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Rethinking Global Governance

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Rethinking Global Governance

- Summary of comments contributed by end of April 2008


Summary of comments contributed by end of April 2008

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

For this first “discussion paper” submitted by the Forum for a New World Governance, we were not too sure what to expect. Would there be any reactions? Would they be interesting? Constructive? The idea was to throw out a line and follow its course. As the first initiative for this Forum for a New Global Governance – which did not even have a name yet – we were hoping that it would help us, at least in part, to define our direction.

And there were, in fact, reactions, often lively, to this document. Nevertheless, the quality of these reactions, and even the quantity, surpassed all our expectations. Initially, we were thinking of integrating these potential critiques into the document as revisions. Given the abundance of responses, such a reformulation seemed complicated given the numerous thematic openings. For the moment, and before engaging ourselves in other topics of study and reflections suggested by these critiques, we will content ourselves with a modest afterword to this first document that, in the end, we decided to leave as-is while waiting to complete it with other documents in the future.

It is, of course, difficult to summarize all the remarks and ideas expressed in response to this first sketch (the responses in their entirety will be available on the Forum’s website). We will limit ourselves here to highlighting, with certain subjectivity, certain salient points, notably those that brought about additional comments.

Form and content

By outlining, we can already distinguish two distinct types of commentaries: the first are concerned with form and the others with content. With regards to form, it is obvious that the readers seem, in general, to have appreciated the historical perspective put forth in the first part of the text but that they were left wanting vis-à-vis the last section where possible directions for the future were given. In terms of content, it is the central part of the document that aroused the great majority of feedback, as exemplified by this remark: “The document’s structure seemed clearer in the first section (introduction, historical heritage, rupture effect) than in the main section…”

Even the structure of the document itself gave rise to remarks, such as this one: “the ‘tripartite’ structure that you propose (objectives = global constitution, ethic = charter of responsibilities, system of implementation = ???) does not seem sufficiently developed.”

In summary, the general feeling is that, in some way, the authors seemed to “rattle their sabers, but then didn’t attack.” In other words, certain problems were presented (correctly or otherwise) but their responses, if there were any, were far from being on par with the questions, thus contributing to a feeling of dissatisfaction, even frustration, when one reached the end of the document.

Without arguing that such was our goal, which would not be quite exact, our objective with this document was precisely to provoke lively reactions and to open the field for reflection. And, let’s be clear, we didn’t have any definitive responses to these problems. The readers’ comments and criticisms have already provided us with the first pieces of the puzzle and encourage us to continue to clear the field.

A number of criticisms of the document’s content pointed to the fact that one dimension or another of the issue of global governance was not sufficiently addressed or that its comparative importance had not received the attention it merited. Such is notably the case regarding the economic dimension, as well as the role of civil society. To this type of criticism, we can but reply that for such a subject, and for so short a study, we needed to make certain choices, given the impossibility of addressing all topics pertaining to this issue. No doubt an unsatisfying response, but only if we ourselves were not convinced of the necessity of tackling these topics in depth in the dossiers and studies that will follow. We are aware, also, that the central issue of global governance is to come through transversal causeways that go beyond the traditional thematic areas and break down the partitions between, for example, economy and politics, the role of the State and that of civil society. Achieving a good balance between constituent areas of global governance is one of the underlying goals of our initiative, a goal that, we hope, will become clearer with the elaboration of proposal papers.


Another criticism that occurred at least twice is that of “Eurocentrism,” a fundamental criticism and one that we owe it to ourselves to take very seriously. Here is the essence of this criticism: “It is totally Eurocentric. This is not just a methodological problem but an ethical one. The world simply doesn’t (never has) worked in the way in which Europeans thought it did!!! Of course, it may work for Europe or even from a European perspective, but not from that of other peoples. How to "cure" this disease of Eurocentrism? Hard, but to begin with, acknowledge it – this is how it seems from our point of view, but we don’t know (simply don’t know!) how the others will view it.”

