MEIG Highlights, Latest News 8 novembre 2022

Highlight 45/2022 – Adapting international governance to changes in the international order

Jean Carlo Manrique Vera, 8 November 2022

International governance, as the sum of rules and institutions in the international arena, is directly related to the Liberal International Order. Although realist analysts consider that this order began after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as an order led by the United States, their premises have been present since 1945: the creation of an open and inclusive international economy; the expansion of democracy; and, especially related to international governance, the expansion of international norms and institutions. Considering the convalescent Liberal International Order, how could international governance adapt to survive?

There is no consensus about the characteristics of the new international order, but the change is evident. The power distribution is shifting towards China and the international institutions are not adequately responding to the Russian aggression to Ukraine. Furthermore, the United States has shown weakness, externally, by not living up to the expectations to lead against COVID-19, and internally, by issues with democracy.

The changes in the international order are deepening the major fault-lines in the United Nations, particularly in the First UN, related to Member States. Firstly, the growing use of veto by Russia and China begins to paralyze the Security Council as in times of the Cold War. Secondly, the intergovernmental gridlock traditionally caused by a division between the Global North and the Global South is deteriorating as China tries to become a leader of the Global South. Finally, the competition between China and the United States is increasing the bifurcation between a liberal, democratic, civil and political rights approach and a centrally managed, collective, economic and social rights approach.

In this context, there is little space for international governance, unless it is focused on certain topics. There are international challenges that need an international response such as climate change and pandemics. It is time for Great Powers to make a pact on certain fields, to avoid competition and to generate binding mechanisms for achieving goals. Politicians in Great Powers need to review history, particularly the Cold War period, in which despite the main differences there was international governance with binding mechanisms in non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

This new approach to international governance does not imply dismantling the progress that has been made during the last decades. The sunk cost of international governance is too important to be wasted. The areas in which international governance may find issues should be supported by regional governance. Consequently, the experience of the European Union as the most ambitious system of regional governance ever attempted should be considered an example to other regions.

John Mearsheimer believed that the Liberal International Order was bound to fail because it contained the seeds of its own ruin. As we are heading to a new international order, a new approach to international governance should be designed, particularly one focused on main challenges, respectful of the progress made and supported by regional governance, so that international governance will finally start to bear fruit.

Jean Carlo Manrique Vera, Highlight 45/2022 – Adapting international governance to changes in the international order, 8 November 2022, available at

The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the author and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.


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