This article contributes to the literature on global governance, legitimacy, and small states through a detailed analysis of the Global Governance Group. It examines in particular the operational impact and wider conceptual implications of the 3G's collective diplomatic efforts on the Group of 20. By engaging in a reconfigured form of informal multilateralism, the article finds that the 3G has been and is capable of shaping the global agenda with respect to the G-20 in a way that is both more inclusive and connected with existing institutions, especially the United Nations. Through this initiative, this group has effectively recalibrated the existing narrative about small states, the G-20, and global governance--shifting it from the paradigm of efficiency to one of legitimacy. Keywords: 3G, G-20, global governance, informal groups, small states.
Informal Global Governance
As new centers of power mobilize and old institutions fall behind the curve of change, the trend in world politics has been for countries to substitute, bypass, or marginalize established institutions of global governance in favor of engagement with new forms of cooperative institutional arrangements--in short, toward informality in global governance. International relations theory has traditionally been uneasy with forms of informal global governance. (1) Realists have dismissed them as irrelevant given that powerful members can "go it alone," and neoliberal institutionalists are uncertain of what to make of these forums where formal institutional structures or binding agreements are not apparent. (2) Students of rational design see the advance of centralized rather than disaggregated models of international organizations. (3) Yet this trend toward informality is not only important for extending the debate about the manner by which cooperation can be secured in the global political economy "after hegemony," (4) but the manner by which small states attempt to influence bigger ones. Marked by less hierarchy and greater flexibility, informal global governance of small states is an admittedly fuzzy concept, and explaining its theoretical relevance has therefore been a challenge for dominant international relations paradigms. Moreover, the relationship between conceptualization and issue-specific international practice beyond the domain of the UN Security Council in select crisis situations has not been extensively explored. Notwithstanding Jochen Prantl's call in his 2005 International Organization article for extended studies of the "dynamics between internal arrangements and formal international organizations," there has been scant research that explores the use by smaller states of informal groups to increase their leverage in the global political economy and so increase our "understanding of power, legitimacy and change." (5)
Thus, in functional terms, there is some considerable space for specialized and more nuanced studies. Although greater attention is devoted to "multilateralism light," the focus has been to some considerable extent on the mechanisms used by bigger and stronger countries, not as tools by coalitions of the weak. (6) A major strand of literature that traces forms of informal governance does so in a mode of analysis that privileges clubs of power where informality allows for easier backroom negotiations over contested issue areas as well as the implementation of tough regulations that are monitored in the privacy of informal groups, whether on a permanent or temporary ad hoc basis. (7) Well-known groupings such as the Group of 8 (G8), the World Trade Organization Green Rooms, and the Middle East Quartet on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are reflections of these informal groups, which indeed can be effective at achieving their narrow objective of furthering global cooperation.
Yet although we have become accustomed to the idea that these contracting parties should have the requisite resources to back up their influence at the table, this approach should not limit our inclination or ability to perceive of alternative arrangements. Small countries also have engaged in informal groupings, either as countermobilizations via multilateral trade negotiations (the Cotton-4, or the Small Vulnerable Economies) or as part of mixed coalitions in either trade (the Cairns Group) or a variety of other issue areas through Friends (Kosovo 1999, e.g., including individual countries such as Finland and members of regional forums, notably the European Union [EU] and the Organization of the Islamic Conference) and High-Level Groups (including Sustainable Energy for All) of the UN Secretary-General as well as a number of Contact Groups (such as the Friends of Libya, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Malta, and Qatar) and Ad Hoc Advisory groups.
If asymmetrical in academic treatment and practical form, these counter-illustrations open up another important research strand that privileges cases where small countries have responded to informal initiatives by big actors through informal organizational counterresponses of their own. A prime example of this phenomenon is provided by the synergetic emergence of the Group of 20 (G-20) and the Global Governance Group (3G). On the one hand, the concert-like power of the G-20 in a modern global economy that is characterized as highly interdependent is well understood. On the other hand, the meaning of the 3G, where material resources do not explain who sits at the table, remains underanalyzed.
Our purpose in this article is to provide insights into broader puzzles about how cooperation is built into the global economic order, particularly about the role of states that are nonmembers of the G-20. How do we explain the presence of an informal group such as the 3G that serves to bridge informal groups like the G-20 with the formal pinnacle of global governance, the United Nations? Are informal groups just a part of a new network of alliances that clouds our sight of the real forums of decisionmaking and power such as the UN Security Council, or even some smaller component of the G-20? Or is their emergence and growing presence in the arena of international politics a sign of shifts, however subtle (though no less significant), in established arrangements of global governance? We provide insight into these questions based on more than a dozen extensive and anonymous interviews with ambassadors and UN representatives from stakeholder states.
The Rise of the 3G: Bridging the Efficiency and Legitimacy Gap
In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, the Group of 20 emerged on the world stage as the leading forum for international economic collaboration. Originally established in 1999 as a meeting of finance ministers from some of the world's most powerful states (including the United States, China, and Germany), the G-20 was first convened in Washington, DC, by President George W. Bush as a leaders' summit during the onset of the financial crisis, and has continued to hold meetings around the globe. (8) When it became clear that existing institutions--the International Monetary Fund, the Group of 8 (G8), and, notably, the UN--could not coordinate an effective response to the crisis, (9) the G-20 was elevated to the principal forum for collective response management. (10) This retreat from universalism was reinforced by the choice of setting. The Secretary-General lobbied hard for the inaugural meeting of the G-20 to be held in New York, but was rebuffed by Bush, who preferred Washington, DC, for a number of reasons. In particular, a meeting in Washington would avoid linking the G-20 to Wall Street and the culpability of the United States, and demonstrate a clear preference for the international financial institutions (IFIs) over the UN system. It was hence in Washington that the G-20, through the cooperative efforts of its member countries, was able to reduce the volatility in financial markets, implement regulatory reform, and establish a global economic stimulus to help cushion countries against the adverse effects caused by the financial crisis. (11)
However, this combination of an exclusive form of executive multilateralism without participation or oversight from the wider international community elicited a strong counterresponse from the states left out of the G-20. Despite the inclusion of Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC) as members, the impression that the G-20 was a group of powerful countries that formulated and imposed rules on all others persisted largely as a result of the overrepresentation of European countries as members, an underrepresentation of African countries, and the absence of appropriate mechanisms for nonmembers to engage in a constructive dialogue with the G-20 process. (12)
Substantive questions were also raised about where the powers of the G-20 should be demarcated, (13) particularly given signs in 2008-2009 that the G-20 was venturing into issues considered the domain of sovereign states--including exchange rates, debt levels, monetary policy, (14) and noneconomic realms involving the environment and global security. (15) Procedurally, critics expressed concern about the implications of the G-20 in terms of its impact on the already weakened UN--the intergovernmental organization that had become the hub of modern global governance in the post-World War II era (16)--and on how future decisions on global issues are to be made. (17) The ability of the G-20 to act outside of the parameters of the UN instilled fear in nonmembers not only symbolically, but also instrumentally by having their interests undermined by it. The 3G countries noted that there was a "problem with the G-20 because it was making decisions that impacted the broader UN membership ... [and that] was unfair to those outside as these countries had no impact [on G-20 decisions]." (18)
In terms of resistance, the highest profile group coalesced around the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our...