Ann Florini on Global Governance

Mar 10, 2009

Florini discusses the difference between "global government" and "global governance," intergovernmental organizations such as the UN, and the role and achievements of civil society and transnational networks, particularly on environmental issues.

JOHN TESSITORE: Hello. I'm John Tessitore, Executive Editor of the Carnegie Council here in New York, and I am editor of the Council's quarterly journal, Ethics & International Affairs. We are here today with Ann Florini, Director of the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

It's awfully good to have you with us today, Ann. Thanks for being here.

ANN FLORINI: It's good to be here, John.

JOHN TESSITORE: I should also say that Ann is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author or editor of several books, most recently The Right to Know: Transparency for an Open World and The Coming Democracy: New Rules for Running a New World.

We have invited Professor Florini to talk to us today about global governance. What it is, what's wrong with it, and maybe we'll even find out how to put it right. That's your job today, Ann.

Let me start out by pointing out that as a journal editor, I see a great many manuscripts, and I get the sense that global governance is a hot topic right now.

But I also get the sense that there is no one finite definition of the term. Just to compound it a little bit more, I find that quite often it's mingled with a discussion of global government. Depending on whom you listen to, this is either a similar or a very different animal.

So I'm going to ask you to try to sort out these terms for us, "global governance" and "global government," and tell us where you come down on these.

ANN FLORINI: John, let me start off by talking just about the words "governance" and "government." There was an article in The Economist a few years ago that said governance is just a fancy word for government.

The Economist has rarely gotten things so wrong. "Governance" is a much broader term, generally referring to how we solve all the big public-policy problems, collective-action problems, that we face in any society, whether it's at a community level, a national level, or a global level. It doesn't really matter. They all need governance of some kind. All it means is some system for making and enforcing rules so that we can manage problems that we share.

"Global governance" is a term that came around mostly from a bunch of academics who were looking at the world's agenda, everything from climate change to security issues, to economic development issues, and looking at the fact that a lot of these were global-scale problems that needed to be managed on a global scale.

But we don't have a global government. We don't have an authority with hierarchical powers. That's the difference with government. It is an authority with power to compel, to coerce. There is a hierarchy to it. Government is one of the ways in which we carry out governance, at most levels, but we don't have it at the global level.

So we only have global governance; we don't have global government.

JOHN TESSITORE: So we have defined our terms and put The Economist in its place at the same time.

ANN FLORINI: Absolutely.

JOHN TESSITORE: All right. Now that we have some defined terms, presumably global governance requires global norms. So let me ask, are global norms sufficiently strong to support global governance? In fact, do global norms exist at all?

ANN FLORINI: There is huge dispute over whether there is such a thing as a global norm of just about anything. It seems to me there are some, and there are others that are heading in that direction.

There are certainly some about the fact that at this point national governments are the major authorities in the system, that they are the ones to whom we should defer. That's a norm. There is a growing norm that that's not enough, that you need a number of other kinds of actors to deal with the kinds of problems that we face.

There are norms about sovereignty that are shifting radically. If you have a conversation about the norm of sovereignty—that a country controls what happens within its own borders—you find that some parts of the world would say that norm is disappearing.

Other parts, particularly Asia, will say it is absolutely as strong as it ever was. And then you talk to them about the actual exercise of sovereignty: Will they allow global institutions to set rules on things like trade, investments, et cetera?

When you look at the operational meaning of what it means to be a sovereign state, that norm is a lot more flexible. You are seeing the evolution of an understanding that you can't have norms that are only national in scope, because we don't live in a world where the problems are national in scope.

Other kinds of norms that people talk about—human-rights norms, democracy—well, the premier of China has been going around saying for the last few years that they believe in democracy and China must evolve toward democracy. So some of them seem to be universalizing themselves.

JOHN TESSITORE: Fair enough. But can't we let governments do this? Why do we need this input of other bodies, particularly where there is a lot of talk, of course, about civil society? What is the role of civil society? Is it essential to the movement toward global governance? If left to governments alone, could we get there?

ANN FLORINI: Think about what governments do. When you get them together to deal with problems like the current economic collapse, climate change, the risk of global pandemics, they are very reactive. If somebody has put something on the agenda and forced them to pay attention to it, then they start paying attention to it.

But there isn't any place in the global system where somebody sets the global agenda and says, these are the priorities that we must care about. Very often that agenda-setting is done by civil society groups. It's people who just care about an issue, increasingly organized into informal and formal networks around the world.

