Global Governance and the United Nations

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

32 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Normative and analytical concepts of global governance
2.1 The United Nations and global governance

3. A framework of analysis
3.1 Operationalisation of the research question

4. The relevance of non-state actors in global governance
4.1 The problems of non-state actors in global governance

5. Can the UN help to solve the problem of input-legitimacy?

6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

As the world becomes increasingly globalized and economic activities grow beyond national regulatory frameworks, it becomes more necessary to politically shape economic, social and environmental processes on a global scale. How the global challenges can be democratically managed has recently begun to be discussed under the heading of ‘global governance’.

(Deutscher Bundestag 2002: 67)

Global governance as a normative concept provides a vision and a related set of recommendations on how to shape a more just and legitimate international order in the future. From this perspective, more global governance equals more public welfare. Obviously, the real problem then is the implementation of global governance in the described fashion, the overcoming of challenges that frustrate the desired outcome. While global governance is clearly not the universal remedy for world-wide injustice, from a normative point of view it still makes sense to understand better how global governance can be advanced. Most often, the United Nations are ascribed a central role in this effort. Still, proponents of the normative concept are dissatisfied with the UN’s performance. To counteract deficits in global governance, a vast amount of reform proposals are put forth regarding the question how to restructure the UN for the job. Conventional wisdom holds that no significant progress has been made concerning the adjustment of the UN to the changing international environment. It might be reasonable to assume that the UN will not be a helpful tool for the implementation of global governance. To find out about this in more detail, this paper puts forth the following question: Can the UN advance global governance?

Clearly, the paper revolves around the normative concept of global governance. While in scientific literature, the normative concept of global governance has become unfashionable by the time and a rather critical analysis of the implication of international regulation has taken precedence, it will be outlined that there is good reason to investigate the connection between the UN and the normative concept. By no means does this foreclose the importance of critical scrutiny of the establishing governance architecture. The criticism of global governance as the perpetuation of neoliberal hegemony and Western domination is acknowledged but will not be dealt with from this point on.

Surprisingly little effort been made so far to systematically link the concept of global governance, be it normative or analytical, to the United Nations system although on a gut level, scholars seem to agree that both are somehow linked. At the start of the analysis, this paper sets out to present a first useful framework put forth by Brühl and Rosert (Brühl/Rosert 2007) and adds a missing category to the analysis, the link between the UN and the normative concept of global governance. In the normative tradition, the developed framework inter alia proposes to consider the UN as a potential activator for global governance as a normative concept. While the connection of global governance and the UN as its activator offers room for gripping research, the ambition of this paper is much downgraded. It only seeks to offer a starting point by investigating whether the UN can actually advance global governance and tries to enable a first cautious approach to the more general hypothesis above.

To facilitate this analysis, in a first step a major problem of global governance is selected. The fundamental lack of integration of non-state actors into governance structures serves as a case in point for that matter. The legitimacy of global governance suffers from this lack which in turn impedes reaping the desired benefits of the concept. In a second step, the UN’s capacity to solve the depicted problem is analysed. It is found that conventional wisdom holds true because the UN will not be able to solve the depicted problem via traditional solutions put forth by normative proponents and following this logic will not advance global governance. However, it is also found that traditional approaches often result in unrealistic proposals and a lack of coherent analysis of both global governance and the UN and thus remain utopian. This paper proposes that the UN can actually resort to its strength as a forum organisation to tackle the problem of non-state actor integration. In particular the model of the UN conferences conducted during the 1990s offers a possible solution to this particular challenge. Regarding the research question it is thus found that the UN can advance global governance within the given parameters even without successful reforms. It is concluded that the limited conducted research does allow only for a limited number of more general statements on the UN’s role in advancing global governance against challenges of a different nature. However, a number of proposals are made for further inquiries into the capacities of the UN to advance global governance and the broader area of the UN as an activator of the normative concept.

