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Should we defend global institutions?

Written By: - Date published: 9:22 am, August 8th, 2018 - 37 comments
Categories: climate change, Deep stuff, defence, Donald Trump, global warming, immigration, International, sustainability, us politics - Tags:

There was a statement put out in the New York Times on July 27 defending postwar international institutions. And it was signed by hundreds of international relations scholars and specialists.

The international order formed after World War II provides important benefits to the United States as well as other countries. The United Nations, NATO, the World Trade Organization, the European Union and other postwar institutions all help to provide economic stability and international security, contributing to unprecedented levels of prosperity and the longest period in modern history without war between major powers. U.S. leadership helped to create this system and U.S. leadership has long been critical for its success. Although the United States has paid a significant share of the costs of this order since its inception, it has greatly benefited from its rewards. Indeed, the U.S. has gained disproportionate influence on setting the rules of international exchange and security cooperation in ways that reflect its interests around the globe. Today, though, the international institutions supporting the postwar order are under attack by President Donald J. Trump. As scholars of international relations, we are alarmed by these attacks. We should reform but not destroy the system that has served the United States and its allies well for over seven decades. The global order is certainly in need of major changes, but absolutely not the reckless ones President Trump is pursuing. Institutions are much harder to build up than they are to destroy. Almost nobody benefits from a descent into the chaos of a world without effective institutions that encourage and organize cooperation.

Now, there’s plenty of reasons to agree with them, plenty to defend, and plenty to disagree with. Stephen M. Walt sets out his own reasons for not signing up to the pledge here.

I’ll leave that to you. Well, you and Team America.

It’s not a good idea to lump together disparate institutions including the U.N., I.M.F., NATO, W.T.O., and E.U. They have all caused their own kinds of benefit and damage, which is what occurs over time to anything that presumes to throw a juridical order over chunks of the world and enforce it.

It’s also not smart to get too nostalgic for a liberal international order of things. Plenty with substantive qualifications in international relations have written on how illiberal it was in parts, how exclusive and non-global it was, how rank the various hypocrisies, how ugly their misuses.

As to why this “order” went seriously astray, Jeff Colgan and Robert Keohane have a crack at that here.

But it tempts us to chuck out the idea of global agreement, global enforcement, and global institutions as a whole. Which is wrong.

What we are missing are the new institutions that have yet to emerge.

There’s one set of institutions this world doesn’t have, and that’s a set designed to protect the world as earth: binding rule-based force behind stopping climate change (or even ameliorating its worst); habitat and species destruction; fresh water conservation. All the stuff that sustains life itself has no forcible protection.

We don’t yet have agreement across our political order that the earth itself is at risk. We’re getting little signs breaking out into the political imaginarium – a wildfire and a heatwave here, death of the last white Rhino there, a few more droughts. But there’s no 1848 moment, no great set of continent-wide famines to really test the idea of food markets without rules, for example.

The world is still considered more as a set of countries and a set of essential national peoples to defend within countries, before it is considered the earth.

Yet we’ve seen the Ross Sea Reserve come into force.

And there are moves for even bigger Antarctic ocean reserves as well.

And I have no desire to ridicule the effort that went into the non-binding bits of the Paris Climate Change agreement. It was hard enough to get most countries to where they were, and may represent the high water mark of global environmental agreement until after President Trump is done.

So it’s not as if international environmental agreement across really large parts of the earth isn’t possible.

A second set of institutions we don’t have is any set of global taxes that redistribute corporate tax across the world from the rich to the poor. We do have some states and multi-states taxing and fining multinationals harder. But it’s uneven.

We’ve also seen some of the worst tax-haven excesses ridiculed and having to scuttle into tinier crevices of the world’s financial crust.

Since we are going to get more and more super-groupings of trading partners with uniform rules, the questions around uniform tax rates within trading blocs will arise simply as a matter of comparative advantage. From questions about tax advantage within trading blocs will arise moral questions about redistributing wealth through global tax from the rich countries to the poor. We have already seen large states use massive patronage for over a century over small colonial or neo-patrimonial arrangements. Sometimes – as in the Laotian dam failure – these arrangements fail. But mostly they go unnoticed and get ever more binding.

If I were foretelling two new realms of institutional growth to supplement and in time replace the existing “liberal international order”, that’s where I’d look.

People who research the strength, weakness, and efficacy of global public institutions sure should feel worried that public good institutions are weakening as we speak. It’s not a pretty time to support global institutions. Most environmental activists talk in small communitarian terms that are near-identical to small-scale startup entrepreneurial languages – with just as much success rate.

