By Robert Hickey
When one ‘designs’ a system of global governance (although I suspect it would be by more than ‘one’) it should both be democratically legitimate as well as capable of timely action. Yet, these two requirements are often at odds with each other, even within the relatively homogenous context of the nation-state. The democratic process does a decent job of preventing extremism in official government policy, particularly in multi-party systems where opposing parties have relatively equal power over the political process over time. Nations are often able to arrive at compromises, even if they sometimes come at the 11th hour. Countries containing significant ethnic, religious or linguistic groups may have bigger challenges in achieving this, particularly when regions within countries have been historically autonomous entities from the now centralized government.
This issue plagues international organizations (quick glance over at the UN) such as in the U.N Security Council, where democratic decision-making takes on its most absolute form; decisions must be taken unanimously in order to be passed. It is true then, from experience here on Earth, that when national views migrate to an international democratic forums, and that forum is mandated with maintaining global security, fighting poverty and ensuring human rights are had by all (among other things), such democratic legitimacy has obvious faults. In some cases, it may act as a reason for inaction. With such diverse views and interests, how can any decision which is debated within, not be reduced to the lowest-common denominator that will satisfy all those voting. The reality it seems to me, is that it usually can’t.
How then can the need for global governance on so many issues; climate change, acidification of the oceans, addressing humanitarian crises, overfishing of the seas, deforestation, and other challenges, be addressed with such diverse views and interests at play? I do not mean this as a rhetorical question. I really do not know how it can be done.
Under the SIMPOL model, it would seem that the more nations that agree to diverge from the most optimal economic policies (in the sense of GDP gained without regard for social and environmental factors), the more that those that maintain traditional international destructive economic policies would benefit. As such, as more countries sign on to SIMPOL, the higher the incentive would be to not abide by the SIMPOL pledge. It seems to me that there is an inverse relationship here between the number of nations joining SIMPOL and the motivation to join. Not until all nations agreed would there be benefits for all. And getting all nations to agree…it is quite a task to be sure.
I suppose the current government-sponsored massacres in Syria is what got me thinking about this subject. If the international community, through the UN, has problems making even a statement condemning the violence, what does that say about the prospects for taking unified action on immediate and long-term challenges like climate change? Such lack of sufficient and timely action is the elephant in the room and it exists horizontally across all global challenge areas.
Perhaps I am just in a disparaging mood, and minds and institutions entrenched in the past and present can change in time to address an uncertain future. Momentum on a global scale will certainly takes much force to redirect.
I really hope that making comparisons between the Syrian case and climate change is my own simply convolution of comparing apples to oranges. For all of us.
I am interested in the comments section of having a discussion on how to reconcile this action vs. democratic legitimacy paradox at the global level.