They are very often the agenda setters. They are the ones who keep after governments, when they make intergovernmental agreements to deal with issues, to actually carry out the agreements that they make.

If you didn't have civil society, and particularly if you didn't have transnational networks of society groups, you never would have gotten an almost-global agreement on controlling antipersonnel land mines. You wouldn't have had any progress whatsoever on climate change—it probably wouldn't even really be on the agenda. Almost the entire list of issues that actually threaten humanity has been put on the agenda by civil society.

JOHN TESSITORE: Let me pick up on that. Where, in your opinion, are we on this scale—let's create a scale here—of perfection? Wherever we have been, let's all agree that we are evolving toward something.

How far have we evolved to the point where this global governance is functioning? To what degree is it succeeding in doing the things it's supposed to do or that we want it to do? What's left to be done to get to where you think we should be?

ANN FLORINI: The problem is that the end of the scale keeps moving. If you were to say it's a scale of 1 to 10 and 10 is perfect global governance, the kind that we would have needed 30 years ago wasn't as hard as the kind that we need now.

The world has become economically, environmentally, socially, culturally, in every way, far more interdependent and, therefore, far more mutually vulnerable. We didn't have problems on the scale of climate change—at least we didn't know we had—30 or 40 years ago.

So if you try to look for progress, the question is, against what goal are you looking for progress?

JOHN TESSITORE: So we have a shifting goal. Can we expect it to shift more, or do you think it's something that you can now identify?

ANN FLORINI: You can certainly identify that the biggest problem that we are facing right now in global governance terms is climate change. We have no prospect on the track that we are currently on of dealing with that problem effectively, because we don't have the systems of global governance.

After World War II, we set up all of the intergovernmental organizations, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United Nations. They are much derided, but they actually have accomplished a reasonable number of things.

One of the things that people pay very little attention to, looking at the United Nations in particular and dismissing it as being ineffective, is that the number of conflicts in the world has gone down precipitously in the past 15 to 20 years.

JOHN TESSITORE: You and I both know that the United Nations is like King Lear—more sinned against than sinning.

ANN FLORINI: It does a fair amount of sinning, too, but mostly by omission and incompetence rather than actually doing actively bad things. But it does accomplish some seriously important things.

If the goalpost hadn't shifted, you would still have to look at two scales. You look at what the intergovernmental organizations themselves are doing now. That's not so great.

JOHN TESSITORE: Let's talk about those multilateral institutions. The United Nations, of course, is sort of center-stage. Are they essential to what needs to be done?

In turn, what needs to be done to them to achieve the goals that we are talking about? What's your take on the existing system and how it needs to be enhanced?

ANN FLORINI: There was a very interesting analogy I heard recently, that the intergovernmental organizations, the formal ones, are the coral reefs of global governance.

JOHN TESSITORE: I haven't heard that metaphor.

ANN FLORINI: They are the form around which everything else congregates. If you didn't have them as a focal point, you wouldn't have any place where systems of global governance could evolve. But they, by themselves, are not an ecosystem. They are not sufficient. They are just an essential structure.

I like that analogy. I think it's very useful.

JOHN TESSITORE: Extend that conceit. What do we have to add to that coral reef? Is it more multilateral institutions or is it the cooperation of governments with existing multilateral institutions?

ANN FLORINI: It's partly the cooperation of governments. For the most part, these organizations, particularly in the United Nations, are more like an auditorium than they are like a functioning entity.

They have certain functions that they are given by governments. They are supposed to collect information. They provide a meeting place. Sometimes they carry out specific responsibilities they are tasked to do. But by and large their primary function is to get the governments together to make decisions.

Even in places like the World Bank and the IMF, which are treated as though they are independent actors—and they have some flexibility to do that—by and large they have to do what the governments tell them to do.

It's the lack of responsibility on the part of national capitals, in terms of who they send to these organizations, the quality of people they send, the attention that they pay to the issues that are being dealt with at these institutions. That's where the big problem lies.

JOHN TESSITORE: You echo a comment that is made by Ruth Wedgwood in a forthcoming article in our journal, precisely that it's not taken seriously enough, and the level of the people who are participating.

ANN FLORINI: What you get usually is a few really outstanding people surrounded by a bunch of people who are there because their governments didn't want them in the national capitals anymore, in some cases, or people who may have been very competent in their national capacity but don't understand the institutions that they have been moved into.

So you have these coral-reef structures, where the reefs are crumbling a fair degree. But they are still there, and they provide something around which others can congregate.

