the democratic deficit
CRUCIAL aspect of the rising disaffection with globalization is
the lack of citizen participation in the global institutions that
shape people's daily lives. This public frustration is deeper and
broader than the recent street demonstrations in Seattle and Prague.
Social commentators and leaders of citizens' and intergovernmental
organizations are increasingly taking heed. Over the past 18 months,
President Clinton has joined with the secretary-general of the United
Nations, the director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO),
the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF),
and the president of the World Bank to call for greater citizen
participation in the international order.
to date, these parties have not clearly articulated a general vision
of how best to integrate a public role into international institutions.
So in the absence of a planned design, attempts to democratize the
international system have been ad hoc, as citizen organizations
and economic elites create their own mechanisms of influence. In
domestic politics, interest-group pluralism flourishes within a
parliamentary system of representation. In global politics, interest-group
pluralism is growing, but no unifying parliament represents the
public interest. This state of affairs cannot last in a world where
the prevailing understanding of democracy does not accept the fact
that unelected interest groups can speak for the citizenry as a
whole. Any serious attempt to challenge the democratic deficit must
therefore consider creating some type of popularly elected global
body. Before globalization, such an idea would have been considered
utopian. Now, the clamor of citizens to participate internationally
can no longer be ignored. The only question is what form this participation
Decision-making goes global
THIS CLAMOR lies a profound shift in power. Thanks to trade, foreign
direct investment, and
capital flows, globalization
is dispersing political authority throughout the international order.
International governance is no longer limited to such traditional
fare as defining international borders, protecting diplomats, and
proscribing the use of force. Many issues of global policy that
directly affect citizens are now being shaped by the international
system. Workers can lose their jobs as a result of decisions made
at the WTO or within regional trade regimes. Consumers must contend
with a market in which state-prescribed protections such as the
European ban on hormone-fed beef can be overridden by WTO regulations.
Patients who need medicines pay prices influenced by WTO-enforced
patent rules, which allow pharmaceutical companies to monopolize
drug pricing. Most of the 23 million sub-Saharan Africans who have
tested positive for the AIDS virus cannot afford the drugs most
effective in treating their illness. They will die much sooner as
the half of the world's population that lives on less than $ 2 a
day, governmental social safety nets have been weakened by IMF decisions.
The globalized economy has not meaningfully reduced poverty despite
a long period of sustained growth. Economic inequality is on the
rise, as is the marginalization of regions not perceived as attractive
trading partners or "efficient" recipients of investment.
Furthermore, environmental trends pose severe dangers that can be
successfully dealt with only through global action and treaties.
Against such a background, it is little wonder that people who believe
they possess a democratic entitlement to participate in decisions
that affect their lives are now starting to demand their say in
the international system. And global civil society has thus far
been their voice as they attempt to have this say.
Civil Society's global presence
SOCIETY, made up of nonprofit organizations and voluntary associations
dedicated to civic, cultural, humanitarian, and social causes, has
begun to act as an independent international force. The largest
and most prominent of these organizations include Amnesty International,
Greenpeace, Oxfam, and the International Committee of the Red Cross;
in addition, the U.N. now lists more than 3,000 civil society groups.
the 1990s, these transnational forces effectively promoted treaties
to limit global warming, establish an international criminal court,
and outlaw antipersonnel land mines. These same actors also helped
persuade the International Court of Justice to render an advisory
opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons and defeat a multilateral
investment agreement. More recently, civil groups mounted a drive
to cancel the foreign debts of the world's poorest countries. Although
these efforts remain works in progress, civil society to date has
been indispensable in furthering them.
the early 1990s, civil society's organizations began visibly cooperating
at large international conferences of states. When conservative
political pressures forced an end to these conferences, civil society
began to coalesce to act cohesively and independently in the international
arena. For example, 8,000 individuals representing civil society
organizations met in May 1999 at the Hague Appeal for Peace to shape
strategy and agree on a common agenda. Among those attending were
such luminaries as Nobel Peace Prize winners Desmond Tutu, Jose
Ramos-Horta, and Jody Williams. Similar smaller meetings in South
Korea, Canada, Germany, and elsewhere followed.
meetings were a prelude to the Millennium NGO Forum held at the
United Nations in May 2000, to which U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan invited 1,400 individuals representing international civil
society groups to present views on global issues and citizen participation
in decision-making. The forum agreed to establish a permanent assembly
of civil society organizations, mandated to meet at least every
two to three years, before the U.N. General Assembly annual session.
Although it is still to be realized, such a forum might earn recognition
over time as an important barometer of world public opinion -- and
a preliminary step toward creating a global parliament. Regardless
of how this specific forum develops, civil society will continue
to institutionalize itself into an independent and cohesive force
within the international system.
