Tuesday, September 16, 2014
4

Rethinking International Institutions

OXFORD – When the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions were established nearly seven decades ago in the aftermath of World War II, economic and political power was concentrated in the hands of a few “victor” countries, making it relatively easy to reach consensus on how to restore international order. But, since then, global governance has become increasingly muddled, impeding progress in areas of worldwide concern.

Not only do more than 190 countries now belong to the UN; publicly funded international institutions have proliferated, with not one multilateral institution having been shuttered since WWII. The result is an inefficient and confusing amalgam of overlapping mandates.

Meanwhile, significant portions of the international system lack sufficient funding to deliver meaningful progress in critical areas – a problem that will only worsen as the needs and expectations of an ever-expanding global population grow. In this context, progress on global issues like climate change, cybercrime, income inequality, and the chronic burden of disease are proving elusive.

To be sure, the efforts of many publicly funded bodies have a real and lasting positive impact on the world. Indeed, international institutions have spearheaded breakthroughs in a wide range of areas, including health, finance, economics, human rights, and peacekeeping. But such institutions are largely perceived as inaccessible, inefficient, and opaque, leading national governments to neglect them. As their legitimacy and funding diminish, so does their effectiveness.

Overcoming twenty-first-century challenges will require a comprehensive review and renewal of international institutions. In its report Now for the Long Term, the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations – a group of experienced leaders and scholars (including us) convened to help formulate responses to global challenges – proposes mechanisms for undertaking this process.

For example, embedding sunset clauses in the governance structures of publicly funded international institutions would ensure regular reviews of organizational performance and purpose. Institutions that have fulfilled their mandate or proved unable to respond effectively to changing demands should be shuttered, and their resources redirected to more productive endeavors.

In order to escape that fate, existing institutions must adapt to shifting global power dynamics. This means increasing representation not only for the major emerging economies, such as China, India, and Brazil, but also for countries like Nigeria and Indonesia, which together are home to more than 400 million people.

International affairs and international organizations largely operate under mid-twentieth-century arrangements, which has two serious shortcomings. First, countries with a diminishing stake retain disproportionate power. Second, global decision-making now involves four times as many countries as it did in the immediate post-war era, not to mention a plethora of non-governmental organizations and civil-society groups, making for a messy – and often unproductive – process.

With the world’s problems becoming increasingly complex and interconnected, global decision-making processes must be as streamlined and efficient as possible. When numerous committees meet in parallel, the countries with the largest teams of experts dominate proceedings, effectively locking most countries out of key decisions and impeding meaningful dialogue.

In order to increase the productivity of global negotiations, the Oxford Martin Commission recommends creating coalitions of motivated countries, together with other actors, such as cities and businesses. As outcomes improve, international bodies’ legitimacy would be strengthened, which over time would enhance countries’ willingness to delegate powers to them.

Moreover, the commission proposes creating voluntary platforms to facilitate the creation of global treaties in vital areas. For example, a taxation and regulatory exchange would help countries to tackle tax avoidance and harmonize corporate taxation, while promoting information sharing and cooperation. Likewise, a cyber-security data-sharing platform could prove vital to understanding, preventing, and responding to cyber attacks.

As governments learn to collaborate with one another and with other actors, such as businesses and civil-society groups, faith in the power of international cooperation would be restored. In such an environment, breaking the gridlock on urgent global issues would be far easier than it has become in the current atmosphere of disillusionment and mistrust.

The simple fact is that with interconnectedness comes interdependence. In order to protect the global commons, world leaders must pursue shared solutions as inclusively and efficiently as possible – a process that can be accomplished only through international institutions. Failure to do so would threaten the tremendous progress that globalization has facilitated in recent decades.

The necessary changes will not happen overnight. But if governments, businesses, and civil society work together, they are feasible – promising a more sustainable, inclusive, and prosperous future for all.

Hide Comments Hide Comments Read Comments (4)

Please login or register to post a comment

  1. Commentedhari naidu

    If you've worked in Brussels, in 1980s, NGOs emergence created a serious institutional problem for Commission and EP.
    Eventually NGOs got a bite into Commission budget - approved by EP - thereafter their political power and influence grew on policy issues specially in development assistance.

    Today, NGOs have more or less taken over chunks of global
    policy monitoring and advise, including Human Rights.

    Under WTO, we made serious mistakes by globalizing international finance without (sovereign) frontiers and control - ASEAN crisis illustrated value sovereign exchange controls in crisis times (eg. India and mainland China).

  2. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    I fully agree with the writers that in today's global, interdependent world a completely new governing and executive system is necessary.
    But unless we understand the full extent of this need and start building from the foundations, the changes will not be successful.
    Europe provides a perfect example right in front of our eyes.
    Due to the fear of "political suicide" from the beginning the architects of the European Union and the Eurozone have shunned the notion of full union, building the assembly from ground up.
    And we could say previously they did not have enough scientific data and real life experience to show people that this is the only way of building a sustainable, mutual cooperation.
    But today we have all the data necessary both from scientific evaluations of our global, natural, integral system, about humanity's place with the system of nature and our interconnections with each other, and most importantly we are 'collecting" the negative data day by day as politicians, economists, and other professionals try trick after trick to avoid the only possible solution and driving the global human society deeper into crisis with each attempt.
    In a global, fully interconnected and interdependent human system all our previous methods and tools are failing as they are based on an isolationist, polarized, competitive model that has become obsolete and harmful.
    In a natural, integral system only mutual responsibility and mutually complementing cooperation is capable of providing sustainable success and prosperity.

  3. CommentedFabio Souza

    It's a long road for goverments, businesses and civil society work together, but it's possible. As Mr. Soros put the question about regulation in global financial markets, they all need global regulation, but the root of its regulations lies in the State sovereignty rather than an internacional rule. So it keeps markets anarchy and disruptions.

  4. CommentedEric Nordin

    The proliferation of “international non-government organizations” while attempting to achieve a more egalitarian world, has produce diminishing returns. Although such organizations may be well intentioned, they have succeeding in over-complicating many of the issues facing the global community - redundancies and inefficiencies abound. As the authors point out, efforts should be streamlined to assuage the problems facing the international community, not diversified. This will produce more optimal outcomes for the individuals these organizations are attempting to help.

Featured