Global Governance is here to Stay

Defining global governance can be very difficult. Dingwerth and Pattberg (2006) have argued that this is so because “global governance is all over the place!”(Dingwerth & Pattberg, 2006, p. 185). This concept can be associated with many things, whether an observable phenomena, such as an international nongovernmental organization’s (INGO) worldwide campaign against corruption, or political visions expressed as calls for a more powerful international legal system, or simply through ubiquitous references (Dingwerth & Pattberg, 2006, p.185).  In a market system in which financial institutions are internationally connected and funds and investments flow around the world electronically, a debt crisis in the Aegean or the Antipodes can immediately affect far-flung sites and actors. In a world in which diseases can become global challenges in a matter of days, and in which ethnic wars are no longer simply domestic crises, proponents of global governance argue that, “the unique dangers created by globalization can be solved by a gradual strengthening of existing international institutions and organizations” (Dingwerth & Pattberg, 2006, p. 188).  However, this contention has not gone unchallenged, especially by scholars from the Global South, who are very skeptical of the power and strength of existing international institutions and organizations.  One such analyst is South African Peter Vale, who has argued that the policies and actions of those institutions coupled with the arrival of global neoliberalism has meant only the intensification of ‘market-driven poverty’ in developing nations (Murphy, 2005, p.798).

Other scholars, meanwhile, have contended that, “contemporary global governance remains a predictable institutional response not to the interests of a fully formed class, but to the overall logic of industrial capitalism” (Murphy, 2005, p. 799). In the end, and despite the ongoing debate concerning what global governance means, most close observers agree that the concept involves the interaction and regulation of activities at the international level. All evidence points to the fact that events of the past two decades have created a need for more governance capability at the global scale, so this controversy is unlikely to abate any time soon.

Indeed, international organizations (IOs) have never been more central to world politics than they are today. At least 238 IO’s are currently at work on nearly every imaginable global issue (Barnett and Finnemore, 2004, p. 1).  Recent years have witnessed a rapid rise in the need for global governance institutions to address major challenges that cannot be managed by nation-states: border conflicts, pandemics, and the quest for liberalization—be it political or economic—among other concerns. In their book, The Politics of Global Governance, Diehl and Frederking (2010) have suggested that, “global governance is a concept necessary to address the complex issues of a globalized world; a world where sovereign nations cannot individually respond to problems that span national borders” (Diehl & Frederking, 2010, p.313). These authors have argued further that, “the globalization of diseases, the shifting in power structures of government, the concern for security in a politically unstable world. … And the increasing roles of civil society and the commercial sectors in global health” (Diehl & Frederking, 2010, p. 313) are reasons why there is a high demand for global institutions to manage these problems. All of these trends have surely contributed to the rise of global governance, but one phenomenon that has spurred this trend particularly is the amalgamation of the international economic sector, spearheaded by the Bretton Woods Institutions (International Monetary Fund (IMF) and The World Bank (WB)).  In this regard, Craig Murphy has observed that if there is one global polity, its dominant ideology now is surely liberalism, both economic and political (Murphy, 2005, p. 792), spurred by the activities of these organizations.

Most of Eastern Europe, Russia, and parts of Latin America, and Africa, whether as a result of IO dictates or choice, joined the neoliberal capitalist bandwagon in the 1990s. A majority of them opened their borders and liberalized their markets, ushering in a new wave of globalization. Nearly all of the restructuring of these economies was and is still being overseen by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, two of the most powerful of the public institutions of global governance. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the IMF recognized that some low-income countries needed highly concessional financial support on a longer-term basis than it was able to provide through its existing financing mechanisms. It therefore set up the Structural Adjustment Facility and the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (IMF, 1997). The IMF and the World Bank set out certain preconditions to receive loans via these entities and lately has systematized criteria that nations must meet to be considered for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt forgiveness program.

To qualify for the HIPC, a country must implement a supervised structural adjustment program for three years (previously six years) prior to receiving such support. These policies were implemented as Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). The SAPs called for drastic reductions in social expenditure, export development, broad opening of markets through the elimination of customs barriers, and general liberalization of economies. Adjustment Programs also routinely have called for the abolition of capital movement and exchange controls, protection of capital revenues, and massive privatization of previously public companies. Structural adjustment has fundamentally transformed the roles of developing nation governments, thereby directly and indirectly increasing the involvement of non-governmental organizations in the governance of these countries. Critics of these efforts, including Murphy, have argued that, increasingly, as a consequence of neoliberal marketization, the services once provided by government institutions are now contracted to private, non-governmental, often ‘social movement’-style, organizations (Murphy, 2005, p. 792).

In addition to expressions of concern among many scholars regarding this trend, other events have highlighted the need for more effective global governance. A good example would be the inaction of the international community in the wake of the Rwandan genocide. Almost 1 million people were hacked to death by their fellow countrymen, despite the fact that “ample early warnings [were] provided to the UN Secretariat and the Security Council by its own officers in the field” (Murphy, 2005, p. 791).  The international community’s failure to act in this horrific situation raised the issue for many of the moral sufficiency of contemporary global governance.

These important concerns notwithstanding, international organizations have pressed ahead with key responsibilities in global governance in peacekeeping, development, and humanitarianism, among other domains. These entities have developed new policy ideas and programs, managed crises, and set priorities for shared activities that would not exist otherwise (Barnett & Finnemore, 1999, p. 156). International organizations such as the United Nations today play a very important role in global governance: they develop policies, rules and regulations that seek to protect the rights of minorities, children, and women, just to name a few. Some argue that the United Nations can and should do more than what it is doing now—that the organization should work more with states to make sure that the policies for which it is responsible are actually fully implemented.

All of this said, whatever one thinks of global governance, it is likely here to stay, for good or ill. Some detractors, including Murphy and Vale (2005) have pointed to the IMF and WB’s neoliberalization of the Global South as evidence of the staying power (and, in their view, negative repercussions) of international governance efforts. Other critics have argued that the United Nations has been shown too often to be ineffectual and point to the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides as examples of that body’s lack of efficacy. And finally, there are the NGO workers in the Third World, who go to places like Gunjur, The Gambia, to undertake efforts to assist women and families there to become entrepreneurs. While these NGOs are not often seen as agents of global governance, in truth, they are. Whatever one thinks of international governance, we are all globally governed now, in one way or another.


Barnett, M & Finnemore, M, (1999). The Politics, Power, and Pathologies of International Organizations. Cambridge, MA.: Cambridge University Press.

Diehl, P & Frederking, B, (2010). The Politics of Global Governance: International Organizations in an Interdependent World. Boulder, CO.: Lynne Rienner Publishing.

Dingwerth, K & Pattberg, P (2006). Global Governance as a Perspective on World Politics. Cambridge, MA.: The MIT Press for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University.

International Monetary Fund. (1997). Experience Under the IMF’s Enhanced Structural Adjustment facility. Washington, D.C.

Murphy, C. (2000). Global Governance: Poorly Done, Poorly Understood. International Affairs,76(4): 789-803

Photo Saul N'Jie2Saul N’Jie is a first year doctoral student in the Planning, Governance, and Globalization program from The Gambia, West Africa. His research focuses on the role foreign aid, governance, non-profits, NGOs, and alternative forms of development (Microfinance) in The Gambia, and Africa at large. Saul is also an adjunct professor of Political Science at Bluefield State College in West Virginia, where he teaches American National Government and Economy and Judicial Process.





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