Global Challenges need Global Governance. Does our Global Health Governance withstand the Corona Crisis?

Term Paper, 2020

18 Pages, Grade: 1.3




History and origin of Global Governance

Defining Global Governance

Opponents of Global Governance

Re-emerging of nation-states

How does Global Health Governance look like in the Corona Crisis?

Criticism and support of Global Governance




We are experiencing a global health crisis in first person. The corona virus travelled from the Wuhan province of China to other countries, especially in the Global North until it turned into a global pandemic. The United Nation (UN) chief described the virus as “the most challenging crisis we have faced since the Second World War’” ("Hatred going viral in 'dangerous epidemic of misinformation' during COVID-19 pandemic", 2020). Once again it became clear what dimensions such a virus has in the age of globalisation, as the trajectories of the virus have largely determined the response to the virus. Global flows and structures have become omnipresent in everyday experience; they were taken for granted. The newly established restrictions, such as entry bans and border control, are therefore reminiscent of the structures of a time that was much more solid. The virus itself can be described liquid, or even more as some kind of gas which flows multidirectional, since the infection rate of the virus is enormously high and it has spread across the globe in a short period time, unimpressed by borders. Different forms of authority and levels of government react differently to external threads, but the constant message that the authorities convey is to flatten the infection curve and manage infections in a way that enables public health systems to cope with a significant increase in patient numbers. All over the world, isolation measures and physical distancing have been used, although some countries such as Mexico have been reluctant to introduce these measures or, like Brazil, have adopted a contradictory approach or a much more tame approach such as Sweden (Rosales & Blanco, 2020).

There are different approaches to how to best respond to such a global health crisis. Overall, most heads of state and actors are in favour of a global response to the global problem, and Global Governance (GG) seems to be the solution to returning to a normal, globalised life. If each country continues to take different measures and infection rates remain so different, travel will be unlikely to be possible in the months or years ahead, because the opening of the border would risk further severe waves of infection. Therefore, a unified response and borderless researches to find a vaccine against Covid-19 are needed. At the same time, there is much criticism of current GG and it seems that the pandemic is a kind of test of existence and usefulness.

In the following, the history of origins and the main characteristics of an ideal GG are shown. Then the points of criticism of the opponents of GG are presented and the main actors of Global Health Governance (GHG) are shown. Afterwards, the two positions come into play, first the performance of GHG is evaluated on the basis of the points of criticism and also attempts to clarify where the difficulties of GG derive from. In addition, the positive results and supporters of the GHG will be shown. Finally, it is evaluated whether the GG stands up to this crisis or fails.

History and origin of Global Governance

Globalisation, technological change, and transformations in the international order have produced a “crazy quilt” (Rosenau, 1999, p. 293) of authority, a “patchwork” of institutional elements that policymakers and scholars have been trying to disentangle since the end of the Cold War. While change is an inherent characteristic of the global system, each historical period experiences a particular articulation of dominant actors and prevailing environment.

GG is often associated with the transformations of the international system at the end of the 20th century, but its roots are traced back to the gradual transformation that has taken place since the early 1970s, which includes the development of the consciousness about global environment, the increasing number of non-state actors, and the enhancement of the UN system. The term itself was created through a fusion of academic theory and practical politics in the 1990s and became entwined with the ongoing globalisation of the last two decades (Weiss & Wilkinson, 2014).

Alerted by the mismatch between new international challenges and a lack of consistent responses from state and state oriented actors, James Rosenau and Ernst-Otto Czempiel sparked the debate on GG after the publication of their theoretical collection of essays Governance without Government in 1992 (Rosenau & Czempiel, 1992). GG debates and studies experienced significant progress in 1995 because worries about the shortfalls in the capacity of states to reign in the activities of a range of actors and to blunt the sharper consequences of global marketisation were rising as well as the seemingly unstoppable actions of powerful international economic institutions (Madonsela, 2020). The political authority of some great powers and international economic organisations along with the absence of authority among others underpinned growing dissatisfaction in civil society (Weiss & Wilkinson, 2013).

In short, these three developments led to the focusing on the concept of GG, firstly the rising interdependency of problems which go far beyond the problem-solving capacity of a single state both, within a state, like overstraining conflicts as well as beyond all states, like the climate change, acid rain, terrorism. No state, no matter how powerful can solve the problem itself. Rich nations used to be able to isolate themselves by erecting effective barriers, while a growing number of today's challenges to world order simply cannot be prevented by building walls (Weiss & Wilkinson, 2013).

Secondly, there are rapid technological advances which need global cooperation in order to be controlled and managed. Thirdly, we have the expansion in numbers as well as in importance of non-state actors like multinational cooperations which become more powerful. As single nations can not control multinational cooperations itself, global cooperation and control is necessary to prevent abuse of power and protect important market mechanisms (Ritzer & Dean, 2015).

