Needed: Improved International Institutions

If the institutions designed to maintain peace in Europe – and the world – are transformed or dissolved, what becomes of the peace? This question ended the previous blog post on Fifty Year Perspective.

A new book by Stephen D. King, Grave New World: The End of Globalization and the Return of History, examines the 20th Century institutions that enabled globalization, the benefits and failures of globalization, issues behind the West’s retreat from international institutions, and asks what international relations might be like without these institutions.

The international institutions created at the end of the Second World War and in the years following were ultimately institutions of the Cold War. Western economies and societies became ever more closely integrated, thanks in part to the machinations of the IMF, NATO and what eventually became the European Union. A world largely free of conflict … was also likely to be a world in which entrepreneurial capitalism was likely to flourish.

But, King notes, as the global pie predictably increased in size, “little attention was paid to its distribution.” Consequent inequality pushed voters away from centrist political positions toward populist parties. “National governments have been unable to marry global market outcomes with domestic social and political goals.”

Migration and technology have played large roles in resistance to globalization and international relations. King cites developments that promise to complicate both. He sees migration, in particular from Africa to Europe, as probable and massive. “Africa may be at the dawn of a demographic surge considerably larger than anything that happened in Europe in the nineteenth century.” Decreasing fertility and infant mortality, and improvements in sanitation and healthcare, will produce a mushrooming young adult population.

Ultimately, the African migration story will be driven by population, modest gains in per capita incomes, improved transportation linkages with the rest of the world and, in some cases, the emergence of ethnic and religious violence: precisely the conditions, in fact, that led to the exodus from Southern and Eastern Europe in the late nineteenth century.

As technology replaces cheap foreign labor with machines, production will return to the countries where goods were originally produced. The need for global supply chains would be reduced to commodities and raw materials. “Those countries unable to invest in new technologies – including superfast broadband and advanced robots – might find many of their citizens still trapped in poverty.”

If this sounds like fuel for conflict, what does it say about international institutions? Without those institutions, King asks:

  • How would a weakened Europe without the EU be able to deal with Russia, especially if the U.S. isolates itself?
  • How could smaller nations resolve trade disputes with larger nations without the WTO?
  • How could NATO states protect their collective interests without a NATO alternative?

There are no answers to these questions without acceptance of moral obligations by nation states to create more equitable institutional arrangements, and some reduction in national sovereignty in exchange for less conflict.

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