The corporate movers
expanding trade and investment, business and banking leaders have
also exercised extraordinary influence on global policy. Even in
formerly exclusive arenas of state action, these private-sector
actors are making a mark. For example, Secretary-General Annan has
made "partnering" with the business community a major
hallmark of his leadership. The United Nations has now established
a formal business advisory council to formalize a permanent relationship
between the corporate community and the U.N.
with citizen groups, elite business participation in the international
system is becoming institutionalized. The best example is the World
Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In the 1980s, the WEF transformed
itself from an organization devoted to humdrum management issues
into a dynamic political forum. Once a year, a thousand of the world's
most powerful business executives get together with another thousand
of the world's senior policymakers to participate in a week of roundtables
and presentations. The WEF also provides ongoing arenas for discussion
and recommendations on shaping global policy. It is notable that
Annan's ideas about a U.N. partnership with the business community
have been put forward and endorsed during his frequent appearances
at Davos. In addition, the WEF also conducts and disseminates its
own research, which not surprisingly shows a consistently neoliberal
outlook. For example, it produces a well-publicized annual index
ranking the relative economic competitiveness of all countries in
the world. The Davos assembly and overlapping networks of corporate
elites, such as the International Chamber of Commerce, have been
successful in shaping compatible global policies. Their success
has come in the expansion of international trade regimes, the modest
regulation of capital markets, the dominance of neoliberal market
philosophy, and the supportive collaboration of most governments,
especially those of rich countries.
Pondering a global parliment
CIVIL SOCIETY still cannot match the resources and power linkages
of the corporate and banking communities. But many civil society
groups have carved out niches within the international order from
which to influence decision-making by relying on imagination and
information. The evolution of these two networks -- civil and business
-- has been largely uncoordinated, and it remains unclear how they
could fit together in a functionally coherent and representative
form of global governance. Neither can claim to represent citizenry
as a whole. As global civil society acquires a greater international
presence, its critics are already challenging its claims to represent
the public interest. The charge of illegitimacy has even greater
resonance when leveled at corporate and banking elites, who do not
speak for organizations.
that the global system is increasingly held up to democratic standards
-- and often comes up short -- those people who find their policy
preferences rejected are unlikely to accept the system's determination
as legitimate, and the democratic deficit will remain a problem.
Only when citizen and business interests work together within an
overarching representative body can they achieve policy accommodations
that will be seen as legitimate. For the first time, a widely recognized
global democratic forum could consider environmental and labor standards
and deliberate on economic justice from the perspectives of both
North and South. Even an initially weak assembly could offer some
democratic oversight of international organizations such as the
IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank.
the United Nations, this assembly would not be constituted by states.
Because its authority would come directly from the global citizenry,
it could refute the claim that states are bound only by laws to
which they give their consent. Henceforth, the ability to opt out
of collective efforts to protect the environment, control or eliminate
weapons, safeguard human rights, or otherwise protect the global
community could be challenged.
addition, the assembly could encourage compliance with established
international norms and standards, especially in human rights. The
international system currently lacks reliable mechanisms to implement
many of its laws. Organizations such as Amnesty International, Human
Rights Watch, and even the International Labor Organization attempt
to hold states accountable by exposing their failures of compliance,
relying on a process often referred to as the "mobilization
of shame." In exercising such oversight, a popularly elected
global assembly would be more visible and credible than are existing
watchdogs who expose corporate and governmental wrongdoing.
assembly's very existence would also help promote the peaceful resolution
of international conflicts.
elected delegates would represent individuals and society instead
of states, they would not have to vote along national lines. Coalitions
would likely form on other bases, such as world-view, political
orientation, and interests. Compromises among such competing but
non-militarized coalitions might eventually undermine reliance on
the current war system, in which international decisions are still
made by heavily armed nations that are poised to destroy one another.
In due course, international relations might more closely resemble
policymaking within the most democratic societies of the world.
All those in favour
SPITE of its advantages, would the formation of such an assembly
threaten established state and business interests so much that its
creation would become politically untenable? The European Union's
experience suggests otherwise. Established by states -- and with
little initial authority -- the transnationally elected European
Parliament has now become powerful enough to help close a regional
with the early European parliament, a relatively weak assembly initially
equipped with largely advisory powers could begin to address concerns
about the democratic deficit while posing only a long-term threat
to the realities of state power. Systemic transformation of world
order that would largely affect successors would not significantly
threaten those political leaders who are inclined to embrace democratic
ideals. Indeed, it might even appeal to them.
these humble origins, the assembly would have the potential to become
an extremely important fixture of the global architecture. Upon
the assembly's inception, civil society organizations would almost
certainly lobby it to issue supportive resolutions. Groups who opposed
such resolutions could shun the process, but that is not likely:
they would concede the support of the world's only elected democratic
body. Over time, as the assembly became the practical place for
clashing interests to resolve differences, formal powers would likely
business leaders would certainly oppose a global parliament because
it would broaden popular decision making and likely press for transnational
regulations. But others are coming to believe that the democratic
deficit must be closed by some sort of stakeholder accommodation.
