Global challenges: accountability and effectiveness

David Held
17 January 2008

The paradox of our times can be stated simply: the collective issues we must grapple with are of growing extensity and intensity, yet the means for addressing these are weak and incomplete. Three pressing global issues highlight the urgency of finding a way forward.

David Held's article is based on a lecture to be delivered in Paris, at a meeting convened by the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, on 19 January 2008First, insufficient progress has been made in creating a sustainable framework for the management of climate change, illustrating the serious problems facing the multilateral order.

Second, progress towards achieving the millennium development goals has been slow and in many places lamentably so. Underlying this fact, is, of course, the material vulnerability of over half the world's population. Each year, some 18 million die prematurely from poverty-related causes. This is one third of all human deaths - 50,000 every day, including 29,000 children under the age of 5. And, yet, the gap between rich and poor countries continues to rise and there is evidence that the bottom 10% of the world's population has become even poorer since the beginning of the 1990s.

Third, the threat of nuclear catastrophe may seem to have diminished, as a result of the end of the cold war, but it is only in abeyance. Huge nuclear stockpiles remain, nuclear proliferation among states is continuing, new generations of tactical and nuclear weapons are being built and nuclear terrorism is a serious threat.

openDemocracy writers seek to make sense of long-term shifts in global politics, economics and the environment:

Avinash D Persaud, "The dollar standard: (only the) beginning of the end" (5 December 2007)

Tom Burke, "The world and climate change: all together now" (7 December 2007)

Ann Pettifor, "Globalisation: sleepwalking to disaster" (11 December 2007)

openDemocracy, "The world in 2008: a year and an era" (21 December 2007) - reflections from twenty authors, including Rajeev Bhargava, Mary Kaldor, Ivan Krastev, and Michel Thieren

Paul Rogers, "A century on the edge: 1945-2045" (29 December 2007)

David Hayes, "A world in contraflow" (3 January 2008)

Saskia Sassen, "The world's third spaces" (8 January 2008)

Simon Zadek, "Accountability's global thread" (14 January 2008) These global challenges are indicative of three core sets of problems we face - those concerned with sharing our planet (global warming, biodiversity and ecosystem losses, water deficits); sustaining our life-chances (poverty, conflict prevention, global infectious diseases); and managing our rulebooks (nuclear proliferation, toxic waste disposal, intellectual property rights, genetic research rules, trade rules, finance and tax rules) (cf. Jean-Francois Rischard, High Noon: Twenty Global Problems, Twenty Years to Solve Them, Basic Books, 2002). In our increasingly interconnected world, these global problems cannot be solved by any one nation-state. They call for collective and collaborative action - something that the nations of the world have not been good at, and which they need to be better at if these pressing issues are to be adequately tackled.

The roots of dysfunction

While complex global processes, from the financial to the ecological, connect the fate of communities to each other across the world, global governance capacity is under pressure. Significant governance innovations have been made in recent decades, but the global-governance system remains too often weak and/or fragmented. Moreover, there has been a complex "unbundling" of sovereignty, territoriality and political forces. This unbundling involves a plurality of actors, a variety of political processes, and diverse levels of co-ordination and operation. Specifically, it includes:

▪ Different forms of intergovernmental arrangements embodying various levels of legalisation, types of instruments utilised and responsiveness to stakeholders

▪ An increasing number of public agencies - e.g . central bankers - maintaining links with similar agencies in other countries and, thus, forming transgovernmental networks for the management of various global issues

▪ Diverse business actors - i.e. firms, their associations and organisations such as international chambers of commerce - establishing their own transnational regulatory mechanisms to manage issues of common concern.

▪ Non-governmental organisations and transnational advocacy networks - i.e. leading actors in global civil society - playing a role in various domains of global governance and at various stages of the global public policy-making process

▪ Public bodies, business actors and NGOs collaborating in many areas in order to provide novel approaches to social problems through multi-stakeholder networks.

There is evidence that the politicisation, bureaucratisation and capacity limits of multilateral institutions have been important factors in driving the expansion of new forms of global governance, since powerful governments have sought to avoid either expanding the remit of existing multilateral agencies or creating new ones. Another factor that has been significant has been the socio-political shift towards "self-regulation", as the private sector has sought to pre-empt or prevent international public regulation while governments have sought to share the regulatory burden with non-state actors.


David Held's analyses have appeared in openDemocracy since 2001:

"Violence and justice in a global age" (13 September 2001)

"New war, new justice" (27 September 2001) - with Mary Kaldor"9/11: What should we do now?" (10 October 2001) - with Scilla Elworthy, Tim Garden, Mary Kaldor and S Sayyid

"Globalisation: the argument of our time" (21 January 2002) - a major debate with Paul Hirst

"Davos: a view from the summit" (13 February 2002)"Return to the state of nature" (20 March 2003)

"Globalisation: the dangers and the answers" (26 May 2004)

"What are the dangers and the answers? Clashes over globalisation" (10 October 2004)

"Building bridges: a reply to Anne-Marie Slaughter & Thomas N Hale" (23 December 2005)

"Gordon Brown's foreign-policy challenges" (10 August 2007) - with David MephamProblem-solving capacities at the global and regional level are weak because of a number of structural difficulties, which compound the problems of generating and implementing urgent policy with respect to global goods and bads. These difficulties are rooted in the post-war settlement and the subsequent development of the multilateral order itself. Four deep-rooted problems need mentioning.