New Zealand was one of the countries that was closely involved in the formation of the United Nations, particularly under the skilful hand of Prime Minister Peter Fraser.

And that in the end is the kind of leadership I would like to see from any Labour-led government. It’s a great start to revive the social democrat cause with a more coherent redistributive state prepared to tilt whole spatial markets by developing at scale. It’s great management. But the earth and the poor of the earth need more, and need the institutions to do it.

Institutionally, it’s OK to ask for more.

37 comments on “Should we defend global institutions?”

  1. Blazer 1

    The statement is unadulterated U.S propaganda.

    As for this-‘the longest period in modern history without war between major powers. U.S. leadership helped to create this system and U.S. leadership has long been critical for its success. ‘

    Talk about a matter of degree.

    The notion that the U.S has foreign policy with any altruistic aims is laughable.

    The growth of the corporatocracy has used the institutions mentioned to further their own agendas.

    • Wayne 1.1

      Think what these institutions were for, basically to stop WW3. Which was pretty compelling for western statesmen of the 1940’s. They had all lived through WW1 as well as WW2. Measured against the first 50 years of the twentieth century they have been pretty effective.
      Yes,we had Korea, Vietnam, Middle East and Africa, and of course the Cold War, but none of these are remotely as bad as WW1 or WW2.
      The last 70 years (especially the last 30) has probably been the longest period of sustained and widespread growth the world has ever seen.
      So before ditching what exists, you would have to be dam sure that anything else would be better.
      Of course they need improving, the comment on climate change being particularly pertinent.
      Of course Standardnistas would prefer revolutionary change and take their chances with the outcome.
      One thing about the PM, she is quite prudent about that. She is basically a moderate, unlike say Marama Davidson. But then Marama Davidson is doing exactly what her supporters wanted. In my view Julie Anne Genter would have been more effective.

      • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1

        The last 70 years (especially the last 30) has probably been the longest period of sustained and widespread growth the world has ever seen.

        With the resultant climate change and putting us on the path to another mass die off.

        So before ditching what exists, you would have to be dam sure that anything else would be better.

        As it stands pretty much anything would be better if it stops the ongoing profit driven destruction of the environment.

        Of course Standardnistas would prefer revolutionary change and take their chances with the outcome.

        And that would be another lie. Even I don’t want a bloody revolution but we do need to get rid of capitalism and the capitalists.

        Quoting Why we can’t afford the rich:

        We still have these double standards: prison for those found guilty of welfare benefit fraud, mere disapproval or small fines arrived at through gentlemens’ agreements for major tax avoidance or evasion. They are central to neoliberal culture.

        It is a mistake to envy the rich. Envy of their excessive consumption only encourages emulation. And using control of assets to extract wealth that others have created is hardly worthy of envy. It’s unjust and dysfunctional.

        • Wayne

          Getting “rid of capitalism and the capitalists” would require a revolution.

          • Stuart Munro

            They’re addicted to the abuse of the power they’ve stolen and won’t use it in the public interest as they were sworn to do.

            As with any other group of criminals, counting on reform in the absence of compulsion is a forlorn hope.

          • Draco T Bastard

            No. Just legislation.

            • Wayne

              Good luck with getting a coalition elected into government that promises to do that.

              • arkie

                Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

                J.F. Kennedy

              • Draco T Bastard

                You may not like it but it is coming. People are waking up to how much capitalism fucks everything up and that capitalists are the biggest bludgers.

                Quoting Why we can’t afford the rich:

                Researchers Palan, Murphy and Chavagneux describe tax havens as ‘a massive organized attempt by the richest and most powerful to take advantage of collective goods on a scale rarely seen’.82 They are another means by which the rich free-ride on the rest of us, enjoying the benefits of public spending funded by taxes that we, the little people, pay. They undermine attempts to regulate banking so as to protect customers. They support plutocracy over democracy.

          • Sabine

            why ? oh because you and your sort don’t want to share?

      • Blazer 1.1.2

        Interesting two minutes on real U.S Foreign policy…

        • corodale

          Yes, very clear and simple video, well done.

          It’s difficult to over-throw the system, because the target is so hard to define.

          Like fighting a revolution against Kiwisaver.

  2. Bill 2

    Well at least the appeal/petition was honest enough in acknowledging that the institutions are all about promoting or preserving US led economic interests – ie, liberal capitalism.

    Donald Trump undermining the credibility of those institutions may be problematic, but neither he nor the dissonance he may create are the problem. Liberal capitalism’s the problem – at least from the perspective of an inhabitable world.

