GRI’s Second Objective: Greater Effectiveness

WEF’s over attention to “effectiveness” as a key missing element in global governance limits the relevance of its proposals.

Public frustration with an international system comes from three directions, none of which are truly addressed by WEF’s concept of “effectiveness.” Some are frustrated with the international system because urgent state functions in the international arena are not solved by the UN system. There are wars and the UN cannot stop them. There are major ecological catastrophes and the international system cannot get relief supplies into the affected areas fast enough. There are starving people in Africa and the IGOs do not prevent their unnecessary deaths.

The effectiveness of the UN system – or its lack of effectiveness -- is directly derivative from the way nation-states created and financed the international system after WWII. Governments insisted that the international system take on problems with a far greater scope than they were -- or are --willing to provide the resources to address the challenge. One legacy of this unbalanced approach is that the wider public sees a task as a UN responsibility but observes only minimal results of the UN engagement in the issue. This nation-state failure becomes in the public eye evidence of an ineffective international system. 

The second form of ineffectiveness for many is the failure of the international system to rein in the power of former or current aggressive nation-states. If a permanent member of the Security Council (a P5 country) wants to send troops to a small state, the UN is ineffective in stopping it. When one nation-state extends its sovereignty to provide cover for terror prisons, 1  for tax avoidance, 2  or for ecological damage, 3  then the state-based international system is seen by many as failing to deliver a self-policing international system. As one of WEF’s concerns with the current global governance system is the shift of power away from major Northern governments, it is not surprising that they do not address the ineffectiveness of the international system to hold large states accountable for their behavior towards other, smaller states. 4

The third perceived failure is that the existing intergovernmental system has not been effective in setting norms for legitimate behavior in the international market. Domestically, governments in the North and South are expected to write laws, have regulations, and operate an enforcement system that keeps the private sector within acceptable ethical, market, and social bounds.

The analogous function on the international level has been blocked in every direction. In the last 40 years, major firms and major states have made sure that the UN system does not promulgate corporate standards or adopt even soft law declarations that could provide the basis for future international standards. These firms and states have resisted  even a department to study the effects of multinational corporations on the global economy and on development, except for the period when the small Centre on Transnational Corporations functioned. This limitation has ensured  that there is not even an ombudsman’s office or a judicial system for communities and peoples to bring specific claims about corporate misbehavior to international attention. This element of ineffectiveness of the international system is clearly not in WEF’s sights if, for no other reason, that its major participants are from the corporate community. Instead, the closest WEF gets to addressing the lack of ethics of multinational  executives is to propose that  its youth leader group develop  a corporate executive Hippocratic Oath and to have corporate executives work closely with more ethically-minded CSO leaders.

GRI does use the “ineffectiveness argument” against the UN system in two different ways. First and foremost the ineffectiveness argument is used to nurture the frustration with the UN, with universal negotiations, and with the state-centric model of global governance. This allows GRI to point out the weaknesses of the existing UN system as a means of garnering wider public support for its new approach.

Its other use of the “ineffectiveness argument” rests on a generalized assumption that the business community is truly effective. What is interesting here is that any claim to business effectiveness and efficiency rests on handling products, technologies, and services, not on any demonstrated abilities in policy development or management of social change. In effect, GRI nurtures the public mystique that somehow market effectiveness can be transferred easily to the political arena.


Related Ideas: When obligations and norms Are 'not possible'; Assessing data; Benchmarking

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

  1. ^ e.g. moving citizens from country to country to ‘question’ them on terrorism.
  2. ^ e.g. the tolerance of tax havens that deprive nation-state of revenues from their elites to meet domestic.
  3. ^ e.g. controlling emissions from shipping lines with the acceptance of flags of convenience.
  4. ^ Note exception for WTO Dispute Settlement Body which is open to all WTO parties. However the major countries have resisted ‘borrowing’ this model in other intergovernmental fora and the DSU enforcement penalty system is one-sided. It works only for large exporters and roughly equivalently-sized exporters. It does not really work for small exporting countries who gain a court decision over large exporting country.
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