SNS Democracy Council 2023 Global Governance: Fit for Purpose?

On April 21, SNS Democracy Council presented a report analyzing whether the international organizations are fit for their purpose. The authors recommended that the government take the lead in expanding the influence of international organizations.

The authors of the report are Jonas Tallberg, professor of Political Science at Stockholm University, Karin Bäckstrand, professor of Environmental Social Science, Stockholm University, Jan Aart Scholte, professor of Global Transformations and Governance Challenges, Leiden University and Thomas Sommerer, professor of International Organizations, Universitiy of Potsdam.

Jonas Tallberg introduced the report and noted that in the past 75 years, organizations such as the UN, IMF, EU, and WHO have emerged and increased in number. The starting point of the report is the recognition that contemporary problems are transboundary and global. Everyone emphasizes the importance of international cooperation – global governance. But do today’s organizations have the set up required to meet international challenges?

The prerequisites for effective problem-solving, according to the authors, are the organizations’ instruments of power, efficiency, and legitimacy.If suitably equipped with power, effectiveness and legitimacy, international organizations can make a significant positive contribution to global problem solving.

Different Types of Power

– Organizations have gained increased power between 1950-2010, then the development has stagnated or declined, said Jonas Tallberg who also divided the power into several subgroups:legal power, institutional power, material power and ideational power, the latter being considered more important as a compensation as other powers are losing impact.

Jonas Tallberg also noted that binding decisions are becoming less common and that soft power is increasing instead. Tallberg mentioned examples such as indexes, scoreboards, and rankings such as PISA as effective although they do not replace more powerful institutional means.

More Effective Than The Stereotype

The effectiveness of organizations is better than the stereotype, continued Jonas Tallberg. The effectiveness was also divided into several subgroups: policy development, compliance and problem solving

Finally, Tallberg talked about the legitimacy of organizations.

– We cannot see any general legitimacy crisis despite extensive criticism from anti-globalist populists.

The conclusions were that existing international organizations have many necessary qualities for global problem solving. But the conditions are insufficient for today’s and future major global challenges. The authors believed that a new investment in international cooperation is required, especially in the form of increased power. The authors further recommended that Sweden take the lead in strengthening global collaboration.

Three Potential Reform Strategies

First, the authors want to upgrade existing organizations through new powers in unregulated areas, they advocate more majority voting to facilitate decisions and better means of ensuring compliance, strengthen core funding, defend idea power and expertise against populism.

Secondly, the authors want to develop new forms of cooperation with public-private partnerships, private regulatory bodies, subnational collaborations, and informal interstate networks.

Thirdly, they recommend transforming global cooperation with new and more powerful organizations, supranational powers such as the EU, advocating stronger democratic mechanisms, expanding the role of international courts, and having their own international taxation rights. They see a Bretton-Woods moment where new solutions are possible.

The Past Ten Years Of Development Are Contradictory

Jonas Tallberg also believed that democracies are more collaborative than dictatorships. Compared to dictatorships, democracies have been more inclined to enter into international cooperation, create international institutions, and refrain from waging war against each other, although the development of the last ten years in both democracies and dictatorships partially contradicts this.

Can Sweden Reform The System?

Then moderator Niclas Ekblad took the stage with four commentators: Mattias Frumiere, Swedish Head of Delegation UNFCCC, Diana Janse, State Secretary to Minister for International Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade Johan Forssell, and Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Director General for the Swedish Contingencies Agency

Niclas Ekblad asked the question:

– Can the government take the lead and reform the entire international system?

– The multilateral system is very important, but we should not have blind faith in institutions being able to fix the problem. Different states have different ideas and interests. There are ideological conflicts behind it. We live in a geopolitical time and we need to find the smallest common denominator, answered Diana Jansse, and later concluded that supranationalism is a utopia. Ideology and interests drive governments. We need to form alliances with those who think like us and understand other countries’ pressure points. In this way, we can push the agenda forward, she said.

Combining Global Efforts With More Local Constellations

Mattias Frumiere commented the report by saying that given how democracy has developed in recent years, we need to acknowledge that countries we disagree with may end up controlling these organizations. Do we want to subject ourselves to such global governance? Frumiere further noted that we will only get as far as participating countries are willing and able to contribute. We may also need to combine the global efforts with work in more local constellations.

”We Tend To Be More Local These Days”

Charlotte Petri Gornitzka: .

– I do not believe in the most controversial proposal in the time we are in – we tend to be more local these days. Ideational power is the tool we need to invest in, we need to incorporate it into the systems. We need collaborations, people talk about partnerships and new solutions. Sweden can play a role here, we the reputation for “punching over our weight” which we really do, and she continued by critically discussing how international organizations are being managed.

“A BRICS moment”

One question from the audience related to the development of BRICS. Frumiere did not consider it a bigger problem than many others, while the Dutchman Jan Art Scholte noted that we have a situation around BRICS that is a real challenge. Global problems are a fact and the delicate question is how we can reform and strengthen international cooperation while preserving our values, Scholte said, implicitly referring to the liberal optimism about democracy and international collaboration that characterized the development up until 2010.

Increasing Need of Reforms

Finally, the audience commented that we do not need a new organization, but that efficiency is incredibly important in existing organizations. Existing organizations need to be reformed. And how do we protect Sweden’s influence in these organizations? The outcome in majority decisons are not in our favor.

To summarize, the report had high ambitions and the authors admitted that they were powered by intellectual honesty rather than conforming to politically feasible solutions. Time will tell how the report is implemented but it gave a refreshingly sharp analysis of the political development over the past years.