    Fiddling with the rules those institutions seek to enforce, or augmenting the list of rules to include (for want of a phrase) “nature” wont do anything bar ensure the end of any possible globally integrated expression of human civilisation.

    Putting it simply – when there’s an existential threat to survival, either the existential threat gets dealt to, or survival gets dealt to. Liberal capitalism is the existential threat. Seeking to modify the institutions of liberal capitalism is unwittingly seeking to ensure that survival is dealt to.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      Putting it simply – when there’s an existential threat to survival, either the existential threat gets dealt to, or survival gets dealt to. Liberal capitalism is the existential threat. Seeking to modify the institutions of liberal capitalism is unwittingly seeking to ensure that survival is dealt to.


  3. Dennis Frank 3

    Their anti-Trump stance is just the establishment defending itself. He’s a barbarian who’s not at the gates where he should be. He managed to get inside & ascend to a commanding position on the primary turret. The owners of the castle are understandably aghast at his ranting from there.

    I’m anti-Trump in respect of his climate change denial. That’s due to the conspiracy theorist narrative that informs the right in the USA. The establishment seeks total control of the world – the castle ain’t enough for them. Anyone who values freedom is therefore anti-establishment. They believe that the UN agenda is to throttle capitalism in order to prevent climate change.

    They get voter traction when they spin this as govt sucking more money out of taxpayers to fight climate change. As long as governments keep making voters pay, and the UN keeps operating according to the Bilderberg agenda, opposition will continue to build. No amount of enlightened institution building will prevail against this momentum.

    • corodale 3.1

      The climate deal was cheese, the whole global military budget was excluded from the calc! They know China with BRICS buddies are winning, they not stupid. They think the UN is a joke with a Jesuit hand up the… He does the only style that works, song-n-dance man. His admin should be given the benefit of the doubt, so is the cloud of war. A bit of positive thinking not ganna kill any trees.

      BRICS institutional development is where it’s at, Group of 77 are with them, and our ASEAN+2 is where we should be making contributions on behalf of the Pacific, Singapore based think-tanks (perhaps your google search engine is blocking them 😉 … plenty of room for positive play.

  4. Jenny 4

    Should we defend global institutions?

    You might as well try to resuscitate the League of Nations…..

    • Jenny 4.1

      ……and for the same reasons.

      • McFlock 4.1.1

        Frankly, I think our international institutions are evolving just as we are.

        The LoN was the first attempt to avoid the web of alliances of both great and minor powers that turned a Balkan dispute into WW1. It failed, but it was a start, and lessons were learned.

        The UN spawned a huge amount of global cooperation, but it too has its failings. The veto is both a weakness and a strength (without it, the Soviets would have stayed out after the UN deployed troops to Korea and the UN would just be another LoN in the history books. But the veto is also a brake on fundamental change).

        But there are advantages – elimination of CFCs to preserve the ozone layer come to mind. We haven’t gotten far enough on climate change by any stretch of the imagination, but I think we’ve gotten farther than we would have with 19thC global diplomatic mechanisms.

        Hopefully we’ll get good enough global systems to ameliorate AGW. No single nation is going to solve it for all of us, but I’m damned if I’ll sit in a corner and mope that we’re all doomed. That’s just a self-fulfilling prophecy.

        • Jenny

          “Hopefully we’ll get good enough global systems to ameliorate AGW. No single nation is going to solve it for all of us, but I’m damned if I’ll sit in a corner and mope that we’re all doomed. That’s just a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

          McFlock 4.1.1
          8 August 2018 at 1:13 pm

          We are not doomed. If you think that is my message then you have misunderstood what I wrote.

          This is not what I meant at all.

          What I was trying to say is that in my opinion what is missing is global leadership.

          The John Key doctrine of being a “Fast Follower” on AGW, is not just related to this country, almost every other country in the world is waiting for every other country to take the lead.

          Britain didn’t wait till there was international agreement, before they made slavery illegal.

          We didn’t wait till till there was international agreement, before legalising female franchise. (If we did, we would be still waiting), instead we took matters into our own hands.

          We took the lead, and by doing so, we challenged all other nations to do the same.

          As I said in the example above, Britain didn’t wait to take on German Nazism until the League Of Nations could agree….

          That is not how change happens;

          Britain took the lead and challenged all other nations to do the same.

          In my opinion we here in New Zealand are well suited to take the lead on combatting AGW.

          (Leadership is the key. Not fast following as per Key).

