Global Democracy: The Struggle for Political and Civil Rights in the 21st Century
Vanderbilt University Press
Review by Ronald J. Glossop, November 18, 2010
Didier Jacobs, Special Advisor to the President of Oxfam America, puts forth the view that the democratic ideal--the view that all members of a community should have equal say in determining the policies of that community--is already at work producing effects in the global community. Jacobs believes that this democratic ideal which moved Britain toward greater political equality in the 19th century, is now being applied at the global level. Global democracy is "an idea whose time has come" (p. 3). Consequently, the task now confronting humanity is not the development of completely new global political institutions, not the creation of a totally new democratic world federation, but rather merely democratizing the many intergovernmental institutions which already exist to deal with the problems of the world community.
Jacobs argues that there are three forces at work moving the world toward a global democracy. One is the growth of a global movement for social justice incorporated in a transnational network of civil society organizations. A second force is the economic development of populous poor and middle-income countries such as Brazil, China, India, and Russia. The third is "the enlightened faction of the ‘global upper class'" who will "accept reform of globalization in order to save it" and who "tend to be strong supporters of civil and political rights" (p. 4).
The book is divided into three parts: "Part I - Understanding Global Democracy" deals with defining basic terms such as "global village" and "global community," "government" and "governance," "democracy," "federalism" and "confederalism," "sovereignty," "competencies" and "subsidiarity," "functionalism" and "regionalism." "Part II – Choosing Global Democracy" discusses the alternative viewpoints of "benevolent imperialism," "nationalism," "multilateralism," "localism," and "global democracy." "Part III – Applying Global Democracy" contains chapters on "Promotion of Peace and Security," "Promotion of Civil and Political Rights," "Promotion of Economic and Social Rights," and "Protection of the Global Environment."
Humans are increasingly living in a global village (that is, a group of people subject to common, global policies and laws) but for many the sense of global community, which involves a sense of togetherness and solidarity, is only gradually taking root. But "on paper, we already have a strong global community" (p. 15) as is evidenced by various world institutions, international treaties, and global efforts to address natural disasters. The problem is that current policy-making for the global community reveals a global apartheid which the movement for global democracy will need to overcome.
Jacobs notes that there are three paradigms about how the global community could legitimately be governed. The first is world federalism, a prescriptive paradigm which he says lacks a clear vision on how to move from the existing system to the democratic federation being advocated. The second paradigm is "governance without government." There are many global actors, both governmental and private, whose decisions can have global repercussions, but there is no central authority. Nevertheless rules exist, and some actors can obtain self-compliance from others. There is an atomization of power which supposedly is the basis of a new kind of democracy. The United Nations and its related agencies constitute an important part of the global governance system, but it is denied the term "government" on grounds that it lacks the democratically elected parliament which is taken as normative for those in the Western tradition. But, objects Jacobs, the existing global governance system is anything but democratic, and not just because no elected world parliament exists. Despite all the international organizations and treaties, the real power in the world belongs to the United States and its European allies. The claim that the governance-without-government ideal is "democratic" because of the atomization of power in the global village is "almost ludicrous" (p.29).
"Cosmopolitan democracy," the third paradigm, which Jacobs champions, "can be described as a synthesis of world federalism and ‘governance without government'" (p. 40). It supposes that the distinction between territorial political states and other kinds of international institutions "becomes increasingly blurred as international institutions gain autonomy and acquire the attributes of states" (p. 40). It "predicts that the institutional architecture of the global village will evolve and increase in complexity" and "combines representative notions of democracy with new forms of participation, including direct participation of citizen groups in international institutions" (p. 40) Jacobs suggests that the global community "might come to increasingly resemble medieval Europe . . . before the notion of the sovereign state took root thanks to the 1648 Treaties of Westphalia" (p. 41).
Addressing himself to the distinction world federalists emphasize between a federation and a confederation, Jacobs says that for all nations but a few very rich and powerful ones, "world federalism is already a reality" (p. 42) in the sense that these other nations must go along with whatever the rich and powerful decide. As a base for his discussion, Jacobs distinguishes between three types of collective political organizations. In weak confederations, the most common type, member-states can opt out of any collective decisions but they can't stop the others from making such decisions. In strong confederations members have a veto over group decisions but, at least in theory, can't opt out once a decision is made. This is the situation for the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and all members the European Union on important issues. In federations members have no veto power and no opt-out rights. Jacobs notes that the non-permanent members of the U.N. Security are in fact in a federation. So are the members of the European Union for many decisions. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are federations for all members except the United States, which has enough votes to veto those decisions which require a supermajority. In federations the weighting of the votes is very important while in confederations it is rather unimportant. It is noteworthy that "the United States does not belong to any federation; it is never forced to adopt global public policies that it does not endorse" (pp. 46-47). But the national sovereignty of most states is very limited because they "have no choice but to accept public policies decided by key intergovernmental organizations . . . " (p.51).
