.
f. Labour reform in developing countries etc.
Thus it can be strongly perceived the debate on ethics and governance as one of
the most important in international governance. The concept of global governance
and its ability to succeed in developing countries in particular will hinge a
lot on ethics and ethical decisions on governance considering that many
countries are quite frankly worse off than were they started from. Progress in
the arrangement of global governance will be made only through a decent attempt
to bring into coherence the ethics which underpin the overall power structure
within which the various actors are placed. The emergence of a global ethics and
rule of law in international conduct will prove impossible unless the powerful
nations are as willing to submit themselves to such common rules as the rest of
the global community. Equality under the law, democratic accountability, and
transparency of information are fundamental concepts which took centuries to
develop within nations. It is time to extend the same principles to global
Global Governance and Accountability
One of the greatest problems of globalization has been undoubtedly
accountability. From linking the World Bank and the Narmada Dam exploit in
India; to Texaco's
Oil Production in the Ecuadorian Rainforest various actors have exploited
conditions in the garb of globalization with little if no accountability at all.
This is only reiterating what is now become an international governance mantra;
All Actions have to be accounted for. There can be no substitute for
Democratic accountability within a constitutional framework is a relationship in
which the power wielders are accountable to broad publics. Accountability in a
global governance sense would be as of now a seemingly hypothetical system in
which various players and agents making a sufficiently great impact on the lives
of people in other societies would have to report on those people and be subject
to sanctions for them.
Accountability can thus be perceived on three levels, which I would call the
a. Authority: Hobbes and many others have emphasized the process by which one
entity authorizes certain actions or confers rights to agents.
b. Assistance: Those who provide financial, logistical or political assistance
are also to be held accountable.
c. Affect: those who are choice determining for others have to be fully
accountable for their actions as they clearly affect others.
The four players that require a mention in the sense of accountability are
powerful states, TNC’s, NGO’s and Institutions. What happens in cases of
powerful states like the USA and its actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the
actions of Israel in the West Bank, etc. how are they to be made accountable.
What happens when states act unilaterally dismissing demands for external
accountability? This is an extremely important aspect of global governance that
has to be tackled. Indeed, an ironic observation is that with respect to
accountability, the two sworn enemies "Al-Qaeda and the United States" have in
common their relative lack of accountability, compared to other actors in the
A Key principle in establishing accountability is to ensure that the fox is not
invited to guard the chicken coop - that corporations to be regulated do not
exercise undue influence over the regulatory process. In these circumstances and
given all the scandal surrounding Enron and WorldCom, many non-governmental
organizations and citizens’ groups have increased their efforts to bring
transnational corporations (TNC’s) within a framework of global governance, not
just a patchwork of national laws, rules and regulations. At the same time,
corporate actors, through their own codes of corporate conduct, publicize that
they are acting voluntarily to ensure that their actions become more transparent
and accountable. According to the United Nations, transnational corporations are
central actors in today’s world. In the beginning of the 1990s there were over
37,000 Transnationals worldwide. As the spread of TNC’s widens and deepens
across the world in every sector, from production to finance, global regulation
is even more urgently needed. From a governance perspective this is treading on
a very fine line; differentiating between the good and the bad without being too
negative and also not to do injustice to the positive things which businesses do
to assist sustainable development.
If a popular voice requires detachment from government, then indeed in
governance concerned with global human rights, there is a popular voice. It
emanates from non-governmental organizations. The character of that voice,
however, is far from self-evident and demands sophisticated examination. Various
NGO’s purporting to speak for affected peoples gain legitimacy on the basis of
this belief. How are they to be brought within the purview of an accountable
structure? NGO accountability is a highly debated issue which has strong
implications on global governance.
In order to analyze the practices of development, we have to analyze what
development institutions actually do. Institutional practices are crucial not so
much because they account for most of what is earmarked as development, but
mostly because they contribute to producing and formalizing social relations,
divisions of labour, cultural forms etc. Global Institutions like the
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank which have set standards of good
governance for their borrowing members need to apply it to themselves through
reform of constitution rules, and decision-making procedures and practices.
While good governance within international organizations is often described as
balancing between requirements of effectiveness and legitimacy, the two are
seldom separable. Overall, the effectiveness of an institution depends to a
large degree on its members' perceptions as to how representative, inclusive and
procedurally fair the institution is. Even the reforms and decisions taken to
improve access to information and consultations are "rather frail" in such
institutions. Critics quite rightly argue that developing countries have too
little voice within them and the institutions are too unaccountable and too
These are questions that need urgent answers if global governance is to succeed.
