Lessons from the Past for the Future

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt looked at the League of Nations and its failure to prevent World War II, he concluded that the next global arrangement had to have the military capacity to prevent another major world war. It was this criterion that led the US to convene the Dumbarton Oaks meetings which led to the creation of the Security Council which subsequently led to the United Nations. The criteria for constructing a new global governance system is itself an important and very legitimate part of the debate on governance. WEF’s two criteria have a clear impact on the scope of their recommendations and on the limitations on the outcome of their proposals.

The definition of what needs urgent attention, which issues are most pressing, is also a crucial component in the design of a new governance system. WEF casts a wide net but it is one with a heavy focus on macroeconomics.  No doubt the macro-economic institutions are not working and need to be reconfigured to relieve mass instabilities in the unregulated globalized economy. The challenge for policy makers, scholars, and the general public is to strengthen the breadth of the net so that other pressing structural issues are included appropriately in any reconstruction of the international system.

The third element for designing a new global governance system is the rules and operating practices that can engage the Actors in meaningful governance. National democratic practices can provide a useful starting point for building an analogous international system. Operational rules for the election/selection of participants, for example, need far more careful scrutiny than GRI provides.  

It is not an easy matter to design a global democracy, to design a more economically balanced world, or to design a gender sensitive, culturally sensitive, or ecologically sensitive system. This reality, however, does not excuse proponents of a new global governance system from not trying. It is not an easy matter to make equity a central principle for re-balancing economic, environmental, and social realities today, but that surely should not be a reason for the academic community and foreign policy experts on the WEF’s expert panels to avoid the matter. It is not a pleasant thought that the Millennium Development Goals were not effective in sharply reducing global poverty, but that does not exempt scholars and government and corporate leaders from re-conceptualizing governance and establishing an incentive system for global economics that has an explicit objective of poverty reduction. 

The key debate now is what goals, functions, and organizing principles should be at the center of the stage for the next generation of international organizations. As with President Roosevelt, one today has the potential to design a new global set of institutions that addresses power, inequalities, and the crises in today’s economic, social, and environmental fields. WEF made a first crack at it. There is still work to do.

The Readers' Guide welcomes comments with alternative examples or counter examples and commentary – critical or otherwise – of the above interpretation of GRI’s perspective.

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