[Governance] 170 orgs send an open letter to UN SG to stop plans for a new High Level Multistakeholder Body

Mueller, Milton L milton at gatech.edu
Thu Apr 1 13:55:51 EDT 2021

I begin from this point of agreement that the issues here deal "with the fundamentals if internal governance".

MM: I assume you mean "fundamentals of Internet governance..." If so, yes, I think it's good, that's why we bother to do this.  Let me add that the sharpness of our disagreements stem from my sincere belief that the policies and institutional changes you advocate would be harmful (and you no doubt feel the same) but this should not detract from my appreciation of your ability to raise these fundamental issues and to put it in a historical context that goes back to WSIS.

P: I did not think I would need to argue, that too with a prof of public policy, such well-established principles of public governance and policy making in general, and global levels of them in particular, like what are the canons of funding public governance and policy making, and what indeed is the current role of global governance as we know it.

MM: Yeah, I will pass over your attempts to lecture me about what a professor of PP should know and what you consider "well-established principles of public governance." This kind of posturing just makes you look boastful and ignorant and basically begs the questions we are trying to debate. As you will see as we dig in to the substantive arguments.

MM: In my initial message, I said that your rejection of parity among government and private sector stakeholders revealed a rejection of the multi-stakeholderism and indicated your support for a state-led, state-dominated system of global IG. I noted that these principles of parity are characteristic of the governance of Internet identifiers (names and addresses) and routing and connectivity, and seems to be working well. Your response:

P: You have most conveniently avoided the matter of OCED's CDEP (committee on digital economy policy) entirely, when it was a big and one of the most important part of my email.

MM: Yes, I did not respond about OECD because your message about it was confused. On the one hand you were saying it is a "colonial" entity, on the other hand you were incorrectly saying it is multistakeholder as ICANN or RIRs, and on the third hand (nice of you to have three hands, by the way) you were holding it up as a model for global internet governance. But I think this is clarified now.

MM: The OECD is an intergovernmental organization that fosters policy research and promotes cooperation in policy among its member states. It does not make global public policy, in the sense that it can formally enact and enforce anything, only its member states can do that. It describes its own output as "guidelines" or what IR/political science people would call norms. It has incorporated input from labor stakeholders for some time, and around 2005 or 2006, it began to incorporate civil society input in a more formalized way. But nongovernmental stakeholders have no formal decision making power over what OECD does. So when you say,

P: I not only fully accept the multistakeholder model that OECD employs for its digital policy making, I and the networks that I work with have officially sought as 'the exact same model'  for the global or the UN level, and developing countries have officially sought in UN committees and the UN GA 'the exact same model'  for the global or the UN level

MM...you are proving my point: you reject the globalized, multistakeholder model in which civil society and the private sector have parity and you want a state-led system. Let me add that the fact that OECD calls itself "multistakeholder" (MS from now on) doesn't prove anything other than that people use the MS word in different ways. The ITU also calls itself MS. The MS label has some cachet and makes the organization seem open.

Perhaps a better word for the difference in the models is sovereignty-based or not. I support a global public policy emerging from an open, global, multistakeholder regime in which the actual public, not just states, are directly making policy. You want a state-led policy and thus are fundamentally a conservative supporting traditional governance mechanisms of the past two centuries.

P: And sure enough, you consistently refuse to let us know why you support the OECD's CDEP's policy work, but wont support a similar (exact cut paste) model at the global level, and how doing that is not a colonial attitude? I still look forward to your response to this central question.

MM: I never said OECD is a model for global IG. IGP has participated, to some degree, in OECD's openness to civil society input, but we have never "supported" it as a model for global IG. And OECD's research reports are very good, very useful, so in that sense I support it. But it's not "policy development" work in the sense we are debating; it's just a government- (and partially privately-) funded think tank. And one of the reasons OECD works smoothly is that it is indeed a smaller club of like-minded states. This is not to say it couldn't be more inclusive, but realistically making it bigger will also make it more difficult to achieve consensus. This is standard collective action theory, look into it. There are also clubs of developing or non-western states, e.g. SCO, APEC, etc. Governments sort themselves into clubs for a reason. Look into it.

P: As a professor of public policy you surely know that public policy functions cannot - repeat cannot -- be funded by private funds.

