Opening to Omnilateralism: Global governance for all with stakeholders

After a century of only western-inspired multi-lateralism, its much criticised 75-years old stronghold, the United Nations, needs a new narrative: omni-lateralism. The right vehicle is omnibus — for and by all –, firstly, to widen the way for input of more ideas and good practices of non-Western origin, and secondly, to include non-state actors as legitimate stakeholders in global governance.

Some trends already signal an opening towards omnilateralism: enhancing global governance in the COP by adding Eastern understanding of cycles in nature to protect the environment (e.g. in circular economies) and a wider appreciation of ‘holism’ beyond the rather linear individualistic thinking of Western societies; also accountable groups of civil society – more trusted than officials driven by narrow national interest — increasingly enrich deliberations about climate change and other global problems. These require East-West cooperation as currently obvious in the urgent cross-border exchanges among experts to combat the pandemic and save lives and livelihood worldwide. Globalisation has elevated millions out of poverty. However, narrow-minded politicians still claim national ‘sovereignty’ and parochial interests against global solutions for the common good while the Westphalian ‘nation’ is becoming a historic aberration.
Almost all governments nowadays claim democracy, but respect for its basic principles is falling. Democracy must adapt to each level of governance, from local, national, regional to global. More direct democracy may suit the directly informed local stage. The higher the stage and the wider the impact, the more expertise and responsibility is needed to reach the common global good, i.e. omnilaterally.
The current pandemic has clearly demonstrated the need to open more direct flows of information all the way in multi-level governance from local to global (without filtering for instance by national officials; before ‘AI doctors’ connectivity, Y. N. Harari, 2018) that could have avoided trillions in economic damage and saved millions of human lives. At the global stage, the out-dated multilateral system of Westphalia that is limited to formal decisions only by the nation-states needs to open up further to non-state stakeholders and expertise of the broad civil society worldwide. On issues of climate change and the environment, de facto there is already more involvement of non-governmental actors in the discussions. However, major systemic obstacles to their inclusion emanate from the illusion of the absoluteness of the sovereignty of nations. The concept of supra-national competences balanced by subsidiarity (as partially practiced by the European Union) could serve as stepping-stone in the right direction. Here the –albeit often tedious — consensus-building voices in most cases carry the day by the quality of their conviction and pre-empt the polarisation through quantitative voting by official representations. Increasing transparency with civil society and the general public enhances the in-, through- and output-legitimacy of ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘what’ to decide for the common good. The present practice and even various models of calculations proposed for more appropriate national representation (One-Nation-One-Vote), for example at the general Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations (e. g. by J. E. Schwartzberg, 2013), have shown the difficulties of purely quantitative decision-making by member-nations at the global level. Furthermore, the growing need for specific expertise often out of reach of national diplomats in merely ‘inter-national’ negotiations underline the urgency of a further overture of the global system towards non-state stakeholders. The crucial question then arises: who can appropriately participate as a stakeholder? In the 2001 White Paper on European Governance (partly co-authored by the undersigned), the EU Commission proposed opening its procedures to “outside civil society” in a wide definition beyond the traditional consultations with the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). In the UN system, the ECOSOC/ESEC seats are differentially allocated to five regional caucuses, hardly bearing any relationship to actual power in the world nor expertise on specific issues, although it is currently in dire need for public health. Any mathematic formula of seat allocation can only temporarily reflect correctly the constant changes in our societies. The opening to non-state actors and expertise must be based rather on their relevant qualification than their territorial origin and the number of national votes supporting them. The true rationale for their inclusion should grow out of their legitimacy to participate and their efficiency to contribute to the global common good. In view of the recent developments towards more monitory democracy (John Keane, 2009) to also overcome monetary might among social media, these two criteria of legitimacy and efficiency would accord democratic agency to non-state stakeholders through mechanisms of authorisation and accountability (Terry Macdonald, 2008). Their influence and selection derive from quality (and not only quantity of national votes or of followers like ‘influencers’ on the Internet) and presumes elements of meritocracy in the process of their selection that some societies recently seem to have neglected in their quantitative elections.
This general movement from quantitative votes to qualitive voices at higher level of governance follows the experience that democracy must adapt to each level of governance, from local, national, regional to global. More direct democracy of quantitative voting by everyone may more suit the directly informed local stage limited to affect mainly the proximity. It also the makes sense in view of the historical fact that number-based electoral systems were devised for an institutionally very specific form of polity, namely the territorial state, which was a fixed and stable site of public power. In global politics, however, the complexity of the issues (e. g. climate change) and fluidity of both power and constituencies make popular elections less suitable. Hence, an opening of the merely nation-based multilateral system to omnilateral global governance should include non-state stakeholders with legitimacy merited and proven through mechanisms of authorisation and accountability at the global stage.
The proposed novel narrative of omnilateralism thus combines democratic overture to non-governmental actors and expertise as well as more geo-cultural openness to non-western practices and ideas worldwide, omnibus for and by all.
(1000-word Abstract of the book “Opening to Omnilateralism: Democratic governance for all, from local to global with stakeholders 汎地球主義 全边主义“, AuthorHouse UK, April 2021, ISBN: 978-1-6655-8213-1 (sc))