Editor’s Note: This essay, adapted from a chapter in the forthcoming America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy (Yale University Press), is the foundational introduction for a series of essays on global governance issues to appear in this and future issues of The American Interest.
Whatever else it has done and may yet do, the Iraq war has exposed the limits of American benevolent hegemony. We have learned that American power does not seem to many others, including some we thought among our best friends, as benign as most Americans believe it is. But the war also exposed the limits of existing international institutions, particularly the United Nations, that are favored by most Europeans as the proper framework for legitimate international action. The United Nations was able neither to ratify the U.S. decision to go to war nor to stop Washington from acting on its own. From either perspective, it failed. The world today lacks effective international institutions that can confer legitimacy on collective action. Creating new institutions that will better balance the requirements of legitimacy and effectiveness will be the primary task for the coming generation. As a result of more than two hundred years of political evolution, we have a relatively good understanding of how to create institutions that are rule-bound, accountable and reasonably effective in the vertical silos we call states. What we do not have are adequate institutions of horizontal accountability among states.
The need for horizontal accountability has become particularly critical for two reasons. First, globalization has meant that societies are increasingly interpenetrated economically and culturally; a technological change or significant new investment in any major country can lead to job losses, new cultural influences or environmental damage even in countries many thousands of miles away. The ability of countries, or, more properly, actors within countries, to affect people outside the sovereign jurisdictions from which they operate has increased enormously over a scant few decades.
Second, the de facto weight of the United States on the global stage has created an inherent imbalance: The United States can affect many countries around the world without their being able to exercise a reciprocal degree of influence on the United States. This is glaringly obvious in the military realm, in which the United States can change regimes 8,000 miles away with relative ease. But this disparity exists in other domains as well, as when an agricultural subsidy or change in trade rules can wipe out an entire sector in a developing country’s economy. Few trust the United States to be sufficiently benevolent or wise to use its one-sided influence for everyone’s benefit without its being subjected to more formal constraints.
The existence of the United Nations is in a way a huge distraction that prevents Americans on both the Right and the Left from thinking clearly about global governance and international institutions. The Right closely associates the idea of global governance with the United Nations, and because that institution often makes itself an easy target for criticism, the Right can thereby reject global governance as a whole. But there is a great deal of global governance in the world today that exists outside the orbit of the United Nations and its allied agencies. Everything from bank settlements to communications protocols to safety standards to Internet domain names is set by often complex institutions that defy traditional definitions of international cooperation. The old academic realist model of international relations, which sees the world exclusively organized around sovereign nation-states, simply does not correspond to the world that is emerging. Such a model will not be sufficient to meet the needs of legitimacy and effectiveness in international action in the future.
The American Left and many Europeans, on the other hand, overemphasize the importance of the United Nations and place too much hope in its ability to solve the world’s security and economic problems. While useful for certain functions like peacekeeping and nation-building, the United Nations is structurally limited with regard to both legitimacy and effectiveness, and it is very doubtful that any set of reforms currently contemplated or politically feasible can solve its problems.
A realistic solution to the problem of international action that is both effective and legitimate must therefore lie in the creation of new institutions and the adaptation of existing ones to new circumstances. An appropriate agenda for American foreign policy is to promote the creation of an array of overlapping and sometimes competitive international institutions, a project we may call, for lack of a more sonorous term, multi-multilateralism.
Legitimacy and Efficacy
The United Nations faces a major problem with legitimacy. This problem arises from the fact that its membership is based on formal sovereignty rather than a substantive definition of justice—in particular, it makes no practical demands on its members to be democratic or to respect the human rights of its citizens. This accommodation to the reality of world politics as it existed at the time of the organization’s founding has in many ways tainted the subsequent activities of that body, which from the beginning has been populated by authoritarian, abusive and unrepresentative states.
Since the ideological conflicts of the Cold War were essentially divisions over basic principles of justice, it is no surprise that the United Nations was frequently deadlocked and impotent in dealing with international security problems. The end of the Cold War engendered hopes that the organization would gain new effectiveness on the basis of greater consensus around broad principles of human rights and democracy. But while most UN members paid lip service to these principles, many did not remotely live up to them; yet they continued to be treated as members in good standing. Thus could the United States be displaced by Syria on the UN Human Rights Commission in 2001, and Libya become the Commission’s chair in 2003.