          McFlock if you are waiting for international agreement, or world peace to break out, or even as some here have suggested “socialism to be achieved”, before we tackle AGW. We will all be overwhelmed long before any of these unlikely events are ever realised.

          What your policy ignores is the role of human agency.

          We, people like you and me, (in all countries), must act to put pressure on our political leaders to take up, and compete for, the role of global leadership against AGW.

          “Hopefully” waiting we’ll get good enough global systems to ameliorate AGW. ie expecting some overarching international bureaucracy, like the UN or COP 21, to coordinate international action against climate change will be like asking these international organisations to herd cats.

          • McFlock

            You’re the one who brought up the league of nations.

            I don’t think we’re doomed either – but some do, and seem to relish in their prediction.

            And sure, we can tinker around the edges of AGW on a state-by-state basis.

            But hopefully current international bodies, and their paving the way to multilateral actions, will ameliorate the impact of AGW so we’re as far away from the “doomed” scenario as possible.

            • Jenny

              Should we defend global institutions?

              What global institutions?

              The UN?

              The US global policeman?

              Chinese imperialism?

              Russian revanchism?

              Hi McFlock I brought up the League of Nations as an example of bureaucratic top down failure, to explain why International organisations like the UN fail and why International agreements like COP21 are failing and will continue to fail right up until COP100 and beyond.

              I agree that tinkering around with climate change on a state-by-state basis is pointless. But that it is not what I am saying.

              The problem is a global problem and can only be solved globally.

              What I am saying is that to get global action one nation (at least) needs to unilaterally make an aggressive start.

              That is how global change has happened in the past and it is how it will happen again.

              Or it won’t happen at all.

              • McFlock

                Not sure how LoN counts as “top down failure”.

                And no, there are basically only one or two nations that could get global action by a unilateral aggressive start, and NZ isn’t either of them.

                CFC emissions were drastically cut by international accord. Which nation made the “aggressive start” that changed the world there?

  5. Jenny 5

    Herding cats…

  6. At times like this,… we need to ask ….”what would Walter Cronkite do ?”…

    Top 10 Walter Cronkite Moments: JFK, Vietnam, Watergate – YouTube
    Video for walter cronkite we have lost the war youtube▶ 6:25

  7. Exkiwiforces 7

    To me the UN needs to reform itself in particular the permanent members of the Security Council ie move to a more regional base with one member from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americans and Oceania elected with 5yr term on the UNSC, but also keeping also keeping the 3yr vote to UNSC as well or we reform in the use of the Veto.

    The EU probably really needs to have really good at itself at why the Brits voted to leave the EU especially at the current EU president Mr Juncker or whatever his name is. Because his attitude towards the Brits and the fact he and his fellow muppets within the EU seem to forget the meaning of free speech/ democracy does in my mind set bad example to the rest of EU members which has already seen some blow back towards the inner workings of the EU.

    If and when the EU finally decides to formally raise its own EU Defence Force then NATO should disband, but it in say that some people should really talk to those from Eastern Europeans who lived under Soviet occupation to understand why NATO advance into Eastern Europe or Georgia and the Ukraine citizens who want EU or NATO protection.

    The WTO really needs to grow a set of balls towards the at those countries who break rules IRT to the environment, trade dump of cheap goods, workers wages/ WHS, multi international tax avoidance racquets and use subsidies as trade barriers.

  8. I think long before we ever have to grow a set of gills because of global warming we will see an economic crash which will make the Great Depression look like a mere blip on the radar, – and because of that , – H clouds sprouting in the middle east.

    And all the Kings horses and all the Kings men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.

  9. corodale 9

    G77 was the greatest peace movement ever know. They have some digestible think-tanks coming out of Singapore and Kenya. (NZ can build relations here under ASEAN) I believe they would generally describe the institutions listed in the article above as “Washington consensus”.

    Speaking of global institutions and thus “Washington consensus”, isn’t the Pentagon’s current General still a Zionist, appointed by the UN’s puppet masters? At first that was to by-pass the Bush gangsters after Sept2001. Looks like the Pentagon’s power base remained during Obama years, and seems now that the Trump administration is negotiating to get some of that power back to the White House, but whatever girl-friend, say-it-to-the-hand…

    Institutions rising out of BRICS…, having economies that produce stuff, rather than debt – watch this space.

    It’s worth noting that Bretton Woods Institutions (World Bank, IMF) still have the capital reserves for humanity, gold etc, from the 40’s (in the Philippines, with the US army). In theory, this could be used to re-establish a stable currency to support debt default negotiations. Some in the World Bank have kept themselves alive and been working hard at this.

