That’s why I don’t agree with [former U.N. Secretary-General] Kofi Annan’s statement that global policy networks — with members from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors — should be the place where large, complex decisions are made. Instead, I think there should be a clear network of government officials as a central spine of this larger complex of actors — and then it’s fine to invite corporate and NGO networks to engage with one another and with the government officials. But keep the policymaking lines clear so we know whom voters can hold to account.
S+B: Has there ever been a model of that kind of accountability and openness at the same time?
SLAUGHTER: David Zaring, at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, has studied the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision. This started with Basel I, a 1988 agreement among central banks (amended in 1996) to require retail banks to increase the amount of capital they had on hand. This had huge repercussions. There are people who think that it directly helped provoke the savings and loan crisis. But whether or not that’s true, it certainly focused a lot of attention on the Basel Committee itself, a network of 11 central banks that has long played an important role in regulating the global economy. Not all this attention was good; members of Congress and the academic community started asking questions about why this group of bankers could make such important decisions without any direct accountability to the people those decisions might affect.
Thus, for Basel II, which is still in progress, the committee developed a new notice and comment procedure. They published their working materials on a Web site, and consulted much more broadly. They asked for comment. No government said that they had to do this, but they understood that their legitimacy and possibly their decision-making structure could be in peril otherwise.
S+B: What do you say to those who think they’re being left out of the networks — or think that they’ll end up on the losing side because they’re not connected to the right people?
SLAUGHTER: This is going to be the hardest thing for the political sphere to deal with. For the longest time, I would get very excited about networks, and I would see people look worried about them, and I didn’t understand why. And then finally somebody said, “Look, the only network I know is the old boys’ network, and I don’t like it.” In other words, nearly everyone has a feeling that decisions are being made somewhere else by some informal group. They think, “Those people all know each other; I’m not part of it.”
On the global level in particular, many countries feel left out. And this is dangerous. The countries most needed in transgovernmental networks are those that might harbor terrorist cells or have terrible public health systems that could breed pandemics. They are the developing countries that typically do not have either the expertise or the resources to play a role in current government networks. We have to think strategically about how to involve them.
The European Union is extending its government networks to the Middle East for precisely this reason. If the United States were to join the E.U. in a kind of transatlantic bridge, giving these informal professional networks a modest degree of formality, suddenly the West would have much more clout. There would be a much bigger incentive for the various governments in the Middle East to cooperate.
S+B: As a business executive, what kinds of changes could I make if I had a better understanding of this new kind of government?
SLAUGHTER: I think executives typically don’t think about the way that international relations are organized. They think about the outcomes they want: energy, labor, capital flows. Therefore, when facing a big problem like climate change, they see institutions and processes as window dressing. They don’t realize how important it is to create the kinds of institutions that can change the facts on the ground, simply by connecting government officials charged with addressing the problem in different countries and giving them the resources and the authority to look for real solutions.