Americans are much more likely to point to the UN’s lack of democratic legitimacy than are Europeans, a tendency that explains the substantially higher degree of distrust among Americans for the institution and their reluctance to take seriously its many pronouncements. Part of this distrust has to do with significant differences between Americans and Europeans over the meaning of democratic sovereignty.
The United States has an abiding belief in constitutional democracy as the source of all political legitimacy, and an equal faith in the legitimacy of its own democratic institutions. Many Europeans, by contrast, distrust sovereignty per se because they believe it is a source of conflict and war, based on their experiences during two world wars in the first half of the 20th century. Many European countries have sought to encase their sovereignties in a series of overlapping institutions, including both the United Nations and the European Union. Given their historical experience and the lessons they have taken from it, it is not surprising that Europeans on the whole regard the United Nations as more legitimate than do Americans.
A further source of American distrust of the United Nations arises as a byproduct of America’s special relationship with Israel. The UN General Assembly has passed a large number of resolutions regarded by both Israel and the United States as lopsidedly pro-Arab, the most infamous of which was the 1975 “Zionism is racism” resolution. Europeans tend to place greater blame on Israel for provoking Arab hostility. Over the years successive U.S. administrations have vetoed Security Council resolutions regarded as biased against Israel, thus habituating the United States to standing against majority opinion.
The second problem with the United Nations has to do with its efficacy as an institution meant to deal with serious security threats. Article 51 authorizations for the use of force must go through the Security Council. But the Security Council, whose membership reflects the winning coalition in World War II, was deliberately designed to be a weak institution: The veto power enjoyed by the five permanent members guaranteed that the Security Council would never act contrary to any of their national interests. The wartime coalition fell apart early in the Cold War, and the Security Council was never able to agree on responses to serious security threats requiring the use of force. (The sole exception was Korea in 1950, when the Soviet Union made the mistake of walking out of the Security Council, thus allowing the other four members to vote for intervention.) With the Cold War’s end, the Security Council united in authorizing UN action against Iraq after its August 1990 invasion of Kuwait. It failed to follow through in enforcing its own resolutions, however, thus laying the ground for the U.S.-led intervention of March 2003.
Deficiencies in the ability of the United Nations to authorize force to deal with major security issues do not mean that it cannot play an important role in post-conflict reconstruction and other nation-building activities. This has indeed happened in the Congo, El Salvador, Mozambique, Eastern Slavonia, Bosnia and other places. But while the United Nations provides legitimacy and a useful umbrella for organizing international peacekeeping and stabilization operations, even here its limitations are evident. The Security Council’s cumbersome decision-making apparatus makes it hard to allocate blame in a given conflict and thus to move from peacekeeping to peace enforcement. The United Nations is not a hierarchical organization capable of decisive action. It necessarily moves by consensus, and it is particularly dependent on its major donors—which in practice means the United States, the Europeans and Japan—for money, troops and technical assistance.
Over the years there have been several proposals to alter the membership of the Security Council to reflect changes in the distribution of world power, thereby improving the Council’s perceived legitimacy. It is doubtful whether any of these reform schemes will work, absent a major crisis. Existing members will veto any proposal that will deprive them of their current influence, while prospective new members will inevitably be opposed by other countries that believe themselves equally deserving of a seat.
Even if Security Council membership could be expanded or changed, the basic problem of collective action would remain. Indeed, a Security Council with more veto-bearing members would suffer greater paralysis than it does today. But to change the voting rules from consensus to some form of majority rule risks making the Security Council more active than any of its members would like. (The United States in particular, which has found itself isolated in many Security Council votes, will never approve a change from the unanimity rule.) There is a real question whether the world would benefit from a supercharged United Nations that could authorize a major use of force under conditions where its constituent members were divided on the wisdom of such an action. Most likely it would authorize such a use of force only once before vaporizing.
