Chapter 4 New Multilateralism: The United Nations and Governance in the Era of Nonstate Actors

In: Does the UN Model Still Work? Challenges and Prospects for the Future of Multilateralism
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Elizabeth A. Bloodgood
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Abstract

Nonstate actors, particularly international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), helped found the United Nations and have been working with and through the UN ever since. The increasing variety and activities of nonstate actors, including innovative hybrids, has produced a new multilateralism in global governance to which the United Nations must adapt. This chapter examines three features of this new multilateralism and the resulting effects upon both the United Nations and global governance. New multilateralism is characterized by participation from groups from the very local to the global, as well as the diversification of power from the North to the South. Emerging BRICS powers (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) demand that their issues and interests be part of multilateral negotiations, as the world seeks to grapple with increasingly severe and numerous transnational problems including terrorism, climate change, economic crises, food security, migration and weapons proliferation. In addition, new multilateralism includes calls for change by the UN (and other multilateral organizations) in response to failures of implementation, accountability and legitimacy. In response to the accountability and legitimacy failures of large bureaucracies, nonstate actors are increasingly taking more innovative forms, including digital advocacy organizations and public-private partnerships. In the future, scholars expect to see more regionalism, a larger role for orchestration by the UN, more delegation to specialized actors and increasing diversity as well as dynamic density of international exchanges. The great promise of new multilateralism is the democratization of international policymaking and the increasingly innovative institutions and policy solutions. The recent shock of the global COVID-19 pandemic poses the risk of setting new multilateralism back in many areas, which is worth considering proactively, including shifts in issue focus and funding flows and necessary localization and digitalization.

Nonstate actors, particularly major international NGO s, were important in the founding of the United Nations (Charnovitz 1996) and have been working with and through the UN and its agencies since its inception (Davies 2013; Weiss, Gordenker and Watson 1996). The ever-broadening array of active nonstate actors, including innovative hybrids between NGO s and businesses, has produced a new multilateralism in global governance to which the United Nations must adapt. This chapter examines three features of this new multilateralism and the resulting effects upon both the United Nations and global governance. New multilateralism (Hampson and Heinbecker 2011; Kahler 2018) is first characterized by the fact that groups from very local to global can participate (Pallas and Bloodgood 2022) and thus nonstate actors are now active in every issue and area of global governance. Second, new multilateralism also recognizes the shifts in power from North to South, with emerging BRICS states (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) demanding that their issues and interests be part of multilateral negotiations as the world seeks to grapple with increasingly severe and numerous transnational problems, including terrorism, climate change, economic crises, food security, migration and weapons proliferation (Hampson and Heinbecker 2011; Henry and Sundstrom 2021). Institutional proliferation (Rowan 2021) as a result of nonstate actors’ growth and worsening global problems is a challenge to the UN as the godfather institution – the most established and largest bureaucracy with the biggest institutional footprint and reach, especially when affiliated agencies are included.

As a third key feature, new multilateralism also includes calls for change by the UN (and other multilateral organizations) in response to failures of implementation, accountability and legitimacy (Hampson and Heinbecker 2011; Kahler 2018). Partially in response to the accountability and legitimacy failures of large bureaucracies, nonstate actors are increasingly taking nontraditional forms with less institutional infrastructure and more innovative forms of operation, including digital advocacy organizations and public-private partnerships (Hall, Schmitz and Dedmon 2019; Abbott, Green and Keohane 2016; Dingwerth 2008; Andonova 2010). As a result, in the future scholars expect to see more regionalism, a larger role for orchestration by the UN (Abbott et al. 2014) and more delegation by states and intergovernmental organizations such as the UN to groups formed to perform specialized tasks (Eilstrup-Sangiovanni and Hofmann 2020; Abbott and Faude 2021; Lake 2021). The great promise of new multilateralism is the democratization of international policymaking and the increasingly innovative institutions and policy solutions. The recent shock of the global COVID-19 pandemic poses the risk of setting new multilateralism back in many areas, however, given the shifts in issue focus and funding flows as well as necessary localization and digitalization.

New Multilateralism

The 21st century has been characterized by the end of the former multilateral system, largely premised on US hegemony within the West, which supported traditional intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations, the IMF and the World Bank. The emergence of new regional powers, including Brazil, India, China and South Africa, as well as new complex interdependence has created the conditions, as well as the necessity, for new forms of international politics and new institutions for governance.

