Forging More Effective World Governance, from the Ground Up

October 25, 2011

by Edward Rawson

Darfur women, supported by the UN and state and government institutions, march in a campaign against gender-based violence in March 2010

Globalization, in all its forms, has taken root throughout the world. This phenomenon is, as Clarence Streit argued in 1939, practically irreversible: “…we can no more dispense with world trade, communications, contact, than we can uninvent our steam, gasoline, electric and other machines.” This deepening integration of the world has, as a recent joint US/EU report argued, transformed previously localized challenges into threats to global stability. As a result, the demand for more world governance is here to stay. In short, we in the United States must remember that we live in an irrevocably, integrated, internet world with problems no one nation can solve alone.

The worldwide effects of financial crises, terrorism, and the Arab Spring – the most significant democratic uprising since the French Revolution – are only the latest iterations of such challenges. The enduring difficulties are, for the most part, found in large parts of Africa, where most of the world’s failed and failing states are found. Rapid population growth and poor governance on the continent have played major roles in perpetuating this situation and hindering economic development. It is projected that these factors will significantly magnify resource scarcity in Africa and elsewhere, with serious economic and security implications for the region and the world.

Strengthening women’s rights and promoting contraception are the most important steps that governments and international aid organizations can take to reduce population growth and encourage the expansion of the middle class that has historically driven the establishment of liberal democratic government. In addition to helping resolve two key global challenges, ramping up efforts in these areas would help fulfill our need for more effective world governance.

As John Ikenberry has argued, liberal democracies are most able to make credible commitments to international agreements and institutions – greatly enhancing their ability to maintain stable and cooperative relations. This particular brand of international order – a liberal democratic one – was first tested in the transatlantic area (then beyond) and can continue to tame globalization through institutions that facilitate cooperation. In a world in which the demand for collective action is outstripping supply, additional liberal democratic partners are sorely needed.

There is reason to believe that more effective world governance is within reach. Europe’s integration into the post-war order has brought stability to a region that was previously the epicenter of two world wars. Except for North Korea and to a lesser degree China, Asia as a whole has witnessed the spread of liberal democracy. The latest country has been Myanmar (where the elected president had been a member of the ruling general junta), which appears to be becoming democratic. Thousands of prisoners have been released, internet restrictions have eased, and the construction of a dam to provide hydro-electric power to China has stopped because of environmental dangers. The long house arrest of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has ended, and she has been able to organize a peaceful demonstration and even had a two-hour private conversation with the president.

Liberal democracy has also spread through practically all of South America. While Africa is still plagued by multiple challenges, there is significant progress on the governance front as well as in health and other areas. Progress has been slower in Central America and the Middle East and North Africa. However, the Arab Spring has already liberated three countries and caused various Middle Eastern and North African countries to take steps toward democracy, as demanded by its citizens. In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah has taken a first significant step toward democracy by granting women the right to vote. It has also reverberated almost around the entire world with even US protests taking over Wall Street.

By working to expand women’s rights and promote contraception in many developing countries, we can control population growth, alleviate increasingly severe resource strains, promote the emergence of more reliable partners, and ultimately create the conditions for a worldwide liberal democracy.

Edward Rawson is the Vice Chairman of the Board and Treasurer of the Streit Council. Photo credit: UN Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran (http://www.unmultimedia.org/photo/detail.jsp?id=456/456982&key=108&query=women%20rights&lang=en&sf=)

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