2. Normative and analytical concepts of global governance

Globalisation is nothing new. Over the course of the last centuries, the process of globalisation impacted on mankind sometimes more sometimes less. However, it seems that with the dawn of the 21th century, the impetus of globalisation has reached critical mass. Whether globalisation is perceived to be the cause for a laudable profit-generating world economy or as the manifestation of grim social Darwinism, today, there is no escape from its consequences anywhere in the world. Identifying mechanisms and institutional settings to steer and adjust to these consequences of globalisation is the goal of global governance. In this fashion, the Commission on Global Governance has defined governance on the global level as follows: “Governance is the sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, manage their common affairs. It is a continuing process through which conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and co-operative action may be taken. It includes formal institutions and regimes empowered to enforce compliance, as well as informal arrangements that people and institutions either have agreed to or perceive to be in their interest.“ (Commission on Global Governance [CGG], 1995: 2) Global Governance, in the way it is depicted by the definition above, represents a normative concept of how the process of globalisation could be managed to ensure that ongoing inequalities could be overcome and common problems could be solved. Therefore, behind the nebulous words of the CGG a set of objectives can be identified which global governance ought to achieve in order to advance the global public good. Fields of concern are social and economic justice, sustainable development and peaceful conflict resolution under the auspices of international law (ibid: v-viii). Following the work of the Commission, a great number of papers and books have been published putting forth a normative stance, considering global governance as a project to shape a world more liveable in.[1]

In a more detached fashion, other scholars use the concept of global governance as an analytical tool with which existing ways of governance in the international arena can be described. Already observable phenomena of international governance are investigated. The concept of global governance guides the way to new fields of research for scholars interested in policy formulation and implementation in the international system by a growing number of state and non-state actors. Without a normative set of goals attached to the concept of global governance, attention is mainly being paid to traditional political questions of power-distribution, legitimacy and control among actors involved in the international decision-making process.[2]

What unite most scholars on the subject are general assumptions about the effects of globalisation. The ongoing denationalisation of social and political activities threatens national regulation capacities (Zürn 1998). In consequence, the Westphalian nation-state system draws to a close because social activities have expanded beyond the realm of traditional political regulation (Scharpf, 1997; Zürn 1998]). Global governance essentially constitutes a political after-effect of globalisation (Fuchs 2006). Generally, a change in an empirical and a normative dimension can be observed comparing traditional modes of governing to global governance. In contrast to inter -national governance, new private actors need to participate in rule-setting and new patterns of decision-making in the structures of global governance. In contrast to the traditional notion of realpolitik, counteracting the negative impacts of globalisation requires a new cooperative and inclusive thinking among major powers in the international system.

2.1 The United Nations and global governance

Reacting to these observations, the United Nations have begun a distinct reform process, culminating in the summit of 2005 in which a number of changes within the UN system were decided (Rittberger 2006: 41; Gareis/Varwick 2003: 285). The long running UN reform process has to be understood against the backdrop of two factors. On the one hand, the reforms are supposed to allow for a structural reaction to problems not foreseeable during the founding years of the UN such as failed states and new concepts of sovereignty. On the other hand, institutional deficiencies leading to a lack of efficiency of the whole system have to be eliminated (Brühl/Rosert 2007). Considering the direction of the various reform proposals, the UN seems to try to pave the way for the realisation of a number of aspects of global governance. Thus it does not come as a surprise that scholars embed the concept of global governance – of analytical and normative nature - in the United Nations system. “The United Nations system and national governments are surely central to the conduct of global governance.” (Rosenau 1995: 13) Scientific literature on the topic often depicts the United Nations as the centrepiece or the focal point of global governance (see Yäyrynen 1999; Karns/Mingst 2004; de Senarclens/Kazancigil 2007).

More often than not, however, literature on the connection between the UN and global governance only claims the UN as central to global governance but lacks a coherent explanation for why that is. It remains unclear what exactly connects the UN and global governance apart from a gut feeling and “the unprecedented Millennium Summit and Declaration and the awarding of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize to the UN” (Karns/Mingst 2004: 97), an explanation that remains unimpressive. Apart from simply declaring the UN a central part of global governance, scientific literature fails to analyse systematically how the specific mode of governing called global governance interacts with the structure of the UN and the various reform processes or what exactly constitutes the function of the UN in global governance. This may in part have to do with the rather nebulous concept of global governance and the even more inscrutable reform processes of the UN. However, taking seriously the plausible idea that global governance and the UN share in common structural and normative aspects, the scientific community needs to fill this gap.

