“The Iceberg Theory” of Global Governance – Seeing it Work

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[Ed. Note – I apologize to all the loyal readers of Rising BRICSAM blog who have noticed the silence.  I think the “well” went a little dry after Deauville and the G8 Summit.  But we are back at it and hopefully such pauses will be few a far between ]

It is frequently forgotten that the Gx system – most notably the G20 Leaders Summit – is not just about leaders.  In fact there is a fair complement of personal representatives, ministers, other officials, IFIs and other IOs plus global regulators that make the Gx system work – or not.  I’ve called this enlarged structural view of global governance “The Iceberg Theory” of Global Governance.  This past week we’ve had two instances of work by these organizations – both reasonable steps forward but continuing alertness to the rhetoric quotient – worry that in the case in particular of the Ministerial Declaration of the G20 Agriculture Ministers, “Action Plan on Food Price Volatility and Agriculture” a product of the  meeting of the G20 Ministers on June 22nd-23rd may prove to produce more rhetoric than action.  Indeed readers are encouraged to review Jennifer Clapp’s and Sarah Martin’s rather more skeptical “Feature of the Week” at the Munk School Portal.

Some time ago we were alerted to the complex structures of global governance by the then Dean of Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University,  Anne-Marie Slaughter (After a stint in government as the head of policy planning, Anne-Marie has returned recently to Woodrow Wilson).   As she signaled to readers in her 2004 book, A New World Order a new structure of governance was being created in international relations:

Yet to see these networks as they exist, much less to imagine what they could become, requires a deeper conceptual shift.  Stop imagining the international system as a system of states – unitary entities like billiard balls or black boxes – subject to rules created by international institutions created by international institutions that are apart from, “above” these states.  Start thinking about a world of governments, with all the different institutions that perform the basic functions of governments – legislation, adjudication, implementation – interacting both with each other other domestically and also with their foreign and supranational counterparts.  States still exist i this world; indeed, they are crucial actors.  But they are “disaggregated.”

And the meeting – for the first time – of the Ministers of Agriculture of the G20 – is an evident transgovernmental meeting of the sort that Anne-Marie was writing about those years ago.  It also reflects what I have described as the Iceberg Theory of global governance institutions.  So below the Leaders Summit which at the moment is meeting annually only, there is is this enormous – what John Kirton of the G8/G20 Research Group at the Munk School – referred to years ago as the galaxy of global governance institutions hidden away generally below the Leaders Summit.

Now we are already alert to Sherpas and Yaks – the personal representatives of the leaders of the G20 – and  ministers of finance and central bankers.  These ministers meet periodically between summits to prepare policies and recommendations.  And the leaders have working groups that advance the policy work as well.  Leaders have also tasked others – for instance the IMF and the newly created Financial Stability Board (FSB) – to prepare regulatory policies and standards that the G20 leaders can ratify and implement or pass through to other international institutions.  It does appear to be indeed a galaxy of global governance decision making and the Leaders Summit contains a decision-making structure that is barely visible at the Leaders Summits.

One instance.  At the insistence of the host – France and its President Nicholas Sarkozy – put food security and food price volatility  – on the G20 agenda.  And on in a meeting earlier in the week the ministers released an Action Plan identified above.

Among the potential joint advances was an agreement to create an international agricultural market information system to try and deal with a shocking lack of knowledge of output and stocks data.  This lack of information is hypothesized to add to food price volatility.  Further there was agreement to also create a global a agricultural geo-monitoring initiative, an international research initiative for wheat improvement (IRIWI), a rapid response forum and an agriculture and security risk management toolbox.

The devil is of course in the detail and here critics rightly raise concerns over these announced initiatives – the Action Plan will be brought to the Leaders Summit in November.  These ministers left to the finance ministers market regulation.  Also, the key to the policy making is to be found in the annexes.  In these there are numerous invitations to institutions including the private sector actors to join in – read that as not yet agreement to have these entities participate.  And while AMIS is in some ways a key initiative, there is no commitment -unlike the Rapid Response Forum – to include as they put it – senior,  capital-based agricultural policy officials from the major producing, exporting and importing countries – read that as the ministries.  This lack of commitment is serious especially as a number of countries China, Russia and India notably have been reticent in disclosing stocks and output.  This lack of commitment and detail raises concern that the objectives may never be met.  ‘Detail is king’ here just as it is national policy making.

And detail appears to be what we can expect from the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS).  It would appear that a consultative paper will be released to the FSB in July to deal with measures for globally systemically important banks, according to a June 25th press release from the Group of Governors and Heads  of Supervision (GHOS) the oversight body for the BCBS.  Thus we are likely to see what measures – additional reserves – systemically significant and globally systemically significant banks will be required to carry.  The measures once agreed upon and issued represent likely the most important banking reform measures since the outbreak of the global financial crisis.

Much good global governance work appears to be underway – largely hidden away.  But the ‘devil is in the detail’.





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