A New Dawn for World Governance

By Jean Rossiaud and the Forum for a new World Governance

Jean Rossiaud
Jean Rossiaud, Forum for a new World Governance Coordinator

The world-governance system so desperately needed today has necessarily to be multilateral. Confrontations are recurrent and growing in numbers, while economic, political, and military multilateralism is blocked by belligerent tensions and xenophobic ideologies. As a result, it has become all the more difficult now to lay the foundations for new institutions that will be adapted to all levels of governance, from local to global.

In this context, the executive, legislative, and judicial structures inherited from the past do not provide an adequate response to the complexity of contemporary society, where private enterprise and public services are seriously undermined by corruption. In many countries, the gap between civil society and political institutions has widened so dramatically that it is often a daunting challenge to our existing institutional systems, sometimes even to democracy itself.

Political parties have also proven to be unable to think constructively about emerging forms of citizenship in all their complexity. Participatory democracy is the reflection of strong social commitment, but social movements and civil-society organizations cannot solve the core issue of legitimacy of power in society and are themselves incapable of giving democracy a fresh momentum. They are often just a sounding board for the demands of individual interest groups and stakeholders.

The political risks brought about by this situation are obvious, and strategic political thinking on the subject is lagging enormously behind the stakes. Recent history shows that an institutional participatory system is not only fairer, but also more effective than an authoritarian one. So how can we reverse the current trend to discredit democracy, both in the public debate and in political practices?

Fortunately, there are pockets of progressive change. Here and there, we can identify promising economic, social, technological, and cultural innovations, especially at local or national levels. Nevertheless, we have to admit that they have not succeed in reversing the general trend toward more conflicts or the irreversible deterioration of the biosphere.

We need to rethink world governance and, to achieve this, we must go beyond the conceptual and ideological foundations of the current system. One of the necessary innovations is to introduce a regional level of governance, between national and world institutions.

We need to prevent, for example, the construction of Europe from being undermined by sterile arguments among states. Europe represents a historic effort to build a supranational entity on the foundations of economic convergence and community law. New negotiations and decision-making processes must be anchored at a regional level, something that the future—and inevitable—reform of the UN Security Council needs to take into account. The Security Council ought to be a world committee in which all the regions of the planet are represented. Its chair would be held on a rotation basis by a country of one of the regions, which would also represent it in international negotiations.

To face these challenges, we must all play our part. Multicultural communities are emerging in local neighborhoods and at all other levels, including the global. Cultural diversity offers a fundamental starting point for global communication, and we must bring together our many political and religious communities, and nonprofit organizations to build a new system of legitimate and responsible governance.

Today, it is commonplace to say there is a crisis in world governance. As citizens all over the world are fully aware, tensions, conflicts, and wars are persisting, and national, regional, and international wginstitutions are powerless, even when limiting their role to avoiding the permanent deterioration of people’s living conditions and means of subsistence. The conceptual and ideological foundations of existing global institutions are based on international relations among nation-states, referring to an idea of the state that emerged in seventeenth-century Europe. This model makes no sense today unless nation-states themselves are built on new foundations, and their role, operational structures, and methods of interaction with other political structures are redefined.

First, however, we need to ask: What exactly is world governance? Setting aside the more complex, though often useful, definitions and subjective approaches to the concept, we have preferred to take the simple view of “world governance”: the collective management of the planet. While this definition may have the disadvantage of being too broad, it does ensure that we explore all the possibilities offered by “world governance.” In addition, this definition allows us to go beyond the restrictive framework of “international relations,” which until recently has been the only framework for approaching how the dominant political entities, nation-states, relate to one another, and which takes no other entity into account.

Throughout the history of humankind, tensions between countries have generated conflicts and wars. In the early twenty-first century, however, the spread of tensions to many areas of the planet and the difficulties in solving them, as well as the unprecedented ecological deterioration due to the interaction of human activities with the biosphere have reached levels that are threatening the very survival of humankind. We do not mean to be Apocalyptic, but, in the catalog of wars launched by states and of examples of dysfunctional management of our global ecology, we should also include the social wars that have broken out more or less openly, revealing an almost permanent demonstration of exclusion and of economic and social inequalities in the low-income districts of towns, both large and small, in every continent. Nor can we ignore the rising power of the networks of organized crime, trafficking drugs and human beings and taking advantage of the absence of strong institutions at every level.

This can no longer be dismissed as crazy doomsayer talk. Those being forced to live in war zones or under the threat of being bombed, those facing famine or floods, and the millions traveling the world in search of a place where they might be able to overcome the difficulties of their daily life, are the silent witnesses of this reality.

The causes of today’s different wars and conflicts are many and diverse. They include economic inequalities, social conflicts, religious sectarianism, territorial disputes, and fighting for control of basic resources such as water or land. All of them are indications of a serious crisis in world governance. And although there have been considerably fewer “traditional” conflicts among states in recent years, today’s are extremely violent and are increasingly affecting civil populations and the weaker regions of the world.

We are a forum geared to changing world governance, from local to global. We believe it is time to help consolidate a World Citizen Movement headed both toward institutionalizing democratic world governance and toward transitioning to a more sustainable, solidarity-based world— a post-fossil and post-nuclear world for some, a post-speculation or post-capitalism world for others. Find out more.