How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance. By Parag Khanna. Random House, 2011. 272 pp.; World Rule: Accountability, Legitimacy, and the Design of Global Governance. By Jonathan G. S. Koppell. University of Chicago Press, 2010. 392 pp.; The Future of Power. By Joseph S. Nye, Jr. Public Affairs, 2011. 320 pp.; The End of Arrogance: America in the Global Competition of Ideas. By Steven Weber and Bruce W. Jentleson. Harvard University Press, 2010. 224 pp.
In 1215, a
group of rebellious English barons confronted King John on the field of
Runnymede and forced him to sign the Magna Carta. Thus began England’s long
transition from absolute sovereignty to power sharing and participatory governance.
Today, we are approaching a second Runnymede. America, as powerful on the
global level as was King John in medieval England, faces new challenges to its
role as the last superpower.
transition will see America’s leadership give way to power sharing with the
barons of Beijing, Brussels, and Brasilia, and even possibly with upstart non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
What the new system will look like, how it will evolve, and whether the
transition will be as comparatively peaceful as that ushered in at Runnymede,
however, are questions that all excite considerable controversy. Will we see
continued American superpower hegemony? Are we moving, however slowly, toward a
formal world government, perhaps managed by evolved forms of the formal global
governance organizations (GGOs)?
Or will we develop a new model of governance wholly unlike the familiar
unitary state model, perhaps a model in which coalitions of NGOs, corporations,
and individuals will increasingly manage issues directly, circumventing or even
authors of four new books on global governance agree that change is coming, and
that the U.S. would be better
advised to understand and try to shape the transition, than to oppose it. Even
when arguing that America will or should
remain the last superpower, they accept that more power sharing is inevitable.
The question is how much and with whom.
Nye, Jr., frames the coming change as involving a dual transition. The first
shift will see U.S. dominance give way to a new distribution of power shared
more broadly with Europe, Japan, the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China),
and others. The second will diffuse power away from formal states altogether
and toward non-state actors, both intergovernmental and nongovernmental.
that none of these newly powerful forces will replace America as the leading
superpower in the coming decades. China’s power will continue to rise, but
China cannot take the lead globally without barons willing to follow it. Would
Europe, Japan, or the BRICs want to see China supplant U.S. global leadership?
Clearly not. Even if China were to become America’s equal in economic and political power, the barons’ backing for the U.S. would tip the
on his long career in foreign policy to integrate current events and historical
perspectives into an insightful discussion of how the major global powers will
benefit or lose from the dual transition underway. He cites the history of wars
flowing from earlier transitions from one dominant power to another and points
to several dangers inherent in the current double power transition. Even though
the U.S. is likely to retain its leadership position overall, the U.S. must work
to reshape its leadership style from one of presumptive dominance toward one
of “preponderance,” where the U.S.
can “influence but not control” others.
that, like Rome, the U.S. may face the greatest challenge to its leadership
from domestic factors. Its outdated governance structure, designed to delay
action and spread authority, may not be able to cope with the urgent need to
modernize its economy and social services or meet global challenges. The coming
decades demand unity and decisiveness, not attributes currently on display in
American politics. He advocates a smart-power redeployment of U.S. leadership
resources, one that will require the U.S. to step up to the “responsibility …
to produce global public or common goods” and to develop “smart strategies for
power with rather than merely over other nations.”
Weber and Bruce W. Jentleson mirror Nye’s advocacy of U.S. leadership through
soft power. They openly call on America’s leaders to frame policies that will
regain American leadership in the “global competition of ideas.” America must
define a new, twenty-first-century consensus to replace the “five big ideas”
that shaped global affairs in the twentieth century, which are that peace,
benign hegemony, capitalism, democracy, and Western culture are each inherently
superior to their respective alternatives of war, a balance of power,
socialism, dictatorship, and non-Western culture, and will ultimately win the
big ideas no longer find acceptance among the majority of humanity living
outside Western democracies, however. As Weber and Jentleson write, “the global
population does not see itself as having benefited meaningfully from an era of
American-led globalization.” The rise of China and the U.S.’s mishandling of
key engagements with the developing world, from Iraq to retrovirals, have
opened the door to a competing “Beijing Consensus” embracing autocratic
governance, a “market–Leninist” economy, the reaffirmation of communal over
individualistic values, and strict limits to outside intervention in states’
internal affairs. In short, broad prosperity trumps political freedom: “one man
one vote” has become “one man one cell phone.”
Jentleson also see danger in the coming transition, as the increased
vulnerability of the global economy and environment to system disruption poses
a “potent threat in part because the systems on which the world depends are now
so tightly stretched.” Rather than denying or opposing needed responses, an
America determined to maintain its leadership must demonstrate that it can “make
the systems we and others depend on more resilient and robust.” It must embrace
“mutuality” and reject unilateralism and American exceptionalism.
John, the authors have ignored
the barons’ role in financing this new sovereign activism. The barons at
Runnymede did not oppose King John’s wars so much as the taxes needed to pay
for them. Can we expect China to
contribute to financing American investments at home and rebuilding of its
influence abroad without also demanding a greater share in decision making?
Khanna writes about the emergence of what he terms “mega-diplomacy,” the
expansion of nonprofits, corporations, informal coalitions, and even
individuals into roles previously the sole preserve of nation-states. In his
wide-ranging review of these developments, the single most valuable
contribution is his analysis of how non-state actors interact with weak and
failed states, and whether NGOs can fill the gaps, notably in human rights. He
points to implementation challenges that impede this model, noting that “everyone
wants to be the coordinator, no one the coordinatee.”
new world of mega-diplomacy, success demands three attributes: inclusiveness
to mobilize state and non-state actors for the achievement of shared global
objectives; decentralization to allocate implementation responsibility to
empowered and resilient coalitions of local organizations, not to ossified
formal bureaucracies; and accountability to build “communities of trust” and
mutual obligation among the participants to advance the mission. Khanna
describes a world that remains far from achieving these three requisites,
however. In Africa and elsewhere, weak and failed states have ceded power to
non-state actors in a “new colonialism” of global NGOs and corporations—the
latter increasingly Chinese.
will run this newly decentralized and inclusive world? Khanna makes the case
that no intergovernmental body, not even the G-20, will emerge as the new
global governing council. Davos’s World Economic Forum lays a stronger claim to
being a global protoparliament, where major corporate CEOs and charismatic NGO
leaders meet with heads of state to set the global agenda and launch
world-changing initiatives. In this new reality, the U.S. remains a
powerful force not because of its military might but because “no other country
has such a deep pool of resources outside of its government to beneficially
shape the world.”
Khanna captures the diversity of corporate, nonprofit, and individual actors
engaged in mega-diplomacy, Jonathan G. S. Koppell takes a rigorously analytic
look at a key subset, the GGOs that set and
enforce global rules. He explores how GGOs actually get things done, the
challenges they face, and the strategies developed in response. This is an
important work, advancing our understanding of global governance and offering
insight into whether international institutions are up to the task, are able to
set and enforce rules on countries and corporations, and in doing so, can
maintain legitimacy and accountability.
rigorous and painstaking analysis of twenty-five GGOs provides, if not answers to these questions, at least solid
evidence to advance the debate beyond rhetoric and speculation. His choice to
focus on institutions working in diverse sectors and with established track
records in rulemaking and enforcement lends force to his conclusions, as does
his inclusion of intergovernmental, wholly private, and mixed public–private
of his argument is that GGOs face a built-in dilemma between authority and
legitimacy and must adopt specific structures and strategies to overcome this
weakness. In order to promulgate rules that make a difference and are followed
in practice, a GGO must have authority. It therefore needs the legitimacy that
comes from having a wide membership base and the promulgation of rules that are
widely accepted and obeyed.
No GGO has
independent enforcement power, however. In most cases, countries or companies
retain the option not to adopt a rule, or to withdraw from the organization
altogether. Rules that are too burdensome thus drive members away or invite
members to ignore them. Not all members are equal, moreover; rules that are
adopted lose authority if the strongest members—particularly the United States—fail
to follow them, but lose legitimacy if they are seen as dictated by America.
GGOs respond to this dilemma by developing a range of strategies that give major
players, particularly the U.S. but also at times major corporations, a large
role in developing the rules to be adopted. To retain legitimacy, the system
then provides opportunities for the broader membership to weigh in, even if
only at the end of the process. An alternative strategy, that of adopting
lowest-common-denominator rules, would only undermine the GGO by making
participation a waste of time and resources. GGOs thus find themselves
constantly balancing authority against legitimacy in both rulemaking and rule
Koppell’s most important conclusions is that, whether a GGO is a formal
interstate body (such as the International Labor Organization) or an NGO with a
mixed corporate–NGO membership (such as the Forest Stewardship Council), it
faces much the same set of challenges and is likely to adopt similar strategies
to overcome them.
stops short of offering a bottom-line answer as to whether global governance
organizations are up to handling the urgent challenges of a globalized world.
Are GGOs confined to relatively narrow action on specific issues, such as
accounting rules or Internet numbering? Does the continuing failure of the
World Trade Organization’s Doha Round signal that even the most powerful GGOs
cannot forge a consensus between the West and the rest when it matters? If GGOs
cannot advance a positive-sum game such as trade liberalization, how can they
tackle climate change, almost surely a negative-sum game in the short term at
least? If we cannot create GGOs that work and are seen to be legitimate, then
the feasible set of choices narrows to superpower dominance or chaos.
intriguing leitmotif among these four works is the frequent comparison with
another such period of chaos, the Middle Ages: like the present time an era of
uncertainty and widespread conflict as one system gave way to another. As the
four authors suggest, the focus now must be squarely on the major choices ahead
of us and how we should think about them. Like King John and the barons at
Runnymede, we know we cannot stay where we are, but we cannot yet say with any
precision where the coming transition will take us.
Jennifer Bremer is an associate professor of public policy and chair of the Public Policy and Administration Department at the American University in Cairo. Previously, she served as director of the Washington center of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, a unit of the University of North Carolina, and as an international development consultant with Nathan Associates and Development Alternatives.