If the United Nations is not ultimately reformable, what can and should take its place? The answer is likely to be not a different global institution, but a multiplicity of functionally discrete international organizations that could provide both power and legitimacy for different types of challenges to world order. Placing all our eggs in the basket of a single, global institution is a formula either for tyranny—were that institution to become truly powerful—or ineffectiveness, which is the current reality of most UN activity. The world is far too diverse and complex to be overseen properly by a single global body. True liberal principle would argue not for a single, overarching, enforceable liberal order but rather for a diversity of institutions to provide governance across a range of issues.
A world of multiple, competing and partially overlapping international institutions has already started to take shape over the past four decades, primarily in the economic sphere, but with increasing implications for how international political problems will be addressed. All international institutions face the same design tradeoffs that the United States faced in approaching the Iraq war: Institutions widely regarded as legitimate (such as the United Nations) are not terribly effective, while those that are effective (the U.S.-led coalition of the willing) are not widely regarded as legitimate. The demand for effective institutions exists across the board and has produced its own supply in new forms of international cooperation.
The figure on the next page illustrates this design continuum. At one end are formal, traditional, treaty-based international organizations like the United Nations, the World Bank and the NATO alliance. These organizations correspond to what most people think of when they hear the word “multilateralism.” They are created by sovereign states that delegate powers to international organizations in formal legal agreements. They are transparent insofar as their rules are explicitly negotiated and ratified, and they are accountable insofar as they can be disciplined by the states that originally created them.
At the other end of the spectrum are informal types of cooperation that are often not grounded in international law, that at times involve as direct participants parties that are not states, and whose rules are often flexible, quickly negotiated and sometimes unwritten. An example might be a corporate code of conduct negotiated between a clothing manufacturer and a group of unions or nongovernmental organizations purporting to represent the interests of the manufacturer’s workers in a developing country. Another example would be what has come to be called soft law-nonbinding agreements like the never-ratified START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) Treaty, which parties follow for pragmatic rather than legal reasons.1
Unlike formal legal institutions, these forms of cooperation are often nontransparent and are negotiated between parties who lack formal accountability. Despite these shortcomings, international actors resort to this type of cooperation because it is fast, flexible and relatively easy to negotiate. The clothing manufacturer and its NGO critics, for example, could have gone to the World Trade Organization to argue over formal rules regarding labor practices attached to trade initiatives, but such an agreement would be difficult if not impossible to negotiate, very long in coming if it did prove negotiable, and inflexible once it was in place.
In between these two extremes lies a host of other institutional possibilities. For example, international standards for products ranging from cameras to plywood are set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a body created in 1946 that now coordinates the efforts of more than a hundred national standard-setting bodies. ISO’s technical committees, subcommittees and working groups include not just official standards organizations but representatives of private industry, consumer and business groups, and other parties that might be affected by a given standard.2
In themselves, ISO standards constitute private rather than public law: Compliance with them is voluntary and the organization has no mechanism of enforcement. On the other hand, ISO standards frequently become public law when they are adopted by states or by supranational organizations like the European Union as the basis for legal commerce, at which point they acquire the weight of state enforcement power.
In addition, there is an entirely separate intermediate realm that Anne-Marie Slaughter labels intergovernmentalism.3 This comprises understandings often informally reached by officials representing sovereign states, but understandings undertaken at intermediate levels of the bureaucracy that have not been formally vetted through high levels of government. The work of intergovernmental networks more typically results in an MOU (memorandum of understanding) rather than in a formal treaty or agreement, placing such activity halfway between the two poles of the continuum. Thus, an MOU is more legitimate because it is negotiated by sovereign states, but it is less transparent (a U.S. citizen in some cases must file a Freedom of Information Act request to see the text of an MOU) and less accountable than a formal agreement.
There are hundreds if not thousands of examples of international institutions that today populate the space between the ends of the continuum in the figure, regulating everything from bank settlements to communications protocols to orbital slots for satellites to food safety to environmental and consumer safety procedures. The vast majority involve public/private collaboration in which corporations, chambers of commerce, NGOs or other non-state actors play a direct role in formulating international regulations. The reason they are not all clustered at the formal end of the continuum (as treaty organizations) is that such formal organizations are too slow and inflexible to provide the rule-making needed by the modern global economy.