JOHN TESSITORE: One issue you have talked about in your writing is transparency. Is that a silver bullet? Is transparency going to help us get there, to increase credibility and popular support? And, by the way, do we need popular support along with government support?

ANN FLORINI: Those are a lot of questions. Let me take them one at a time.

On the popular support, you need to have enough popular support that politicians who want to deal with global issues, with multilateral issues, in these institutions aren't going to be threatened by the forces of reaction within their own society.

That has been one of the problems in the United States. The people who support that kind of multilateral engagement, who are by far the majority, are a pretty passive majority, and there is a very tiny but extremely vocal minority that makes politicians' lives hell and goes out and votes for people on the basis of whether they are daring to engage with the international system.

Popular support would be a lot more useful if it were a little more active. But you have to start with it, or you can't have politicians engaged.

JOHN TESSITORE: And is that the role of civil society, the civil society organizations, to channel that popular support and to encourage and embolden the policymakers to feel confident and comfortable making these decisions?

ANN FLORINI: That's only a piece of what civil society needs to do.

JOHN TESSITORE: What else does it need to do?

ANN FLORINI: It in some cases is playing much more direct roles in engaging on global issues. Civil society groups largely gave up on government in the 1980s and 1990s and just decided they were not regulating corporations; they were not dealing with issues.

So what you got was a large movement toward working with or against corporations to do voluntary self-regulation in the form of codes of conduct, a lot of social movements putting people out on the streets in protest, in some cases trying to mobilize governments, but very often trying to avoid governments and solve problems anyhow.

You have also had a big movement toward what is called social entrepreneurship, which either can be a civil society nonprofit model or it can be a corporate business for-profit model of "let's find money-making ways of dealing with the problems that governments aren't dealing with."

There is a whole set of people around the world; many of them are in the Ashoka Foundation. The Ashoka Fellows are working at a fairly large scale to try to solve social problems in ways that make enough money that it's sustainable to go on doing that kind of problem solving, without engaging governments at all.

Let me pick up on this issue of money. As it happens, just yesterday I heard a rather noted scholar say that, in fact, most of the money that civil society has and uses to advance global governance is ultimately state money.

He pointed out that so many civil-society organizations, even the largest and international, are taking state money. Indeed, he went further, to say that some of the large UN agencies—even UNICEF, for all the good it does, its budget is still minuscule compared to bilateral aid.

Is that a legitimate criticism, that, in fact, states really are doing the heavy lifting and that maybe there is an exaggeration as to the role of civil society in this whole global governance movement?

ANN FLORINI: There are a couple of different things happening here. It is true that civil society nongovernmental organizations are overwhelmingly getting their money from government. But when you measure those things, you are measuring things like nonprofit hospitals.

It's a huge number of service organizations. That's where most of the government money goes. There is much less government money—with the exception of Europeans and very few others—for funding that goes to the advocacy organizations, who are much more involved in the global governance side of things.

So it's completely true to say that civil society is mostly funded by governments. It's also irrelevant to the global governance question.

JOHN TESSITORE: All right. So the criticism is dismissed.

Let me ask you to speculate: What does a fully functional or best-case-scenario version of global governance look like? What's the best we can hope for in this best of all possible worlds? And because I always like to complicate the questions, as a corollary, what effect would a so-called League of Democracies have on that?

Would it be a step forward or a step backward?

ANN FLORINI: On the first one, I can give you a concrete example of a success in global governance, which was the agreement that has pretty much dealt with the problem of ozone depletion in the world. This is one that people have largely forgotten about.

JOHN TESSITORE: The banning of chlorofluorocarbons?

ANN FLORINI: The banning of chlorofluorocarbons. If you look at why that came about in the 1980s, which was when the problem really came to public attention, we discovered there was a hole over the Antarctic that was letting in dangerous amounts of solar radiation.

It is still a problem, by the way. I was in the Southern Hemisphere recently, in Madagascar, and was warned that I had better wear suntan lotion all the time because the ozone layer in those regions is still noticeably thinner than it ought to be. But it's recovering.

The reason it's recovering is because these chemicals, the chlorofluorocarbons, that were damaging that protective layer of stratospheric ozone have been largely banned.

This came about initially because of scientists doing independent research who discovered that this could be a problem. There was a very active role for some of the environmental NGOs. The civil society was very involved in mobilizing governments to pay attention to this. There was an active role for industry.

JOHN TESSITORE: Industry was quite cooperative, wasn't it? They seemed to get religion at some point and jump on the wagon.

ANN FLORINI: They got religion when they discovered that they could make alternatives that were equally profitable.

