The key global and regional governance bodies are all suffering a crisis of late middle age. Is this a legitimacy problem? Or is it the fault of US unilateralism?by G John Ikenberry / November 20, 2005 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2005 issue of Prospect Magazine
It is striking that over the last few years, almost all of the world’s global and regional governance institutions have weakened—the UN, EU and Nato chief among them. In the 1970s, political scientists warned us of a “crisis of governability” in the advanced democratic world. Governments, they said, were losing the ability and public confidence to confront the hard tasks of economic management, crime and welfare. But now it looks as if the crisis has gone global.
Even in the best of times the collective management of the international system is work in progress. But today, summits and global gatherings of leaders appear to be empty rituals rather than acts of hard bargaining and compromise. Sixty years ago last April, President Harry Truman told the founding UN conference in San Francisco that “the essence of our problem here is to provide sensible machinery for the settlement of disputes among nations.” His generation went on to build a postwar international order around an array of institutions and frameworks for co-operation that bound democratic states together and launched an era of security and prosperity.
Today the machinery of the postwar era is in disrepair. No leader, international body or group of states speaks with authority or vision on global challenges. The Bush administration champions the spread of democracy but pays little regard to the rules or machinery of international politics. Nationalism is back in fashion in most of the world.
So how bad is it, and what has gone wrong? Consider some of the key regional and global institutions.
The UN. At the UN summit in New York in September, the global body seemed poised to make itself more relevant as a tool for co-operation in the 21st century. But it failed, and the moment has now passed.
It is true that the UN has been far more active since 1991 than it was during the cold war. Neither France’s war in Algeria nor America’s in Vietnam were even debated, and after the failure in the Congo in the early 1960s, peacekeeping was almost unheard of. But with the end of the cold war, expectations of the UN soared.