Because this criticism touches upon numerous domains related to governance, the response to this remark is complex. We will chance here a quick answer with the idea that this issue, like others brought up here, merits an in-depth debate. First, the criticism is well taken: this text reflects the occidental culture of its authors. The historical and philosophical references, for example, are, for the most part, European. To take one example among others, we speak about Machiavelli and Hobbes when we could have mentioned Kautilya, Nizam Al Mulk or Pachacutec. At a symbolic level, at the level of richness of ideas, it is important that one reflect, especially for a text on global governance, the planet’s cultural and civilizational diversity. From this point of view, the criticism of our Eurocentrism is plainly justified and should be taken into account. In other respects, it is perfectly understandable that this “Eurocentrism,” of form and content might irritate a majority of people, all the more so given the historical baggage of colonization whose ripple effects and consequences are still felt today.

There are, however, historical realities that one should not shy away from and that need to be analyzed as objectively as possible. From a macro-historical perspective of intercontinental geopolitical relationships, we observe that diverse periods of history witness the advent of a civilization that exploits its momentary superiority in order to dominate an area exceeding its original geographical territory. The civilizations that follow — the Near East; then China; India; Persia; Greece; Rome; the Arabic, Turk, and nomadic empires; the Aztec and Inca empires; finally Western Europe and Russia: all, at one time, exercised an influence more or less accompanied by violence – on the zone they claimed to control – and contributed each one in their own way to world history. Today, the United States claims to influence a “world civilization” that it helped create but that rejects the supervision of a hegemonic power.

Whereas – and herein lies the question – did European influence on the world between the 16th and 20th centuries shape the political, geopolitical, economical, and social mechanisms that govern the world today? Without exaggerating this influence – neither the way in which the world was able to stand up to or free itself from it – it would be inexact to deny that world history was at one time Eurocentric, even if today, and so much the better, this Eurocentrism is eroding – the theory of the clash of civilizations being no more than an attempt at explaining this change (such as it is envisioned by a Western non-European, Samuel Huntington.)

It is undeniable that, in terms of international governance, Europe, for many centuries, provided or imposed its methods for managing dominating inter and trans-state relationships. Among them : capitalism, international law, Westphalian balance of power, nationalism, secular ideologies, collective security (League of Nations/United Nations), environmental awareness. This with all of the advantages and the inconveniences (and miseries), that these “systems” or paradigms were able to bring to the rest of the world.

In short, while it is imperative that we not adopt a Eurocentric vision of the world, which would be inappropriate – as much from a practical point of view as from a moral one -, it would seem to us just as important to acknowledge an historical Eurocentrism that is an integrated part of our reality even if it does not necessarily dominate this reality in the 21st century. It is only by taking an objective stance on this Eurocentric history that we will be able to see in which way “global governance” can be considered from various geocultural or religious – Chinese, Indian, Latin-American, African, Muslim, Hinduism, et cetera – angles, an indispensable step from the moment we claim to establish a new global governance that is truly planetary.


Let us move from Eurocentrism to Europe. One of the criticisms formulated more than once concerns the little attention paid by the authors to the European Union: “The European Union (although mentioned many times) and the undeniable “success” of the integration of most of the states as a result of the fall of the Soviet Union, seems to me to be too little appreciated and respected: the European process has – in my opinion – become in some ways the new “contract” which you state is lacking…”

This issue is the only one that presents a (relative) divergence between the two authors (Arnaud Blin and Gustavo Marin), one that reflects, in fact, a difference of perspective and geocultural foundation, the former stressing the progress accomplished since the creation of the Union of this Europe that was for a long time the world’s main epicenter of conflict; the latter – a Chilean and French bi-national – highlighting the current problems and limits. It is likely this difference of perspective that appears in the text. The question, barely touched upon at present, that we must ask ourselves in all sincerity is this : do we know if, and in which manner, the European Union constitutes a model, positive or negative, for global governance?

The United Nations

It comes as no surprise: the issue of the United Nations is the one that provoked the most comments. Criticism was unanimous: the UN is either insufficiently appreciated, or too hastily rejected without taking into account its contributions. Contrary to other themes, readers reproached us for taking a position and attempting to respond to the problem posed, but without really presenting arguments validating our taken position, in other words, for putting the cart before the horse – a criticism altogether valid.

An example: “To me, the UN Charter still seems valid. It is its application that transgresses. Current UN military operations maybe are, however, the only realistic formula for gaining the necessary time for diplomats and politicians to “heal the wounds,” even if, cynically, they are often used and abused by adversarial parties. The example of Lebanon in 2006 is characteristic.”