JOHN TESSITORE: Is that what it takes? Is that when global governance becomes successful, when the corporate world gets on board?

ANN FLORINI: It certainly helps.

But there was also a catalytic role that was played by the UN Environment Program, which was utterly crucial, because if UNEP hadn't taken the problem seriously and started convening a number of workshops with policymakers around the world to point out to them what the evidence was, the governments never would have done anything.

It was too complex and abstract an issue. They didn't understand it.

JOHN TESSITORE: That's a very good example. And you're right. I think most people do forget it.

ANN FLORINI: So we have one really successful example of global governance. We ended up with a treaty. It had differential provisions for rich countries and poor countries. The poor countries are slowly coming on board. It has been the model for what has been tried on climate change.

JOHN TESSITORE: Why doesn't it work?

ANN FLORINI: Because climate change requires a wholesale transformation of energy patterns, transportation patterns, and land-use patterns. It's far more disruptive. It requires a much, much greater number of actors to be on board. It is a much harder problem.

It's not a more serious problem in that if we hadn't fixed the ozone problem, there would be a very direct threat to the continuity of life on earth. Ozone was on the same scale as climate as a threat, but it was a much easier problem to deal with.

It's a good way of just looking at the kinds of roles the different actors can play. Industry didn't just come up with substitutes for the chlorofluorocarbons; they also, over time—partly because some of them became convinced by the science that there was a threat, partly because some of them found a commercial alternative—became involved in the process of lobbying governments to take effective action.

They also took direct action themselves in changing some of their products, even before the international treaty was signed, so that they were no longer contributing to the problem. Then they marketed themselves to a constituency, consumers, particularly in the Western countries, who were becoming more environmentally aware. So it was a good marketing tool as well.

JOHN TESSITORE: Which has been extended to the marketing of green that we see ubiquitously today.

But let me take you to the second or even the third part of that question, because we have this other thing floating around, which is this concept of a league or concert of democracies.

Underlying this is the idea that if the United Nations can't fix it, with its unruly crowd of membership, can, perhaps, a group of 40, 50, 60 "democracies"? And, of course, there is a little elasticity as to how we define that. Could this group then do what the unwieldy one could not?

Let's apply that to global governance. Clearly, it would be another form of global governance or one more player on the stage, yes?

ANN FLORINI: Again, it's two different concepts. The League of Democracies was John McCain's proposal. That was clearly seen as an alternative to the United Nations, an alternative to engaging with other countries.

JOHN TESSITORE: Let me go to the second part of this question, then, this concept of a Concert of Democracies. Clearly, this is going to be another player on the multinational scene. But it's a limited club, unlike the United Nations. The concept is that somehow 40 or 50 or 60 democracies are going to be able to do something more or different than what the rabble over at the United Nations are able to accomplish.

I think that's pretty much the thinking. I'm sure you don't subscribe to it. But what are the pluses and minuses that are inherent in that?

ANN FLORINI: It depends entirely on how you actually use a Concert of Democracies, and also how visible you are about trying to use it. There is already something called the Community of Democracies, which is supposed to be a caucus within the United Nations.

JOHN TESSITORE: That's Madeleine Albright's group?

ANN FLORINI: Yes. It has not been used very much. It's not terribly effective.

The idea behind the Concert of Democracies was to do essentially a more effective version of that, to provide another forum for dealing with global problems.

There are lots of different instruments of global governance. You can go to the United Nations, you can go to NATO, you can go to the World Bank or the IMF, you can go to a whole variety of different forums, to deal with whatever problem it is that you want to deal with.

With a Concert of Democracies, the proposal is that you create another forum where you bring relatively likeminded countries with relatively similar values together, and therefore, it ought to be easier to get something done.

JOHN TESSITORE: But can they address global issues if they are an exclusive club?

ANN FLORINI: Of course not. It's not just the fact that they are an exclusive club and that China's reaction to this proposal is clearly to see this as an encirclement of China. It's hard to see it another way, particularly if you are sitting in China.

It's also that if you start looking at what issues need to be dealt with and what the position is of Brazil, South Africa, India, the United States, various European countries, the fact that they are all democracies doesn't really help you very much. There is very little common ground for how you deal with climate change, how you deal with the current economic crisis, how you prepare for global pandemics.

There is nothing about the domestic form of government that necessarily makes it easier to deal with a global issue. So the idea that somehow having a Concert of Democracies is going to help you in dealing with global problems—I don't see the logic behind it.

