Global Governance Watch (GGW) is a joint initiative of two influential rightist groups, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Federalist Society. GGW was founded in 2008 with the mission "to raise awareness of the growing global governance movement and to address issues of transparency and accountability at the United Nations, in NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], and related international organizations. In particular, the project monitors issues of national sovereignty and the ways in which the agendas of international organizations influence domestic politics."1
GGW—like the predecessor program it replaced, NGOWatch (which operated from 2003 to 2007)—seems to reflect a key concern of neoconservatives and hardline nationalists: that the international community, international law, and/or other external forces like transnational NGOs might influence constrain U.S. actions. As Richard Perle, an AEI fellow and former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, once remarked regarding the argument that the UN Security Council should have ultimate authority over the use of force in conflicts worldwide, "This is a dangerously wrong idea that leads inexorably to handing great moral and even existential politico-military decisions to the likes of Syria, Cameroon, Angola, Russia, China, and France."2
While NGOWatch—also a joint AEI-Federalist Society program—focused on the "transparency and accountability" of NGOs and international organizations, GGW's focus is the impact of these forces on national sovereignty.3 An AEI press release about GGW's April 2008 inauguration event stated, "The proliferation of international policymaking organizations has intensified and institutionalized the influence of global governance. Suprastate and nonstate actors, such as the United Nations (UN), NGOs, and international financial institutions, have risen in prominence and power, bringing with them internationalist agendas that are challenging the abilities of nation states to determine their own domestic policies and priorities."4
Maintaining U.S. sovereignty was likely a primary concern for most of the inaugural event's speakers and panelists, many of whom are known for their militarist views regarding U.S. foreign policy: Danielle Pletka of AEI, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, and Claudia Rosett of the neoconservative advocacy group Foundation for Defense of Democracies.5
During his keynote address at the GGW launch, John Bolton "pointed out that some people try to use the expanding scope of global governance to sidestep the U.S. Constitution, saying that people 'who are dissatisfied with political outcomes they have achieved at the state and federal level' take their arguments to international forums to constrain the United States. But Bolton warned that sharing sovereignty could mean undermining constitutional prerogatives. 'To Americans, sovereignty is not some abstract concept,' Bolton said. 'For us, in this country, we are sovereign. We govern.' He cautioned that 'by talking about breaking sovereignty down or sharing it or limiting it, people are saying to us that we do not know how to govern ourselves effectively and that a little less self-government would be good for us.' Bolton said he thought 'the vast majority of Americans [would] disagree' with this sentiment."6
GGW says it focuses on four "thematic pillars": Development, in which it monitors the "work and strategies" of international organizations; Global Regulation, in which GGW assesses "the impact of international regulatory establishments on health policy, intellectual property rights, and corporate social responsibility"; Human Security, which evaluates "human rights proponents and related global efforts to promote a secure world free from 'want' and 'fear'"; and National Security, which investigates international organizations and their influence on national defense policies.7
AEI's in-house newsletter characterized GGW as "an expanded and revamped version of NGOWatch" that will provide a "web-based resource that monitors suprastate and nonstate actors … and other entities with influence over international law and policy." Despite these broad purposes, GGW's website as of August 2008 was very basic, providing facile descriptions of the operations of a handful of UN agencies and committees, as well as links to a few dozen mostly externally produced reports that describe current events at international organizations like the World Intellectual Property Organization, the UN Human Rights Council, and the UN World Food Program.8
GGW's "National Security" pillar endeavors to frame its content in neutral-sounding language, stating that it "seeks to monitor the interplay between international organizations and the maintenance of national security." It mentions seven national security "focus areas," most of which have been the focus of intense controversy since the 9/11 attacks and the onset of the "war on terror." The issues areas are: "The Law and Policy of the War against Terrorism"; "The Policy of Preemptive War"; "Issues of Torture"; "Issues of Enemy Combatant Detention"; "International Arms Control"; Disarmament and Peacekeeping"; and "Law of the Sea."
However, instead of trying to defend U.S. policies in these areas, GGW's descriptions of them as of mid-2008 was largely mundane and in some instances appeared supportive of the efforts by international organizations. For instance, its page on Law and Policy of the War against Terrorism showed how UN "global governance" efforts reflected U.S. concerns in the "war on terror." It stated, "The United Nations' approach to combating global terrorism is a blueprint example of how global governance is becoming a reality. First, in response to the rise of global terrorism, the Security Council identified the problem and called for some immediate steps to be taken. After a few years of study and dialogue, the Security Council called upon States to adopt certain counter-terrorism measures and created a Counter-Terrorism Committee to monitor whether Member States cooperate. Finally, five years after the September 11 attacks, the UN adopted a Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy containing the details of how Member States should be engaged in fighting global terrorism."9
The other sections of GGW's website as of mid-2008 seemed largely ad hoc and without an overt ideological bias. For example, a July 25, 2008 GGW posting entitled "Human Rights Council Seeks to Govern Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights" merely reported on the adoption by the UN Human Rights Council of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. The GGW article stated that the "Optional Protocol has been praised by supporters as an international instrument that will increase the impact of the Covenant at the national level, allowing for the universal adjudication of these rights and the development of a body of customary international law in the area of economic, social and cultural rights. Under the Optional Protocol, the Committee will be permitted to hear complaints of rights violations from individuals, groups, or interstate organizations." It added, "The United States of America has not ratified the Covenant. However, the development of customary international law pertaining to the Covenant will increase the likelihood of federal courts relying on it to promote the economic, social and cultural rights contained therein."10
NGOWatch was founded in 2003 by AEI and the Federalist Society with the purported aim of "highlighting issues of transparency and accountability in the operations of nongovernmental organizations and international organizations." It was intended to serve as a monitoring tool for policymakers, media, and the public that would capture "the complexity of the fast evolving world of NGOs and the multiplicity of issues at stake in an effort to bring accountability to the NGO sector."11 The program was replaced with Global Governance Watch in 2008.
