True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice. Martin Luther King, Jr. . . . for with freedom come responsibilities. Nelson Mandela Do what is right. Rosa Parks An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come. Victor Hugo *

Dossiers and Documents : Discussion Papers : Rethinking Global Governance

Rethinking Global Governance

The democratic equation

Rethinking Global Governance


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

In theory, a community of democratic States would be able to provide a durable peace since democratic countries, as is well-known, do not go to war with one another (which does not prevent quarrels or even non-military conflicts). The thorny issue of “democratic peace” is that it requires a geopolitical environment consisting entirely of (fully) democratic countries, which, in spite of progress in this area, is far from being ensured. In other respects, this global democratization cannot be artificially imposed, above all by force. The process of democratization is difficult and is a source of instability. The democratization of a region such as the Middle East, for example, is far from simple or won. Above and beyond complete, or quasi complete, democratization of the global chessboard, other problems postbellum demand solutions that democratization cannot automatically provide. It is necessary, therefore, to proceed beyond democratization, even though it is a prerequisite for moving forward.

To complicate the task further, societal evolution, more rapid than that of institutions, generated a crisis for the democratic State — that of suffering from a growth deficit of legitimacy in a context where it is incapable of directly treating the problems and / or constraints imposed by the electoral system hindering the evolution necessary for the political reflection essential to the regeneration of the systems. This results, as with the United States, in a notorious increase of recourse to an institutional fetishism (absolute and narrow-minded respect for the Founding Fathers’ principles) and a political contagion for the sacred in the States that were, ironically, founded on principles of secularity.

Democracy is a system of governance that touches, above all, the State. Conceived in antiquity for micro-States, democracy has shown, beyond all expectations, that it could, within a State, govern many hundreds of millions of individuals, as is the case in India, and, above all, that it could adapt itself to all national, social and cultural modes because the experience of democracy, contrary to widespread belief, is not a pre-condition for its implementation and success. For this reason, the idea of a world democracy is so tempting. Nevertheless, (it) is not realistic because States, small or big, are not ready to abandon their national sovereignty. Now, the problem for global governance, as it has been historically for international relations, is to reconcile the political structure that governs the people with that which governs the relations among the people.

Now, just as with physics and its separate theories of the infinitely big and the infinitely small, political management of a nation is completely separate from political management of the intra-, or supra-, national. From whence comes the notion of “anarchy” so dear to international relations experts who see the system of international relations guided by a total absence of government where the State, traditionally, focuses precisely on the “State apparatus.” In fact, the principle problem of the organization of politics, and, therefore, of governance, is in knowing just how much the State can interfere in the management of affairs of society and its citizens. Plato addressed this issue in The Republic, as did Aristotle in The Ethics and Politics, texts that remain relevant even today. Democracy is a relatively efficient means of controlling the State apparatus, one that has a natural tendency to want to increase its power and reach. Even if, in certain developing or transitional countries the situation is reversed because the State is incapable of handling vital societal responsibilities, it still remains that the main question concerning governance is how to adjust the power of the State and the political regimes put into power. We, of course, are talking about traditional governance – that of the State – and in a context where the government is legitimate. The international context is different because it is characterized by the fact that it is not governed by any state or political institution. Yet, the fundamental issue remains the same because it is a matter of managing power, in this case that of States, and of controlling it. In the absence of truly efficient political, legal, and legislative bodies – in spite of the presence of international organizations, conventions, treaties, et cetera – the international system navigates between anarchy and clumsy self-management.

If, in any particular moment in history, the hold of the Christian Church in Western Europe had momentarily rendered State governance almost synonymous with supra-national governance, world history, in terms governance, is one that walks at two speeds, where progress made in the area of “national” governance has had, at best, only secondary indirect effects on global governance. And, if the State, in the 21st century, has little in common with the State of ancient, medieval or modern times, one can assert that supra-national governance has but little evolved over time: the confrontation between the U.S.S.R. and the United States was not all that different from that between Sparta and Athens.

How to reconcile national governance and global governance? Herein lies the heart of the problem because the key to the history of international relations resides precisely in the fact that these two problems have been approached in radically different, even opposing, manners. By way of example, States will not rest until murder of another is rendered illegal, a path culminating in the abolition of the death penalty, even when a number of “international” problems continue to be resolved by the use of force, with the death of individuals – sometimes numerous – that this choice can be carried out and that, in this framework, is considered as completely legitimate.

Moreover, and maybe this is the essential characteristic of our current position, it needs to be known that we must, from now on, bring together these two parts. In other words, the reformation of national governance will not be possible except by way of a reformation of global governance and vice versa. Therefore, and to keep with the example given earlier, a phenomenon has been recently produced that does not lie: for the first time in history, a government has refrained from making public the number of enemy victims, for fear of shocking public opinion: it concerns the United States’ government during the Golf War (1991).

The principle problem of governance, a problem that we need to face every day during our daily life, is that institutions have been put into place that define their objectives according to their competences (and their limits) whereas they should do the opposite. The dilemma of global governance is characterized by the fact that these objectives are defined through an institutional vacuum at the international level – the U.N., and more generally international public law, playing the role of the tree that hides the forest – forcing States to resolve problems that are beyond their competence and even their comprehension. Thus. one might ask how the State, whose institutions are poorly equipped for resolving domestic problems, can claim to resolve problems that go beyond its political framework? As such, the concept of “collective security” simply aggravates the problem because this security in not more than an aggregate of State institutions. It is no coincidence that the concept of governance itself is perceived as a whole that makes little distinction between local, national and global governance, the objectives at these various levels often being close or interconnected.

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