World politics is now characterized by increasing numbers and density of international exchanges across a wide range of issue areas, pulling states, populations, institutions and international flows (of goods, money and people) increasingly tighter in an interwoven fashion. The new interdependence approach argues that three key features of the current world order largely determine the way in which this world order is governed: overlapping rule systems from formal as well as informal international organizations, combined with new private governance schemes, in which a new constellation of political opportunity structures, at the national and global levels, shape the distribution of power and preferences as enacted in global governance according to the ability of state and nonstate actors to take advantage of these opportunities (Farrell and Newman 2016; Kahler 2016; Kahler and Lake 2003; Dellmuth and Bloodgood 2019; Vabulas and Snidal 2020; Hale, Held and Young 2013). While the extent of the change in world politics and global governance has been overstated by some and has not negated the importance and significance of states (Kahler 2016; Lake 2021; Eilstrup-Sangiovanni and Hofmann 2020), the power and potential of nonstate actors has increased dramatically. The ability of states to tackle global problems has decreased while the national effects of global phenomena have increased. State actors have reduced control over the problems themselves, as climate change, global pandemics, immigration, financial market instability, human rights violations and ethnic conflicts are transnational and global in cause and scale. State actors have also lost exclusive control over the national and international policy levers needed to address these global challenges (and their national implications) (Hale, Held and Young 2013). Nonstate actors, including corporations and NGO s, have increasingly more influence over public behavior and a better sense of foreign governments’ policy positions than state agencies do. Government representatives can communicate to nonstate actors information that might not be credible when conveyed to other state parties in a negotiation. And often, nonstate actors, including NGO s and corporations, are deemed more trustworthy by the public than government actors (Chapman, Hornsey and Gillespie 2021). Nonstate actors are thus increasingly significant actors in diplomatic negotiations on international issues and in the implementation and monitoring of international agreements (Grincheva and Kelley 2019; Lake 2021; Raustiala 1997; Davies 2013).

The nature of this new interdependence requires new multilateral diplomacy to design institutions to address global problems, including climate change, sustainable development, peacebuilding, migration, and the negative externalities of international trade and finance. The increase in the number and diversity of international institutions, including the UN and its agencies but also informal groupings such as the G7 and G20 (Vabulas and Snidal 2020), as well as the resulting overlap of rules, enables actors to choose where they wish governance of an issue to lie (Farrell and Newman 2016). At the same time, the increasing overlap of issues originating from intensifying globalization has increased interconnections between complicated problems. For example, climate change has produced economic crises given the rise in insurance costs and the growing costs of economic reconstruction, as well as migration patterns that produce conflict with the influx of refugees into fragile political and environmental ecosystems. The lack of an obvious institutional forum or responsible agent gives nonstate actors new power in framing issues and advocating that they fall within a particular governance structure as opposed to alternatives. Strategic nonstate actors can thus select forums with more political opportunity structures for themselves, particularly institutions in which they have greater powers to set agendas or implement outcomes (Dellmuth and Bloodgood 2019; Joachim 2007).

It is not just the nature of global issues today, but also the distribution of power within global politics, that is driving the emergence of the new multilateralism. Emerging issues within traditional international organizations such as the United Nations, including concerns about accountability within large bureaucracies and legitimacy in decision-making given political control by largely Western powers, are accelerating calls for change in multilateral diplomacy. In an effort to regain decision-making power, a range of new regional initiatives have emerged that challenge ‘global’ international organizations such as the UN, IMF and World Bank. Even in less democratic regions, multilateral organizations led by regional powers are active and increasingly open to nonstate actor participation, including the African Union, the Asian Development Bank, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (Tallberg et al. 2013). The rise of informal groupings of countries, including the BRICS, MIST (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey) and MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) countries in multilateralism (Appe 2018; Henry and Sundstrom 2021; Vabulas and Snidal 2020), is suggestive of a shift in multilateral governance away from large, formal international organizations such as the UN to alternative political arrangements in which Southern countries have more control over their design and decision-making (Pallas and Bloodgood 2022). Alternative global governance arrangements include informal organizations (Vabulas and Snidal 2020), regime complexes (Abbott, Green and Keohane 2016), hybrid institutional contexts (Abbott and Faude 2021) and public- private partnerships, also known as multistakeholder initiatives or transnational regulatory initiatives (Andonova 2010; Dingwerth 2008; Büthe and Mattli 2011; Lake 2021). The proliferation of institutional forms increases diversity and complexity in global governance and adds layers of richness to new multilateralism. New institutional designs, particularly hybrid forms, provide new political opportunity structures for nonstate actors to select to target for access and influence. Abbott and Faude (2021) and Grigorescu (2020) provide examples from global health and education, while Lake (2021) and Andonova (2010) showcase new examples in environmental politics and Büthe and Mattli (2011) focus on cases from international finance and banking.