What are we to make of this phenomenon of rapidly multiplying new forms of international or multilateral institutions? The critique of international law made by conservatives like John Bolton and, more systematically, by Jeremy Rabkin centers around the excessive delegation of decision-making powers to unaccountable international bodies, powers that should properly remain under the control of constitutionally defined domestic authorities.4 This problem exists with respect to formal institutions like the United Nations or the International Criminal Court, but it applies with even greater force to virtually everything on the informal side of the continuum. The only good mechanisms of political accountability and rule enforcement that exist today are the vertical silos represented by states. To the extent that international rules are made not by states dealing directly with other states but by international organizations with poor or unclear mechanisms of accountability, or else through horizontal linkages between a hodgepodge of public and private actors, democracy has been bypassed and undermined.
One might argue that since most of the new international organizations listed above deal with technical or relatively noncontroversial economic issues, the problem of their democratic accountability is not important. Most people have little idea what the ISO, the Codex Alimentarius or the International Civil Aviation Organization do, and they are happy to let these bodies work outside the glare of public scrutiny. But it should not matter whether the organization’s domain is obscure if it is violating an important principle of democratic accountability. Moreover, many of the issues that these bodies deal with are political, and increasingly so.
The ISO, for example, has been moving from its traditional concern with product standards to standards for services. Having developed the ISO 9000 standards for quality assurance in the 1980s, it moved on in the 1990s to the issue of environmental certification under ISO 14000. Environmental rules are not simply technical; they involve major political disputes between European and American companies and interest groups regarding when and how certification should be given. Similarly, the seemingly technical issue of food safety overseen by the Food and Agriculture Program’s Codex Alimentarius has become intensely politicized as a result of controversies over the safety of genetically modified foods.
It is, of course, no accident that new organizational forms have emerged initially to foster technical and economic cooperation, and it is no surprise that such forms have in some areas bled over into political domains. The needs of international business have dictated that decisions be made efficiently, and formal organizations acting on the basis of instructions that come up the accountability channels of sovereign states are usually too ponderous to suit the economic needs of the global economy. We have accepted a tradeoff of legitimacy, transparency and accountability for the sake of efficient decision-making in the economic realm. But as politics invades heretofore “technical” space, the difficult question of how to balance the competing goals of legitimacy and effectiveness grows sharper and more urgent.
A recent example of this need for balance concerns the way that domain names are allocated on the Internet. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was established by the Clinton Administration in 1998 as a nonprofit California corporation. It was charged with the function of assigning and regulating so-called top-level domains (suffixes like “.com” or “.org”) for the Commerce Department, which owned the root server that contained the master directory of all Internet addresses. ICANN’s structure was peculiar for an organization performing an official regulatory function and, indeed, an international regulatory role. It initially had a five-member board composed largely of information technology (IT) industry insiders, with largely nontransparent and unaccountable mechanisms for taking public input, not just from non-Americans but from U.S. citizens as well.
The reason ICANN was created in this fashion was that most American IT industry professionals believed that the existing global regulator for this function, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), was hopelessly slow and bureaucratic. The ITU is one of the world’s oldest international public unions. Founded in 1865, it predates the United Nations by eighty years. It is a formal treaty organization that sets international telecommunications tariffs and standards on the basis of negotiations between its member states.
ICANN, on the other hand, was modeled on the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which had developed the communications protocols without which the Internet could not function. ICANN had the loose, informal structure of many of the California companies that participated in the IETF and sought to duplicate the latter’s rapid, bottom-up decision-making style.5
ICANN’s functions were performed in the early days of the Internet by a single pony-tailed, sandal-wearing graduate student named Jon Postel, who worked at the University of Southern California under contract to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The only problem with ICANN, as it turned out, was that whatever its virtues in terms of efficient decision-making, it came to be regarded as totally illegitimate by many of the Internet’s important stakeholders, especially non-Americans, who had no idea of how this body made decisions that ultimately affected them. The legal scholar A. Michael Froomkin believes that ICANN was both illegal and unconstitutional; as a regulatory body it should have been subject—like all U.S. regulators—to the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act that lays out formal requirements for transparency and accountability.6 ICANN’s legitimacy crisis is such that last year there were widespread calls to disband it altogether and to turn over its functions to the ITU. Such a switch would surrender a huge amount of efficiency for the perceived legitimacy of the formal body.
