Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century

By Augusto Lopez-Claros, Arthur Lyon Dahl and Maja Groff

Is there any hope for those who despair at the state of the world and the powerlessness of governments to find a way forward? Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century provides ambitious but reasonable proposals to give our globalized world the institutions of international governance necessary to address effectively the catastrophic risks facing humanity that are beyond national control. The solution, the authors suggest, is to extend to the international level the same principles of sensible governance that exist in well-governed national systems: rule of law, legislation in the common interest, an executive branch to implement such legislation, and courts to enforce it. The best protection is unified collective action, based on shared values and respect for diversity, to implement widely accepted international principles to advance universal human prosperity and well-being.

This book is open access.

Click through the Table of Contents below to access different sections of the book.

Or download the full PDF here.

Is there any hope for those who despair at the state of the world and the powerlessness of governments to find a way forward? Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century provides ambitious but reasonable proposals to give our globalized world the institutions of international governance necessary to address effectively the catastrophic risks facing humanity that are beyond national control. The solution, the authors suggest, is to extend to the international level the same principles of sensible governance that exist in well-governed national systems: rule of law, legislation in the common interest, an executive branch to implement such legislation, and courts to enforce it. The best protection is unified collective action, based on shared values and respect for diversity, to implement widely accepted international principles to advance universal human prosperity and well-being.

This book is open access. Click through the Table of Contents below to access different sections of the book. Or download the full PDF here.

Table of Contents

Preface & Acknowledgments


Part I Background

The Challenges of the 21st Century

Facing a complex set of global threats to our future, how do we find a way forward? It is clearly necessary to strengthen the capacity to enforce international law, to reform legal institutions and current mechanisms of international cooperation, which have turned out to be largely inadequate to manage the challenges that we face. Indeed, the United Nations itself and the specialized agencies created to attend to a variety of global problems find themselves increasingly unable to respond to crises, partly due to the lack of appropriate jurisdiction or mandate to act, sometimes because they are inadequately endowed with resources or because, within the limits of existing conceptual frameworks, they simply do not know what to do. A substantial and carefully-thought-through reform effort is needed to enhance dramatically the basic architecture of our global governance system, grounded on fundamental points of law already agreed by states worldwide, and upon foundational principles embedded in the current international order. Such efforts need to strike the right balance between proposals that are so ambitious as to have negligible chances of being seriously considered and proposals that are seen as more “politically feasible” but that fail to find meaningful solutions to urgent contemporary problems.


A History of Global Governance

The idea of bringing into being supranational organizations to resolve disputes between states has a distinguished lineage, going as far back as Dante Alighieri’s On World Government, Rousseau’s A Project of Perpetual Peace and Kant’s proposal for a federation of nations operating under the rule of law, and eventually evolving into “a perfect civil union of mankind.” The League of Nations was a first attempt to pool national sovereignties together to deal with the problem of war, a milestone in a long process intended to strengthen the effectiveness of mechanisms of international cooperation. The UN was initially conceived as an international entity founded on federalist principles, with substantial powers to enact laws that would be binding on member states, but it emerged as a rather less ambitious entity with two fundamental flaws: the principle of one-country-one-vote in the General Assembly and the veto within the Security Council, both undermining the democratic legitimacy of the organization. The chapter also reviews the concerns raised by Grenville Clark and others who thought that if member countries could not agree upon well-defined powers that they would be willing to yield, no global authority adequate to maintain peace would arise in our time.


European Integration: Building Supranational Institutions

The EU is an example of an orderly confidence-building process enabling governments to gradually yield elements of national prerogative to supranational institutions. Seeking to establish a foundation for greater integration to make future wars in Europe impossible, a gradual approach was adopted, starting with the European Coal and Steel Community as an area where the benefits of cooperation after the war were most obvious. Building on this, the Treaties of Rome were signed in 1957 establishing the European Economic Community. A 1978 decision of the European Court of Justice established the principle of mutual recognition of decisions in any one state among all other European states. The Single European Act of 1987 removed the requirement for unanimity in decisions, followed by the Europe 1992 program, which streamlined and then eliminated border controls. The European Parliament evolved from an advisory group of national parliamentarians to a directly elected body. The 1992 Maastricht Treaty called for a common currency and gave legal meaning to the concept of union citizenship. The 2009 Treaty of Lisbon expanded European competences, strengthening the European Parliament. There have been ups and downs, and countries advancing at different paces, yet the Union has expanded to 28 members.


