Global Governance and the UN: An Unfinished Journey

Global Governance and the UN: An Unfinished Journey

Global Governance and the UN: An Unfinished Journey

Global Governance and the UN: An Unfinished Journey


In the 21st century, the world is faced with threats of global scale thatcannot be confronted without collective action. Although global government as suchdoes not exist, formal and informal institutions, practices, and initiatives --together forming "global governance" -- bring a greater measure of predictability, stability, and order to trans-border issues than might be expected. Yet, there aresignificant gaps between many current global problems and available solutions.Thomas G. Weiss and Ramesh Thakur analyze the UN's role in addressing suchknowledge, normative, policy, institutional, and compliance lapses. The UN'srelationship to these five global governance gaps is explored through case studiesof some of the most burning problems of our age, including terrorism, nuclearproliferation, humanitarian crises, development aid, climate change, human rights, and HIV/AIDS.


Global governance is generally defined as an instance of governance in the absence of government. There is no government at the global level: the un General Assembly is not a world parliament, and Ban Ki-moon is not the world’s president. But there is governance—of sorts. Moreover, as Thomas G. Weiss and Ramesh Thakur indicate, today’s desire to improve the functioning of global governance has little to do with wanting to create a world government—though right-wing bloggers and some politicians still try to mobilize their base by fulminating that it does.

Governance is not the same as politics, although they are closely related. Fundamentally, politics is about competition in the pursuit of particular interests, whereas governance is about producing public goods. This is as true internationally as domestically, although the domain of governance apart from politics at the international level is fragile, much thinner, and more fragmented.

Governance, at whatever level of social organization it occurs, refers to the workings of the system of authoritative rules, norms, institutions, and practices by means of which any collectivity manages its common affairs.

The instruments of global governance take the form of treaties, customary international law, formal organizations such as the un or the World Trade Organization (WTO), embedded norms such as those legitimizing certain uses of force but not others, and habituated practices such as pretending that embassies exist in the home country but not the host country and therefore are not subject to local jurisdiction.

The prevailing state of affairs in global governance at any given time is shaped by an ever-present tension between the need to internationalize rules and the desire to assert and retain national control. the balance between internationalization and state sovereignly may swing back and forth—for large-scale examples, compare the pre-World War I and postWorld ii eras with the interwar period. Today, powerful forces are pushing in both directions simultaneously, and we simply do not know yet whether reconciliation between the two is possible or how to achieve it.

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