Another still:

“Is the existence of the United Nations the “bête noire” of these authors? One would think so, given the paucity of references to this organization, and when made, in a relatively disparaging way. I was struck, on page three, by the authors’ statement that the UN "did nothing more than support the status quo" - yes, the reference is made to the UN at its inception, a relatively valid point. However, my antennae were alerted to this dérapage when I find a grudging admission, on the next page that it is "indeed useful and essential and (...) has evolved". Yet, clearly the authors’ thesis is that this "stagnated" (p. 7) institution - reformed or not - does not represent the "future of global governance" and that the "international system navigates between anarchy and clumsy self-management". (p.15) thus attempting to portray the UN as having created an "international vacuum" citing international public law as being the “tree that hides the forest”! (p. 16)”

Additionally, we were reproached as well for having focused on the Security Council’s only reform:

“Perhaps I have been misunderstanding the authors when I say that my impression is that they have focused their attention too much on the workings and authority of the Security Council in their analysis of the United Nations. To the contrary, it would seem that they should take into consideration - as grist for analysis of the history of world governance and of realistic consideration for the future - of the entire spectrum of effective accomplishments of the UN.”

The UN, undeniably, is at the heart of the debate on global governance, as it was in 1945 and as was the League of Nations as well during the period between the two world wars. It is also undeniable that the UN has been one of the cornerstones of international relations over the last 60 years. Aside from various resounding failures, the successes of the UN, in the area of peace, but also of development and human rights, are impressive. Moreover, everyone, or almost, agrees with the fact that in-depth reforms are needed and not only at the level of the Security Council. It remains clear that the United Nations carries a heavy responsibility with numerous mandates but without the means, if only financial, to accomplish these goals.

However, beyond the debate of whether the glass is half full or half empty, beyond the historical evaluation of the UN, beyond its qualities and its limits, its capacities to reform itself or not, a fundamental question needs to be asked: in the future, will the UN constitute the platform upon which global governance will be based?

This question brings about others: will the UN be able to constitute one of the pillars – but not the only – of a new global governance? But then, who are the others and what weight will the UN have? On the contrary, is the UN but an historical step towards something else? If yes, toward what? In an imperfect world, does it represent an imperfect solution but, like Churchill’s democracy, the least worst of all the others? More generally, one needs to critically look at the concept of collective security since collective security was supposed to replace the balance of power system. Yet, the traditional concept of security is largely out of date today – an observation remarkably established by the UN, which in fact broadened this concept. How, then, do we redefine the rules of the game?

The role of the State also presents itself as an issue because the State is the constituent element of the United Nations. But can, and should, the State, remain the dominant piece of the grand chess board. Should it continue to ensure, more or less legitimately, the management of a planet where state borders make less and less sense and where “inter-national” relations now have to compose and compete with a profuse array of trans-national relations exceeding the traditional domain of diplomatic, or even economic, relationships?

To conclude – all too quickly – this pre-debate on the UN that we owe it to ourselves to actively and profoundly pursue, one thing seems certain, and it is that which we have attempted, probably all too clumsily and hastily, to propose in this text: the collective management of the planet necessitates new means of thinking and new means of operating. Whereas the UN, in spite of its immense know-how and will, in the current state of things, does not seem to us to be in a position to assume, at least not alone and not without profound reform, this heavy burden. Criticism is easy. We will see who – including even, why not, a reformed UN – would be able to assume such a task, how, and why. There is no doubt that the debate on the UN will itself constitute one of the principle axes of our analysis of the future of global governance.

In conclusion

If we were to retain one thing from this first step, it would probably be this: that all attempts at “rethinking global governance” must first undergo a confrontation of ideas and include as many vehicles of reflection as possible, and that this participation much be rich in diversity, that is to say it must integrate those values that constitute the foundation of a responsible, efficient global governance that will be able to face the challenges of the third millennium in the spirit of solidarity.

As such, this comment best summarizes the essence of the issue all while laying the groundwork for the future:

“The beginning of civil societies’ sudden awareness of their force and their capacity to influence the course of things renders possible profound evolutions of governance towards a more democratic, more horizontal model, one in tune with world populations. I think that the document would merit an important development of this aspect… The guaranty to anchor a new democratic governance for the 21st century should apply itself on the organized expression of anti-establishment civil forces capable of moving States forward.”

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