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Government networks are networks of national government officials working together to address common problems by exchanging information, coordinating national policies, cooperating on enforcement issues, collecting and distilling best practices, exporting particular regulatory forms, bolstering their members in domestic bureaucratic politics, transmitting information about theirs members' reputation.

These networks and their activities are not necessarily way-stations on the road to more formal organizations; they are themselves an organizational form of governance. Moreover, the types of governance functions they can perform -and those they cannot- are also not necessarily imitations of "real" governance, but rather a distinctive type of governance that may be more appropriate for the global level.

Yet to see these networks as they exist, much less to imagine what they could become, requires a deeper conceptual shift. Stop imagining the international system as a system of states--unitary entities like billiard balls or black boxes--subject to rules created by international institutions that are apart from, "above" these states. Start thinking about a world of governments, with all the different institutions that perform the basic functions of governments--legislation, adjudication, implementation--interacting both with each other domestically and also with their foreign and supranational counterparts. States still exist in this world; indeed, they are crucial actors. But they are "disaggregated." They relate to each other not only through the Foreign Office, but also through regulatory, judicial, and legislative channels.

In a world where there is reason to fear the excessive concentration of power and its centralization too far away from ordinary citizens, government networks have their take in motives for apprehension, some observers see government networks as promoting global technocracy--secret governance by unelected regulators and judges. Others fear that the informality and flexibility of networks is a deliberate device to make an end run around the formal constraints--representation rules, voting rules, and elaborate negotiating procedures--imposed on global governance by traditional international organizations. Absent these constraints, critics charge, powerful nations run roughshod over weaker ones. Still others, however, worry more that weak nations will be excluded from powerful government networks altogether. At the domestic level, critics charge harmonization networks with distorting domestic political processes and judicial networks through the introduction of polluting or diluting national legal traditions. Still others picture government networks as vehicles for special interests--shadowy decision-making forums to which those who are "connected" or "in the know" have access.

A number of potential solution to these problems are proposed by Anne-Marie Slaughter:

  • A conceptual move to recognize all government officials as performing both a domestic and an international function. Such recognition would mean that national constituents would automatically hold them accountable for their activities both within and across borders.
  • An effort to make government networks as visible as possible. Creating a common website and linking the individual websites of participants in a government network will have the paradoxical effect of making a government network real by making it virtual.
  • Increasing the number and activities of legislative networks, both to monitor the activity of regulatory networks and to launch initiatives of their own.
  • Using government networks as the spine of broader policy networks, including international organizations, NGOs, corporations, and other interested actors, thereby guaranteeing wider participation in government network activities but also retaining an accountable core of government officials.
  • A grab-bag of domestic political measures designed to enhance the accountability of government networks, depending on the extent to which a particular polity perceives a problem and what it decides to do about it.

Can global governance be democratic? The public debate on this issue largely assumes that the modernist conception of democracy as tied to an identifiable territory and polity cannot be globalized without a world government. Various post-modernist theorists offer a set of alternatives based on a redefinition of democracy, the state, democracy, and law. Individuals with plural selves can govern themselves through participation in multiple networks of public and private actors that together define the state. Anne-Marie Slaughter argues that governance through government networks is good public polity for the world and good national foreign policy for the United States, the European Union, APEC (Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation) members, and all developing countries seeking to participate in global regulatory processes and needing to strengthen their capacity for domestic governance. Even in their current forms, government networks promote convergence, compliance with international agreements, and improved cooperation among nations on a wide range of regulatory and judicial issues. A world order self-consciously created out of horizontal and vertical government networks could go much further. It could create a genuine global rule of law without centralized global institutions and could engage, socialize, support, and constrain government officials of every type in every nation. In this future, we could see disaggregated government institutions -the members of government networks- as actual bearers of a measure of sovereignty, strengthening them still further, bt also subjecting them to specific legal obligations. This would be a genuinely different world, with its own challenges and its own promises.

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