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: united nations
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.