Global Governance

Key Concepts
  • international organisations
  • governance
  • intergovernmentalism
  • supranationalism
Syllabus Outline

Knowledge of the origins, development and role of major global institutions, from 1945, in relation to the key problems of global politics.

The emphasis will be on the role, performance and significance of the United Nations, but students should also have knowledge of other key bodies such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and institutions of global economic governance such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Group of Eight (G8).

Scheme of Work

International Organisations — knowledge of the origins, development and role of the major global institutions from 1945, including the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade Organization (WTO), North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Group of Eight (G8).

Intergovernmentalism — this refers to a structure of IGO where state sovereignty is protected as decisions are made by the heads of member states. The Council of the European Union (known informally as the Council of Ministers) is an intergovernmental body for this reason. Intergovernmentalists prefer a confederal structure because it is state-centric. However, an underlying principle of IGOs, that they are governed by the states that join them, means that they rarely are able to rise above the rivalries and competition between member states.

Supranationalism — the term ‘supranational’ refers to laws or institutions that are above the state. For example, the power and authority of the European Union (EU) is not confined to a single state but to all 27 member states. Supranationalism therefore refers to decision-making bodies that override the sovereign authority of individual member states. Supranationalism is part of a process of international relations in which institutions formally recognise the process of closer integration. It is controversial because it entails the erosion of the traditional bastion of state sovereignty.

Content Explanation and Advice

Global Governance

Nature of global governance – multiple, multilevel and multi-actor process of global decision-making that incorporates formal and informal processes as well as public and private bodies; growth of international organisation since 1945; differences between global governance and world government (humankind united under one common authority, monopoly of legitimate use of force; ‘hard’ law; often linked to idea of world federation, etc); contrast between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism (advantages and disadvantages of each), etc.

Prospects for global governance - realist stance (states still dominant; states achieve goals in and through international organisations; influence of great powers); liberal view (interdependence fosters international cooperation; collective security more effective than self-help, etc).

The United Nations

Background to the UN – history and development of the UN; composition of UN and its component elements (role and composition of Security Council, General Assembly, Economic and Social Council, International Court of Justice, etc).

Performance of UN – UN's role and performance in maintaining peace and security (peacekeeping; intervention within states, etc); UN's economic and social role and performance (human rights, development and poverty-reduction, environment, etc); reforming the UN (criticisms of the UN; proposed reforms (reforming the Security Council, etc); advantages and disadvantages of reform), etc.

Global Economic Governance

(Note: essay questions will not be set on the individual institutions of global governance)

Development and impact of global economic governance – Bretton Woods system, its aims and purposes; breakdown of Bretton Woods (implications); Washington consensus and its implications; success and failures of global economic governance (stability and growth in global economy; have crisis tendencies been contained?), etc.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) - performance and impact of IMF (balance of payments crises; structural adjustment programmes (SAPS); strengths and criticisms; how IMF has responded to criticism; IMF and global economic crisis and pressure for reform, etc).

World Bank – performance and impact of World Bank (development and poverty-reduction programmes; SAPS; strengths and criticisms; how World Bank has responded to criticism; World Bank and global economic crisis and pressure for reform, etc).

World Trade Organisation (WTO) – from GATT to WTO; role of WTO ('liberalise' world trade); performance and impact of WTO ('Uruguay round' of negotiations (1986-95); fate of 'Doha round'); debating the WTO (strengths and criticisms; advantages and disadvantages of global free trade), etc.

Group of Seven/Eight (G-7/8) – role and significance of G8; criticisms of G8; role and significance of alternative G20, etc.


Traditional role of NATO (creature of Cold War, etc.); changing role and significance of NATO (implications of end of Cold War; peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention; beyond Europe (Afghanistan); NATO's expansion into eastern Europe (implications for relations between Russia and the West), etc.

Global Governance

Governance, broadly, refers to the various ways in which social life is co-ordinated, of which government is merely one.

Global governance refers to the various processes through which decision-making and co-operation at a global level is facilitated, operating through multilateral systems of regulation. At the heart of the emerging system of global governance is the United Nations Organisation and its various bodies, together with the institutions of global economic governance, notably the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Rather than imposing their will on individual states, the processes provide the framework for the development of intergovernmental relationships, reflecting a growing acceptance of global interdependence.

Global governance does not only involve intergovernmental bodies, but also the participation of non-governmental actors such as NGOs, national corporations, global capital markets, citizens’ movements and so on.

World government, by contrast, refers to the idea of centralised authority operating through a single, supranational body. Strictly speaking, such a government would involve the establishment of a monopoly of the use of force worldwide, as well as the surrendering of sovereignty by individual states.

However, most versions of world government are based on the idea of world federalism, in which the central authority is vested with supreme authority in relation to certain functions, while state governments continue to have jurisdiction in relation to other functions. While global governance aims to containing the pressures generated by anarchy, world government would banish anarchy altogether by establishing and enforcing an international rule of law, sometimes seen as world law.

Although the League of Nations and the United Nations were often presented as early prototypes of world government, neither has come close to realising this goal.

World Trade Organisation (WTO)

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an organization that intends to supervise and liberalize international trade.

The organization officially commenced on January 1, 1995 under the Marrakech Agreement, replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which commenced in 1948. The organisation deals with regulation of trade between participating countries; it provides a framework for negotiating and formalising trade agreements, and a dispute resolution process aimed at enforcing participants' adherence to WTO agreements which are signed by representatives of member governments and ratified by their parliaments. Most of the issues that the WTO focuses on derive from previous trade negotiations, especially from the Uruguay Round (1986–1994).

The organisation is currently endeavoring to persist with a trade negotiation called the Doha Development Agenda (or the 'Doha Round'), which was launched in 2001 to enhance equitable participation of poorer countries which represent a majority of the world's population. However, the negotiation has been dogged by "disagreement between exporters of agricultural bulk commodities and countries with large numbers of subsistence farmers on the precise terms of a 'special safeguard measure' to protect farmers from surges in imports. At this time, the future of the Doha Round is uncertain."

dark green = original WTO members; light green = subsequent WTO members
The WTO has 153 members, representing more than 97% of the world's population, and 30 observers, most seeking membership. The WTO is governed by a ministerial conference, meeting every two years; a general council, which implements the conference's policy decisions and is responsible for day-to-day administration; and a director-general, who is appointed by the ministerial conference. The WTO's headquarters is in Geneva, Switzerland.

Key criticisms of the WTO:

The WTO has been criticised in terms of its aims and underlying philosophy. In particular, global free trade has been seen to widen economic inequalities by giving dominant powers access to the markets of weak states while having little to fear themselves from foreign competition. Free trade, moreover, gives economies global markets rather than local needs, and tends to place profit before considerations of community, stability and workers’ rights.

Environmentalists have made particular criticisms of the WTO, arguing that free trade and economic deregulation tend to weaken environmental protection and preservation. The WTO’s principles fail to take into account the environmental impact of free trade and economic restructuring.

The WTO is often criticised for being undemocratic and for favouring the interests of rich and powerful states. This is evident in a lack of even-handedness, in that protectionist practices in the developed North, particularly in agriculture, have often been tolerated while they have been fiercely criticised in the developing South.

The WTO has also been criticised for being ineffective, in that the task of decision-making in the area of trade practices has often been frustratingly slow. This is evident in the faltering progress of the Doha Round of negotiations, which has been hampered by tensions between Northern and Southern states in particular.