Part II Reforming the Central Institutions of the United Nations

The General Assembly: Reforms to Strengthen Its Effectiveness

We present an overview of the evolution of the United Nations General Assembly, its most important achievements and remaining weaknesses and relevance. It is argued that the UN Charter should be amended to introduce a system of weighted voting, to better reflect the relative significance and influence of its 193 members. A proposal is put forward that uses three variables to arrive at a set of weights for membership in the General Assembly: (i) population size, to reflect each member’s accumulated demographic history so that countries with larger populations will have a larger voice; (ii) the size of the member’s economy; and (iii) a UN membership factor that is equal for all countries. For the GDP variable the weighted average of GDP at market prices and GDP at PPP rates is used. The merits and limitations of such a scheme are analysed and a gradual system of direct election of Assembly members is proposed. The chapter also presents the UN Charter’s Articles 9-11 on General Assembly composition, functions and powers and discusses how these Articles should be amended to reflect the new system of weighted voting and the enhanced powers that are envisaged for the Assembly under a revised Charter.


A World Parliamentary Assembly: A Catalyst for Change

We examine the debate around the creation, in the near-term, of a World Parliamentary Assembly (WPA), a body intended to enhance the democratic character of the UN. Representing the interests of the global citizenry, a WPA could bring fresh perspectives on a broad array of unresolved global problems and become an effective catalyst for advancing processes of reform and transformation at the United Nations itself, playing a role in reinforcing democratic tendencies in the world, and fostering a new planetary ethos of an interdependent global community. Taking the evolution of the European Parliament as a model, several pathways to the setting up of a WPA are discussed, arguing that it would not be essential to have the consent of all states to get it launched. In time, as the WPA gained democratic legitimacy, it could be integrated into the international constitutional order, attached as an advisory body to the General Assembly. If UN Charter amendments enabling a system of weighted voting in the General Assembly are a longer-term goal, a WPA with extensive advisory powers would be a sensible preparatory step for the eventual emergence of a General Assembly with legislative powers.


Advisory Mechanisms to Support Global Policymaking

To exercise its responsibilities effectively in the global interest, the legislative function in a reformed United Nations will need supporting advisory mechanisms for specialized scientific, technical, and other expertise. Also, a strong civil society voice including non-governmental organisations has been shown to contribute constructively to global policy making; a Chamber of Civil Society could thus play a central advisory role to the General Assembly. The goal will be to ensure an effective UN decision-making capacity, based on the best available knowledge and analysis, to address global challenges. Additional supporting mechanisms are necessary to support this process; advisory bodies made up of individuals with established expertise would initially focus their efforts on several pressing global catastrophic risks, including climate change, the deterioration of the environment, nuclear proliferation and the peace and security challenges this raises. An excellent precedent in this area is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In the scientific domain beyond pressing global catastrophic risks, the General Assembly will need a number of general advisory mechanisms to provide additional specialized expertise, supplemented by an ethical advisory process in an Office of Ethical Assessment, to provide analysis of the ethical implications of issues under consideration.


UN Executive Council: Beyond an Outdated Paradigm

The UN Security Council, the main seat of power in the present UN with the authority to take binding decisions and to implement them with force if necessary, was created with a fatal flaw in the veto power of its five Permanent Members. This has prevented the UN from achieving its essential purpose to maintain peace and security, resolve disputes between states, regulate armaments, and prevent interstate conflict. All past proposals for Security Council reform have failed because Charter reform is also subject to the veto. This chapter proposes to replace the Security Council with an Executive Council under the authority of the General Assembly responsible for implementation, management and effective operation of the United Nations, with collective security implementation as only one of a range of executive functions. It would consist of 24 members providing a balanced voice for all member states. The veto would be eliminated, to be replaced by a two-thirds majority in important matters. The Executive Council could coordinate and where necessary consolidate the many existing bodies and functions in the UN system. Specialized offices for peace and security would be strengthened or created within the Secretariat.


