- Afterword: The Globalizing Governance of International Communications: Market Creation and Voluntary Consensus Standard Setting
The articles in this special issue make a significant contribution to our understanding of global governance by documenting repeated patterns in the international regulation of new communication technologies. The articles focus on the regulation in which national governments have been directly involved through intergovernmental conferences, formal intergovernmental organizations, and quasi-intergovernmental organizations such as Intelsat. This Afterword places those contributions in the context of existing theorizing about global governance and reinforces the contributors’ conclusions by outlining the parallel and related developments in the nongovernmental regulation of international communication through Voluntary Consensus Standard Setting by organizations such as the International Electrotechnical Commission and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).
Global governance is a relatively new subject of scholarly inquiry, or at least it is a new name for an older subject. The phrase only began being used as an analytical concept about twenty years ago, although prominent scholars in the field argue that some form of global governance has existed for a much longer time. 1 However, most of the empirical studies of the “global” governance that existed before 1995 have been, in fact, studies of “international” or “global izing” governance. Before then, the world was not so much one place. From 1945 until the 1990s, India, China, and the Soviet sphere stood outside [End Page 550] the trading area that linked the capitalist core in Northern America, Western Europe, and Japan to the dependent economies in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. During the world wars and the Great Depression, the relative economic unity of the Victorian Era was shattered, and even at the height of the “first era of globalization,” great parts of humanity in China, Persia, and other relatively autonomous regions remained outside the Europe-dominated inter-imperial system that had begun to be constructed after the defeat of Napoleon. 2
Nevertheless, since the early nineteenth century there have been great— perhaps inexorable—pressures to make the industrial economy truly global. In 1848, Marx and Engels wrote of how “the rapid improvement of all instruments of production” and “the immensely facilitated means of communication” allowed the industrial bourgeoisie to use the “cheap prices” of its products as “the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls.” 3 The internal logic of the industrial system led the most innovative capitalists to push for the creation of ever-larger “interrelated trading areas,” the unit of analysis that, a century later, W. W. Rostow recommended as the “optimum unit for the study of economic history, the setting within which most important historical problems “must be placed if they are to be fully understood.” 4
Of course, interrelated trading areas—the geographic space within which specific markets operated—have to be created and they require systems of governance. They need rules for assuring the relatively free flow of goods, rules for what counts as money and credit, standard systems of weights and measures, and more complicated trading-area-wide product standards (in part, to assure that things that are meant to work together really do). Interrelated trading areas also need transportation systems and the rules that make them possible to create the networks within which a division of labor can be created. Perhaps before anything else, they need areawide networks of communication and the rules that govern them.
Historians and political scientists who have studied global governance— and, before them, those who studied “international organization” and “international integration”—have long recognized that such international market-creating activities made up much of the international or globalizing governance before the twenty-first century. 5 Moreover, some analysts of global governance have pointed to successive waves of internationalization, each led by the internationalization of a new set of communication technologies. First came the linking of low-cost postal systems and telegraph lines across national and continental trading areas, then the improvement of intercontinental links for business created by early submarine cables and early radio, [End Page 551] and finally the creation of truly global systems through massive expansion of bandwidth by communication satellites and the simultaneous explosion of the submarine...