Jacobs argues that the notion of "national sovereignty" is not some kind of absolute thing that all nation-states automatically have. It is rather the result of a collective political decision of national governments about whether a given political entity has an independent foreign policy and thus should be allowed to sign treaties and send representatives to intergovernmental organizations. Does Taiwan or the Cooks Islands in the Pacific have national sovereignty? That depends on what other national governments allow at the U.N. or in other international organizations. Actual power obviously makes a difference, but "even the United States accepts rules it does not like . . . in exchange for similar concessions by its trading partners" in a decision-making forum which it has decided to join (p. 57).
As a matter of fact, in most situations there are levels of government—local, county, state or province, national, sub-regional, regional, and global. What matters is which level is competent in which public policy area. In unitary nation-states, it is the national level that is most important, but in federally organized countries the states or provinces can be competent on some issues. Furthermore, nation-states may turn their policies in some areas over to regional or international organizations such as the European Union or NATO. The different functions of government such as raising money, establishing regulations, and spending money can be given to different levels of government or even to some nongovernmental organizations. A key issue is which level of government has competence to determine where competence is exercised. At the present time nation-states generally exercise this power of determining competence, but "as the global community solidifies, sharing the competence over competence may become necessary to the development of global democracy" (p. 62). Jacobs argues that "sharing the competence over competence should remain voluntary" (p. 62) and, contrary to the view of world federalists, should never be imposed by a higher level of government.
For Jacobs the existence of international regional organizations such as the European Union and functional organizations such as the World Trade Organization shows how complex global governance already is, and the complexity is likely to increase in the future. Such organizations can provide a locus for greater democracy at the global level.
In Part II Jacobs describes and evaluates what he sees as possible alternatives to global democracy as the ideal policy for the global community. The first is "benevolent imperialism": the U.S., maybe assisted by allies, would use its military and economic power "to promote democracy, human rights, peace, and free trade in the world" (p.69), and Islamist terrorists with a similar viewpoint would use their power to advance their opposing values. But power corrupts (p. 70) and opposing imperialists feed off one another, leading to ever more the violence in the world. The second is "nationalism" or "realism": leaders of countries should use whatever power they possess to advance the interests of their own country with no ethical concerns about others. The result of this approach is a continuing struggle for power and control which can arouse resentment and which doesn't advance the welfare of the world community as a whole. The third alternative is "multilateralism" or "liberal internationalism": use the existing international institutions to deal with global problems. The problems with this approach are that these institutions allow nations to opt out of or even halt international efforts to deal with global problems and that these institutions perpetuate a double standard among the peoples of the world concerning whether their problems warrant attention or not. The fourth ideal is "localism": emphasize local efforts for sustainable development and human rights for all while opposing all aspects of globalization and any increase in the influence of existing international institutions. The problems with this approach are that it relies too much on getting the right local leaders into positions of influence and it lacks a coherent vision of how to realistically advance its goals at the global level.
Jacobs own proposal of "global democracy" involves applying "key concepts of liberal representative democracy to the global level of government" (p. 94). The development of the European Union provides the model for what should be done at the global level. It would be based on following nine institutional features. (1) Two-tiered institutions should be created where some pioneering states are allowed to "take on deeper commitments to international cooperation" than other members (p. 95). (2) All members should have the right to not join or to secede from any intergovernmental organization as a way to check any excessive power of such organizations. (3) All members should have the limited right (that is, with the consent of the other members) to opt out on certain decisions without totally seceding from that organization. (4) The right to veto should be avoided in second-tier organizations except for adopting constitutional amendments. (5) Nations wanting to join second-tier organizations must comply with minimum standards for civil and political rights. (6) Membership in second-tier organizations should be open all all. (7) Decisions in second-tier organizations should be based on majority voting where all persons are equally represented (except for supermajorities for constitutional amendments). (8) Second-tier organizations should have independent judicial organs which can overrule decisions made by national courts. (9) Separate functional intergovernmental organizations should be progressively consolidated to form general organizations which deal with several public policy areas at the same time.