The principal task for those who believe in more accountability is to build
support within powerful, rich countries for acceptance of more effective and
legitimate multilateral governance to achieve human purposes, for stronger
transnational bonds of empathy and for the increased accountability that is
likely to follow.
Limits of Global Governance
The limits to what global organizations and rules can achieve are often defined
in terms of the difference between ‘global government’ and ‘global governance’.
Global government would have powers which only national governments now possess,
e.g., in taxation, control, and entitlements for individuals. Under global
governance, global public organizations are funded and governed by states. They
are mainly opt-in organizations, with rules made by their members, and binding
only on them. The exceptions are the International Court of Justice and the UN
General Assembly and Security Council, whose rulings are meant to apply to all
states. In practice, there is much pressure on states to join global
organizations to demonstrate their international legitimacy and, in the case of
developing and transition economies, to attract investment by demonstrating that
they abide by international rules. The limit to what global governance can
achieve appears to be dictated by:
1. The demonstrated need for international rules (e.g., on trade and protecting
2. Transparency regarding compliance with international rules;
3. The ability of global organizations to create win-win outcomes in disputes
4. The ability of global organizations to deliver needed international public
goods and services.
Some Illustrations of the limits of Global Governance:
Environmental protection: Implementation of the Kyoto targets to limit CO2
emissions to reduce global warming is hindered by non-cooperation of the USA,
questioning the scientific basis of the targets and faced with major reductions
in its emissions if it were to meet the targets.
Poverty reduction: The World Bank and IMF have sought to strengthen their
poverty orientation by launching the Comprehensive Development Framework and
Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers. But calls for radical reform continue. The
Meltzer Commission concluded that the lending basis of World Bank assistance is
inconsistent with social Programmes for the poor, its operations overlap
substantially with regional development banks, and performance of its assistance
is low. It recommended converting the World Bank into a World Development
Agency, privatizing its lending activities. Others note that redefining GDP in
terms of purchasing power parity would raise the voting weights of developing
countries in the World Bank and IMF.
Human rights: Human rights are seen as the moral base of global governance:
hence the rights-based approach. However, widespread human rights violations
continue. Human Rights violations occur all over the world. From disappearances
and extra-judicial executions, to the use of torture and police abuse, to
violations of the rights to food, housing and health care, human beings are
seldom able to enjoy the full extent of their recognized rights. The
implementation of Human rights principles, enforcement and accountability is a
severe test to Global Governance and hence can also be regarded as a limitation.
Civil conflict: The UN’s modest role in recent international security actions
has produced calls to give the Security Council greater legitimacy, and to raise
the UN’s efficiency and funding. But feasible proposals are lacking.
Trade and investment inequities and disputes:
The collapse of commodity
agreements has focused concern on the over dependence of many developing
countries on exports of commodities with falling relative prices. Policy
emphasis is now on export diversification. No new international agreements to
support commodity prices are likely.
What should be the strategy for better global governance? There are several
recommendations that have been proposed but five perspectives can be said to be
the most fundamental to make globalization a workable force. The First is
effective, representative national governments are essential for democratizing
global institutions - The international system does not weaken national
governments; rather, it relies on them. This perspective is very important
considering the debate on the erosion of state sovereignty by global governance.
Weak states are threats to themselves and to global governance. The efficiency
of the state is increasingly threatened where legitimacy is weak (‘rogue
states’, semi-authoritarian regimes, facade democracies), but enhanced where the
freedom and effectiveness of civil society are high. Second, An ethical and
accountable structure is required - Global governance will succeed if there is a
global acceptance that ethics and accountability are fundamental pillars in its
structure. This has to be cultivated. Thirdly, Effective regional governance is
needed for infrastructure development and management of natural resources - The
emergence of strong regional governance is often seen as hostile to global
governance. But as long as they do not restrict trade, effective regional
arrangements act as the building blocks of global governance by facilitating the
movement of people, development of trade and infrastructure, and natural
resource management. Fourthly, Reform - There should be reform,
de-bureaucratization, and democratization of global organizations such as the
World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and
the United Nations system so that proposals, programs, and agreements can be
made viable. These should conform with and strengthen institutionalism and
mechanisms for global governance responding to present and future challenges.
Reform of the United Nations system should reflect the new world geopolitical
reality; the Security Council should be expanded, and the right of veto enjoyed
by certain States to sanction issues of global interest should be eliminated.
Finally, Strengthen International law and international juridical arrangements. This is required in the context of a new reality in which relations have Globalized rapidly and surpass the territorial dimension of laws currently in
effect. The International Courts should be strengthened like the ICJ, ICC etc.