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Law and Politics of Global Governance Course Outline

Arindrajit Basu taught a course on various prospects and challenges of global governance at NUJS, including the geo-politics of emerging technologies.



Since 1945, a crude amalgamation of transnational regulatory agencies, standard-setting bodies and inter-governmental organisations has wielded considerable influence in shaping the civil, political, social and economic conditions for human beings across the globe. Yet, the project of global governance as articulated by the UN Charter, Bretton Woods institutions, and many other international instruments has struggled to move past its inherently undemocratic character. Democratic states are governed by a legislature, an executive and an independent judiciary, all guided by a constitution that reflects the will of the people. The ‘liberal, international order’, which reflects the post-War aspiration for a “democratic peace” neither has corresponding institutions nor mechanisms that render it accountable to the global public. The lack of direct linkages between the governance structures and the governed resulted in the manipulation of multilateral regimes by powerful interest groups,  states and non-state actors. The international order today has incubated an “underclass” of vulnerable communities, including refugees, indigenous populations, agricultural labourers and blue-collar workers -- that Richard Stewart has appropriately termed ‘the disregarded. 


During the past decade, populist leaders have latched onto the outbreak  of discontent among the disregarded and jettisoned multilateral, rules-based cooperation for policies favouring protectionism and isolationism. Withdrawal from treaties and processes , rejection of human rights norms and the stonewalling of processes at the international level have cast a grim shadow on the future of multilateralism. 


As India takes up its rightful position as a norm enterpreneur in the global order, she must ask herself what sort of an order does she want to shape? A modest derivation of the established order that was driven largely by the super-powers of the time, or a new world order-shaped by the leaders of today? Are there values from the old order that continue to be applicable in today’s day and age? Can International Law be conceptualized as an instrument that accomplishes more than mere virtue-signalling for the elite?


All these are tough questions-questions that budding lawyers from the global South should be equipped to grapple with. This course does not seek to provide any answers -indeed a silver bullet solution might prove to be elusive. Neither does it seek to frame the questions-students are expected to figure this out for themselves. Indeed, the journey to framing the right questions would mark half the battle won. Instead, we hope to stimulate  intellectual thought and provoke discord so that the voices of the hitherto disregarded are never silenced again. 


The course starts off by quickly recapping some of the basics of International Law and International Relations. It then moves onto the structure and functioning of existing institutions with a bid to provoke critique of the same. We then look separately at two sides of the global governance architecture-the Bretton Woods driven international economic order and the UN driven human rights regime-both of which are under considerable threat. We then dedicate a unit solely to pontificating on the future of International Law in an era of lucrative deals.


We then zoom in a little bit-looking at India’s role in this cacophony and how we can pave a way forward for ourselves in a manner that serves our national interest and benefits the most vulnerable. In the final unit, we look at technology-which holds the key to international relations for the next century. A new Iron Curtain is rising as a clash of values, interests and institutions are coming to the fore again to determine the future of cyberspace. Lessons from the last seven decades (and the first six units of this course) might have to be unlearned and reformed. Not doing so makes us run the risk of entrenched redundancy.

Click to read the full course outline here