Nonstate Actors and the UN in New Multilateralism

Nonstate actors, particularly major international NGO s (INGO s), were integrally important in the founding of the UN and have been working with and through the UN and its agencies (largely via ECOSOC and consultative status) since its inception (Charnovitz 1996; Davies 2013). While UN consultative status is contingent upon state approval, selected INGO s have had access to the UN throughout its history. In some issues, such as refugee assistance, disaster assistance, complex humanitarian emergencies and endangered species, for example, the UN has delegated significant power to implement UN policy and programs (Weiss, Gordenker and Watson 1996; Banks, Hulme and Edwards 2015; Natsios 1995). INGO s also play important agenda-setting and advocacy roles to put new and emerging issues on the UN agenda, including the abolition of slavery, rape as war crime, the rights of women and children, nuclear test bans/abolition, landmine ban and environmental protections, to name just a few (Rutherford 2000; Carpenter 2007; Raustiala 1997; Joachim 2007).

Which nonstate actors are most involved with the United Nations, and how and why, is argued to depend on the nature of the issue (economic versus social), the nature of the nonstate actor (public versus private) and the stage of the policy cycle. Scholars expect private nonstate actors (i.e., multinational corporations, professional and business associations seeking specific interests for their constituents) to have more access to international organizations than public ones (i.e., voluntary organizations such as NGO s seeking diffuse benefits beyond their memberships) (Hanegraaff and Berkhout 2019). This is attributed to the fact that private actors are more prone to support the position of states within international organizations’ negotiations (e.g., climate or trade) and because they are more consistently and directly motivated to realize their interests (as collective action is harder for public goals than for private ones) (Hanegraaff 2019; Beyers 2002; Olson 2003). Scholars also expect that access and influence will be greatest for transnational nonstate actors (including public and private actors) at the agenda-setting stage and again at the implementation and monitoring stage (Tallberg 2013; Steffek 2013; Weiss, Gordenker and Watson 1996), rather than at the policymaking stage. Some scholars expect issues to arise with implementation by INGO s, as they have a difficult time making hard decisions in order to increase efficiency or efficacy while still maintaining their principled commitments and legitimacy given the broad publics they seek to help (Steffek and Hahn 2010; Cooley and Ron 2002; Avant 2004).

As the United Nations and its associated agencies formalized and took control of much of global governance (Charnovitz 1996), nonstate actors were pushed to more ancillary roles as service bureaus for monitoring and implementation, public relations to build support coalitions, fundraising, and serving as a form of civil society to reduce democratic deficits for a long period of time. For example, TRAFFIC was created by the World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1976 to work with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Secretariat to advise, provide information and support enforcement of CITES.1 NGO s are also vital to the UNHCR and its efforts for refugee protection and assistance. As the UNHRC says, “we rely heavily on NGO s to implement a wide range of projects, including aid distribution, protection, logistics, shelter, health, water, sanitation, nutrition and education projects.”2

Nonstate actors have come to new prominence as alternative sources of global governance with rising concerns in the 1990s that the UN was ossifying, becoming inflexible and unable to adapt to deal with increasingly complex and interconnected transnational issues, and confronting new challenges to its authority and legitimacy from more directions (Kahler 2018; Johnson 2016). The issues for the UN have included challenges to leadership within the bureaucracy internally, uncertainty around the commitment of the United States to the UN, and a bias in focus on the interests of the permanent five (P5) members of the Security Council (and questions as to whether this number should change). These challenges have increased UN delegation to nonstate actors for legitimacy purposes (Kuyper and Bäckstrand 2016), which is particularly important if more democratic legitimacy (or increased inclusion) is required (Bernstein 2011), although this may be more perception than reality (Steffek and Hahn 2010).

