Analysis & Opinions - The Korea Herald

The Future of Power

| October 14, 2010

Global government is unlikely in the 21st century, but various degrees of global governance already exist. The world has hundreds of treaties, institutions and regimes for governing interstate behavior involving telecommunications, civil aviation, ocean dumping, trade and even the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

But such institutions are rarely self-sufficient. They still require the leadership of great powers. And it remains to be seen whether this century's great powers will live up to this role.

As the power of China and India increases, how will their behavior change? Ironically, for those who foresee a tri-polar world of the United States, China and India at mid-century, all three the world's most populous are among the most protective of their sovereignty.

Some argue that our current global institutions are sufficiently open and adaptable for China to find it in its own interests to become what Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, once called a "responsible stakeholder." Others believe that China will wish to create its own international system as its power increases.

The countries of the European Union have been more willing to experiment with limiting state sovereignty. But it is unlikely that, barring a disaster like World War II, the world will witness 'a constitutional moment' such as it experienced with the creation of the United Nations system of institutions after 1945.

Today, the U.N. plays a crucial role in legitimization, crisis diplomacy, peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, but its very size has proven to be a disadvantage for many other functions. As the 2009 U.N. climate-change summit in Copenhagen demonstrated, meetings of 192 states are often unwieldy and subject to bloc politics and tactical moves by largely extraneous players that otherwise lack the resources to solve functional problems.

As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it recently, "the U.N. remains the single most important global institution... but we are constantly reminded of its limitations... The U.N. was never intended to tackle every challenge; nor should it."

Indeed, the main dilemma that the international community faces is how to include everyone and still be able to act. The answer lies in what Europeans have dubbed "variable geometry." There will be many multilateralisms and "minilateralisms," which will vary by issue.

For example, on monetary affairs, the Bretton Woods Conference created the International Monetary Fund in 1944, and it has since expanded to include 186 countries. But the dollar's global preeminence was the crucial feature of monetary cooperation until the 1970s. After the weakening of the dollar and then President Richard M. Nixon's decision to end its convertibility into gold, in 1975 France convened leaders of five countries in the library of the Chateau de Rambouillet to discuss monetary affairs. The group soon grew to seven, and later broadened in scope and membership including Russia and a vast bureaucratic and press apparatus to become the G8.

Subsequently, the G8 began the practice of inviting five guests from the emerging economies. In the financial crisis of 2008, this framework evolved into the G20, which boasts a more inclusive membership.

Much of the work of global governance will rely on formal and informal networks. Network organizations (such as the G20) are used for setting agendas, building consensus, coordinating policy, exchanging knowledge and establishing norms. As Anne-Marie Slaughter, director of policy planning in the U.S. State Department, argues: 'The power that flows from this type of connectivity is not the power to impose outcomes. Networks are not directed and controlled as much as they are managed and orchestrated. Multiple players are integrated into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.'

In other words, the network provides power to achieve preferred outcomes with other players rather than over them.

To cope with transnational challenges, the international community will have to continue to develop a series of complementary networks and institutions to supplement the U.N. But if major countries are divided, it is unlikely that even networks like the G20 can set the agenda.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the G20 seemed to help governments coordinate their actions. The world waits anxiously to see how it will perform when it meets again in Seoul next month. 

Joseph S. Nye, Jr, a former U.S. assistant secretary of defence, is University Professor at Harvard University. Ed.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Nye, Joseph S. Jr..“The Future of Power.” The Korea Herald, October 14, 2010.