Global Security Governance
Obscure bodies like the ISO or ICANN may not seem relevant to emotional disputes over multilateralism and international legitimacy like those concerning the Iraq war. But they are part of the same problem: On the one hand, formal international organizations perceived to be legitimate, whether the UN Security Council or the ITU, are grossly inefficient, while efficient forms of international cooperation, from coalitions of the willing to ICANN, are not perceived to be legitimate. Efficient decision-making inevitably requires delegation, yet it is precisely delegation that causes problems of legitimacy.
It is very hard to develop a principled position on how this tradeoff should be made. Those on the Left by and large demand formal accountability of the United States when it decides to intervene militarily, but are happy to accept the results of an informal negotiation of a corporate code of conduct when it is the only way to constrain the behavior of a multinational corporation. Conservatives, on the other hand, are distrustful of the unaccountable nature of NGOs and the informal, participatory institutions that have grown up around them, but are supportive of loosely structured and largely unaccountable institutions that facilitate the workings of the global economy. They are certainly not willing to concede the need for formal accountability when it comes to security-related decision-making—which brings us back to multi-multilateralism.
In the security realm, multi-multilateralism may be one way to resolve the collective-action problem raised by the Iraq war. Since the United Nations is not now and will never be efficacious in dealing with serious threats to international security, a multiplicity of geographically and functionally overlapping institutions would better enable the United States and other powers to “forum shop” for an appropriate instrument to facilitate international cooperation. This is what happened during the Kosovo conflict: When the prospect of a Russian veto in the Security Council made it impossible for the United Nations to act, the United States and its European allies shifted the venue to NATO, where Russia was not a member. The NATO alliance thus provided a significant degree of legitimacy for military intervention in a way the United Nations could not.
Indeed, NATO itself could get a second wind as a security organization in the wake of the collapse of the drive toward a European constitution. The Euro-Gaullists have traditionally downplayed NATO in favor of the European Union and hoped that the latter would eventually become a unified counterweight to American influence. But the striking “no” votes in France and Holland in mid-2005 rejecting the EU constitution have put the further deepening of Europe on indefinite hold. The publics in these two core European countries seem to be telling the political elites that they prefer a looser union based on national sovereignty and diversity within the European Union. This opens up new possibilities for reinvigorating the NATO alliance.
NATO has far fewer legitimacy problems than the United Nations. All its members are genuine liberal democracies, and all share important core values and institutions. It is a body in which the United States has a great many friends, particularly since it was expanded to include the new democracies of eastern and central Europe. It is also a body from which Washington’s chief critic, France, has largely excluded itself, and where Russian and Chinese vetoes do not apply. Since NATO operates by consensus, it does sacrifice some efficacy in decision-making. Indeed, the cumbersomeness of NATO’s machinery in the Kosovo war was one of the reasons the Bush Administration opted to act alone in Afghanistan. But NATO nonetheless has played an important role in supporting U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, Darfur and elsewhere.
Of course, working within a multilateral framework does not mean accepting support only on one’s own terms; that is just another form of unilateralism. So if the United States were to seriously commit itself to acting in the future through the NATO alliance, it would trade some freedom of action for legitimacy. But that is a sensible trade. NATO supported the Afghan intervention but not the invasion of Iraq: Had the United States submitted itself not to a “global test”, but to a test involving most of the world’s developed democracies, it would not have launched the second war and, in the end, would have been better off for it. It is not a bad habit of mind for policymakers in Washington to feel that they have to be able to sway opinion in this key group of countries.
In return for accepting this kind of constraint on its freedom of action, the United States could reasonably demand a streamlining of NATO’s decision-making machinery. NATO in peacetime runs by consensus, and in Kosovo the need to get all its member nations to agree on lists of bombing targets was indeed cumbersome. Now that NATO has 26 members, it is reasonable to adjust its unanimity rule to one based on weighted votes or, in certain circumstances, delegation to a smaller executive committee.
