Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Potential for Global Governance: The UN

In the Siochru, Girard and Mahan chapters, the distinction of governance versus government in the ICT sector sector is discussed. The authors' conceptualize governance as "a set of processes that are employed to assess, weigh, and balance the different (and possibly competing) values and objectives inherent in societies' diverse interests and actors" (15-16). Traditionally, global governance has been used to avoid mutually destructive warfare and to enable mutually beneficial interaction. The outcomes of global governance are not always equitable and may not promote development. However, global governance structures do provide predictability and order within their area of influence and lessen confusion and friction for global flows, transactions and interactions. Particular attention is paid to the role of the UN as an institution for global governance, and it is on this organization's effectiveness (at least in the eyes of America) in this role that I will now focus my post.

In a general way, the US has always been reluctant to join organizations that have the potential to usurp the power and sovereignty of the nation-state. One can see this from the rejection of American membership into the League of Nations after the First World War. It seems that the UN particularly has been the target of this generally negative perception of supranational organizations. Alternating between the argument that the UN is an ineffectual bureaucracy with no teeth and that the UN will take away the ability of Americans to govern themselves, US/UN relations seem to fitfully fluctuate on a love-hate scale.

On page 20 of the Siochru, et. al. book, it is stated that "moral authority is one of the main pillars on which global governance rests, and it is easily eroded." I briefly want to discuss how the structure of the UN erodes the organization's moral authority and how this sense of ineffectiveness is then exacerbated by American media. As the chapter states, the real power in the UN rests not with the General Assembly but rather with the Security Council. The Security Council is comprised of 15 members, 10 of whom are permanent. These permanent members all have the right to veto any decision made by the Council, in which the state's interests differ from those of the Council (in essence the rest of the world). Since many instances of global conflict result in economic, social or political gain for at least one permanent member of the Security Council, the ability of the UN to intervene in a conflict on behalf of the international community is severely stilted.

The American media in turn uses situations in which the US is in favor of a Security Council resolution and is vetoed by another member of the Security Council to highlight the ineffectiveness of the UN, while also reenforcing the role of the nation-state. However, when the US vetoes a Security Council resolution, it is my perception that there is a lot less media coverage. What coverage there is basically says that the US government thought it better for, most importantly, America and (in the fine print) the international community to not pass this resolution, further delegitimizing the UN and strengthening the posture of the state.

I do not disagree with the general consensus that nation-states are increasingly losing the ability to influence the forces acting on and within their countries. However, the ability of the UN to act as an effective institution for global governance is still highly suspect. The irony of IGOs taking on the responsibilities of global governance is that their effectiveness is inherently linked to that of the state, since it is through the state that IGOs acquire power.

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