"The idea of being a citizen of the world is still controversial," said Strobe Talbott at a March 12, 2009, event examining the "great experiment" of global governance. Nevertheless, Talbott, president of The Brookings Institution, argued that global governance will be key to solving three of the greatest challenges the world faces: nuclear proliferation, climate change, and the financial crisis. This event was co-sponsored by the Wilson Center's Environmental Change and Security Program and the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital.

From Imperialism to Internationalism: The "Great Experiment" of Global Governance

"Bad news has often been the mother of good news" in the long history of global governance, Talbott said. Imperialism "brought fractious tribes and cultures together under a single authority—an attempt at global governance that ultimately failed."

In the wake of World War I's destruction came the League of Nations, a stab at global governance that lacked American support and "failed abysmally at preventing the Second World War," Talbott noted. World War II spawned the United Nations, which was more successful due to the United States' participation and influence.

From the ashes of the Cold War rose a more interconnected Europe, which Talbott affectionately referred to as the "Euro-mess"—a "system in which multiple countries make common cause in the face of common challenges," he said. "Part of what we must hope for in the years ahead is the emergence of a more robust ‘globo-mess'—the creation and strengthening of regional and global organizations."

Global Governance for Global Challenges

According to Talbott, the nuclear arms control treaties exemplify effective global governance in the pursuit of the ultimate common goal: the survival of the human race. "We need to build on past experiences and existing institutions to address challenges like climate change and financial regulation," he said.

Talbott suggested that we use the existing nuclear nonproliferation regime to build an effective climate control system that ensures that "civilian nuclear power—which we are going to be seeing a lot more of—will be safe and confined to peaceful purposes."

Similarly, a global financial regime could help bolster the effectiveness of a climate regime by stabilizing the world's credit markets, enabling them to help "finance commercially viable technologies to end our dependence on fossil fuel," Talbott said. "If we're going to have efficient, equitable markets in which to trade in carbon allotments," we will need a robust global economic regime, as well, he said.

With global governance, "progress has almost always been reactive. But in dealing with climate change, progress needs to be proactive," as when the world has come together to prevent nuclear war, Talbott said. "If we fail to recognize our own obligations as citizens of the world," he warned, "we risk, if not our own lives, then the lives of our children and their children."

Drafted by Will Rogers and edited by Rachel Weisshaar