Global Risks and Functional Transnational Solutions: Global Governance via the Airport Security Lane

The accelerating processes of globalisation and global integration have led to the international political system taking on an increasingly cosmopolitan bent, where the idiom of globality is increasingly employed to understand the inherent interconnectivity dominating current ways of being.

In an international system dominated by this trajectory of greater interconnectivity, increasingly prominent has been the rise of issues at a global level that require international cooperation. The notion of states as discrete, self-contained entities is increasingly challenged as previously bounded areas of national policy are frequently brought into the international arena. Against this, the issue of global policy coordination is growing in importance. Where national policy was previously solely a matter of state prerogative and raison d’État, increasingly states are confronted with issues larger than individual states and requiring wider collaboration.

Photo courtesy of Dan Paluska, © 2009, some rights reserved
Photo courtesy of Dan Paluska, © 2009, some rights reserved

Sociologist Ulrich Beck conceptualised the rise of these issues ‘above’ individual states as matters of global risk, where increasingly the world is re-ordered as a ‘world risk society’.[1] These are risks or dangers of exogenous origins, which threaten states’ national security and survival and emanate from the growth of global interdependence and the inherent self-destructive tendencies of a second modernity characterised by increased transnational linkages. Moving away from a ‘methodological nationalism’, Beck saw a former first modernity predicated on Westphalian systemic notions as fundamentally and fatally undermined by a growth in risks which can only be controlled through collective, global action. With this in mind, Beck saw the only way of containing these exogenous risks above the state as through forms of cosmopolitan cooperation and action, through what he termed ‘risk communities’.

Beck saw these global risks as taking a variety of different forms. They include financial crises and environmental issues and disasters – indeed, issues to do with the global commons such as the hole in the ozone layer in the late 1980s provided an early taste of the potential character of these global risks. However, the global risk of perhaps greatest prominence recently has been the arrival proper of transnational terrorism in the international political system.

Following the terrorist actions of 11 September 2001, a raft of international measures were instituted in attempts to control against the risk of transnational terrorism – as seen with the gradual securitisation of migration. A particular node of global policy coordination has been aviation security, which has seen the emergence of a variety of global security regimes. The newly created US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) set up an Office of Global Strategies in 2007 aimed at increasing global standardisation through working closely with foreign partners and agencies. This has included the collection of electronic passenger name records prior to flying, which are shared amongst a number of countries and allow for pre-flight security screening of passengers. There are similar agreements on machine readable passports and restrictions on what items passengers are able to take as part of their hand baggage. Another example of growing standardisation is the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC), which through close cooperation with the EU effectively maintains a common aviation security policy across 42 states and has established memoranda of understanding with the African Civil Aviation Commission and Arab Civil Aviation Commission amongst others. In addition, recently instigated programmes by the EU have prioritised capacity building in aviation security amongst third countries.[2]

For Yee-Kuang Heng and Kenneth McDonagh, global standardisation in international aviation security is one component of a broader post-2001 move to control against transnational terrorism as a risk. They posit the existence of ‘the other war on terror’, a multilevel and multilateral coordination of various practices aimed at collectively mitigating the risk of transnational terrorism at an international level. [3] This represents a form of global governance, through which global standards and norms are achieved through a variety of functional agreements. These place industry and private actors on a level footing with governments as agents in a broader process of global governance.

Exercises in global governance have been frequently imagined by cosmopolitan scholars as a wholesale transformation of global political systems with an increasing role for ‘traditional’ international organisations. This imagines the institution of an alternative, hierarchical global governance structure to replace the current Westphalian system of nation states thus overcoming the collective-action problems inherent in its construction. However, the emergence of multiple small-scale security regimes, the international political equivalent of evolution as opposed to revolution, is perhaps the most pertinent way of exploring global governance currently.

In this vein, perhaps the hole in the ozone layer is also a potential portent of the ways in which those areas requiring global collaboration will be solved through agreements which are small-scale and, above all, functional.

[1] Beck, Ulrich. 1999. World risk society. Malden, MA: Polity Press.

[2] European Commission. 2010. Study on the Legal Situation Regarding Security of Flights from Third-countries to the EU (Final Report).

[3] Heng, Yee-Kuan & Kenneth McDonagh. 2009. Risk, Global Governance and Security: The other war on terror. Oxon: Routledge.

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