Can Germany Lead the Way on UN Revitalization?

September 2023

The recently released Global Governance Survey looks into the capacity and commitment of individual states to better manage public goods, as well as to address global challenges through multilateral institutions. A comparison shows how well Germany has positioned itself in a leadership role.

By Henry Alt-Haaker and Brian Finlay

UN Deutschland Olaf Scholz
IMAGO / photothek

Germans are multilaterally minded, with a majority (52%) considering themselves as global citizens, not just citizens of the Federal Republic. Compared to twelve other influential (G7 and BRICS) countries polled, the inaugural  Global Governance Survey (GGS) also found that Germans scored highest (66%), with large majorities favoring multilateral action to deal with security challenges (75%), climate change (71%), pandemic response (61%), and safeguarding human rights (64%).

Though all eyes were focused on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Summit that was held last week in New York, next year’s Summit of the Future—is likely to be far more consequential. Whereas the former took stock of the seventeen SDGs since their adoption in 2015, the latter in September 2024 aspires to rethink, upgrade, and better finance the international governance machinery to help all countries deliver on their most pressing development, environmental, human rights, and security policy goals. Especially given the German public’s strong support for reforms to strengthen the multilateral system, for example, on a more representative Security Council and empowering the International Court of Justice to pursue compensation for climate damage, Germany can play an important role in this UN revitalization program.

Contrary to public perception within the country, Germany has a demonstrated strong track record for multilateral leadership, including in the areas of refugee resettlement and climate action. Significantly, in April 2019, Berlin co-initiated the  Alliance for Multilateralism, bringing together more than 70 countries, international organizations, and representatives of civil society to, for instance, promote greater trust and security in cyberspace, improve gender equality in educational systems, and bolster international humanitarian law. Germany’s representative in New York, Ambassador Antje Leendertse, alongside her Namibian counterpart, Ambassador Neville Gertze, have co-led the 2024 Summit of the Future’s preparations. On September 1st, 2023,  they successfully concluded negotiations on an ambitious roadmap for the coming twelve months designed to achieve long-overdue, sweeping reforms to the UN’s business model.

As the new Global Governance Index (GGI) has shown, Germany has demonstrated global leadership by example, positioning it well to build a broad-based coalition of state and non-state groups to realize the Summit of the Future’s full potential. In the index, Germany bested all G7 and BRICS countries’ Human Rights Protection score, and it consistently fell in the top-tier in financing critical multilateral initiatives, such as UN peacekeeping, GAVI (the Vaccine Alliance), and the UN Development Program. Germany further achieved the highest Ecosystem Vitality score, and ranked among the highest performers in ratifying disarmament treaties and public health and environmental agreements.

The GGI represents the first-ever attempt to measure and compare the ability and inclination of individual nations to not only better manage global public goods, but to contribute to addressing global challenges through multilateral institutions. Specifically, it rates the global leadership of the G7 and BRICS countries across indicators in several thematic areas, including peace and security, development, human rights, and environmental action. For the inaugural Global Governance Index, Germany scored 6.53 out of 10—the highest among the twelve countries—with Russia receiving the lowest score at 4.29.

Total Global Governance Index Scores (across five domains)

Graphic 1_Global Governance Index Scores

But are German citizens even aware of their country’s global leadership?

Remarkably, given Germany’s leading GGI ranking, German citizens polled for the Global Governance Survey indicate lower levels of confidence in their country’s international leadership compared to the Indian, Chinese, and Russian citizens surveyed—even though India, China, and Russia rated far lower on the GGI. While most Germans are multilaterally minded, a majority (53%) say their country has not done enough to establish effective global leadership and cooperation, while just 35% say it has done well. 

Citizens polled in the twelve leading countries were also asked whether they thought the world was “going in the right [or wrong] direction,” “wrong” led by nearly two to one overall, though Chinese and Indian respondents saw a world moving in the “right” direction by large majorities.

Diagnosing the World: Global Governance Survey

Graphic 1_World Perfomance

Through the GGS and GGI’s meaningful comparison between countries and enhanced indicators and weightings, a healthy competition that fosters win-win outcomes can take hold, helping to improve overall global collective action. These two new assessment tools further aim to foster greater global solidarity by attaching importance to how citizens feel about the world’s (and, by extension, its multilateral institutions’) overall performance in addressing fundamental threats and challenges.

In short, with a clearer idea of where we are comes a better idea of where we need to go. Building on Germany’s good global citizenship reflected in its notable Global Governance Index results, it is poised to nurture a progressive coalition of states, businesses, and civil society groups committed to maximizing next year’s Summit of the Future in New York. More than hopefully serving as a positive role model, this will require Germany to step-up and, at critical junctures, assert itself in forging a global consensus on ambitious goals, while pushing-back skillfully against those seeking to water down commitments.  Hopefully, this will also strengthen the German public’s confidence in their country’s international leadership.

Henry Alt-Haaker rund grau 30p


Henry Alt-Haaker is Senior Vice President of the Robert Bosch Stiftung and heads the Strategic Partnerships and Robert Bosch Academy department.

Brian Finlay Stimson Center rund grau
Stimson Center


Brian Finlay is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Stimson Center, a leading foreign affairs think tank promoting international security and shared prosperity through applied research and global engagement.

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