Completing the Collective Security Mechanism of the Charter: Establishing an International Peace Force

Proposals for the creation of an international security force were actively discussed at the time of the establishment of the League of Nations and were returned to in the period leading to the creation of the UN. The UN Charter contains explicit undertakings in the area of peaceful settlement of international disputes and various instruments emerged over time as the UN sought to give operational meaning to the peace and security principles in the Charter. We analyse the experience with peacekeeping operations and the lessons that can be drawn from their mixed success. We then analyse the extent to which there has been dramatic erosion in the effectiveness of the uses of warfare to achieve particular national strategic objectives and argue that the current system of global security is absurdly costly in relation to the meagre security benefits it confers. We present a proposal for the creation of an International Peace Force, to be established in parallel to a process of comprehensive international arms control. A number of operational issues which emerge when considering the establishment of such a Force, many of them based on an assessment of several decades of experience with peacekeeping, are discussed.


Toward Systemic Disarmament: Resetting Global Priorities

Arms control and disarmament are among the unfulfilled promises of the UN Charter. Alongside the establishment of an International Peace Force, a Standing Committee on Disarmament should oversee a binding and staged process of universal disarmament, leaving only those arms needed for ensuring internal security. This would require global monitoring and verification, an avoidance of destabilizing forces, and building trust among countries. There are both positive recent developments in arms control, and a regression towards arms build-ups eroding the accomplishment of past disarmament proposals. The prevention and abolition of war should be a central focus of renewed global governance, required by fundamental changes in the nature of armed conflict, threats from new technologies and the involvement of new actors beyond states. There are also new capacities for collective good. Proposals for modern comprehensive disarmament must go beyond the simple destruction of weapons to include the adaptation and reconversion of all the economic resources, infrastructure and human resources presently devoted to military forces and the arms industry. Many obstacles are acknowledged and will have to be overcome, but eliminating the anachronism of war will free enormous resources for other more constructive uses.


Strengthening the International Rule of Law

Strengthening the rule of law, at national and international levels, is a key goal of the international community, as expressed in multiple statements of heads of state, high-level meetings and resolutions made under the auspices of the United Nations. Developing an international order based upon the international rule of law is also a core objective of the UN Charter. However, with some limited exceptions, the international legal system has not yet matured into what would be considered a true rule of law system. Notable thinkers of various times and places have convincingly argued that the rule of law is a key element in establishing a global, sustainable peace; a perspective complemented by modern peace research. Key international legal institutions, like the International Court of Justice (ICJ), remain essentially un-reformed since 1945, as do UN Charter provisions on peaceful settlements of disputes. This Chapter sketches a range of potential, inter-linked reforms to strengthen significantly the international rule of law, including peaceful settlement of disputes, the ICJ, the International Criminal Court, the establishment of an international judicial training institute and an office of international Attorney General. Further vital steps must be taken towards completing the half-built legal institutions that we currently possess.


Human Rights for the Twenty-first Century

The UN Charter and its human rights mandate, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, marked watershed moments in international (legal) history. However, while the international community has made significant progress in the drafting and adopting of human rights norms since, woefully inadequate reforms of and investment in their implementation and in the international human rights architecture have taken place. Respect for fundamental human rights was considered to be a key component in the maintenance of a peaceful and stable international order. Modern experts note the current great danger, including cross-border spillover effects, if the international community turns a blind eye to or inadequately addresses systemic human rights violations in various nations throughout the world. The UN Human Rights Council should be significantly reformed to become a credible institution, capable of fulfilling its mandate with impartiality and independence. A workable and practical design for an International Human Rights Tribunal, and pathways to the implementation of such a tribunal, must be forged. Additionally, as UN powers are significantly enhanced (as proposed in this book through comprehensive Charter review), a new Bill of Rights applicable primarily to UN action and to protect individual rights should also be developed.