JOHN TESSITORE: If not, then what? Is there a piece that you see that's missing? Is there something that, if you could wave that wand, we would have a new XYZ that could move things forward? What needs to be done? What does the Obama Administration have to do? Is there a leadership role for the United States?

ANN FLORINI: There's very much a leadership role for the United States. I'm hoping that the people in the Obama Administration are seeing that as well. They seem to be. They are saying that quite a bit.

The United States isn't the overwhelmingly dominant power that it used to be, but it is still the preeminent country in the world. There tends to be a reluctance on the part of other governments to step forward and exercise leadership, partly because nobody else is in the habit of doing it.

They don't have the mechanisms and the habits of thoughts of saying, "We are going to be the ones to set forth the way to deal with a given problem." People tend to wait for the United States to act.

I was in some very interesting conversations in Asia in the last several months about how Asia ought to respond to the global economic crisis. In the private conversations, especially before the election and before the inauguration, it was, "We'll wait to see what Obama does." It was just the almost instinctive reaction.

So there is definitely a role for the United States to exercise leadership. But leadership doesn't mean making the rules and expecting others to follow. Leadership means setting up the opportunities for negotiation, listening to what other people's interests are, discovering where the bargains might be across issue areas, so that you get some kind of reciprocity.

You get others involved, because you are dealing with the things that they care about. That's the kind of leadership the United States now needs to exercise.

If it's prepared to do that, there are already all sorts of institutions, forums, organizations. The person who has just become the director of policy planning in the U.S. State Department is famous for her work on networks and I think is going to be looking for ways that the United States can help to develop networks, both governmental and nongovernmental.

JOHN TESSITORE: Are we talking about Anne-Marie Slaughter?

ANN FLORINI: Anne-Marie Slaughter. Ways that you can engage in a wider range of conversations than the United States has been doing, really, ever before, but certainly for the last eight years.

So you need a U.S. leadership role. That's one magic wand to wave.

The other is to get the attention of the national capitals in the major emerging countries. You aren't going to deal with any global issue successfully unless the Chinese are actively engaged, not just in responding to U.S. proposals, but in putting forward their own. So far that is really not happening.

You need to get the same from the Indians.

JOHN TESSITORE: What's the venue for this discussion? Is it bilateral? Where does it happen?

ANN FLORINI: It happens in several places. There is the G20 process, which is one logical place to have this conversation. It can happen in bilateral discussions.

Hillary Clinton is in China now. She has gone with an agenda that is much broader than the agenda that the Bush Administration had that is trying to build a broader relationship.

One proposal that you are hearing a lot is that we need a G2, United States and China. But the idea that the United States and China can between themselves set the rules for the world is anachronistic.

JOHN TESSITORE: We can readily think of a few countries that might object to that concept.

ANN FLORINI: Yes. And nobody has the enforcement capacity to force rules on the rest of the world. Leadership has to be now by inspiration, persuasion, explanation. It cannot be by simply setting rules and saying, "Take our rules or leave them. Those are the only rules there are," which is how the United States is used to acting.

JOHN TESSITORE: This has been a wonderful conversation. I have only one last question, which is, what can you tell students and young scholars who might be interested in learning more about this particular topic? Can you offer them any advice or any resources that you think they should consider as a priority?

ANN FLORINI: Oh, there are plenty of resources now of people who are trying to deal with this question of how you manage global problems, global issues. There is a scholarly journal called Global Governance, which is a very good introduction. If you Google "global governance," you will come up with more sites than you can imagine what to do with.

JOHN TESSITORE: So it is a hot topic.

It's a very hot topic. We did a panel at an academic conference recently. At 8:00 on Sunday morning, with the topic "Global Governance," in a room that held 100 people, we had probably 130, and more who couldn't get into the room.

People realize that you can't talk now about foreign policy or international relations in the old sense, because the problems that we have are these deeply integrated problems that go much beyond foreign policy.

It's really a question of how you ensure that everybody's energy practices, everybody's security practices, everybody's land-use practices, all are occurring in a way that the rest of the planet can deal with, that other societies can manage. There is a concept of "responsible sovereignty."

Yes, they are all sovereign countries, but the governments within those countries have to be responsible for the impact that they are having on the rest of the world.

Those are the kinds of concepts that policymakers need to understand and that students and scholars really need to be developing.

JOHN TESSITORE: Thank you, Ann. We are out of time. This has been a wonderful conversation with Professor Ann Florini, visiting us from Singapore. I thank her for being with us today at the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs.

ANN FLORINI: Thank you for having me.

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