Stewart M. Patrick

The Internationalist

Patrick assesses the future of world order, state sovereignty, and multilateral cooperation.

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The Launch of a Global Conversation

by Stewart M. Patrick
April 13, 2012


Despite being on the road this week, the Internationalist would like to highlight the release of a report (PDF) summarizing the conclusions of the inaugural session of the Council of Councils (CoC), held March 12-13, 2012. Hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, the first-ever session of the CoC included a meeting of twenty major foreign policy think tanks from nineteen different countries. The CoC also included two keynote speeches from Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank, and Robert D. Hormats, U.S. undersecretary for economic growth, energy, and the environment.

Why, one might ask, launch such a remarkably “multilateral,” albeit complex, undertaking?

Let’s leave it to my boss, CFR President Richard N. Haass, to best explain the dual significance and relevance of launching the CoC.  He writes, “The defining foreign policy challenges of the twenty-first century are global in nature. The Council of Councils draws on the best thinking from around the world to assess emerging threats and opportunities and formulate responses to them.”

At its core, the conference allowed representatives hailing from numerous influential countries to engage in exhaustive discussions—and often spirited debate—concerning major global governance challenges, trends, as well as, of course, opportunities.

The inaugural CoC meeting addressed four critical themes:

  • The state of global governance and multilateral cooperation. Overall, there was agreement that both substantial technological change and deepening globalization have led to extraordinary changes in how countries are expected to operate in the global system. This, for example, includes the proliferation of powerful nonstate actors as well as the increasing influence of the Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) bloc, among other rising powers. The test, then, is whether countries, including the United States, can adapt to such developments and cooperate to address global challenges.
  • The status of the nuclear nonproliferation regime (with a focus on Iran).  In general, there was an acknowledgement that Iran appears to be, at least, pursuing a strategy to develop a nuclear weapons capability. On the other hand, there was little consensus concerning what multilateral strategy would best ensure Iran does not succeed in developing nuclear weapons. There was also significant debate as to whether international frameworks like the P5+1 and tools like economic sanctions could effectively coerce Iran into not pursuing nuclear weapons. Furthermore, even among those conceding military action might be necessary to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, there was disagreement about what so-called “red lines” Iran had to cross before military operations were launched.
  • The dollar’s future as the world’s reserve currency. While the Chinese renminbi (RMB) may be most considered next in line to replace the dollar as a new reserve currency, there was agreement that it was unlikely to supplant the dollar anytime soon. The same was true for the euro, which has suffered a loss of enthusiasm in the wake of the eurozone crisis. Nonetheless, there was consensus that the United States needs to do more domestically to control its account and fiscal deficits, lest major financial players and institutions lose confidence in the sustainability of the dollar.
  • The criteria for humanitarian intervention, especially in the wake of regime change in Libya and the current crisis in Syria.  Most agreed that despite the UN Security Council authorized intervention in Libya, it remains unclear whether the Libya case actually represents a precedent for future interventions under the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine—think Syria—or was more a one-off, transient consensus among leading powers and major intergovernmental organizations. Whatever the case, the intervention in Libya illuminated the ever-present necessity of including emerging powers and regional institutions in future international dialogues where humanitarian intervention is considered.

Again, a brief but comprehensive rapporteur’s report going into far greater detail about each of these themes, as well as other important COC topics, has been posted online. Other than providing a window into the first CoC, the document offers a glimpse as to some of the most important areas of harmony and discord regarding pressing global governance issues.

The Council on Foreign Relations’ International Institutions and Global Governance program, in conjunction with other valued CoC partners, looks forward to iterating the CoC in 2013 through a plenary meeting as well as groundbreaking regional meetings held across the world.

With any luck, this innovative and unprecedented partnership including so many of the world’s leading foreign policy think tanks, will help provide pragmatic policy options for the development of institutions capable of addressing the critical global governance challenges of the twenty-first century.

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  • Posted by Jackie

    1. The State of Global Governance and Multilateral Cooperation – We are moving towards “global swing” meaning, like a jazz ensemble, various regions of the world (like instrumental sections) are asserting themselves; regional identities (take BRICS) are distinctive and yet all must come together in a coordinated or ensemble sound. Balancing the geopolitical tensions of this shifting terrain is like the delicate balancing act in swing; as the rhythm section coordinates its efforts, all instrumental sections move towards a state of sonic equilibrium lest cacophony fill the concert hall. The power distance moves from being vertical to multilateral as influence is dispersed; the top can “hear” the “bottom” as the back of the ensemble (brass) must necessarily listen to the front (reeds).

    2. The status of nuclear nonproliferation regime (with a focus on Iran) – when we understanding the power shift and the need to achieve equilibrium, we recognize tension and uncertainty as necessary to progress. In a jazz ensemble, this is rehearsal; differences of opinion, brainstorming, trial-and-error are all worked out behind the scenes, away from the audience. When the band moves on stage to play, all efforts are coordinated. The result is a powerful, well-coordinated and articulated performance. Antagonistic cooperation.

    3. The dollar’s future as the world’s reserve currency – By getting its own economy in order, the US stands the best chance of having a legitimate claim in asserting its currency as the reserve currency. That said, as part of a global system in new and newly challenging ways, the US must engage external markets more forthrightly not by adopting the exclusionary policies of the past. I think the US is doing this.

    4. The Criteria for humanitarian intervention… – coordinated efforts with multiple players will yield diverse results. We do not exist (nor have we ever) in a cookie-cutter world. What works in Libya may not in Syria. It is high time the US and other nations realized this irrefutable truth. Through constant engagement with multiple partners, I am confident a reasonable response will be reached. A jazz band does not play one score; while a stock set of musicians (G8, G20, pick your configuration of players) may have an identifiable sound, the score they are required to play will change even within a given concert. Think about the Arab Spring, same concert “Remove the Dictator” but multiple responses or songs played.

    Yes, we need Global Swing. I am delighted by the work of the CoC.

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