On 3-4 July 2017, the OSCE Academy in Bishkek hosted the workshop “Contested Global Governance, Transformed Global Governors?”. Organized by the OSCE Academy in Bishkek in cooperation with the University Paris 13 (Paris), the American University of Central Asia (AUCA, Bishkek) and the French Institute for Central Asian Studies (IFEAC, Bishkek) within the framework of the research project GLOBALCONTEST funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR) the workshop gathered high profile academics and experienced practitioners from the region and beyond working on international organizations and global governance questions. The following is a collection of reflections from participants on the topic of the workshop and their general impressions from the event. We thank all participants for their contributions!
Oleg Korneev, CERAL, University of Paris 13, Sorbonne-Paris-Cité (France)
- Dear Oleg, could you please elaborate a bit on the topic of the workshop and tell us more about the research project you are now working on and how these two intersect?
- The research project that is at the origin of this workshop is called “Contested Global Governance, Transformed Global Governors? International Organisations and “Weak” States” (GLOBALCONTEST). This research is conducted at the University Paris 13 thanks to the funding from the French National Research Agency. The questions of power are central to the study of international relations. We all know about the place and role of “great powers” on the international stage, we are also increasingly more aware of the “rising powers’” impact on international life. But we rarely think of power that is held and projected towards the realm of international by states that are often dubbed as “failed”, “fragile” or “weak”. However, interactions between such states and international organisations seem to have significant implications not only for the actors involved but for global governance. By addressing this intriguing dimension of international interactions, this project aims to explore the ongoing contestations of global governance interventions of international organisations by ostensibly “weak” states and the impact of such contestations on international organisations themselves.
The project is innovative in several respects. Theoretically, it analyses global governance contestations as interactions between international organisations and “weak” states through a combination of theoretical approaches from international relations (studies of international legitimacy and global governance, international political economy, development studies), social anthropology (theories of gift-giving and reciprocity) and sociology of knowledge. It is particularly innovative in its blending of ideas from international political economy and social anthropology for a study of governance contestations as instances of international gift-giving. Empirically, the project explores important interactions in relation to global governance frameworks of development, migration and gender-related human rights. More specifically, the project investigates global governance contestations in two “post-Soviet” Central Asian states that have been defined as “fragile”, “weak” or “awkward” – Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. But its conceptual and theoretical framework might also be used to explore similar dynamics in other states in different regions of the world. On par with this theoretical and empirical agenda, the project seeks to further normatively problematize an idealised understanding of global governance as “good governance”.
Our workshop at the OSCE Academy has mostly addressed questions relevant for the first research strand of the project: who, in “weak” states, is contesting global governance? What is being contested and how? What are the reasons for such contestations? What are their scope conditions? This hugely important mapping and analytical exercise allows the project team to develop research in a more grounded and more focused way. Insights from the workshop discussions will obviously help better approach the second strand of research questions: what are the outcomes of these contestations? Do contestations lead to changes in the master plans/grand strategies, tactics, practices or discourses of IOs at various levels? How do these changes affect the ability of IOs to exercise their power in global governance?
- What are your personal impressions on the two-day long very active interest-driven discussions? Expectations met? To what extent it is a relevant discussion both within academic and practitioners’ circles now?
- I am more than satisfied with the workshop! It has gathered a very diverse group of scholars, think-tank experts and practitioners with background in international organisations or NGO sector from the region and beyond. Suffice to look at its programme and list of participants to witness this diversity. The workshop discussions have allowed us to map the context of contestations and actors involved in them, as well as to identify specific frames, narratives and practices that are contested. The academic panels and practitioner roundtables mostly draw on cases of Central Asian states but we have also had cases from the South Caucasus, East Africa and the Caribbean. We have clearly seen a genuine interest in these discussions from the participating practitioners and it is a good sign for both this project and those colleagues who might be willing to join me in promoting this research agenda. I also believe that we have managed to lay good grounds for developing a network of scholars and practitioners interested in a diversity of international interactions in Central Asia and beyond. This is in itself a very important outcome of the workshop.
Licinia Simão, School of Economics, University of Coimbra (Portugal)
- You are an expert on the European Union and its policies towards the Eastern Partnership countries. Can you reflect on how your research relates to the overarching themes of this workshop?
- Analysis of EU relations with the post-Soviet countries can benefit extensively from the discussions on global governance and contestations, promoted by this workshop. The literature on Europeanisation and export of EU governance models, namely in the framework of the European Partnership, needs to engage with issues relating to the actors driving policy and contesting it, as well as with critical approaches about knowledge production and dissemination. This is relevant to our understanding of the general crisis of the West and to address possibilities for emancipatory policy making.
- Can you also reflect a bit on the workshop in general, was it useful for your own work?
- The workshop was an excellent opportunity to engage with the cutting-edge research on issues of intervention and issues of power projection. The formidable collection of experts gathered here allowed for constant thought-provoking reflection, linking academic thinking and policy-making. My reflections on EU foreign and security policy and its actorness in the global and regional level will benefit extensively from the detailed analysis of systemic, regional and micro levels dynamics, combined in this workshop.