A New United Nations Funding Mechanism

This chapter addresses the question of funding the operations of the United Nations. It reviews the early history of UN funding and the systems that emerged as a result of the constraints which the UN Charter imposed on its members, with specific reference to the jurisdiction given to the General Assembly on budgetary issues under the one-country-one-vote system. The structure of the UN budget is also reviewed, both as regards sources and uses of funds, with updated data for 2016. The history of various funding mechanisms put forth in the post-war period is analysed, including: Grenville Clark and Louis Sohn’s proposals contained in World Peace Through World Law; an examination of the advantages of the model currently used in the European Union, which itself evolved over time into a system of reliable, independent funding; a discussion of the merits of a Tobin-like tax on financial transactions to not only fund UN operations but also other development needs; and, a system that would allocate resources to the UN as a fixed proportion of each member’s GNI, without the multiple exemptions and carve outs which are in place in today’s convoluted system of revenue generation.


Part III Governance and the Management of Multiple Global Risks

UN Specialized Agencies and Governance for Global Risks

The UN system has evolved over three-quarters of a century to take on many new problems since 1945 and to address many of the critical risks that have emerged. Conventions have been negotiated and signed, specialized agencies created, and programmes and structures established within the UN Secretariat. With globalization, these multiple problems have become increasingly interrelated, leading to new vulnerabilities at the global level with threats of systemic collapse. Specialization needs to be balanced by increased integration. A strengthened UN system with legislative capacity would be able to build on this important capacity to coordinate, combine and help these many entities to evolve into a more efficient and coherent system. The Sustainable Development Goals provide the latest globally accepted definition of sustainable development and a useful framework for the scope of the required international governance. The goal to leave no one behind helps to focus on the needs of the poor, the marginalized, disabled, migrants and women too often excluded from governmental responsibility. Their situation needs to be monitored with disaggregated data and addressed through shared responsibility at the multiple levels of governance. UN reform needs to build in mechanisms for flexibility and adaptability to new and emerging global risks.


Economic Governance for Inequality and the Private Sector

Inequality is a major global issue, destroying the social cohesion necessary for stability and security, the subject of Sustainable Development Goal 10. Poverty results from failures of redistribution within the economic system, stagnating wages, chronic unemployment and lack of opportunity, while less attention has been paid to the increasing global wealth going to the already-wealthy as returns on capital, producing a social backlash. A new multilateral specialized agency should be created within the reformed UN system specifically to address growing economic inequality and to promote more equitable distribution of the world’s resources. While some countries have advanced, inequality between states remains a long-term problem, with development aid failing to address root causes. Various options and policies are available to redress global inequality between and within countries, including progressive taxation, employment creation, gender equality, a universal basic income, and other provisions for social security. Design principles for a more just and sustainable economy are reflected in the UN 2030 Agenda. One priority is to establish a global regulatory framework for social and environmental responsibility in the private sector, creating a level playing field for business. Another is to rethink the global economic and financial architecture.


Global Financial Architecture and the International Monetary Fund

We review the role the IMF has played over the past several decades in managing financial crises and suggest possible areas for reform. We examine the background to the 2008-09 global financial crisis and analyse many of its implications, particularly the sharp increase in the burden of public debt which was a consequence of the crisis and identify this as a source of systemic risk. We argue that our current financial system has a number of vulnerabilities which pose a major threat to financial stability and economic prosperity and could, in a crisis, interact in highly destabilizing ways with other aspects of our governance system. The UN Charter clearly introduced the concept of economic and social development as a key responsibility of the international community and two of the UN leading agencies, the IMF and the World Bank, are very much at the centre of implementing the UN’s mandate in this area. We focus on the IMF because of the central role the organization plays in the management of the global monetary system, a system whose weaknesses were dramatically revealed during the 2008-09 financial crisis. We present several proposals for reforms aimed at improving the global financial architecture.