The theories on why intergovernmental organizations (IGO s) such as the UN step back and give more authority to NGO s in the new multilateralism focus on two forms of IGO-NGO relations: orchestration and delegation. Both are indirect forms of governance, in which the authority to complete a certain set of tasks is given by an IGO to a third party. Delegation depends on stricter contracting and enforcement, via principle-agent relationships, while orchestration relies on shared goals and interests and thus looser and more informal relations of control (Abbott et al. 2014). Grigorescu and Başer (2019) argue that the balance of activities and responsibilities between IGO s and INGO s is driven by the activist predilections of government members of IGO s. Those IGO s that are composed of members that tend to be more activist, that is, who prefer greater government involvement at home, also tend to encourage more activity through and within IGO s. As selective government involvement is less likely to produce successful solutions to global problems in an era of high interconnectivity, the need for alternative solutions explains institutional innovation as a characteristic of the new multilateralism. Institutional innovations that shift the relationship between IGO s and NGO s are also consistent with Tallberg et al.’s (2018) finding of increasing access for nonstate actors across all IGO s over time. As IGO s are less able to address global issues on their own, even when political will is high, nonstate actors have been given greater access. Scholars have found that access increases for specific transnational actors based on their ability to provide valuable resources to IGO s, including information (Tallberg et al. 2018; Dellmuth and Tallberg 2017), staff time and money, credibility (Abbott et al. 2014) and legitimacy (Tallberg and Uhlin 2012; Bäckstrand and Kuyper 2017). Abbott et al. (2014) argue that more democratic actors (both IGO s and states) may have an affinity for orchestration versus delegation and softer mechanisms of ensuring nonstate actors voluntarily collaborate with IGO s such as “material and ideational support” (722).

Future research needs to examine how much control states have over decisions about power relations between IGO s and nonstate actors. New nonstate regulators, particularly those active in issue areas that evolve faster than states’ capacity to change or control activities, such as global finance and social media platforms, challenge states’ monopoly over the question of “who governs the globe” (Avant, Finnemore and Sell 2010), especially with the rise of nonstate networks (Kahler 2009; DeMars 2005). For example, internet governance is characterized by a regime complex including IGO s, such as the International Telecommunications Union, and NGO s, such as ICANN, as well as public- private partnerships such as the Internet Governance Forum. New institutional forms of collaboration between NGO s and IGO s are likely to attract NGO s’ interest and thus increase orchestration possibilities for IGO s. World politics has seen a dramatic increase in the number of active transnational NGO s (Davies 2013) even as we saw the end of the era of IGO growth (Shanks, Jacobson and Kaplan 1996). Increased political opportunities within IGO s have attracted new nonstate actor interest and involvement in new multilateralism (Dellmuth and Bloodgood 2019).

New Nonstate Actors

Nonstate actors are now active in every issue, sector and corner of the world. While certain aspects of this are challenged and contested as inappropriate (e.g., terrorist organizations and private military corporations) and illegitimate (to the extent that nonstate actors help to preserve international inequalities), generally, the scope and breadth of nonstate actor involvement in international relations has become an accepted norm (Reimann 2006; Simmons 2009; Raustiala 1997; Charnovitz 1996; Davies 2013).

Traditional nonstate actors, namely INGO s and multinational corporations (MNCs), have had significant influence within the issues of peace and security, economics, environment and human rights over the past century (Feld 1972; Skjelsbaek 1971; Arts, Noortmann and Reinalda 2001; Florini et al. 2000). While often the relationship between NGO s and MNCs has been presented as conflictual, increasingly these nonstate actors may work together toward common goals. For example, NGO s and MNCs in South Africa and Brazil worked together on the access to medicines campaign to provide HIV medications globally at reasonable prices by challenging the intellectual property monopoly rights held by firms (and defended by government) in the USA on human rights grounds (Sell and Prakash 2004). More recently, CEPI and Gavi have brought together manufacturers, research institutes, universities and civil society organizations to cooperate in the creation and implementation of the COVAX program to provide access to COVID-19 vaccinations globally.3

Increasingly, with globalization and advances in information and communications technology, even very local groups can and do participate in international policymaking, norms diffusion and international agreement implementation. Transnationalism has increased and changed such that many areas of global politics are trans-scalar and the participating nonstate actors are increasingly diverse (Pallas and Bloodgood 2022; Scholte 2007; Tarrow and McAdam 2005). For example, Kenyan chiefs have played a crucial role in whether international obligations in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding the end of female genital mutilation have been upheld (Cloward 2016).