After all, many members of the managerial class who were initially
hostile to such reform came to realize that the New Deal -- or its
social-democratic equivalent in Europe -- was necessary to save
capitalism. Many business leaders today similarly agree that democratization
is necessary to make globalization politically acceptable throughout
the recent large street protests suggested, globalization has yet
to achieve grassroots acceptance and legitimacy. To date, its main
claim to popular support is not political but economic: it has either
delivered or convincingly promised to deliver the economic goods
to enough people to keep the anti-globalization forces from mounting
an effective challenge. But economic legitimacy alone can rarely
stabilize a political system for long. Market-based economic systems
have historically undergone ups and downs, particularly when first
forming. The financial crisis that almost triggered a world financial
meltdown a few years ago will not be the last crisis to emerge out
of globalization. Future economic failures are certain to generate
in the wings in the United States and elsewhere are politicians,
ultranationalists, and an array of opportunists on both the left
and the right who, if given an opening, would seek to dismantle
the global system.
global parliament is therefore likely to serve as an attractive
alternative to those people who, out of enlightened self-interest
or even public-spiritedness, wish to see the international system
become more open and democratic.
Making it happen
the raw political potential for a global assembly may exist, it
is not enough. Some viable way needs to be found for this potential
to be realized, and it can most likely be found in the new diplomacy.
Unlike traditional diplomacy, which has been solely an affair among
states, new diplomacy makes room for flexible and innovative coalitions
between civil society and receptive states. The major success stories
of global civil society in the 1990s -- the Kyoto global warming
treaty, the convention banning land mines, and the International
Criminal Court -- were produced in this manner. Civil society, aided
by receptive states, could create the assembly without resorting
to a formal treaty process.
this approach, the assembly would not be formally sanctioned by
states, so governments would probably contest its legitimacy at
the outset. But this opposition could be neutralized to some extent
by widespread grassroots and media endorsement. Citizens in favor
could make their voices heard through popular, fair, and serious
approach would rely on a treaty, using what is often called the
"single negotiating text method." After consultations
with sympathetic parties from civil society, business, and nation-states,
an organizing committee could generate the text of a proposed treaty
establishing an assembly. This text could serve as the basis for
negotiations. Civil society could then organize a public relations
campaign and persuade states (through compromise if necessary) to
sign the treaty. As in the process that ultimately led to the land
mines convention, a small core group of supportive states could
lead the way. But unlike that treaty, which required 40 countries
to ratify it before taking effect, a relatively small number of
countries (say, 20) could provide the founding basis for such an
assembly. This number is only a fraction of what would be needed
for the assembly to have
some claim to global democratic
legitimacy. But once the assembly became operational, the task of
gaining additional state members would likely become easier. A concrete
organization would then exist that citizens could urge their governments
to join. As more states joined, pressure would grow on nonmember
states to participate. The assembly would be incorporated into the
evolving international constitutional order. If it gained members
and influence over time, as expected, its formal powers would have
to be redefined. It would also have to work out its relationship
with the U.N. One possibility would be to associate with the General
Assembly to form a bicameral world legislature.
pressures to democratize the international system are part of an
evolutionary social process that will persist and intensify. The
two dominant themes of the post -- Cold War years are globalization
and democratization. It is often said that the world is rapidly
creating an integrated global political economy, and that national
governments that are not freely elected lack political legitimacy.
It is paradoxical, then, that a global debate has not emerged on
resolving the contradiction between a commitment to democracy and
an undemocratic global order.
tension may be the result of political inertia or a residual belief
that ambitious world-governance proposals are utopian. But whatever
the explanation, this contradiction is spurring citizen groups and
business and financial elites to take direct actions to realize
their aspirations. Their initiatives have created an autonomous
dynamic of ad hoc democratization. As this process continues to
move along with globalization, pressures for a coherent democratic
system of global governance will intensify. Political leaders will
find it more difficult to win citizen acquiescence to unaccountable
policies that extend globalization's reach into peoples' lives.
To all those concerned about social justice and the creation of
a humane global order, a democratic alternative to an ossified,
state-centered system is becoming ever more compelling.