Responding to Global Environmental Crises

The imperative of global environmental governance did not exist when the United Nations was founded, only emerging in recent decades. Today, a reinforced global environmental organization is needed to address the existential challenges of climate change and threats to global biodiversity. The voluntary approach has been insufficient, so binding measures are needed. Climate-induced displacement risks dwarfing the present flows of migrants. Food and water supplies will be impacted globally. Fossil fuels must be replaced rapidly as our primary energy source. The integrity of the biosphere is also in danger, requiring international efforts beyond the capacity of many countries. The existing global regulation of dangerous chemicals needs to be extended, and transboundary air pollution brought under control. A global approach is also needed for the equitable and sustainable management of natural resources. An integrated approach is required, since all the environmental problems are interrelated, and the risks of a catastrophic ecological collapse are increasing.


Population and Migration

Among the social challenges facing humanity, population and migration are at the root of many problems. Globalization has very significantly advanced across a range of areas, except with respect to the free movement of people. Extreme inequality has maintained rapid population growth in some regions, while in others the falling birth rate is leading to a rapid ageing of the population. The anticipated global population of up to 11 billion in this century could only be supported with fundamental changes in lifestyles, consumption patterns, social relationships, institutions and value systems towards social justice and equity. Regional and global carrying capacities must be respected. Migration should be seen not as a threat but as an opportunity for both migrants and receiving communities. Large scale environmentally-induced migrations can be anticipated and planned for to reduce human suffering.


Part IV Cross Cutting Issues

Corruption as a Destroyer of Prosperity and the Need for International Enforcement

This Chapter first provides a broad definition of corruption and discusses why it is so toxic to effective governance. We then address how corruption has emerged as a key issue in the development process after being ignored for many decades. We explore the ways that, without proper vigilance, government and corruption can become intertwined and feed off each other, destroying the foundations of human prosperity and the very purpose of governance. Existing efforts to tackle corruption at the national, regional and global levels are reviewed, and additional ways forward, particularly as regard the role of economic policies in developing the right sorts of incentives and institutions to reduce the incidence of corruption are presented. Finally, proposals are put forth for the establishment of an International Anticorruption Court (IACC), to greatly strengthen and better implement a range of legal instruments which are already in place, but that have had limited success in checking the growth of multiple forms of corruption across the planet—affecting developing and developed countries alike. The setting up of an IACC is seen as a necessary adjunct to existing tools to check the spread of what many now regard as a global epidemic.


Education for Transformation

Formal institutional and legal reform is inadequate to achieve enhanced, effective international governance; attention must also be paid to engage the support and participation of global populations whom the institutions will serve. The foundation for a renewed United Nations must be the shared values of all those who support it, and a solid “civics” understanding of global institutions. Public education, both formal and informal, and extensive engagement with the mass media, are critical to establishing strengthened global governance. Populations around the world must be grounded in key principles of the international order—such as peaceful settlement of disputes and universal respect for human rights—to uphold these principles and the relevant institutions. Education is also needed for those who serve in enhanced global institutions and those who participate in international governance processes. Many will need new skills, new ways of thinking and particular qualities of evolved, ethical leadership relevant to their roles in complex, international environments. This chapter sketches the multiple forms of education and the related sharing of knowledge that should accompany the proposed processes of reform, to ensure the correct general cultural and practical circumstances needed for functional global governance, requiring unprecedented new levels of cooperation and investment.


Part V Foundations for a New Global Governance System

Values and Principles for an Enhanced International System: Operationalizing Global “Good Governance”

Effective, accountable institutions require a common understanding of their purpose, basic values and operating principles. The 1945 UN Charter intended to establish a rule-based international order, based on the values and principles it enshrines, which have subsequently been elaborated in numerous declarations, statements and other documents adopted by the international community. Shared, internalized values form a crucial basis for collective international action, facilitating trust among diverse stakeholders and lightening institutional enforcement burdens. They also assist in addressing global complexity and the coordination of the vast field of actors associated with the modern, decentralized global governance landscape of diverse stakeholders, including private actors. Values and principles provide a basis for the design of “hard” obligations, as well as strong, legitimate institutions and governance processes with appropriate checks and balances. Contemporary good governance standards should be implemented at the international level, including, for example, governance quality indices based on human rights norms, principles of accountability, transparency, consultation, and the rule of law. Global governance must strive to be effective, good governance, embodying high standards. Finally, this chapter sketches how a substantially reformed, values-based international governance system could work (e.g., via comprehensive UN Charter reform), operationalizing the various proposals in this book.


