Migration would seem to one of the least promising areas for global governance, but factors might emerge out of left field in the period to 2030 that could improve the prospects.
Global governance of migration seems far off. Trends are hard to determine, with flows driven by economic, demographic, security, climate-related and political push and pull factors. Adverse consequences of migration are borne unevenly, and concerns about migration often involve dyads or groupings of sending and receiving countries, often with little national incentives to widen their issues to broader forums. National approaches have tended to dominate, with states eager to protect their prerogatives, less than completely willing to admit deficiencies in enforcement or demand for labor for their informal economies. Weak countries that incur adverse consequences have little clout with more powerful sending or receiving countries. Countries that might lead global governance issues would have to contend with “glass house” issues before trying to induce others to collective action. If all this were not enough, adverse consequences and the net outcome of costs and benefits are notoriously hard to measure. For example, erosion of social cohesion as a consequence of migration is hard to weigh against benefits of labor migration. It is unclear who will be the future advocates of global governance of migration, if there are any. It may be the closest we collectively get is a spaghetti-like network of bilateral commitments, conventions on standards, and side deals.
Global governance perhaps has come farthest for human trafficking, but with its criminal dimension, this is only partially a migration issue. Human trafficking may be unique in the traction it gets because of shared concern or compassion for victims.
All that said, some form of global governance of migration would be rational for nation-states, because of the prospect for overall improvement in economic performance, and cross-cutting human rights. Perhaps the strongest argument is that migration shocks will inevitably come, and they could be cross-regional or global in scope. Some form or efforts are global governance could provide a rehearsal stage for cooperation in times of migration shock. Shocks of sufficient magnitude could even kick global governance of migration forward, with the right set of actors involved.
One big open question concerns the sources of future advocacy for global governance of migration. Who will the strongest advocates be and will they have some common backgrounds? Of nation-states do not champion improved governance of migration, will others?
There could be an intersection with the trend in which there are many more cosmopolitans globally, with fewer and weaker attachments to nation-states? Globally, we could see more citizenship a la carte,including dual citizenship, with extensive freedom of action for this special kind of migrant. Some of these cosmopolitans will primarily have economic motivations and incentives. They will have strong preferences for lifestyle residences, flexible citizenship, and venue shopping for attractive public finance and investment arrangements. However, there also will normative cosmopolitans, with sophisticated insider critiques of both the West and of emerging economies, with nuanced interpretation of home countries challenges, including challenges and human costs of unregulated migration. The counter argument is that successful advocates of global migration would need strong roots in the domestic politics of major player countries to work. Normative cosmopolitans would likely not, under today’s circumstances at least.
Robert O. is one of the Research Directors in the National Intelligence Council’s Strategic Futures Group, with a portfolio covering governance, democratization, and migration.