NGO s are increasingly active on previously sensitive issues even in authoritarian contexts, including environmental protection and climate change in China and Russia (Henry and Sundstrom 2021; Teets 2018), election monitoring in the former Soviet Republics (Bush 2015) and human rights education (Heiss 2017). For example, at least until the 2019 Bolsonaro administration, Greenpeace Brazil worked with local fishing organizations in Brazil to sue Petrobras to force them to clean up their oil spill in the Guanabara Bay (Rodrigues 2004). Increasingly large INGO s have had greater access and influence operating as national NGO s (e.g., Greenpeace Brazil, Greenpeace Russia) in these countries rather than as branches of major INGO s (Rodrigues 2015; Henry and Sundstrom 2021).

The face of NGO s, and to some extent MNCs, has come to look very different from 75 years ago, quite literally when it comes to their digital presence and profiles. The last decade has seen the rise of digital activist organizations, including Avaaz, GetUp and Moveon.org (Hall, 2017; Hall, Schmitz and Dedmon 2019). These organizations are distinguished from more traditional INGO s by their lack of physical presence and very small staff with enormous memberships that are given great latitude in the selection of the campaigns these organizations undertake. Millions of members, and dollars, can be mobilized over a matter of days to present online petitions and physical demonstrations of popular support on policy issues ranging from immigration to climate change to conservation and economic sanctions. These organizations are structurally light and nimble and thus easily able to adapt to changes in global politics and opportunity structures. On the downside, they have difficulty with long-term strategizing and staying power, as they are dependent on members’ preferences for action (“people-powered politics”).4 Multinational corporations and, increasingly, social enterprises have also seized the power of social media and the internet for advertising and influence on people’s preferences, changing their primary means of communication, visibility and even advocacy (Margetts et al. 2016). These changes in how MNCs and NGO s operate and engage with their publics or consumers mean that UN campaigns to use reputational mechanisms to change government and corporate behavior, such as pledges to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or the UN Global Compact, are more effective mechanisms for NGO and MNC involvement.

An ant analogy describes quite well the actions and influence of nonstate actors in global governance in an era of new multilateralism. There are large quantities of these organizations operating at national and international levels, the vast majority never receiving any notice as individual organizations. When they band together, however, they are impossible to ignore and can build incredibly strong structures. They are filling in the gaps in multilateralism by building bridges between the levels or scales of governance as issues (and thus policy responses) are increasingly national and global simultaneously. Nongovernmental and nonprofit, NGO s are taking on an array of identities from grassroots associations working on the SDGs to specialized expert groups such as the International Crisis Group or the World Resources Institute and large corporate structures including Greenpeace and the International Olympics Committee. They fill in market and political failures left by governments and international organizations dependent on states’ political will. Currently, there are 24,000 organizations registered within the iCOS database of civil society organizations managed by the NGO Branch,5 and more than 22,000 organizations, including NGO s and MNCs, are listed as partners or participants in SDGs campaigns.6 The large number of nonstate actors participating in global governance via UN partnerships and associations provide a means of addressing political failures in strictly IGO governance, in particular representation of otherwise marginalized voices and issues, and help address democratic deficits in large, formal IGO s. This inclusion of nonstate actors may not be a magic solution, however, if only the usual suspects – large, traditional, bureaucratic, Northern and well-resourced – are the only nonstate actors that are actually seen and heard by IGO s (Banks, Hulme and Edwards 2015; Kissling and Steffek 2008).

