Global governance is a major question surrounding the Rising BRICSAM at least as we see it at the BRICSAM Community Portal. It’s necessary to understand the organizational and institutional history of global organizations and institutions to appreciate fully the possible roles of BRICSAM. A useful article to aid such understanding comes from my old friend (and I do mean old since the friendship goes back to the world of Cornell undergraduate in the ‘Age of Revolution.’) Arthur A. Stein at UCLA. In his “Neoliberal Institutionalism” appearing in the forthcoming (in fact Amazon is telling me that it will be out in September) Oxford Handbook on International Relations (full cite below) undertakes an intellectual history of international organizations. Early on Art makes clear the evolution and path of the subfield of international organization. As he argues, “The original post-1945 focus was on international organizations, concrete entities with a physical presence - names, addresses, etc. …This rather narrow conceptualization was broadened with a focus on regimes, defined “principles, norms, rules and decision-making procedures around which actor expectations converge in a given issue-area.” As Art argues, this analytic distinction between international organization and international regime was ’sharpened’ when the terminology of international regime was replaced by international relations specialists with the term - international institutions. According to Art, this change in nomenclature was driven by ‘these’ IR specialists for it enabled them to, “connect intellectually with the reemergence of the study of institutions in economics, political science and sociology.” I’m more than aware that this more IR than most would want to know. The bottom line, however, is that international organization and international institutions do have different meanings with organizations generally focused on the ‘bricks and mortar’ and formal character of these entities and institutions extending the meaning to principles, rules and norms and often to informal entities or as economist, and Nobel Laureate, Douglass North defined it, and quoted in Art’s chapter, “the rules of the game in a society, or more formally, [the] humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction.”

So we can conclude that global governance covers quite a broad swath of - organizations and institutions - and the BRICSAM may be very involved in global governance but in entities that are not obvious. I would also raise regional governance organizations. These organizations are frequently multilateral (in contrast here to just bilateral relations) but geographically delimited though as an organization like APEC (Asia-Pacific Cooperation) reveals that regional governance can be quite broad as well. What is interesting in current international relations regional and global governance organizations coexist, sometimes uneasily, but nevertheless do coexit often creating overlapping clubs.

Art in his chapter does raise the phenomenon of competing and overlapping organizations and institutions (I’ll come back to this in a moment.). Those IR specialists who focus on global governance, became known as neoliberal institutionalists, neoliberals or even liberal institutionalists. And these specialists grappled with realist perspectives that argued such institutions were mere epiphenomenon masking states and Great power actions. But that battle seems to have been won by liberal institutionalists though new battles have arisen to replace the rather too abstract structural analysis.

Of the new battles, particularly as a result of demands for reform, there is a critical debate over ‘effectiveness.’ This is closely tied to a related discussion over global governance and the current distribution of power with the organizations and institutions. Thus, in the persistent calls for UN Security Council (SC) reform, there were frequent references to the inadequacy of the P5 and the need to widen representation (with and without the veto) on the SC. Much paper was spent in examining which of the BRICSAM should have a place at this most important of global security organizations. This legitimacy cum effectiveness debate has, however, ‘run aground.’ But the debate over the growing mismatch of distribution of power and the consequent legitimacy and effectiveness explanations of global governance organizations goes on.

Meanwhile another structural battle has emerged. Liberal institutionalists like G. John Ikenberry at Woodrow Wilson, Princeton University, have generally applauded the creation of new organizations and institutions - seeing both as thickening bonds of cooperative ties among the Great powers. In other words, ‘the more the better.’ This perspective has been recently challenged (you can read the debate in “Can the World be Governed? Possibilities for Effective Multilateralism“) by Dan Drezner, Fletcher School, Tufts University, IR professor and a well known blogger. Dan has directly challenged this view and argued that the creation of these overlapping and duplicative global governance organizations enables Great powers to forum shop for those organizations where a better outcome is likely thus placing power politics squarely in the liberal institutionalist web of organizations and institutions. But again the structural battle has direct relevance to the Rising BRICSAM. And we shall go there.

Christian Reus-Smit and Duncan Snidal, eds., Oxford Handbook on International Relations (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008)

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.