I know it’s a bit of cheat but I’ve decided that a blog post is the right place to be. What am I talking about?
Well, this week the International Studies Association (ISA) gathers for its annual meeting in Montreal Canada. Dries Lesage from Ghent University with the assistance of John Kirton of G8/G20 research fame – Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, organized a fine panel entitled “The G8/G20 and International Organisations”. Chaired by these two and adding Greg Chin from York University and CIGI as the official discussant, the two chairs recruited a number of experts to tackle the global governance architecture question. The panelists include:
- Peter Debaere, “The European Union and the G20: A Central Role for the European Commission”;
- Thijs Van de Graff, “The International Energy Agency and the G8/G20: Causes and Consequences of the Close Interaction Process”;
- John Kirton and Jenilee Guebert, “G8, G20 and the the IMF: From Rivalry to Mutual Reinforcement’;
- David Shorr, “G8, G20 and the UN Relationship in Global Security and Development”; and
- Yours truly preparing remarks on: “Two Great Galaxies of Global Governance”.
This Panel goes off this Friday (March 18th) at 13:45. One slight problem. I won’t be able to be there. And so I thought that the solution – certainly not a perfect one , but I think a rather good one – if I do say so myself – is to blog my remarks. So here goes.
So what are these two great galaxies that are referenced in the title of my presentation. Well John Kirton applied the label (See most recently, John Kirton, Marina Larionova and Paolo Savona, eds., Making Global Economic Governance Effective: Hard ad Soft Law Institutions in a Crowded World, especially John Kirton, “Multilateral Organizations and G8 Governance: A Framework for Analysis”, pp. 23-42 (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2010) As John inquired:
How do international institutions, led by the formal, hard law bodies of the Bretton Woods-United Nations (UN) system, and informal plurilateral bodies, led by the Group of Eight (G8) [John unfortunately fails to examine – limiting the evaluation of the institutions], help each other govern the world? More specifically, how have and can the world’s many multilateral organizations (MOs) assist the G8 in enhancing its members’ ability to consider, reach consensus on, commit to and comply with ambitious, appropriate agreements to address key global needs? … Yet little is known about how well, how, where, when and why MOs help or harm G8 governance, and which MOs can be counted on in particular situations to help the most.
John and most experts focus on the formal-informal distinction between the Bretton-Woods-UN system and the Gx system – principally G8 and G20 Leaders’ Summits. Experts focus on the hard law, broadly multilateral and heavily organized bodies of the Bretton Woods-UN system and contrast it with the far more informal lighter legal, less bureaucratic and heavily reliant on voluntary, open and flexible approaches of the Gx system. The contrast is real but as any observer will tell you hard law in international law and in the international system is a rather relative term. How many Article VII (binding) resolutions of the UN Security Council (UNSC) does it take to underline the limited prospect of hard law commitment and compliance.
From my perspective, it is not the characterization of formal/informal institutions that best describes the differences but the fact is that the principal organizations of the Gx system – the G8 and now the G20 Leaders Summit are leaders clubs as opposed to the international organizations including international bureaucrats and officials. In fact the most similar organizational form to the Gx system is the UNSC – but even here national participants are permanent officials, occasionally home country officials, e.g. foreign ministers, but rarely heads of government. Now this is not the time to make further comparisons on decision-making between the Gx Leaders summits and the UNSC – but it is evident how impaired the UNSC decision-making system is with the differential attribution of the veto is. The incentives change dramatically in permitting some countries the right to veto and other not.
Let’s return to the interaction and consequences in having these two galaxies of global governance. Frequently proponents and critics have emphasized the possible zero sum nature of the two systems [again remember that much of this discussion and critique has taken place between the UN-Bretton Woods system and the G8] – one formal and one informal.
John Kirton, and perhaps some of his colleagues in this volume suggest that a central aspect this two-system global governance environment arises from the fact that the new institution building of the Gx process did not follow on from the destruction of the prior system. Rather, following the demise of the Cold War system in 1989, “The institutions and ideals of a new and old order thus had to compete, converge and cooperate with each other as they sought to govern this ever more demanding and globalizing system. This of course contrasts dramatically from the architectural building efforts after say World War II (We are reminded of this course by G. John Ikenberry’s seminal volume After Victory: Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars i(Princeton, NJ,: Princeton University Press, 2001). Furthermore, and critically in my estimation, is the fact that the creation of the Gx system – first in the 1970s and then in 2008 – came about as a result of what was perceived to be the inadequacy of the global governance institutions. I think its fair to say that these institutions were called forth because of identifiable major economic crises where some officials and leaders determined – rightly or wrongly – that the current institutions were not capable of dealing with the challenges facing the states in the global economy. And as a result they created these informal institutional leaders clubs.
As with so much of the analysis on the Gx process – whether G8 or now G20 – there is no consensus here of the relationship between the two galaxies of global governance. Views range from the two isolated from each other, through the two systems acting as rivals towards each other, to a perspective where the G7/8 and now the G20 act as a kind of ‘inner cabinet’ and the international organizations provide a civil service that can be tasked to implement commitments made at the Gx summit or at the ministerial level. Certainly in the global financial crisis the G20 leaders summit, especially in the Washington communiqué, tasked the IMF to carry out a number of leaders’ commitments identified at the summit.
It is likely, of course, that the truth lies somewhere in-between. The relationship of these two systems is one is one where there is a “pulling together” with, “support flowing both ways,” as suggested by Kirton. Indeed there is collaboration and support through many of the Gx phases from preparation, commitment and finally implementation. In that continuum the international organizations can provide, among other things, expertise, officialdom, and compliance monitoring. In addition the heads of some of the key institutions such as the UN, the IMF, and the World Bank do attend the G20 summits. Two great galaxies and the effort to support each other, if only grudgingly at times, is probably the best description of this complex relationship.
Let’s look somewhat more closely at the relationship of the G20 to the Bretton Woods-UN system. I shall do that in the followup blog post. Kinda of a little bit like a thriller.