New, less formal and more flexible institutional structures in global governance help nonstate organizations work together and collaborate with the United Nations while shaping even powerful states’ behavior. Raustiala and Victor (2004), in their work on the concept of regime complexes, argue that the overlapping, nonhierarchical and dense nature of complexes produces regulatory inconsistencies that need to be worked out on the ground in implementation, and the most successful solutions are then adopted back into the higher-level rules of the regime complex. This process of practical implementation opens up new opportunities for nonstate actors to influence global governance from the ground up. As Alter and Meunier (2009) argue, international regime complexity changes global governance in ways that empower new actors and create new openings for nonstate actors in overlapping chessboards (institutional structures), with outcomes that are less easily predicted and controlled by powerful states and organizations. Abbott and Faude (2021) argue that “hybrid institutional complexes” (HICs) have become the most common form of institutional arrangement in global governance, superseding both large, formal intergovernmental organizations and more informal regime complexes. These HICs are defined as “heterogeneous interstate, infra-state, public-private and private transnational institutions, formal and informal” (Abbott and Faude 2021, 2), with 575 individual organizations compared with 216 formal and informal IGO s (Westerwinter 2021; Abbott and Faude 2021).

Future Promise

The rise of nontraditional international institutional arrangements that are networked to, or collaborating with, the UN creates enormous opportunities for the future, both in terms of solving complicated global problems and advancing peace and prosperity. These new organizations, including transnational public-private partnerships, multistakeholder initiatives and transnational regulatory organizations, provide greater variety, flexibility and adaptability without requiring the creation of large formal organizations (and associated great power approval and expensive bureaucracies). These hybrid institutional complexes are targeted to specific goals with limited invested interest in organizational perpetuity and the bureaucratic pathologies that the prioritization of survival over efficacy can bring (Cooley and Ron 2002; Avant 2004). This is true for INGO s as much as for IGO s such as the UN (Mitchell, Schmitz and Vijfeijken 2020).

Transnational public-private partnerships, multistakeholder initiatives and private standards organizations, such as the Forest Stewardship Council, the Global Reporting Initiative and COVAX, fill in gaps and shortcomings of UN governance. By working with select groups of highly motivated and heavily invested actors, they can develop stronger standards while also including more diverse stakeholders (beyond the state bias of IGO s) and include effective enforcement mechanisms that draw on reputational, political and economic costs.

The UN, however, still has important roles in this new multilateralism including coordination and traffic control, which are more important than ever given increasing institutional density and complexity and potential conflicts over control. The UN is the primary orchestrator for public-private partnerships working with its agencies. In the above examples, the WHO co-leads COVAX while the UN Environment Programme manages the Global Reporting Initiative. Institutional proliferation brings risks, including dangers of redundancy, inefficiency and power struggles as well as paralysis from too much choice and noise from too many institutional options (Rowan 2021). Successful orchestration is most likely from the United Nations as the IGO with the longest history of successful coordination of multiple agencies, governments and nonstate actors on a broad range of overlapping issues and tasks.

Pandemic Peril?

Over the last 75 years, the United Nations, and the global international system that surrounds it, have witnessed a number of global shocks, from financial crises to world wars, nuclear crises, migration emergencies and natural disasters. The most recent global shock, the COVID-19 pandemic, has had significant effects on state and nonstate actors and might thus alter the new multilateralism that characterizes global governance for the near future. In particular, the global pandemic has had four impacts on new multilateralism: shifting issue focus, changing funding flows, forcing localization and expanding digitalization with important implications for scale shifts in governance to the local level.

First, global attention has shifted to issues of health, including flows of people for travel or migration, as well as disease as a pressing security issue. Social welfare systems became important secondary issues, as millions of people unable to work required significant economic supports in a no-contact fashion. Environmental issues, including conservation and climate change, also rose in prominence as a multiplier effect in creating conditions for COVID-19 to spread and raising concerns about future pandemics, as habitat loss and human habitation patterns brought animals and humans into closer contact, creating the conditions for more viruses to jump species. In particular, migration and social justice concerns that the sudden economic benefits as well as health resources were being disproportionately directed at certain groups within and between countries also rose on national and global agendas.