Karolina Kluczewska, School of International Relations, University of St Andrews (Scotland)
- What are your impressions from conducting empirical research on International Organisations in Central Asia?
- I believe that it is becoming more and more difficult to research International Organisations in the region, in terms of access to data. This might be surprising because as stated in various international agreements, development data are public data. At the same time, in my experience more and more organisations treat information about their work as confidential. Such attitudes are very worrying tendency, which might contribute to the rise of mistrust towards international organisations among the broader public.
- What are your impressions from the event?
- The biggest value of this event was to bring together practitioners and academics working in and on international organisations, and create a platform to exchange their perspectives. This is important because, on the one hand, development work does not take into consideration academic research, and on the other, academics ignore practical experiences of people.
Nicolas Lemay-Hebert, International Development Department, University of Birmingham (UK)
- You have talked on how changing discourse on failed states to states at risk will affect the approaches and practices of international community and international organizations. How do these changes overtime affect state positions on how they evaluate and look back at IOs and also condition the assistance they get?
- As reflected in our discussion during the workshop, changes have already been enacted on the ground. This was reflected, very interestingly, by the practitioners invited to participate in the workshop. Hence, this changing discourse from a normative discourse on fragile states (focusing on state capacity and shaming the states that don't meet the benchmarks) to a discourse on risk management and resilience (focusing on risk mitigation and good enough statebuilding) is as such reflecting the new complexity experienced by practitioners in their daily work routine. They have to deal with less ambitious aims for interventions, and a general refocusing on securitization (of themselves, in the everyday, but also looking at the general threats that countries can pose to donor countries). Now, IOs' role in the governance assemblage will not necessarily be different than before. We witness a general re-positioning of IOs and other international actors more in line with a resilience agenda (and hence less 'ambitious') than with a liberal peace agenda (with the aim of transforming subjects of interventions), but that is in line with general state practices. For instance, bunkerisation processes and focusing on risk mitigation are not specific to IOs (UN field offices for instance, or other humanitarian actors). After all, US Embassies have already implemented these changes as early as in the 1990s.
- What are your impressions from the workshop?
- The workshop was very well organised! I really liked the mix of academic and policy views in the workshop, reflected in the composition of the panels. As I said during my presentation, I think that practitioners are generally well ahead of us, knowing and 'feeling' changes well before academics can reflect on them. I think that the practitioners' contributions in the workshop confirmed my view.
Chinara Esengul, Peace Nexus Foundation (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)
- How rigid you think IOs are, are they able and more so willing to change and adapt the approaches and practices depending on the local environment they work in, how the process of monitoring, evaluation and restructuring or reform goes on when it comes to IOs? Do you see any positive moves?
- The complexity of various developmental and security challenges that we are facing nowadays in the post-soviet space makes me think that almost all IOs that operate in our countries are willing to change and want to be adequate to social, economic and political environments in which they work. But, only few of them have been able to initiate and introduce internal mechanisms and processes, which allow them regularly and systematically, reflect on the effectiveness of their strategies/activities in the field and make corresponding changes in their approaches and practices of work. Why only few? Because only few people within IOs, both national and international staff members, are knowledgeable, capable and willing to do the real and hard work of analyzing this complexity, and hence introducing a complex but nuanced programs and projects on the ground to address those challenges.
Results framework and M&E in almost all international organisations are tightly connected to the project and program outcomes, but so far I know only one ongoing project (and here my observation exposure to the practices of international organisations specifically of UN agencies can be limited, and admittedly subjective), when the project team is trying to monitor not only against specified indicators and targets, but also monitor the ongoing changes in the local context in general and link them up both to project interventions and the broader change-making factors.
In general, I am skeptical about the possibility of a comprehensive reform of large bureaucracies like UN agencies or other traditional donor organizations. It would have been possible when two ‘energies’ meet in the mid way. I mean a ‘top-down’ approach to make a big change is landing to the ‘national grounds’ where people in country offices are willing and capable to internalize and institutionalize this restructuring and reform change.
André Broome, Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation (CSGR) / Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick (UK)
- Have these two days brought anything new, thought-provoking? What was specifically relevant for you as someone working on Central Asia in the past, giving it a break and now diving deep in again? What are your thoughts on discussions of global governance in relation to this specific region?
- The workshop showcased a range of high quality new research on the dynamics of political, social, and economic change in Central Asia. Key highlights included bringing together academic researchers with a rich variety of civil society, governmental, and international organization policy experts for joint discussions and deliberations on the major challenges facing the region in 2017 and beyond, as well as the quality and breadth of scholarship being produced by researchers from within the countries of Central Asia as well as at institutions around the world. What was clear from the two days of intensive discussions is that the institutional and policy environment in Central Asian countries as well as the external environment countries face is substantially transformed from what it was fifteen, ten, or even five years ago. In order to meet these challenges head on and to develop greater policy capacity and to improve civil society and global governance practices more broadly, events such as this one hosted at the OSCE Academy play a vital role in fostering the exchange of ideas, open discussion of policy priorities and obstacles, expanding research and policy networks, and cross-sector collaboration on identifying and developing potential policy solutions. Overall this was an outstanding event that represented a model forum for encouraging knowledge exchange and cooperation between practitioners and academic researchers.