Three parameters for evaluating global governments

What are the parameters that can help us judge the effectiveness of supra-national political unions?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

For about a decade now, geopolitical analysts have been discussing about the emergence of a new world order. The formation (and mere formulation) of new supra-state constructs such as G-20, BRICS, SCO are an evidence for these expectations that demand a shuffle in the world order.

The call for new international institutions is exacerbated by the ineffectiveness of the dominant international governments of the day — the United Nations (UN), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB). The fundamental reason for their ineffectiveness is the divergence between the power distribution inside these institutions and the power distribution in the world at large.

Consequently, any new formation that tries to compete with the existing system will have to prove its relative superiority over the existing system. But how does one measure this? Are there any parameters that can help us evaluate the effectiveness of supra-national political unions?

Hans Morgenthau’s classic work on political realism ‘Politics of nations’ offers us some interesting answers to these questions:

With regard to each of the attempts at international governments, three questions must be asked:
1. Where is the authority to govern vested, or who is to govern?
2. By what principle of justice is the government to be guided, or what is the conception of the common good to be realised by the government, and
3. To what extent has the government been able to maintain order and peace.

World Order

Image courtesy: username: wiertz, flickr. Creative commons.

Taking these parameters as a reference point, we can observe the following about today’s world order:

Parameter 1. Authority to govern has traditionally been vested in victors of major wars. For example, victors of World War 1 took the lead in forming the League of Nations. Similarly, the current system with the UN at its apex is a direct outcome of the World War 2. The writ of the UN is effectively the writ of the UN Security Council which has the allied powers as its permanent members. The UN General Assembly on the other hand, by design has very limited role in geopolitics.

However, we are now in a world where nuclear deterrence has made wars of a global scale less likely. This means that any new organisation seeking to challenge the current system must derive its authority from a source other than war invincibility. Given that we have had several global economic depressions, and no world wars, this source of authority can well be the economic prowess of a supra state. Global governments of the new age must possess collective a economic might that can tide over the world’s tougher problems.

Moreover, authority is a function of both, power and legitimacy. While economic power is a result of several other factors, legitimacy can be enhanced by effective response in times of crisis.  For example, the initial promises made by the G-20 group following the 2008 recession made the world take notice of this organisation.

Parameter 2. The system of justice to be realised by an international government is a resultant of the justice systems of the constituent great powers. Previous experiences of international governments show that the system of justice has come to mean two things. One, to maintain the political status quo achieved as a result of the war and two, to deal a debilitating blow to the defeated.

Based on the assumption that the emerging world order will be determined primarily in the economic domain, the corresponding justice system will lay emphasis on areas such as trade and monetary flows, investments in infrastructure and so on. Seen from this perspective, it doesn’t come as a surprise that all international formations are trying to build an economic system of their own. Thus, we have China investing in Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and One Belt One Road (OBOR), while the BRICS are attempting a New Development Bank (NDB) of their own.

Parameter 3. While averting major wars, the UN system has been found wanting in countering terrorism and mass atrocity crimes. Norms such as Responsibility to Protect (R2P) have been applied selectively at best, taking up issues of direct concern to the great powers while ignoring issues which are out of their collective conscience. As a result, we see instances of human rights violations from Balochistan to Yemen, receiving nothing but wholesale ignorance.

In this regard, the new world order will have to perform better on countering terrorism and mass atrocities. Going ahead, maintaining order and peace will not be as much about preventing conventional wars but about responding to asymmetric violence.

Having observed the parameters from the contemporary perspective, one might ask, what should be the ideal size of an effective international government? Clearly, the current number (5) is too small, and having all countries (>200) on board will only slow down the response.

Morgenthau offers a solution for that question as well:

An international organisation cannot be so universal that all members are in it but it should be universal in that all nations likely to disturb the peace are under its jurisdiction.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas