The notion of Global Governance remains an abstract one for many of us. Some would see it as an invention by people who dream of being more powerful than the powerful. Others imagine it as a nebulous grey zone, where decisions are taken far away from citizens’ representatives usual national meeting places, a kind of betrayal of the democratic social contract – and perhaps the concern is partially justified. De facto, nation-states form accords between themselves over the heads of their citizens. Even though those agreements may have significant consequences, they rarely form the subject of democratic debate within each nation. Politicians don’t like talking to the electorate about these zones ‘above’ their own national laws. In Europe local politicians are nervous of public debates on Europe. In the United States, outside of the presidential election, the average voter sees the federal level as a distant star. It’s the same in India, China and Brazil… But nowadays, global governance is much more than the traditional space for debate between nation-states, and bilateralism is floating downstream towards prehistory. 

The story of modern political power is being written in a new logic, borne along by the globalization of stakes and risks, the free – or forced – movement of citizens and the acceleration of transport for people and goods. Some evidence for the changes is hard to dispute. The UN Security Council has become an obsolete part of global governance; the shame we share at the Sino-Russian veto of the UN resolution against the Syrian regime merely confirms our recognition of its impotence. The G20 can’t provide the answer either. Even if the UN system remains the most legitimate system – as some like Joseph Deiss continue to champion – it is no longer able to rise to the changing aspirations of the world. 

So there is a vacuum. A void that history will fill one way or another, in the streets or in debating halls. The public enemies of global governance are, firstly, indifference, silence, lack of discussion when faced with the complexity of the issues and the difficulty of reaching decisions. Unanimity is a fine thing, but inaction can be deadly. Human resources and the time factor can also raise challenges: should we allow more time to reach a consensus than the average term of an elected representative or national delegate called to the global negotiating table? As for the experts, it is not their role to make decisions. We have to rethink, reinvent global governance, as the model created after WWII is now irrelevant. Failing to understand that the present vacuum will draw in new ideas, new social movements, would be a major political error. 

In this issue, several visions of global governance are put forward. The most classic, as expressed by Kati Suominen, a former ‘exec’ at the Inter–American Development Bank, is confident that the United States will remain, more or less, the world’s quarterback. In her eyes, the weakest link in the chain is Europe. The more modern visions largely agree on questions of wealth and possibilities, but diverge on how to involve the public, and how to proceed democratically. Shimri Zaramet, a global activist and graduate of the London School of Economics – before it closed its Global Policy Department – has a sense of urgency – youth and conviction ‘oblige’. His vision has the capacity to attract a lot of people, and he sets about doing so with great intelligence. He dreams about a first world strike in 2012 to shake up public awareness, to go even further than the Occupy phenomenon. Jan Aart Scholte, Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick, believes in a more gradual evolution, but his ideas are clearly avant-garde. David Held, eminent specialist in global governance, Professor and Master of University College, Durham, warns us that the story can accelerate very unexpectedly. He can already glimpse the forces moving towards the next stage in the history of governance.

March 2012, Jean-Christophe Nothias, Editor-in-Chief