International community

I react with skepticism whenever I hear the term “international community,” because it is often invoked to imply something that does not actually exist. There is not a global justice system: Americans pushed for the creation of one for decades, but when George W. Bush was elected, he withdrew U.S. participation in the final creation of the International Criminal Court. The absence of the U.S. from the ICC severely limits the “global” claims of that court. Bush’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol reveals a global disunity on climate-change regulations as well.

Yet there are some institutions with global scope, and a few issues are governed in a planet-wide way. Below, I gave an overview of some institutions of global governance. Note how messy and piecemeal that ‘global government’ is.

1. Diplomacy. Some Western historians (Clausewitz, and to some degree Max Weber) argued that the current system of nation-states emerged through relentless war. I side with historians who argue that the settlement of relentless war had a bigger role in shaping states. In any case, governments had to deal with each other, and so the modern practices of diplomacy arose. Key moments: the Westphalian settlement (1648); the Congress of Vienna (1815), the Berlin Conference (1885), Versailles (1921), and the formation of the United Nations (1945). The United Nations now includes many units, including the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Development Program (UNDP), the Committee on Human Settlements (UN-HABITAT), the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing.

2. Humanitarianism. The Geneva Conventions give specific guidelines for humane behavior during warfare. The Red Cross was founded at the First Geneva Convention (a.k.a. Geneva I, 1864). The Red Cross has evolved into the ICRC, which stands for a dual name: either International Committee for the Red Cross, or International Committee for the Red Crescent (in Muslim-dominated countries).
The ICRC was the template for other humanitarian agencies, but it is the least ‘activist’ because it does not speak out against host governments. The organizations best known for raising political criticism are Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. Somewhere in between are Oxfam, Save the Children, International Rescue Committee, and many Christian aid groups.

3. Political Economy. In 1944 several leading economists and policymakers from the Allied Powers met in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire to work out a new series of organizations to help with reconstruction, the stabilization of international finance, and the liberalization of trade.
These began –> and became:
1.) The International Bank of Reconstruction and Development –> World Bank
2.) The International Monetary Fund (IMF)
3.) The Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) –> World Trade Organization (WTO)
Together, these three are called the “Bretton Woods Institutions.”
The World Bank has been criticized for funding large infrastructure projects, such as dams (1960s-1980). Reacting to this criticism they have become more sensitive in requiring careful relocation plans for peoples who may be displaced by projects.
The IMF has been criticized for the “loan conditionalities” it imposed on governments that were desperate to restructure their debt-repayments. Reforms imposed by those conditionalities were called “Structural Adjustment Programs,” and they often hurt national economies–especially at the level of poorer households.
The WTO has been criticized as a bully that imposes free trade and economic liberalization on countries that are not ready to cope with an open market. But the WTO cuts both ways, because it is a multilateral organization. At both Doha and Cancun, smaller and poorer countries used this forum to protest unfair treatment by wealthier countries.

We also talked about NATO and the International Criminal Court. Both reveal problems with the idea of a global government, and even the hope for one.
NATO was never supposed to be a ‘worldwide allied military police force.’ It was an anti-Soviet Military alliance, opposed to the Moscow Pact countries of Eastern Europe. And yet NATO became deeply involved in Afghanistan. Check this on a map: Afghanistan is very far from the North Atlantic, and very far from any treaty-member country in NATO. From a map you may see why Russia regards NATO’s “Eastern Mission” as a threat to Russian regional security.
The ICC, as another troubling example, was a tribunal set up in the Hague in 2002 to try and convict war criminals. The U.S. strongly supported the creation of the ICC to indict Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia–until G.W. Bush was elected (2001); so the U.S. withdrew support one year before the court finally formed. National politics overrode international justice in this case. The U.S. regime did not want to give up so much sovereignty to the ICC, which might have had the evidence and the authority to extradite and punish Henry Kissinger for his role in the war in Southeast Asia in the early 1970s..

Okay, so maybe the ‘global’ layer of governing does not work so well.
But when we think of ‘cities in a global society,’ for better or worse, these global-scope organizations are a crucial part of that sense of the global.

We then shifted focus to developmental regimes, which was the subject of the first two readings (Hill & Kim and Olds & Yeung). These are national governments that are deeply committed to ‘development,’ however they conceive of development. There is a lot of literature on developmental regimes; I recommended Chalmers Johnson (1982), MITI and the Japanese Economic Miracle. But the Hill & Kim and Olds & Yeung articles focus on the relationship between such regimes and the idea of global/world cities. Hill & Kim, in particular, point out that major cities grow and form very differently under developmental regimes compared to the Anglo-American world cities of London and New York. The process is different enough, they argue, that it invalidates many of the arguments made by Friedmann and Sassen about global cities, based mostly on Anglo-American urban examples. Olds & Yeung describe yet another ‘world city’ type based on Singapore, and also warn against using any fixed categorization of city types.
I leave you to read the rest of those articles; for the moment I just wanted to point out that the type of government at the national scale can have a powerful effect on the form and character of cities, including the ‘major’ cities that might be classified as world cities. Cairo and Kinshasa are two contrasting examples of this. Both cities are large, exceeding 10 million. But one, Cairo, became regionally and globally important the moment the population mobilized, and overthrew President Hosni Mubarak. Immediately, the new government began to broker relations between Fatah and Hamas in Palestine; they also encouraged their neighbors to follow suit in overthrowing dictatorships. Within half a year they also inspired Americans to mobilize n the Occupy movement, which spread to dozens of cities within weeks. Meanwhile, Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) remains politically, culturally, and economically obscure, despite its size.

Here is the “Earth at night” image I showed in lecture. Like the metaphor of a snail and its shell, this is another possible metaphor for the complex thing that is urbanization today:


Leave a Reply