A Return to International Relations or National Perspectives of the Global?
This book comes at a very significant moment at which realist approaches to international relations have once again regained some of their lost vitality, as the world is shaken by important global challenges that have had, by contrast, a localized impact. Global challenges relating to climate change, refugee and migrant flows, development, human security, and international terrorism are felt at the local level by sudden and massive refugee flows, by international terrorist attacks, by natural disasters such as drought or flooding, or by increased labour mobility. These dramatic local expressions of global phenomena and wider transnational issues create a sense of insecurity for citizens but also national elites, who fear that events are running out of control. Returning to a Westphalian world order and reaffirming national sovereignty may seem to provide more effective and swift answers to these challenges than a global/ transnational or regional approach, which, while acknowledging interdependence, would seek common solutions through regional or global institutions, international legal frameworks, and transnational civil society action.
The Syrian refugee crisis or the jihadist terrorist attacks that have shaken Europe in 2015-16 have triggered a number of regional initiatives at the EU level that seek to increase cooperation among security services in the different countries both within and outside the EU, to organize a wider plan of refugee relocation from first arrival to other European countries, to combat migrant smuggling networks, and to provide funding and assistance to neighbouring countries for dealing with the crisis. However, these regional solutions have not been particularly effective as they have had to contend with the reluctance of state actors to agree on common (supranational) policies. More effective responses were found at national level through border closures, while public opinion in different European countries has gradually shifted from a humanitarian enthusiasm and transnational solidarity to one of fear and xenophobia.
The recent referendum in the UK (23 June 2016), in which the public voted to leave the European Union, is but one such expression of retreat from global governance, with citizens seeking protection and safety in national solutions in an international world rather than in a global governance framework. These challenges, whether they be international terrorism and refugee flows or less acute but equally important longer-term phenomena such as climate change or global inequality, are transnational in character, and seem to be better served by a world of sovereign nation states.
Contributions to this volume, particularly concerning big and powerful countries like the USA, as well as Russia and China which are fighting to (re-)affirm their pre-eminent role in terms of global influence, point to such directions. Naturally, these three cases differ in both their approaches to global governance and their understanding of their role in it.
Of these three countries, and perhaps paradoxically, it is China that engages more actively with a notion of global governance within which it neither perceives its role as a hegemonic player (like the USA) nor as a realist international relations agent within a zero-sum power game (like Russia). Indeed, after a long period of insular foreign policymaking and a reluctance to engage in the global sphere, China has gradually taken stock of its ascending economic and political power and started to adopt a more active role in the global system (see Duggall, Shen, and Gottwald, Chapter 8). The country joined the WTO in 2001 and has for the first time articulated a Chinese perspective on global governance in the mid-2000s when the then Chinese President Hu Jintao spoke of the application of the Chinese concept of 'harmonious society' to the international sphere as a 'harmonious world'. This culturally informed view of global governance borrows from the Tributary system, a system of state relations in East and South East Asia which lasted from 221 bc until the early 1800s. The Tributary system was based on the acknowledgement of unequal power relations and adopted the metaphor of a family structure to organize these relations. This family view and the strong interconnections between the internal (within China) and external (other states) aspects of the system created a sense of fusion between the 'Self' and the 'Other' (notably other states) that certainly does not exist in western concepts of international state relations and global governance.
Focusing specifically on global economic governance, Duggan, Shen, and Gottwald discuss the role of China in this domain during the last fifteen years. They point out that, whereas previously, China was a passive participant in the global economic governance system, accepting its structures, and acting under the shadow of US hegemony, since 2008, its role has changed as a result of the global financial crisis. China's more active role in global economic governance has been partly hampered, however, by its leadership's lack of experience in such institutions and their concern of balancing domestic and foreign expectations.
Nonetheless China is currently promoting a more participatory global economic governance through the G20, which it considers a more legitimate and effective body than the more restricted G7 or G8 global economic governance 'clubs'. China thus plays an important part not only in legitimizing more quantitatively inclusive forms of global economic governance but also in emphasizing the importance of issues such as energy and food security or climate change for which further international cooperation is needed. The Chinese perspective on global economic governance is thus contributing to a more participatory approach and brings new issues to the international agenda that go beyond the current predominant concern of the western powers with the international financial architecture or with other traditional security threats.
While Russia too has paid due attention to its participation and role in the G20—as a confirmation of its importance as a global player—its approach markedly differs from that of China. Russia considers global governance institutions as a springboard from which to achieve the desired recognition and influence in international relations (see Belokurova, Chapter 7). It may contest the policies and measures adopted by international organizations, but it does not contest the architecture or power structure within them. Having participated in the G8 from early on, it has also engaged with the G20, but with a view to illustrating that it is a global superpower rather than out of a concern that the G8 lacked legitimacy in the twenty-first-century world order.
