Multilateralism 2.0 – UN University prof ponders open, networked international relations

It’s not just me! Luk Van Langenhove of UNU Bruges and other important places believes that the 2.0 metaphor can be applied usefully for global governance. Sort of. He’s talking about multilateral decision making in the UN, and how it might change if the UN didn’t only involve states.

Read the article here (it’s not long) or there’s a fuller paper in Global Policy (academic login reqd)

Here’s my quick précis:

  • We’re facing growing multipolarity in international relations (more and more powerful states who can’t be rolled over by the US, i.e. BRICs) 
  • The state-based system is a problem, since the truly serious global problems aren’t neatly divided like state boundaries. They’re global, like climate change or weapons proliferation.
  • The 2.0 metaphor recognises power of networks and openess: international relations 2.0 can include players other than states. For example, regional and sub-regional institutions. 
  • So it’s a problem that the UN is based on ‘one state, one vote’ style decision making. 2.0 might allow for more flexibility.
  • Happily, there are signs of change. The UNSC resolution on Libya is an example of how the UN referred to the Arab League and Organisation of Islamic States [presumably to gain increased legitimacy for the decision].
  • And, the EU now has speaking rights in the UN, which will lead to similar institutions getting the same thing. And these big regional institutions will be key to tackling modern problems – so let’s see more of this.

My thoughts:

  • Sovereign states are still what Langenhove calls the ‘star players’ in international relations. Unlikely to see them giving up (or effectively watering down) their UN voting rights any time soon. Just increasing the number of seats on the Security Council is proving impossible. We’re certainly not going to see an EU seat replace those of UK/France at the Security Council. Which is why…
  • Global governance 2.0 matters as it’s about transcending the nation state (or superseding, or subseding – take your pick of latin spatial references). Van Langenhove is still thinking in a very state-based system of governance. That’s fair: it accurately reflects the state we’re in. To claim that regional institutions might give a more 2.0 approach is a bit far, however. Ultimately those regional institutions are filled with state representatives and take their orders from national capitals. 
  • Instead, get a bit more creative with the 2.0 metaphor and we might find ways to bypass state-to-state deadlock. For example, perhaps it’s not states that will solve climate change with top-down regulation, but horizontal (peer-to-peer) collaborative networks, such as cities, towns or industries.

More on this sort of stuff to follow..

 

Flickr credit: Blog de Planalto

 

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