Second, the global pandemic caused sharp and sudden changes in patterns of philanthropy to NGO s around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic hit nonprofit organizations hard across the world as a result of sudden changes in individual giving behavior, government rules and popular needs. The effects of the pandemic on nonprofit organizations were diverse, however, with some organizations finding new sources of funding (e.g., government payroll supports, crowdsourcing) and new service demands (e.g., emergency food deliveries, access to COVID-19 testing and vaccination), while many were forced to severely curtail or stop operations (e.g., homeless shelters, cross-border relief agencies, immigration organizations). Candid found that even in the USA, with one of the wealthiest national nonprofit sectors, most nonprofits had less than six months of cash on hand and were thus fragile in the face of sudden, severe operation disruptions (Harold 2020). While large philanthropic gifts poured forth from rich CEOs and companies at the start of the pandemic (e.g., Jack Dorsey, Twitter; Jeff Bezos, Amazon; Google; Alibaba Group; Tata Trusts; Visa; Cisco Systems), these gifts were targeted at COVID-19-related issues (food security, domestic violence, access to healthcare) in a few countries (the United States and China represented 79 percent of the dollar value of the pledges) (Dayal 2020; Grabois 2020).

Third, public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 required dramatic localization of nonstate actors and their activities, as well as publics around the world. Strict lockdowns around the world, for example in Australia, China, Vietnam and France, restricted movement as well as eliminated in-person activities. Throughout the pandemic, a large number of surveys of nonprofit and civil society organizations were conducted by diverse organizations around the world (Candid tracked more than 51 surveys by 48 different organizations) showing increasing concern among nonprofits for their financial future, ability to survive the pandemic, restrictions on activities from the need to work remotely with limited digital tools, and loss of operating revenues (Dayal 2020). Across these global surveys, increased access to digital tools and training consistently topped the list of needs and identified which nonprofits were able to continue to function successfully. Those organizations with digital capacities, including internet access, a digital strategy and the ability to work from home, had greater potential to survive the pandemic.

Finally, the global pandemic may have accelerated scale shift within global governance by increasing the importance of city governance. With publics in lockdown, and the implementation of public health interventions and social welfare provision largely at the very local level, municipal governance became more important than ever. Municipal governments have increased their engagement with the UN in issues such as climate change and health (Acuto 2013; 2020; Gordon and Johnson 2017). This shift in the scale of global governance, if it persists, is critically important both for the UN and for nonstate actors since cities are where many NGO s ‘live’ and thus govern what they do.

In the near future, increased collaboration between governments and nonstate actors across national borders to address the global pandemic via resource sharing, including vaccines and technology, is possible on the grounds that “we’re all in this together.” Epidemiologists have made it very clear that until the spread of COVID-19 is stopped everywhere, no country is safe from possible mutations and variants. Alternatively, there are risks of increased nationalism as governments seek to protect their people and economy first. For example, the Canadian government was sharply criticized for pre-purchasing more vaccine doses than could ever be used by the population to compensate for the lack of domestic production capacity. It is unclear how things will develop as the WHO COVAX program is accelerating, but vaccination commitments by members of the G7 at the summit in 2021 were seen as too little too late.7

Conclusion

This chapter argues that the international political system in which the UN operates has changed to one of new multilateralism characterized by increased interdependence among actors and issues as well as the rise of the importance of nonstate actors at multiple scales of activity. Over the course of its lifespan, the UN itself has played a key role in these developments. It has played vital roles in orchestrating tasks to encourage more diverse institutional arrangements, including regime complexes, public-private partnerships, multistakeholder initiatives and transnational and private regulatory organizations. The UN’s failures to act and adapt in the face of increasingly interconnected global problems have also generated new nonstate actors with the interest and ability to operate at the global level. Over the past 75 years, this combination of institutional innovation and proliferation (IGO and nonstate) with the emergence of new interconnected issues has created distinctively different sets of global governance challenges and possibilities facing the UN. While state actors maintain their influence and importance, they are operating in a more crowded and complicated landscape. This new multilateralism brings benefits, in the form of innovation, flexibility, increased inclusion and participation as well as targeted policy interventions, increased implementation and new mechanisms for enforcement. New multilateralism also brings challenges, including potential gridlock, loss of accountability and responsibility, and competition because of the large number of new actors. To add to the challenges the UN faces in the next decades, the global COVID-19 pandemic (and the risk of future pandemics) may have created additional complications in this new system before nonstate actors really had a chance to show their capabilities.

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