There is room for considerable creativity in designing other new multilateral security organizations, as well. East Asian security has been based since the end of World War II on a bilateral hub-and-spoke system of alliances centered on Washington. Cold War bipolarity has given way, however, to a more complex situation: North Korea has become the chief short-term regional security threat; China potentially presents a long-term challenge but can be helpful with Korea now; South Korea has moved toward North Korea and away from the United States; and Japan seeks to use the U.S. alliance to balance China and North Korea. At the same time, new regional fora like ASEAN-plus-Three and the East Asian Summit have emerged that do not include the United States. There are more possibilities for new alignments and new institutions than at any time since the early 1950s.
The basic strategic choice here is whether any new political structures should include China. It would be possible, for example, to turn the Six Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear program into a permanent five-power forum for discussing regional security issues similar to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).7 Alternatively, it would be possible to start building a coalition of democratic states in East Asia that would initially include the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and perhaps India, first as an integrated economic zone and perhaps later as a fledgling security community. At the present juncture, Japan would not favor a new multilateral organization that included China, while most of the ASEAN countries would oppose a free-trade area that excluded it. In a multi-multilateral world, the United States might seek to create both institutions, one that included China and one that did not. The first would seek to accommodate China and recognize its growing influence in the region; the second would be a hedge against the possibility that China might turn overtly aggressive.
An Alliance of Democracies
Americans have often criticized the United Nations for including many non-democracies and for becoming a platform by which non-democratic states can hypocritically attack the United States and other genuine democracies like Israel for a variety of alleged abuses. This criticism suggests that the world needs an alliance of democratic states that would be similar in conception to the original League of Nations envisioned by Immanuel Kant. (Kant’s league, unlike the eventual League of Nations or the United Nations, required that its members have a republican form of government.) NATO is one such organization, but it only includes democracies in Europe and North America.
A broader organization of democracies already exists in the form of the Community of Democracies, a group founded in Warsaw in 2000 with backing from the Clinton Administration. Its members include many of the new Third Wave democracies in eastern Europe, Latin America and East Asia that underwent democratic transitions since the 1970s. Since then, however, the Community of Democracies has been virtually invisible: Without a permanent staff or secretariat, the organization meets and keeps itself alive, but it has no clear sense of mission or accomplishment. The Community of Democracies could develop its own democracy-promotion mission, providing election monitors, training and other forms of support such as those provided by the OSCE. But without resources and interest on the part of wealthier countries, this will not happen.
Had more attention been paid to the institutional development of the Community of Democracies, it could have played a major role in promoting Middle Eastern democracy after September 11, 2001. But the Bush Administration quite consciously rejected the idea of providing the Community of Democracies with a permanent secretariat or a budget, preferring not to aid the growth of any further international bureaucracy. At the same time, the Administration harmed its own democracy-promotion efforts by launching the Iraq war and by seeming to ignore the plight of the Palestinians. While many people in the Middle East desperately want democracy for themselves, there is so much anti-Americanism in the region that they often feel the need to distance themselves from the United States and American support. Had the idea for a “broader Middle East” democracy initiative come from the Community of Democracies rather than from Washington, it might have been adopted more readily in the region.
Jeremy Rabkin has made a strong argument that global order in the 21st century ought to be based on the sovereignty of states, the only international actors that combine (at least potentially) democratic legitimacy with the ability to enforce the rule of law. In his view, international cooperation is legitimate, but only under conditions where the delegation of authority to an international body is precise and limited, and where states ultimately remain in control.8
This very traditional understanding of world order based on sovereignty has a lot to recommend it. As Rabkin points out, this doctrine was originally intended to moderate the goals of states at the end of a prolonged period of bloody religious wars in Europe, during which countries sought to change the internal character of their neighbors. There are, however, problems with this perspective.
First, it is incompatible with a foreign policy that seeks to improve governance and promote democracy around the world. Regime change through preventive war is not a promising method for promoting democratic change, which has to be based on internal political development. But less dramatic methods have their problems, as well. The United States and other countries in effect violated the sovereignty of Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine when they supported democratic movements in these countries with training, money and electoral support. Respect for traditional sovereignty is a realist position that is not compatible with what is in the end a revolutionary American foreign policy agenda.