This is a bizarre argument from authority, when in fact you are not an authority, not a professor of public policy, you have no formal education or research credentials in that area, so I don't know where you get these absolutist notions. Maybe do a little more investigation, both contemporary and historical. Ask yourself things like, "does the ITU-T's financing of its standardization process by selling expensive documents to private telcos and charging 5-figure sector membership fees constitute public or private funding? Are you aware of the fact that the Gates Foundation donated $530 million to the World Health Organization, or 12% of its budget? Should they give the money back? Is WIPO's reliance on patent registration fees public or private funding?

At the global level, public funds are the proportionate contributions that countries make to the UN fund. I remain fully and consistency of the view that any UN based global public policy functions can and should only be funded from this pool of funds. In the same way as it will be scandalous to involve private funding for any public policy function in the US.  Or do you disagree?

Again, your lack of knowledge of actual public policy processes is showing. You are advancing a very simplistic sovereigntist argument about international institutions. You have an idealized, ahistorical notion of the public/private distinction and view public funds (which are inevitably gained through taxation or expropriation of private actors, and thus are highly dependent on the private economy) as some sacrosanct, disinterested source of funds. This underestimates the self-interest of state bureaucracies, among other flaws, but I really don't have time to engage in further education of you. Let's focus instead on what, exactly, is the point you are trying to make? As I understand it, you are saying that any contribution of private funds to support the IGF is "scandalous."

This ignores several salient points, some of which were raised on my last message and never answered:

-          What if governments are unwilling or unable to provide the needed funds but the community of actors involved can raise their own (private) funds?

-          Don't national governments also have key geopolitical interests in internet governance and wouldn't they be able to use their funding as leverage? Why isn't this "scandalous"?

-          If private sectors funds are sufficiently diversified, can bad influence be mitigated?

P: Even for supra-national level policy making, lets take the OECD example again .. Let some of guys who freely advocate that  global level public policy making (because it invokes those poor, undependable, developing countries)

MM: I have not seen anyone here make an argument that corporate funding is needed because of poor, undependable developing countries. I do see concerns that funding for IGF from _all_ governments can be undependable or inadequate, or geopolitically biased.

MM: I am certainly aware of the problem of corruption or bias of public governance functions by private funds or private influence. But with your devotion to nation-state funding and the sovereign system, you seem incredibly unaware of how the same problem exists with state funding. Indeed, state funding and influence can actually be more "colonial" than the alternative, because who except for the richest and most powerful countries are most likely to fund and participate in international institutions? And that includes rich non-white countries with their own empires and forms of colonialism, such as China. Are you really unaware of the extent to which international institutions reinforce or maintain the hegemony of colonial powers? Read some history.

MM: You would like to present this as a polar choice, due to your anti-private sector, anti-business ideology. Either we are entirely state-dominated and funded, or entirely private. But that is not the choice we have. Public governance institutions ALWAYS involve buy-in and support from private stakeholders if they are to function at all, just as private sector market interactions require publicly formulated and impartially enforced rules. The problem in the IG space is that internet connectivity is transnational and non-territorial, and there is a mismatch between the territorial nation-state system of governance and the globally connected users and suppliers in the internet economy. Traditional intergovernmental institutions are therefore poor and even fundamentally unjust representatives of the policy making needs of cyberspace. So we have to develop new institutions. It is a never-ending source of amusement to me that the folks who think they are radical, progressive lefty types have for the past 20 years been conservative defenders of traditional territorial nation-state governance

P: As I said, I mean by democratic the system employed by the OECD for supra-national digital policy making.

MM: This is not democratic, this is delegation by nation-states, with very thin, long-stretched lines back to democratically elected governments in some cases, and involving _entirely undemocratic_ states in many others.  Further: OECD does not make supra-national policy. It is simply a club for a subset of nation-states to (at best) coordinate their own national policies and (most of the time) do research on policy. In a global polity, a system of representation that relies on territorial nation states is not democratic, both because the public is not confined to geographic spaces, and because at least half of the governments are not democratic.

P: As someone who claims expertise in global governance matters, I would have expected you to know the history of how much agreement on rights, law, political economy and economic policy has actually been managed by UN based bodies over the last any decades.

MM: Ah yes, this is why Internet censorship has ceased to exist. All governments are adhering religiously to Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and if they don't, these UN bodies send in international police forces to enforce the international law, and haul them before international courts to....oh wait, I am not describing reality, am I?
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