This paper was first presented at a conference with a captivating, perplexing, and exceedingly circumspect title – Polycentric governance?: sub-national governments and foreign policy in an age of globalization.
First, such a title plainly stated a fact of life: the presence and
importance of sub-national actors of all sorts (regional, sectoral,
sectional, etc.) in foreign policy-making, as in most domestic policy
files around the world. Second, it unexpectedly put a question mark
after the expression “polycentric governance”, as if it were merely a
conjecture rather than a fact. Third, it would appear to draw attention
mainly to sub-national “state” actors to the exclusion of all others
for reasons that were not made entirely clear, thereby occluding what
is not “public governance”, stricto sensu (Ladeur, 2004).
In the light of this cautious
problematique, this paper is somewhat radical. It takes as a point of
departure the concluding remarks of James Rosenau (2003) at the end of Distant Proximities: the world is confronted with the challenge of Möbius-web governance
– i.e., a multi-polar/multidirectional, mixed formal/informal mode of
governance that mobilizes the contribution of all actors (from the
public, private and social sectors) as producers of governance. This
eye-catching label was inspired by the Möbius strip where inside and
outside are one and the same. Rosenau looks into this abyss, cozily
nests this daunting mode of governance within a typology that also
accommodates a variety of more traditional genres of governance (top
down, bottom up, market, network, side-by-side), and then walks away,
leaving this terra incognita for another voyald.
This paper makes the case for
the effectiveness of a very bold version of such an approach –
open-source Möbius-web governance.
The argument is built in four stages.
The first section quickly
underlines some major developments of great consequence in world
affairs: the relative decline in the role of the state, and the state’s
disaggregation into sub-national fragments; the parallel emergence of
multi-sectoral/multi-level governing mechanisms in a world where nobody
is in charge; and the illiberal flavor of the state-centric culture of
adjudication that attempts, in the face of the new complex situations,
to grant ever more arbitration power to state super-technocrats.
The second section suggests
that, while this rear-guard action by the states is unfolding, new
units have coalesced (at the infra-national and cross-national levels),
that are the new loci of productivity growth and innovation. These new
nests of actors have not only a most important stake in internal and
foreign policy in a Möbius world, but also much of the knowledge and
power needed to play a role in this governing process. These units and
actors are often non-governmental or non-state units and actors.
Indeed, they are often the result of cross-sectoral arrangements and metissage, and are demanding more and more access to the policy process at the domestic and international levels.