Some Immediate Steps Forward—Getting “from Here to There”

Several possible “future scenarios” and implementation pathways lead to significant UN and global governance reform. The “rational trajectory” would involve international governments, responding to well-mapped and emerging crises, convening a UN Charter review conference to adopt changes such as those proposed in this book. In a “business as usual” trajectory governments would do “too little too late,” with insufficient leadership for the reforms necessary to navigate current and emerging crises. Such a “drift” scenario is a recipe for inevitable disaster, with uncertain economic, ecological and human costs. Rebuilding after major global disaster(s) is a third scenario, if, for example, the world stumbles into war, or the earth shifts into a worst case “hot house” scenario due to unchecked climate change. Finally, this chapter explores some immediate steps the international community could take, including; reopening a serious and wide-ranging debate on the need for revision of the UN Charter, with a coalition of like-minded governments not allowing the threat of the use of the veto to stymie debate and action; and, effecting priority reforms as soon as possible, including, for example, the establishment of a World Parliamentary Assembly, and enhanced international action to address effectively climate change.


Part VI Conclusions

Bridging the Governance Gap

The UN and its Charter, despite the many laudable aims, legal principles and values it enshrines, is today too heavily constrained by the commitments it makes to uphold out-dated notions of state sovereignty, it is saddled by the veto, it is inadequately resourced, it has not succeeded in establishing a genuine international system of rule by law, and it has consistently proved incapable of controlling or preventing abuses of power and other forms of internationally dangerous state behaviour. Nevertheless we argue that the more sensible approach in developing the foundations of an enhanced global constitutional order is to build on the existing institutional infrastructure associated with the United Nations; it has universal membership, it has accumulated over the past 70 years a body of texts and practices that have precipitated important changes in selected areas, it has participated, however ineffectively, in most of the peace and security debates of the post-war period, and the Security Council has the power to enforce binding international law. More importantly, the UN Charter can be amended, modernized and adapted to the needs of the present. We discuss the possible ways ahead, suggesting the most workable mechanisms for next steps in our evolving governance system.


Order the book from Cambridge University Press or Amazon.

This book’s trenchant analysis of what ails the running of the globe should be read by policymakers everywhere, and certainly by those many citizens who concern themselves with fostering a better and more functional world. Change comes slowly, but this book is a prodding catalyst.

Robert I. Rotberg, Harvard Kennedy School, author of On Governance

The bold idealism championed by Lopez-Claros, Dahl and Groff is just what the planet needs, with not a moment to lose if we are to halt and reverse the trajectory of imminent disaster on which we have set ourselves. As a former Ambassador to the United Nations with first-hand experience on the UN Security Council, I applaud the vision laid out for transformational change grounded in past institutional experience.

Amanda Ellis, Executive Director Hawaii & Asia-Pacific Arizona State University, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability

Global Governance is a book of exceptional breadth and vision, written for an unprecedented period in the historical evolution of humankind. Defying the cynicism and myopia that often define the political culture of our times, it dares to state the obvious truth that global interdependence is an inescapable reality, and that far from naïve idealism, building effective global institutions in the 21st century is a matter of survival for our species.

Payam Akhavan, Professor of International Law, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

In this outstanding volume, Lopez-Claros, Dahl and Groff document the existential challenges facing our global institutions, from environmental decline and the failure of existing international security mechanisms to mass population flows and the crisis of sovereignty and civil society engagement.

Ambassador Donald Steinberg, Board member, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century provides a comprehensive set of proposals combining alternative dispute settlement mechanisms, phased disarmament, an International Peace Force adequate to the task, and paths to its implementation.

Lt Gen (ret) the Honourable Roméo Dallaire, author of Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda

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