Global governance has a conceptual approach to describe how the world works politically in an era when focus on the nation-state does not suffice.” There is purpose in the global order, and while no actor seems to control the outcomes, there are enough patterns of influence to suggest that some form of management occurs. John R. Mathiason identifies five functions that are performed by this international sector: regime creation, mobilisation of information, direct provision of certain public services, norm enforcement and internal management. Each covers a wide variety of tasks and objectives.
Samuel M. Makinda in his essay ‘Recasting Global Governance’ demonstrates that global governance can be understood from several perspectives. This he does by focusing on three themes: state sovereignty, globalisation and Western hegemony. He explains briefly the theoretical approaches, and describes how the global ‘interpretive community’ has sought to influence perceptions of global governance. He also analyses how sovereignty has evolved.
As global governance is a multifaceted process, studying it requires theoretical framework that goes beyond a single paradigm. Makinda employs a pluralist approach that is informed by insights mainly, but not exclusively, from realist, liberal and constructivist research programmes. There are several variants of realism, liberalism and constructivism.
Moreover, even when taken together, these three paradigms cannot shed light on every facet of global life. They go a long way in explaining power, order, norms and change. As Stephen Walt has argued: ‘The “complete diplomat” of the future should remain cognizant of realism’s emphasis on the inescapable role of power, keep liberalism’s awareness of domestic forces in mind, and occasionally reflect on constructivism’s vision of change’.
Realist accounts of global politics tend to emphasise how states use power to maximise their national interests. They posit that the most important international actors are sovereign states, which are rational and operate in an inherently competitive, anarchic and self-help environment. Realists assume that sovereignty makes states functionally similar. They also emphasise strategies that states devise in efforts to improve their standing in international economic competition, influence weaker states or compete for international prestige.
Thus, realists focus on military balancing and ‘positional competition’ in economic, technological and other non-military matters. They acknowledge the existence of globalisation, civil society and transnational forces, but they give no room to these in their analyses. While realism maybe helpful in highlighting the role of power and self-interest in global governance, it discounts the function of ideas, culture, institutions and norms, except as instruments in power politics.
At a glance, liberalism would appear to be the most appropriate approach to use in the study of global governance because, as Michael Doyle has observed, it is identified ‘with an essential principle, the importance of the freedom of the individual’. Liberalism would adequately explain the interactions of states, civil society, MNCs and IGOs in global governance. The liberal perspective on global politics posits that there ‘is at the minimum a heterogeneous state of peace and war’ which could ‘become a state of global peace, in which the expectation of war disappears’.
Liberals believe that IGOs, such as the UN, play a vital role in world politics. They acknowledge that ‘states live under international anarchy’, but they argue that ‘states are inherently respectful of international law’ and that ‘they do not experience a general state of war’. Liberals reject the realist claim that states are functionally similar units. Doyle, for example, has argued that states ‘are inherently different “units”, differentiated by how they relate to individual human rights’. In general, liberals believe that the interests of states extend beyond security and include the protection of human rights.
Constructivism is concerned with the way norms, rules and institutions constitute the identities and interests of states and other international actors. It claims that the structures of human association, including the international society, are determined primarily by shared ideas and culture rather than material forces. While realists claim that it is the distribution of capabilities that determines the nature of the international system, constructivists argue that those capabilities have meaning only because of the ideas we attach to them.
Constructivists claim that it is the distribution of ideas and culture that determines the shape of the international system. As constructivism focuses on the roles of norms, ideas and culture in constructing international structures, it would have plenty to say about how global governance is constituted. As already indicated, global governance is about norms and power. It is constituted by ideas, culture and material forces. It also helps generate norms, ideas and culture. Global governance involves states and non-state actors, and it affects life from the local to the global levels.