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.