Connecting the concept of global governance and the UN system makes sense from both normative and analytical perspectives of global governance. To adherents of the analytical perspective, the UN is but one part of the system of international governance, albeit an important one. The UN can serve as a prime example of analysing how governance is exercised in the international arena and which are the inherent pitfalls. Whether, from an analytical perspective, scholars would arrive at the conclusion that the UN is the centre-piece of global governance remains uncertain, however. From the normative perspective, the connection between global governance and the UN is even clearer. It has actually been argued that the normative conjunction is the stronger and more obvious one: “Albeit the obvious shortcomings and restrictions which characterise the UN’s contribution to global governance, its accomplishments in creating a normative foundation must not be overlooked.” (Fues 2007: 4, translation by author) The UN Charter seems to have been the inspiration for much that has been formulated by the CGG. As outlined in article one, paragraph three of the Charter, the mission of the UN is “to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, [...] to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.” (UN Charter I, 3; italics by author) Hence, taking into consideration the set of objectives the CGG envisaged to be fulfilled by global governance - social and economic justice, sustainable development and peaceful conflict resolution under the auspices of international law - from their normative outlook global governance and the UN are identical. Lately, the report by Kofi Annan, which has been used as the basis for reform-discussions during the 60th session of the General Assembly, displays ample evidence of the spirit of global governance inside the UN (see Rittberger 2006: 42).[3] Admittedly, it is still questionable how a scientific analysis of the connection between global governance and the UN could be operationalised from the analytical perspective and, as it seems, even more so from the normative perspective.

3. A framework of analysis

Scholars analysing the connection from an analytical perspective have put forth a first attempt of operationalisation (Brühl/Rosert 2007; Rittberger 2008). This approach uses the little empirical evidence there is concerning a connection between the UN and global governance to formulate a framework of analysis described in the following section. This paper, however, proposes to add a normative dimension. Although evidence for a normative connection between the UN and global governance is more clear-cut than for the analytical perspective (Fues 2007), the normative dimension is missing so far. With the addition of this dimension, global governance situated within the UN system may be analysed from (at least) three different perspectives. Whether global governance is perceived as a normative guideline or an analytical tool by the respective scholar, might influence which particular dimension attracts its attention. The first two proposed dimensions refer to an analytical perspective on global governance while the third reflects a normative approach.

Firstly, the UN can be looked upon as an actor within the global governance architecture. Following this perspective, it can be analysed whether the UN itself is integrated in policy-networks and horizontal decision-making processes characteristic for global governance. It has to be asked if the UN interchanges with other actors of global governance and what its contribution accounts for in solving international problems (Brühl/Rosert 2007: 11). The UN would be considered as one actor among many, albeit an important one. In addition, one could examine the possibilities for an intergovernmental organisation to act in global governance independently from their member states. Secondly, the UN might be analysed considering how far elements of global governance have found their way into the UN system. Does the UN adhere to the principles of global governance? As such, it would have to be scrutinised if the UN, possibly through the reform processes, has adapted horizontal decision-making procedures compatible to the ideas of global governance. Has the UN integrated various kinds of actors and sought to incorporate sub- and transnational levels apart from the international level (ibid.)? Have network-like structures been formed among all participating parties of the UN, which encompass more than just member states? Both approaches enable the interpretation of political decision-making within the UN in the context of global governance and investigate whether the UN is indeed adjusting to new international circumstances or remains a cumbersome institution stuck with the organisational structure of the founding years. These dimensions reflect the analytical tradition among scholars of global governance.

From the normative approach the UN can be looked upon as an activator of global governance. This perspective rests on the assumption that the moral ideas of global governance and the UN are very much alike. Whether these ideas are indeed actively advanced by the UN could be analysed in this dimension. In this context, the UN is understood as a true focal point of global governance in as far as the process of implementing normative ideas of global governance is actively pursued by the UN system. This perspective draws on the assumption that the UN as the most accepted and legitimate international organisation, as a “symbol of the international community” (de Senarclens 2005: 9), could exert leverage on third actors to adjust according to global governance principles. Also, it could be analysed whether the UN displays the will and the capacity to resolve problems that impede the implementation of the desired concept of global governance and if so, to what avail. Thus, the normative dimension can be split into two parts. Either, the UN can be considered as a passive producer of international norms and codes of conduct of global governance which actors can or cannot abide by. Or the UN can be viewed as an active promoter of the global governance architecture convinced that this is the best possible solution to global problems.


[1] See for example Held, 1995; Messner, 1998; Nuscheler, 2000; Gruber, 2008

[2] This strand originates mostly from the Anglo-American political science community. See Rosenau/Czempiel 1992; Rosenau 2002; Fuchs 2002; Dingwerth/Pattberg 2006

[3] See also Annan 1998.

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Global Governance and the United Nations
University of Münster  (Institut für Politikwissenschaft)
Hauptseminar: Globalisation and Global Governance
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Global, Governance, United, Nations, Hauptseminar, Globalisation, Global, Governance
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BA Simon Oerding (Author), 2008, Global Governance and the United Nations, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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