During the last twenty years, Russia has contributed to the differentiation of global governance in its efforts to create its own regional structures, such as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which includes nine members and two associate members in the wider Eurasian region. In 2015 it also launched the Eurasian Economic Union, including Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Kirgizstan. The aim of this regional strategy is, however, to strengthen its position in the global governance structure by expanding its zone of influence and market and becoming an important foreign policy actor in a global scale.
This strategy is complemented by a differentiation of foreign policy tools. In recent years Russia has increasingly revived soft power tools in foreign policy. Since 2008, it has created a network of Russian centres of science and culture in fifty-nine countries around the world and eighteen such representative offices within Russian diplomatic representations. It has also become a donor in international development aid and has launched an English language Russian TV channel called Russia Today.
Despite these soft power measures, on the other hand, its approach to global governance also remains one of realism and confrontation. The crisis in the
Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea clearly demonstrate this Russian real- politik. The aggressive Russian foreign policy of the last few years is increasingly framed, however, in ethnocultural terms, which has the blessing of the influential Russian Orthodox Church. This part of the Russian foreign policy toolkit is framed in traditional nationalist terms that supposedly distinguish Russia from Europe and the West, portrayed as 'spiritless' and 'perverse'. This cultural discourse is authoritarian in character and, as of 2012, has spilled into internal politics, as dissident civil society actors have been persecuted through the law on 'foreign agents'. Such persecution has targeted politicians, NGOs, and activists or artists who support human rights and democratization in Russia.
Indeed, it appears that the Soviet legacy of non-transparency, nonaccountability, and the limitation of civil rights finds a suitable match with an ethno-religious cultural concept that projects the 'Russian world' as the only true and authentic nation, fighting for survival and influence among a universe of competing national powers and conflictual relations. Cooperation can only take place when there are common interests and global governance is understood as a zero sum game in which the more powerful countries impose their will on the less powerful ones. As such, the Russian perspective toward global governance is a return to international relations rather than an attempt to engage with global governance practices and institutions.
The case of the USA stands between China and Russia in terms of its model of national hegemony in the world. Although it might mirror the overall ambition of Russia, it allows for more participatory structures and acknowledges interdependence in international relations (as the Chinese leadership has tended to do in recent years). Chapter 11 in this volume on the United States (by Roberto Dominguez) hence focuses more on framing and the production of knowledge on global governance in the USA rather than on the wider US policies on global governance and international relations. Given the vast array of issues included in global governance and the dominant role that the US has played in the last thirty years, examining structures of knowledge production and their alternative concepts of global governance offers a particularly interesting set of insights into the pluralistic field of US perspectives on the concept.
Dominguez points to two alternative perspectives on global governance that dominate US academic study. The first perspective emphasizes the global nature of the challenges that we face today and the need to transform international institutions in ways that can prevent and avert crises in a variety of domains including climate change, cybersecurity, governance of (mega) cities and so on. In this perspective, while we may not speak of a distinctive North American cultural perspective to global governance, as this could somehow be understood as a 'default' concept of global governance, we can certainly speak of a transnational new governance perspective that departs from the Cold War and realpolitik concepts and fully acknowledges that we live in an interdependent world where actors at both local and transnational levels are important.
However, US scholarly production and debate on global governance also includes a different viewpoint that embraces multilateralism in a post-Cold War world, albeit one that emphasizes the role of the USA as a global hegemonic power. Thus, global issues are considered through a US foreign policy lens.
While this perspective has come under attack in the 2010s from both politicians and scholars, it remains to be seen, argues Dominguez in this volume, how the USA will be able to embrace a form of multi-multilateralism. Indeed, a good illustration of the complexity of the situation and of the variety of actors (both private and public) involved in issues of global governances is offered by study of US engagement with Africa. The review of US-Africa engagement in this volume indeed testifies to, on one hand, the continuing reluctance of the USA to fully embrace a notion of participatory global governance, but also the dynamics of such processes that go beyond state structures, to engage not only actors of knowledge production (think tanks, universities) but also international civil society organizations and local stakeholders.
The chapters on China, Russia, and the USA in this volume point to the continuing ambivalence embedded in institutions and practices of multilevel and multi-actor global governance structures, whereby states continue to play an important role, but are also placed into question by non-state actors. They also point to the fact that a specific country may propose and privilege specific cultural understandings of global governance that favour interdependence and participation (China) or realpolitik (Russia), or may oscillate between the two (like the USA). Thus, international perspectives may indeed favour more integrated and culturally informed modes of global governance that further differentiation or adaptation to regional perspectives.