Defining Global Governance

The transformations of the international context sparked a vivid and active western scholarly con­versation about the definitions and characteristics of GG. Like other complex phenomena, GG has been defined in a variety of ways, therefore, a clear definition is urgent. Thomas Weiss and Rorden Wilkinson, who both are renowned political scientists, have identified the most significant features of an ideal GG (Weiss and Wilkinson, 2014). Firstly, GG refers to collective efforts in order to identify, understand, or address worldwide problems that transcend the capacities of individual states. Secondly, it provides a government-like service which reflects the capacity of the international system at any moment, in absence of a actual world governance. The term “world government” wished to be avoided by scholars as it harkens back to the thinking about world government in the 1940s, which was largely based on fear of atomic bombs. Thirdly, it encompasses a wide variety of informal cooperative problem-solving, like practices and guidelines. Fourthly, it additionally entails formalised problem-solving arrangements and mechanisms, such as hard rules like laws and treaties or institutions with administrative structures and established practices to manage collective affairs by a variety of actors, including state authorities, intergovernmental organisations, nongovernmental organisations, private sector entities, and other civil society actors (Weiss and Wilkinson, 2014). GG goes beyond the traditional forms of cooperation between sovereign nation-states to include a broader variety of networked organisations and individuals that had not previously participated directly in creating and enforcing rules (Cox and Schilthuis, 2012).

Opponents of Global Governance

In recent years, contrary to the expectations of the end of the 20th century, there has been criticism and opposition to GG, coming from opponents of globalisation as well as from opponents of the implemented GG (Weiss & Wilkinson, 2014).

The main critic point is that a GG can hardly challenge the central role of a sovereign state on an international level. But without this certain sovereignty a GG can not be effective and has no real enforcement because the highest power will always lie by the nation-states (Hurrell, 2006). Additionally, it is criticised that in practice, institutions are strongly influenced by the western world, especially the USA, therefore the global character is questioned (Hurrell, 2006). This raises the question if GG is really global or only serves according to the national interests of the most powerful states. Hereby also the democratic deficit of existing international organisations plays a big role, because decisions in the UN Security Council are essentially taken by the five permanent member states with veto rights, which oppose any substantial reform of the body (UN Press-release, 2018). In addition there are further challenges, with which the today's GG sees itself confronted, which represent likewise points of criticism of the GG opponents, hereby especially the abuse by policy makers as a political instrument, low enforcement capacity compared to existing problems, financial dependency, outdated fragmented structures, the interplay and relation between global level and the nation-states and finally the increasing re-emerging of the nation-states.

As presented in the following chapters, these challenges are once again particularly visible in the corona crisis, they are the obstacles that hinder our GG from effectively managing the crisis. Since the return from the global level to the nation-state is also a movement of the opponents of GG, it will be examined individually below.

Re-emerging of nation-states

With increasing populism, increasing criticism of globalisation and numbers of opponents of GG, the role of the nation state has regained importance (Ritzer & Dean, 2015). After a decade of crisis, the rise of populism has led to a focus on the national as the framework for defending sovereign interests, transactional bilateralism as the basis of foreign policy, and relentless criticism of international institutions (Youde, 2018).

This movement back from the globalised to the national level is challenging for both sides. The global level loses legitimacy through the political movements of the right-wing electorate. But the degree of globalisation and the nature of the problems that transcend national borders means that we simultaneously need stronger GG.

The virus has made this movement back to national borders even more real, the European Union (EU) being hereby no exception. The EU has failed to adopt a coherent strategy to fight the virus unified, borders were shut without consultation and also the solidarity between the countries of emergency has declined. President of the European Commission von der Leyen critically described the situation as followed, '“when Europe really needed an all-for-one spirit, too many initially gave an only-for-me response'” (Wintour & Rankin, 2020). Since the virus has spread differently in different countries and medical capacities are also different, the return to the national is initially necessary to contain the Covid-19 infection curve, as member states have the main responsibility for social, health and border control policies.

Also, this is a return to the usual in times of crisis, “a system of states that has shaped international relations since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and with which, from a historical perspective, fragile international institutions less than a century old cannot compete” (Morillas, 2020, p. 2). But not everything is national in the coronavirus crisis, starting with the pandemic itself.

In the following, the individual main institutions that are part of GHG are shown. Starting again from the bottom up with the states, which, as shown above, form the foundation. Afterwards the UN, herby especially the World Health Organisation (WHO), transatlantic allies, the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and philanthropist are presented, linked to their performance within the corona crisis.

How does Global Health Governance look like in the Corona Crisis?

In order to assess the current performance of GHG in managing the corona crisis and the emerging critical and supportive voices towards GG, it is necessary to identify the different actors.


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Global Challenges need Global Governance. Does our Global Health Governance withstand the Corona Crisis?
University of Aarhus
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global, challenges, governance, does, health, corona, crisis
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Anonymous, 2020, Global Challenges need Global Governance. Does our Global Health Governance withstand the Corona Crisis?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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