Monthly Archives: January 2010

Multilateralism not a ‘single undertaking’

More commentary—this time from the President of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations—on the significance of the Copenhagen meeting as one of the first signs of whatever-it-turns-out-to-be that follows the pax atlantica

“Multilateralism in the 21st century is, like the century itself, likely to be more fluid and, at times, messy than what we are used to.” Extract from Richard Haass in the Financial Times

Haass provides three possible new conformations of multilateralism for the 21st century that seem plausible to me: ‘regionalism’ as in regional trade agreements; ‘functional’ multilateralism—by which he means ‘coalitions of the willing’ or the ‘critical mass’ agreements that have been at the core of my recent work on agricultural trade agreements—and; ‘informal’ multilateralism comprising executive agreements on collaboration that fall some way short of treaties.

What these forms have in common, that distinguishes them from the form of multilateralism embodied in WTO, is that they are not ‘single undertaking’ agreements of the kind that has so crippled progress in the Doha Round of negotiations. It’s past time that the WTO member governments got that idea.

Cheering for ‘democracy’

Rachman—who’s normally pretty astute—assesses the emblematic events in Copenhagen as a blow to the U.S. program of ‘spreading democracy’.

“As emerging global powers and developing nations, Brazil, India, South Africa and Turkey may often feel they have more in common with a rising China than with the democratic US.” Extract from Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times

Although I share his sense that the Copenhagen events illustrated a watershed, I’m surprised by this pedestrian analysis from Rachman.

Even if ‘spreading democracy’ were still at the core of U.S. foreign policies under Obama (I doubt it), the idea that these emerging nations are somehow picking sides on the issue of ‘democracy’ is at best condescending. What, after all, does any of these countries need to learn from the USA about managing democracy? Not much, I’d say. Their democratic credentials have survived some of the most extreme challenges in the past half-century. What they have in common with China is something simpler and deeper than political philosophy: the desire for wealth.