Academic journal article Global Governance

The Future of Global Governance: Fragmentation May Be Inevitable and Creative

Academic journal article Global Governance

The Future of Global Governance: Fragmentation May Be Inevitable and Creative

Article excerpt

Does global governance have a future? What kind of future? Far reaching changes to the architecture of global governance, especially the emergence of new actors, agents, and forms of governance, make these questions moot and timely. The big multilateral institutions around which the postwar system of global governance was initially anchored are no longer the only game or actors in global governance. The "fragmentation" of global governance entails the emergence of "a patchwork of international institutions that are different in their character (organizations, regimes, and implicit norms), their constituencies (public and private), their spatial scope (from bilateral to global), and their subject matter (from specific policy fields to universal concerns)." (1) There has been a proliferation of regional and plurilateral arrangements, initiatives led by the private sector and transnational social movements, and various forms of partnership involving government, private, and civil society actors. Their effects are especially felt on the prominence, authority, and legitimacy of the global multilateral institutions that have been the bedrock of the postwar global governance system. This has produced confusion, uncertainty, and anxiety over the future of global governance among its traditional advocates.

At the most optimistic end, some see this fragmentation as producing a suboptimal or "good enough" global governance. (2) Others view it in starkly negative terms. Daniel Plesch and Thomas Weiss lament "the global sprawl of networks and informal institutions" as a serious challenge to the postwar big multilaterals, especially the UN, that need strengthening. They warn of the dangers of "a misplaced enthusiasm for ad hoc and informal pluralism rather than for more formal and systematic multilateralism," without which "states and their citizens will not reap the benefits of trade and globalization, discover nonviolent ways to meet security challenges, or address environmental degradation." (3)

Such debate is healthy. But dominated as it is by scholars and policymakers from the West, it also masks a quintessential Western anxiety about the future of the liberal international order. After all, the traditional system of global governance led by the big Western powers and the big multilaterals suited the power and purpose of the United States and the West. A fragmented system of global governance means more pluralization and the erosion of the dominance of US and Western governments of that order.

I argue that fragmentation is inevitable and may even be creative because it reflects broader forces of change in world politics. To elaborate, the world today is culturally and politically diverse, yet more interconnected and interdependent. Its main players--both the makers and breakers of order--are not just states and the great powers but also international and regional bodies, nonstate groups, corporations, and people's movements and networks. Challenges to security and well-being of states and societies defy national boundaries.

These changes not only challenge the era of big multilaterals, they also do not fit the traditional description of a "multipolar" world. The notion of multipolarity is outdated. It was basically derived from pre-World War II Europe and connoted the geopolitical centrality of the Western great powers. Today, the actors in world politics are much more varied. Moreover, the nature of interdependence is more broad based. Interdependence during the prewar European multipolar system was largely trade based and eurocentric. The rest of the world was actually in a relationship of dependence with Europe. Today, interdependence is global, complex, and broad based, comprising not only trade but also finance and production networks.

Furthermore, interdependence today is not just an economic phenomenon. The various issue areas that are central to global governance today--such as climate change, refugee flows, pandemics, and human rights abuses--are precisely what add scope, depth, and complexity to the nature of global interdependence. …

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