    • corodale 9.1

      slight correction to above. It wasn’t till 2015 that the Bush goons where kicked out of the Pentagon, some 14years! after they collaborated on the 9/11. The White House wasn’t taking the CIA serious on BIG stuff, so they had to do some major bi-passing to a new admin in the Pentagon, with the approval of top UN players.

      CIA whistle blowers claim there are close to a thousand (big) govt institutions directly involved in security, and another 2000 private companies in the US working at the top secret level. So there is no shortage of power regarding the strength of international institutions.

  10. [‘ It’s worth noting that Bretton Woods Institutions (World Bank, IMF) still have the capital reserves for humanity, gold etc, from the 40’s (in the Philippines, with the US army). In theory, this could be used to re-establish a stable currency to support debt default negotiations. Some in the World Bank have kept themselves alive and been working hard at this ‘] .

    ^^^ Interesting.

    Wonder if they ever would though,… they might get their wrists slapped if they tried.

    • corodale 10.1

      Standard mix of smear tactics, threats…, security changes to get them looked out of meetings… Well over half the employees in these institutions are corrupt or muppets. But 10% or more are good folk who understand the bigger picture and mean well, so yeah never know, it might be improving. The law is on our side, but the courts are often disappointing. (that is the way the whistle blowers paint the picture)

  11. Brutus Iscariot 11

    Nothing can exist without the means – in this case the means was total US economic and military supremacy. The Left have spent 50 years railing against this system and its abuses, but are now in behind it as they hate the man who is exposing its absurdity.

    That’s the confused “enemy of my enemy” logic, where the mainstream left come out as staunch defenders of a redundant NATO, the corrupt (and arguably downright evil) US intelligence establishment, and the increasingly ridiculous notion of US exceptionalism.

    Within a decade the US won’t have the means to impose its will, and the world will splinter into a series of regional blocs where spheres of influence are hammered out. Trump is merely recognising (and expediting) this process. “America First” actually equals “America Can’t”.

    • greywarshark 11.1

      Ooh that’s uncomfortable – do you have to be so brutal Brutus? Can’t you be nicer to us?

      Where is NZ going to be after spheres of influence are hammered out? Under Australia’s overheated plutocracy, the USA or Chinese? UK won’t be in it as they are showing the type of democracy they are, one where you go to war with for the ide benefit of social cohesion.( (Falklands by dear old grass-roofer. Pity that her busband’s connections ever rose )from their old ways).

  12. RedLogix 12

    No time for a substantive response, but this is one of the best OPs ever Ad.

    Wish I could have done it myself.😁

  13. greywarshark 13

    When you have opinionated irrresponsible people trading on their own authority and notoriety you sure do need some institutions that stand by truth and critique outpourings especially from the pseudos.l

    Ian Rutherford Plimer (born 12 February 1946) is an Australian geologist, professor emeritus of earth sciences at the University of Melbourne,[1] previously a professor of mining geology at the University of Adelaide,[2] and the director of multiple mineral exploration and mining companies.[3] He has published many scientific papers, six books and is one of the co-editors of Encyclopedia of Geology.[4][5] He has been an outspoken critic of both creationism and the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change.
    Ian Plimer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Plimer

    Like many old men who have achieved success in one field and made money he now thinks he is God-on-wheels. This from 2009 from George Monbiot.

    But the verbal lava that he has spewed is still floating round in 2018, and appealed to an elderly relative who sent me a link part of which I quote:

    PLIMER: “Okay, here’s the bombshell. The volcanic eruption in Iceland. Since its first spewing of volcanic ash, it has, in just FOUR DAYS, NEGATED EVERY SINGLE EFFORT you have made in the past five years to control CO2 emissions on our planet – all of you.

    Of course, you know about this evil carbon dioxide that we are trying to suppress – it’s that vital chemical compound that every plant requires to live and grow and to synthesize into oxygen for us humans and all animal life…

    The volcanic ash emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere in just four days – yes, FOUR DAYS – by that volcano in Iceland has totally erased every single effort you have made to reduce the evil beast, carbon. And there are around 200 active volcanoes on the planet spewing out this crud at any one time – EVERY DAY.

    etc and on.
    It will not surprise that what prompted this was the Aus government trying to tone things down and get some funds through a carbon tax. Yessir it’s money that counts and the rich can detect a bad smell every time the government want to tax them for something – it is sure to be a sham and should be resisted by every twisted capitalist-in-training wheels.

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