Britain’s exit from the European Union, known as the Brexit, has forced the concept of “international governance” into the spotlight by raising some very interesting issues. Where many policymakers and political figures take their knowledge of international issues for granted, much of the population appears to struggle with basic questions like “what is the European Union.” Although a good portion of the population may not fully understand international governance, they can understand how and when international governance benefits them.
International governance created standards for the rights of nations and Peoples where strong and weak nations alike enjoyed equal sovereign rights, which is the ability of nations to act without the consent of a higher authority. The prosperity of the Twentieth Century was made possible thanks to the willingness of nations within the International Community to cooperate on global security, to pursue internationally brokered diplomatic engagement instead of armed conflict, and to build the global economy. Strong nations benefited from the stability of a successful International Community and weaker nations were protected from their stronger revivals.
Recognizing the interconnected nature of the modern world, national leaders across the globe have sought to play a major role in “international governance.” In other words, the national leaders of the world embrace “internationalist” thinking. In turn, they seek to “govern the world” and develop policies that serve aggregate global interests. Unfortunately, catering to global interests leaves the local and national interests of world’s population under-represented and under-addressed, which means internationalist policies are doomed to failure. The Brexit is, partially, the result of internationalists failing to govern Great Britain for the British.
Society exists to shelter humans from the harshness of nature. Following the Second World War, world leaders stepped back and saw the human race was on the verge of extinction. Instead of focusing on every grievance and the pursuit of punitive measures, they chose to transform the world. During this time, international governance was born with the rise of the United Nations. Unfortunately, the lofty aspirations of the UN have often fallen short. Not only has the UN failed to create enforcement mechanisms for violations of “International Law,” aspirations as basic as human rights continue to be violated with impunity.
In truth, the UN is not an actual governing body. Unless countries support the principles and efforts of the United Nations, or the notion of an International Community for that matter, International Law and human rights become little more than wishful thinking. The United Nations is a forum for diplomatic engagement and the arbitration of conflict while International Law is an agreement supported and upheld by a plurality of nations. Because the UN has continually failed to address the interests and resolve the grievances of less powerful governments, many of them no longer see the value in the United Nations. Obvious, the British People see the European Union in a similar light.
During Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union ruled over a bipolar International Community where weaker nations were often forced to suppress their own national interests and orientate their policies to serve the global interests of these two superpowers. Despite the stability and prosperity of the late Twentieth Century, the governments of the world forfeited much of their sovereignty. In the post-Cold War era following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US became the hegemonic power of a monopolar world.
In the Twenty-First Century, the world has undergone democratizing and resovereignization processes that have transformed the globe back into a multipolar world. Democratization means all governments must be increasingly responsive to the needs and wants of their Peoples in order to maintain stability and sustain peace, but it also means the International Community as a collective must represent the views and address the interests of individual nations as near equals. Relative US power and influence, for example, has waned with the strengthening of the multipolar democratizing International Community of democratizing nation-states.
Under the democratization and resovereignization of the International Community, the US is not an unquestioned hegemonic dictator of global affairs. It is one nation among many that must express and address the interests of its Peoples while balancing those national interests with the interests of other nations and Peoples. Not only must countries pursue their own national interests, they must act as coequal partners with the United States and take on greater responsibility in maintaining the International Community. Because the EU was embraced to help balance US power, the need for international bodies like the EU has diminished.
Unfortunately, people and countries do not just react; they overreact. Instead of rebalancing relationships with allies to better serve our own and mutual interests, we tend to either over engage or completely disengage from the world. This is why policymakers should proactively push a recalibration of diplomatic engagement, trade relations, and military cooperation instead of abandoning international governance. The world is changing and the role of international governing bodies like the European Union is changing, but international governance still has value in the Twenty-First Century.
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