Aiming to be impartial, Jacobs provides five general criticisms that might be advanced against his global democracy proposal. (1) The proposed move toward federalism tends to reduce the diversity of public policies. (2) Global democracy would rely on continuous support from a critical mass of nations, so it would depend on having the right leaders in at least some powerful countries. (3) Global democracy would mean a great shift in power and wealth from rich countries to people in populous poor countries (but that is a good thing from an ethical point of view). (4) Global democracy could be dangerous in failing to deal with threats such as international terrorism and proliferation of nuclear weapons (but new kinds of international institutions would be able to deal with such threats in new ways). (5) A global democracy that protects civil and political rights might still not do all that should be done for the disadvantaged in the global community.
In Part III Jacobs describes how global democracy's complex of national governments, intergovernmental organizations, and civil society organizations could deal with the problems of peace and security, human rights, and sustainable economic development. For peace the U.N. Security Council and regional organizations such as the African Union would be the first-tier organizations while an expanded NATO or European Union would be a second-tier organization to address this issue. Ideally the United States would be a leader in this organization, but another possibility would be a defensively-oriented expanded NATO without the United States. Jacobs describes in detail how these organizations would be more able to stop both international and civil wars than the existing system. He also discusses the forces that would support the development of global democratic organizations to address the problems of peace and security.
In addressing the issue of human rights, Jacobs emphasizes the desirability (but not the necessity) of having representatives in international organizations elected directly by the people rather than being appointed by national governments. At the same time human rights within nations can be advanced by having human-rights entry tests for national governments which want to join second-tier international organizations.
On the issue of sustainable economic development, Jacobs focuses on the World Trade Organization and the need to make it more democratic rather than being so much under the control of a few rich countries. On the matter of free-trade globalization versus national protectionism, Jacobs says one must deal with particular situations rather than the broad philosophical question. In great detail Jacobs shows how "the WTO has achieved world federalism by stealth" (p. 157). But it is not democratic. In fact, the WTO "institutionalizes inequality between poor and rich countries" (p. 158). In order to get the WTO in line with the principles of global democracy, it would need to (1) adopt a new voting system where all individuals are equally represented and where decisions are made by majority rule on specific issues rather than consensus on package deals, and (2) adopt a human rights entry test to be in the organization. Jacobs discusses in detail the probable consequences of such changes and shows how they would not be as dangerous to richer countries as sometimes thought. He notes that another desirable but not necessary change to bring the WTO into conformity with the ideal of global democracy would be the development of an elected parliamentary assembly. Such an assembly would allow sub-national interests to influence global decision-making. Jacobs details the ways that various interests could be protected in a more democratic WTO. He believes that global civil society, rising middle-income nations, and the enlightened elites in the rich countries are already struggling against the "democratic deficit" of the WTO, but it is uncertain whether they will succeed in making changes.
Jacobs examines what global democracy would mean for policies on international finance, migration, and foreign aid. He also deals with protection of the environment noting that "most environmental issues are instrinsically bound to specific territories" (p.183) and are thus best dealt with by local, national, or regional organizations. The global commons (oceans, atmosphere, outer space, and Antarctica), on the other hand, need to be protected by international organizations, which already exist. The free-rider problem is particularly prevalent in the environmental area. One way of dealing with it is to have organizations like the WTO take on the issue of protecting the environment. In fact, one might go a step further and have "a single global democratic intergovernmental organization dealing with all global public policy areas," (p. 186) a proposal dear to the hearts of world federalists. Jacobs notes that "as long as negotiations take place among national governments that are supposed to defend national interests, in isolation from other global public policy issues, it will be very difficult to overcome the collective action problem" (p. 188). "A decision would be made more easily if it took place within a global parliament dealing with environmental as well as other global public policies and making decisions by majority rule" (p. 189).
In his concluding chapter Jacobs puts forth "take-away lessons" for five different audiences. To the activists he says: (1) institutions matter, (2) a concrete vision of global democracy (such as he is providing) is needed, (3) escalate the rhetoric about "global democracy," and (4) don't neglect the issue of global security (peace). He encourages the leaders of the poor and middle-income countries to move beyond nationalism to challenge the apartheid nature of existing international organizations. He urges European federalists to extend their vision for democracy beyond Europe to the whole world. He wants American neoconservatives to recognize that "democracy is as important at the global level of government as it is at the national level" (p.199). He challenges American Democrats to recognize that the promotion of global democracy is "the foreign policy project that they have direly missed in past elections" (p. 200).
Didier Jacobs' Global Democracy with its detailed discussions and cogent arguments is a noteworthy contribution to serious thinking about where our global community is and where it should be aiming to go.