While presenting itself in neutral terms as a project aimed at improving transparency at NGOs, a sector of society it termed a "time-honored tradition in the United States and throughout the world,"12 NGOWatch spurred considerable criticism. Some observers viewed it as a staunchly conservative effort to check the supposed influence of "liberal" NGOs. Jean Hardisty and Elizabeth Furdon of Political Research Associates reported in 2004, "NGOWatch is a clear example of a right-wing campaign designed to monitor and critique 'liberal' UN-designated NGOs.... NGOWatch attacks those NGOs that organize and mobilize public opinion and advocate for 'liberal' causes."13
In response to criticism from liberal-leaning commentators like Ralph Nader, who charged that the project was a politically motivated effort to "go after liberal or progressive NGOs," and Naomi Klein, who called it a "McCarthyite blacklist," AEI's Danielle Pletka told the New York Times: "They should take a pill. It is in all of our interests to have NGOs, even NGOs we agree with, be accountable, and transparent, and have a role in international institutions that is clear to everybody."14
Before it began directing web surfers to the GGW website in 2008, the NGOWatch website provided brief organizational dossiers of hundreds of NGOs from around the world, as well as of international organizations like the United Nations, NATO, and the International Monetary Fund.15 Despite the hand-wringing of some observers about the group's intentions, NGOWatch's dossiers amounted to little more than a short list of basic details about each organization, including its aims, geographic region of focus, headquarters location, UN status, leadership, revenue, and tax information. And although the majority of listed organizations were progressive or liberal, there was also a smattering of dossiers on right-wing and/or neoconservative-aligned groups, including the National Rifle Association, Freedom House, the Family Research Council, and the Eagle Forum.
One section of the NGOWatch website was devoted to "Corporate/NGO Relations." The top of this page read: "Corporations who have resisted NGO campaigns have met with devastating consequences. Many corporations now work to pre-empt NGO activism with aggressive Corporate Social Responsibility efforts and broad engagement and support for NGOs. Do corporations see this dialogue as a necessary price to pay to protect its brand from attacks? Are there best practices in the way corporations enter into dialogue with NGOs? Are corporate-NGO relations transparent to the shareholder or of benefit to the public?"16 The page provided links to half a dozen media articles and academic papers discussing these questions, including an August 2003 Economist article titled "Living with the Enemy," which described the often bitter relations between NGOs and corporations, as well as the dangers companies face in trying to engage NGOs. The article concluded: "Helpfully, in June  the American Enterprise Institute set up a website called NGOWatch with the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies to bring clarity and accountability to the burgeoning world of NGOs."17
NGOWatch held several conferences and published "white papers" highlighting what it saw as problematic aspects of NGO culture and hot-button issues in the advocacy world, like corporate social responsibility, intellectual property rights, and the growing reliance by government aid agencies on NGOs to help implement and develop programs. The website also provided daily updates on events sponsored by international organizations or NGOs. In late January 2007, for example, Leonard Leo, vice president of the Federalist Society, wrote "daily reports" for NGOWatch on the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board session in Geneva, Switzerland.
The website offered few details about its directors and employees, although it did provide a "list of experts," which included scholars and leaders from various organizations, private firms, and universities, including Roger Bates and Steven Hayward of AEI; Michael Edwards, director of the Ford Foundation's Governance and Civil Society Unit; Harvard University professor John Ruggie; Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political studies at Bar Ilan University; and P.J. Simmons, an adviser at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.18
One listed expert, Jeremy Rabkin, described by commentator Jim Lobe as "one of the most prolific NGO-bashers," attended the 2003 AEI conference marking the launch of NGOWatch. Rabkin said at the conference, in perhaps what was a harbinger of the organization's evolution: "'Global Governance' ... sums up what at least the advocacy organizations think they are doing. Once you say 'global,' of course, you are appealing to people who have very cosmopolitan views and you're not appealing to people who say, 'No, wait, we in our country want to just do what we do in our country.' If it is global, it is anti-national."19