A first set of problems emerges as a result of the development of globalisation itself, which generates public policy problems which span the "domestic" and the "foreign", and the interstate order with its clear political boundaries and lines of responsibility. These policy problems are often insufficiently understood or acted upon. There is a fundamental lack of ownership of many of them at the global level.

A second set of difficulties relates to the inertia found in the system of international agencies, or the inability of these agencies to mount collective problem-solving solutions faced with uncertainty about lines of responsibility and frequent disagreement over objectives, means and costs. This often leads to the situation where the cost of inaction is greater than the cost of taking action.

A third set of problems arises because there is no clear division of labour among the myriad of international governmental agencies; functions often overlap, mandates frequently conflict, and aims and objectives too often get blurred.

A fourth set of difficulties relates to an accountability deficit, itself linked to two interrelated problems: the power imbalances among states and those between state and non-state actors in the shaping and making of global public policy. Multilateral bodies need to be fully representative of the states involved in them, and they rarely are.

Underlying these four difficulties is the breakdown of symmetry and congruence between decision-makers and decision-takers. The point has been well articulated recently by Inge Kaul and her associates in their work on global public goods. They speak about the "forgotten equivalence principle" (see Inge Kaul, et al., Providing Global Public Goods: Managing Globalization, Oxford University Press, 2003). At its simplest, the principle suggests that those who are significantly affected by a global good or bad should have a say in its provision or regulation, i.e ., the span of a good's benefits and costs should be matched with the span of the jurisdiction in which decisions are taken about that good. Yet, all too often, there is a breakdown of "equivalence" between decision-makers and decision-takers, between decision-makers and stakeholders, and between the inputs and outputs of the decision-making process. Among pressing examples are climate change, the impact of trade subsidies, HIV/Aids management and the question of intellectual property rights.

The ingredients of change

Thus, the challenge is to find ways to align the circles of those to be involved in decision-making with the spillover range of the good under negotiation, i.e. to address the issue of accountability gaps; to create new organisational mechanisms for policy innovation across borders; and to find new ways of financing urgent global public goods. Legitimate political authority at the global level cannot be entrenched adequately without addressing the representative, organisational and financial gaps in governance arrangements.

Surprisingly perhaps, it is an opportune moment to rethink the nature and form of global governance and the dominant policies of the last decade or so. The policy packages that have largely set the global agenda - in economics and security - are failing. The so-called Washington consensus and Washington security doctrines (otherwise market fundamentalism and unilateralism) have dug their own graves. The most successful developing countries in the world (China, India, Vietnam, Uganda, among them) are successful because they have not followed the Washington consensus agenda, and the conflicts that have most successfully been defused (the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Liberia, among others) are ones that have benefited from concentrated multilateral support and a human-security agenda. Here are clear clues as to how to proceed in the future. We need to follow these clues and learn from the mistakes of the past if the rule of law, accountability and the effectiveness of the multilateral order are to be advanced.

David Held is professor in the Centre for the Study of Global Governance, London School of Economics, and one of the most prolific and innovative thinkers in the study of globalisation. Among his books are Global Covenant: The Social Democratic Alternative to the Washington Consensus (Polity, 2004) and Models of Democracy (Polity, third edition, 2006) In addition, the political tectonic plates appear to be shifting. With the faltering of unilateralism in United States foreign policy, uncertainty over the role of the European Union in global affairs, the crisis of global trade talks, the emergence of powerful authoritarian capitalist states (Russia, China), the growing confidence of leading emerging countries in world economic forums (China, India and Brazil), and the unsettled relations between elements of Islam and the west, business as usual seems unlikely at the global level in the decades ahead. It is highly improbable that the multilateral order can survive for very much longer in its current form.

The post-1945 multilateral order is in trouble. Clear, effective and accountable decision-making is needed across a range of urgent global challenges; and, yet, the collective capacity for addressing these matters is in doubt. The dominant policy packages of the last several years have not delivered the goods and a learning opportunity beckons. There are, of course, many ways that have been proposed to deepen the accountability and effectiveness of global governance mechanisms - from proposals for global issue networks, the expansion of key "G" clusters (G8, G22, and the like), coalitions of particular nation-states acting in clubs, to the reform of the United Nations and cosmopolitan democracy.

But rather than end by making the case for any one of these, I want to finish by stressing a methodological point. It can be misleading and dangerous to over-generalise about politics or policy from the present, or from a single time period, or from the point of view of one culture, country or region. Instead, the test of deliberative generalisability needs to be built into reflections on "ways forward" in order to help ensure a focus on global solutions to global challenges - not just American, French, British, German, European Union, Chinese solutions. In other words, we require a multi-perspectival mode of forming, defending and defining political preferences - a mode that is in fact, other- and future-regarding.

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