Many call it a ‘revolution’ in global governance.  Now it is possible to debate the consequences of declaring the G20, “the premier forum for our international economic cooperation,” as the Leaders did at the Pittsburgh G20 Leaders Summit but this declaration caps at least the next step in the Gx process. 

Few remember but the Gx process harkens back to the mid 1970s that first emerged as the G5 Finance Ministers and soon created the Leaders Summit - G5, G6, G7 and then by the 1990s the G7/8.  The ‘Club of the Rich’ possibly but the annual Leaders Summit was a club like no other. 

Now the Gx process has crowned the crisis-generated G20 Leaders Summit as the new ‘steering committee’ for economic global governance.  This G20 Leaders Summit was created out economic crisis but hardly what I’d call  (see the previous blog post, A Persistent Political Order in Global Governance) global economic collapse.  Even the Pittsburgh announcement – declared at the ‘tail end’ of the Great Recession – and therefore fitting more closely a time of ‘monumental change’ as identified by Princeton’s John Ikenberry, is itself but the most recent and some would say the more legitimate version of the Gx Leaders club. 

But the dynamics of institutional change and renewal don’t seem to neatly fit the concept of war and economic collapse remake.  Indeed, a wholesale remake of the global trade GATT occurred in the 1990s and the WTO was the product of that major refashioning.   The WTO – created neither after war or economic collapse – does provide clues to some of the dynamics of international governance.  Starting with the Seattle Ministerial in 1999 and more evidently as the Doha Round has churned year after year without conclusion, the structure of the organization highlights some of the difficulty of global governance.  Certainly the GATT and early WTO were led by a small committee of the global trading system.  Called the ‘green room’ this small ‘executive’ of mostly the key trading states, have come undone.  Driven by consensus and the member country mandate, developing countries insisted that the green room was illegitimate and unable to act as negotiating committee for the entire membership. Particularly in the face of: “the Single Undertaking,” the WTO has struggled to devise a negotiating process and outcome.

This failure at the WTO is just the most recent example of what I’ve come to call – ‘The Tyranny of Universality.’  Of course key UN agencies are evident examples of such tyranny of universality.  A key recent example of this ‘tyranny’ is the Copenhagen process for climate change.  The result of this demand for universality has been the creation of the MEM and now the Major Economies Form (MEF).  The consequence of such universal decision-making is that new organizations – mostly informal – like the MEF – and notably the Gx process have been created to deal with these critical global governance issues. 

In fact there is a continuum from universalism and legitimacy to clubs and functional interest.  More on that soon.

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