Second, as Stephen Krasner has pointed out, sovereignty in Rabkin’s sense has been constantly violated throughout history, to the extent that he labels the idea a form of “organized hypocrisy.”9 States have not only violated the sovereignty of other states; they have voluntarily acceded to their own loss of sovereignty when it suited their purposes. The most common recent examples are developing countries that have agreed to make policy and institutional reforms in return for IMF or World Bank loans. If the ability to enforce laws within a state’s territory is the sine qua non of sovereignty, then most countries in the developing world and probably many developed ones as well are not really sovereign states.
Moreover, state weakness and failure may be among the most important sources of poverty in the developing world. If so, it implies a huge crisis of missing sovereignty. It is fine to argue that an ideal global order should be based on a system of states that can make and enforce rules and have the capacity to deal with other states on a relatively equal basis. But we have no idea how to get most weak or failing states to meet these conditions. We can promote political development, good governance and democracy at the margin, but for the foreseeable future there will remain a large number of states that simply do not fit the traditional sovereignty mold. In dealing with Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia and Afghanistan we have pretended that external actors, from the European Union to the United States to the World Bank, are overseeing transitional arrangements before the return of full sovereignty. But the prospects for the return of full sovereignty to such places are not good anytime soon.
This reality has led Krasner and other observers to argue that we ought to move in the opposite direction, toward models of shared sovereignty in which states accept long-term help from the international community to provide certain basic governance services—importing good governance, in effect, from jurisdictions where it exists.10 The most striking recent example of shared sovereignty is the Chad-Cameroon gas pipeline, in which the government of Chad agreed to put expected energy revenues from natural gas into a trust fund to be administered by the World Bank and other international trustees. Chad in effect agreed with the international community that it could not be trusted to use its own energy revenues properly and needed external help to avoid being dragged into a morass of corruption and rent-seeking.
The Chad-Cameroon pipeline was hugely controversial not only in Chad but in the rest of Africa, where many believed that it set a bad precedent for sovereignty. It is clear that if shared sovereignty is ever to become a more broadly accepted model, it will take place only under conditions in which the external actor with whom governance functions are divided is regarded as legitimate. Those jurisdictions with good governance, in other words, will need to export governance to other jurisdictions that lack it. But a legitimate export regime of this sort does not now exist and must be invented if this is to take place. The U.S. government should take the lead in this effort; that is what genuine U.S. global leadership requires.
1 For an overview, see Virginia Haufler, International Business Self-Regulation: The Intersection of Public and Private Interests (Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1999), and Haufler, A Public Role for the Private Sector: Industry Self-Regulation in a Global Economy (Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2001). There is by now a large literature on NGOs as international actors; see Jessica Tuchman Mathews, "Power Shift", Foreign Affairs (January/February 1997), and Ann M. Florini, The Third Force: The Rise of Transnational Civil Society (Washington: Carnegie Endowment, 2000). On soft law see Kenneth W. Abbott and Duncan Snidal, "Hard and Soft Law in International Governance", International Organization (Summer 2000).
2 Naomi Roht-Arriaza, "Shifting the Point of Regulation: The International Organization for Standardization and Global Law", Ecology Law Quarterly, Vol. 22, Issue 3 (1995).
3 Slaughter, A New World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).
4 Bolton, "Should We Take Global Governance Seriously?" Chicago Journal of International Law (Fall 2000); Jeremy Rabkin, Why Sovereignty Matters (Washington: AEI Press, 1998); Rabkin, The Case for Sovereignty: Why the World Should Welcome American Independence (Washington: AEI Press, 2004).
5 William J. Drake, "The Rise and Decline of the International Telecommunications Regime", in Christopher T. Marsden, Regulating the Global Information Society (London: Routledge, 2000).
6 Froomkin, "Wrong Turn in Cyberspace: Using ICANN to Route Around the APA and the Constitution", Duke Law Journal (October 2000).
7 For an elaboration of this proposal, see my "Re-Envisioning Asia", Foreign Affairs (January/ February 2005).
8 Rabkin, The Case for Sovereignty.
9 Krasner, Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).
10 Krasner, "Sharing Sovereignty: New Institutions for Collapsed and Failing States", International Security (Fall 2004).