Why we need (more) global governance

Text by Justine Kenzler 14.03.18


Through the process of globalization our world has become more and more interconnected. International travel is the easiest and cheapest it has ever been, financial transactions as well as the extraction of goods and services are no longer national matters, but rather truly global. Through the internet and various international exchange programs inter- and transnational friendships and relationships are encouraged and facilitated. But aside from all those very positive developments also pressing omnipresent issues are becoming increasingly global in magnitude: climate change is arguably one of the biggest challenges and threats humanity ever had to face. Nuclear weapons pose an increasing and serious threat to the majority of humanity and clearly go beyond state borders. War and poverty lead to international mass migration and the creation of millions of asylum seekers which put pressure on national governments to act. While the world is increasingly becoming a single space, politics is not keeping up with this fast development. As two scholars of international relations with a focus on global governance rightly put it in their 2010 book on the topic” the evolution of intergovernmental institutions to facilitate robust international responses lags well behind the emergence of collective problems with transborder, especially global, dimensions” (Weiss & Thakur, 2010, p. 4). Even though global problems, connections, and interactions are becoming more and more mundane, an effective global governance to adequately tackle these problems is not in place.

Some form of an advanced and comprehensive global governance has however been called for increasingly since the end of World War II (Cabrera, 2011). Such demands have lately increased with the accumulation of global problems, some of which I mentioned above. The enterprise of a potent global governance has since left the realm of philosophy and is entering the academic, social, and political discourse. Leading scholars in politics have come to seriously consider of world government based on their investigations into transnational economic and political issues, while others rather resist the advocacy of the full integration of a global government and rather call for some more loose form of global integration, perhaps in the form of more effective and powerful supranational institutions (Cabrera, 2011, ch. 1). What then are the alleged reasons for a more advanced form of global governance? I will summarize the most prominent arguments in this article and hope they will give a brief yet convincing overview over the issue.

The world is continuously facing a variety of global problems which can be broadly summarized as the first argument for a global political integration. The urgent nature of many collective problems and the general inactivity pose a real threat to human life. Climate change and international terrorism are just two such examples that pose an obvious threat but where states have failed to successfully address and solve those issues. Craig (2008) has summarized this issue as the collective action problem and explains it as follows; “as the world has become more globalized—economically integrated and culturally interconnected—individual countries have become increasingly averse to dealing with international problems that are not caused by any single state and cannot be fixed even by the focused efforts of individual governments” (Craig, 2008, p.135). He continues that this collective action problem is a known dilemma that “emerges when several actors have an interest in eradicating a problem that harms all of them, but when each would prefer that someone else do the dirty work of solving it. If everyone benefits more or less equally from the problem’s solution, but only the actor that addresses it pays the costs, then all are likely to want to ‘‘free ride’’ on the other’s efforts. The result is that no one tackles the problem, and everyone suffers” (Craig 2008, p.135).

Alongside this rather obvious collective action problem, the most pertinent argument in the literature and public debate for giving some form of global governance more executive power stems from the threat emanating from nuclear mass destruction weapons. Various scholars (e.g. Cabrera, 2011; Craig, 2008) postulate that a global system in which a number of states possess nuclear weapons, while other states try to accomplish the same, pose a continuing and urgent danger to the world. Cabrera (2011) goes on to argue that to simply engage in deterrence is bound to fail and constitutes a naïve and dangerous utopian and ahistorical thinking. The outbreak of a third World War does not seem too far-fetched, especially in light of several false alarms from both the U.S.A. and Russia who erroneously detected an incoming nuclear threat. As Craig (2008) puts it “as long as interstate politics continue, we cannot rule out that in some future conflict a warning system will fail, a leader will panic, governments will refuse to back down, a third party will provoke a response— indeed, there are any number of scenarios under which deterrence could fail and thermonuclear war could occur” (Craig, 2008, p.136). In his view (which is supported by numerous other scholars), only a strongly empowered world government would be capable of ending this tremendous threat and offer an appropriate solution to the nuclear and similar security threats.

While this argument might be the most compelling one, there are other reasons to prefer a more centralized governance. Economic rights of citizens all over the world too, are seriously threatened in the face of ever-increasing economic globalization where domestic polities are simply losing their power to democratically influence outcomes (Cabrera, 2011). Cabrera concludes that “when so many aspects of governance are shifted to a suprastate level, so should democratic input be shifted” (Cabrera, 2011, ch.1). A similar conclusion is drawn by Weiss & Thakur (2010) who remind us of the destructive consequences of a number of significant financial crises, which were only possible to take place because of a lack of international control and transparency. One of the most memorable examples of such an event surely was the financial crisis of 2007 which was the worst of its kind since the Great Depression. Financial crises are however not rare and its consequences often detrimental to many people worldwide. The world financial crisis of 2007/2008, the major Asian financial crisis of 1997/1998, Latin Americas debt crisis of 1982 and most other crises of this kind have one thing in common; they display major problems in terms of “the proper role of governments and market institutions as well as the appropriate balance in the relationship between them” (Weiss & Thakur, 2010, p. 2). The causes of such crises lie in imperfect domestic governance, and demonstrate the need for efficient, effective, and “new transparent, regulatory and surveillance instruments and institutions” (Weiss & Thakur, 2010, p. 2). So far global governance initiatives only play facilitative or constraining roles, the more important determining roles are however exclusively reserved for domestic authorities. Consequently, Weiss’ and Thakur’s (2010) main argument for the necessity for a global governance stems from the world’s current flawed financial system, which is in fact already global in essence, however lacking an appropriate governing. They further argue that in our modern world the financial arena cannot only be concerned with maximizing efficiency and profit but must also take into account questions of legitimacy and distributive justice, something that is under the current state not sufficiently addressed. Even though various international, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations are in place to somewhat regulate and monitor this market, nothing remotely resembles the much-needed authority that could provide stability and attenuates the social costs or economic downfalls and pitfalls.

All these arguments consistently and convincingly conclude that a world-governance approach is the only entity that can solve problems of such a magnitude. A more effective global governance, perhaps even a full-blown government, is needed to solve genuinely global problems. Problems of global security, threats to the environment and global justice are essentially unsolvable without an empowered world state. While many scholars remain critical of the establishment of an authentic world government, most do support the notion of some global legal or distributive mechanisms to enforce more justice and to effectively secure political and economic rights globally (Cabrera, 2011). Even though there is no accomplished world government in place, we can already witness global governance expanding with regard to an increasing number of globally responsible institutions (Lechner & Boli, 2005). The nature of these arguments leaves me with a feeling of urgency and make me wonder whether we will be reacting before it is too late



Cabrera, L. G. (2011). Global Governance, Global Government: Institutional Visions for an          Evolving World System. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Craig, C. (2008). The Resurgent Idea of World Government. Ethics & International Affairs            22, 2.

Weiss, T. G., & Thakur, R. C. (2010). Global Governance and the UN: An Unfinished       Journey. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.