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Dossiers and Documents : Discussion Papers : Rethinking Global Governance

Rethinking Global Governance

A realistic approach: the State at the heart of global governance

Rethinking Global Governance


Arnaud Blin, Gustavo Marin ¤ 2 January 2008 ¤
Translations: Español (original) . français .

Whether we want it or not, the future of global governance is forced to undergo an in-depth reconfiguration of the modes that govern the relations between the primary actors of the international arena: the States. This observation might seem paradoxical because the “State” is characterized, above all, by its limits, blind-spots, bad habits, and inability to affront the issue of globalization. It is, for that matter, commonplace to talk of an inevitable erosion of the State, with the idea that it is, in the end, condemned. This brings nothing new to the table since Marx himself put forth this hypothesis in the 19th century. Even if other more or less legitimate actors have taken on a growing role in the global arena following the thaw of the Cold War and the arrival of the communications revolution, they have but a secondary role – including the U.N. or the major multinationals – in the conduct of the world’s major affairs. The State will indeed be at the heart of the installation, if it takes place, of a new architecture of global governance.

As with the story of the chicken and the egg, it is difficult to know whether the (necessary) reform of the State would engender this new architecture or if it would be the new architecture that would provoke the reform. Let’s wager that this double transformation will be simultaneous, a new architecture being impossible without a reformation of the State model and, in the end, provocation of a reformation of the State model not being possible but by pressure from the tectonic plates of global geopolitics (and geoeconomics).

Moving forward, it is necessary to establish some groundwork, and also to throw out a few preconceptions. Let’s start with the latter. Until now, the architecture of international relations defined itself with three models: that of the Empire, that of the balance of power, and that of collective security. It is these three models that, even today, dominate debates and politics, even if one calls them by other names (Hegemonic Model, unilateral, or multilateral, politics, for example). Now, these models were formed in order to manage the power of the State, in an environment where the goal of each was to simultaneously preserve security, and, according to each case, to increase territory, power, and influence (the various rankings – economic or military weight, for example – that one regularly finds in newspapers certify this attitude of aggressive competition between countries).

However, today neither territory nor even unabridged power constitutes important stakes for the majority of States after all. The desire to influence remains but it is no longer necessarily connected with considerations of prestige or national security. Globally, and with well-known exceptions, the State has become a tool at the service of the people and not a tool at the service of the nation – a historical distinction whose consequences are fundamental. It is in having misunderstood this distinction that the Bush administration, to take the most striking example in the last decade, engaged itself by choice in one of the most disastrous ventures of the last fifty years, exceeding even the textbook case of the Vietnam conflict.

The primary characteristic of the concept of global governance is to go beyond the idea of power management that was as the heart of international relations. It remains to be seen why wealthy countries, in a context where they are at an advantage, are looking for or favoring a system of global governance that would risk overturning the status quo. The simple answer to this question means the grand return of ethics in political choices, and a new awareness that a global destiny unites us where the principle challenge would be the preservation of our environment more than, as has been the case until now, the elaboration and diffusion of a political, economic, social and cultural model for universal use (United States and France after 1776 and 1789). This attitude change, in contrast with laissez-faire economics characteristic of globalization, constitutes a way for “policy” to take back the wheel that it lost at the profit of the “economy.”

Globally, the State that serves the people is, by definition, democratic. Of course, the United States is a model of democracy whose current balance sheet in this area is dubious but a country’s democratic capacity is measured over the medium and long term, not over the few years that an electoral term can last. Democracy, thus, is at the heart of global governance, to use the terminology of Rousseau, Kant and Woodrow Wilson, among others.

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