Those Organizations will go on. So will multilateralism. This week is only another reminder that collaborative management of the global commons (peace, trade… possibly emissions) is, and always has been, very difficult to achieve. The ‘one-world, one vision’ approach endorsedby the U.N. in its current form and backed for sixty years by the U.S. and Europe (chiefly) may be too hard to sustain for the next little while.
During the past decade, the veil of multilateral collaboration thrown over the inner-workings of the U.N./Bretton-Woods management framework has grown thinner and thinner. There has always been a certain amount of stiff-arming behind the veil. But, with appropriate restraint—including by Japan—it worked for a long time to deliver effective global collaboration. After this week, it will never be quite the same.
But there’s no need for panic. It’s a shame but no emergency that a U.N. meeting turns out to be another expensive dud. Just relax and try to enjoy the ride. Enjoy the richness of greater global diversity, for one thing.
The extraordinary thing about this week in Copenhagen is not what we didn’t see (an agreement on emissions) but what we did see, clearly for the first time. The veil of multilateralism has fallen long enough to show the world the present realities behind it.
- First, of course, the expensive, chaotic sham of 192 nations in at least as many limousines, from Tuvalu to the United States, trying to agree on 1 text with at least 2 targets lubricated by a $100billion bribe (that turned out to be only a $10billion i.o.u.)
- Second, and more important, The President of the United States being introduced to a meeting to which he not been invited—at which he did not even have a seat—to negotiate a narrow deal, saving the appearance of collaboration, with Brazil, China, India and South Africa.
To enter the room, Obama had to leave Europe and Japan out in the cold. He had to work out a deal with four giant economies that collectively hold quite a few markers on the future of the global commons, but most of whom are by any measure still poor countries.
The account of this meeting is a vision of the global framework for collaboration now and in the next few decades.
What we now have as a framework for global organization is a roiling, argumentative, plurilateralism where alliances and coalitions slip and slide along a dozen different planes of international endeavour. Farewell to the old two-handed back-room brawls and staged consensus of the pax atlantica. In the new framework broad, top-down ‘solutions’ like Kyoto’s targets and the WTO’s ‘Single Undertaking’ cannnot be made to work by a flying visit from the U.S. President or alternate hand-wringing and bluster from Brussels.
The bad news—if you’d like the world to be a settled place ruled by, say, a beneficent dictator (oxymoron) from Washington or even Beijing—is that ‘global governance’ now becomes a tricky matter of reconciling and aligning many different, probably autonomous, or at best regional attempts to deal with the management of global commons. Guaranteed to be messy.
The good news—if you think that the real measure of progress in the global commons is how far ‘all boats rise’—is that the assertiveness of the BASIC group (one re-configuration of the BRICS) is a mark of their growing wealth, confidence and sense of some sort of corporate interest.
I’m inclined to see this as the early stages of something remarkable and possibly quite exiting.