Back Again: The Global Order in Our Sights

Munk School - 940x622It has been a long hiatus.  Truth be told, I was planning to remain silent for an entire year.  But I couldn’t resist coming back before then.  As it turns out – just on the cusp of Memorial Day weekend for my American colleagues – and in the face of the announcement that Donald Trump had enough delegates to be nominated in Cleveland at the Republican Convention in July, I am back. The fact is too much is happening both in the world of global governance and also in the examination of global order ideas.  So it’s time to end my silence.

What’s up then.  Well on the global governance front China is hosting the upcoming G20 on September 4th-5th at Hangzhou.  This is a big deal.  This hosting reinforces the view that the Liberal Order (much discussed by my colleague John Ikenberry) remains in place. And we have just seen the final  – at least for now – Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) (For a good introduction on the NSS see Global Summitry Vol.1:1 Anya Loukianova’s “Improving Nuclear Security – One Summit at a Time”). The NSS is a very evident instance of global summitry in action – leader driven, informal and often functionally targeted.  It was called together by President Obama in 2010 and has met several times since then before holding this final gathering in March.   I am certainly planning to encourage more discussion about the Summit and its accomplishments – and failures – in Global Summitry: Politics, Economics and Law in  International Governance (the Journal). As one of the senior editors of this new Oxford journal I will try and tie this blog with insights and happenings gained at the Journal.  Here then another reason for finding my voice.

And then there are the conferences and workshops that I have been fortunate enough to join in the last month or two.  There was the annual activity – in this instance the ISA meeting held in 2016 in Atlanta.   As many of you will know this is a gathering of thousands – and almost as many panels and roundtables.  I stopped in at many panels and helped organize a few myself including panels on: “middle power diplomacy” and “the BRICS and the G20” and most interestingly in some ways a roundtable on “determining success: the results of COP21”. In one manner or another the panels/roundtables examined the changing actors and the arrangements they have concluded in seeking to further global governance. Clearly I hope to elaborate further on the changing elements in global governance.  Stay tuned for further efforts next year at the ISA, this time in Baltimore in February 2017 with the rather grand conference title, ‘Understanding Change in World Politics’.  

But for me such global governance activity was not restricted to the big annual gatherings.  Your ‘global governance blogger’, or as well like to say the GG blogger was rather busy helping to organize a number of exciting workshops.  One was  a ‘doozy’.   So with the lead of Yves Tiberghien the Director of the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia, the Munk School of Global Affairs  and Zhejiang University (Zheda) hosted the first V20 –Vision 20: International Summit on Global Governance’s New Frontiers at Zheda. The Partners sought with the assistance of a stellar group of experts from academia and the think tank world and a large contingent of former officials to evaluate the progress of the G20 and in the face of China hosting the G20 at Hangzhou in September – where Zheda is located – to build a set of recommendations that a Working Group could take and fashion into a report  The hope was that these recommendations would suggest policy initiatives beyond the technical and incremental that had become the signature of recent G20 communiques – to seek, in the words of the partners, a bigger-picture approach to the G20, initiate a new network, and produce a blue paper for leadership and then possibly a book for the G20 meeting in September 2016.   

Meanwhile, back in North America with many colleagues I had been organizing several other events.  With my good friends at the the Kennedy School at Harvard we worked on the next iteration of the US-China Dialogue.  This Dialogue was begun at least eight years ago and on the US side Harvard has played the key role.  This year, as in the recent past, our China dialogue partner has been The Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS). The Harvard Team – and a few others – was led by our ‘fearless leader, Richard Rosecrance with the able assistance of the Director of Research at the Belfer Center, Gary Samore.  We were fortunate enough to work with Huang Ping a senior research professor and the Director General of the Institute of European Studies at CASS. He along with a number of his colleagues including Tao Wenzhao, Li Xiangyang, Major General Yao Yunzhu and Fan Jishe along with a special guest He Fan were able to join us for the dialogue in April at Harvard. The participants accept that the US-China relationship remains the most critical in the contemporary global order.  We held panels on key issues including the economic relationship between the two, the renminbi as a reserve currency, the politics of US-China relations, politics and military issues between the two, the efforts to build a cybersecurity regime and the continuing tensions in the South China Sea. Great insights were provided from the American side by professors  Drew Perkins, Dick Cooper, Benjamin Friedman, Ezra Vogel, Iain Johnston, Tony Saich all of Harvard and Taylor Fravel, MIT, Etel Solingen, UCI, and Arthur Stein, UCLA.  In addition we were joined by William Tobey a senior fellow at the Belfer Center, Michael Sulmeyer, Cyber Security Project director at the Belfer Center, Brigadier General Mark Gillette, and General Jim Cartwright, CSIS.  We were most pleased to welcome Professor Lawrence Summers who delivered a highly informative set of remarks at lunch. I intend to return to the conclusions that can be taken from this serious dialogue. 

And then there was the sixth annual Princeton Workshop.  This Workshop held this year in May at Princeton was begun years ago as an opportunity to bring together academics, think tank types and officials (largely past officials) to discuss key global governance issues.  This year we were fortunate enough not only to have the past partners, the Project on the Future of Multilateralism at Princeton University, led by John Ikenberry, the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, headed up by Stewart Patrick, The Stanley Foundation and its president Keith Porter but also a new partner Brookings led by Bruce Jones the vice president and director of the Foreign Policy program at Brookings and Tom Wright a fellow and director of the Project on International Order and Strategy. The final partner of course was the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

This year’s agenda was titled, “Challenging Multilateralism and the Liberal Order: What Stance Should the United States Take?”.  The discussions were wide-ranging indeed, and rather sobering in light of current presidential politics.  We held panels on ‘measuring progress in multilateralism”, ‘assessing alternative global orders’, ‘the crisis of European Integration’ (co-sponsored with the European Union Program at Princeton), ‘a divided global economic order’, ‘the Middle East: Is a Multilateral Cooperation Strategy Possible?’ and ‘US Grand Strategy: What’s Possible? What’s Likely?’ Here too, I hope to come back to the conclusions drawn by the participants at these panels as soon as the Report is posted.

So what is your favorite GG blogger intent on focusing on in the next months.  Here is just a sample of the priority subjects:      

  • First the changing architecture of the global order.  As Bruce Jones at Brookings recently wrote in a Brookings blog:

For the past several years, international affairs have been analyzed through two lenses. One lens has focused on geopolitics: in particular, the question of how great power relations are evolving at a time of redistribution in the world’s economic and now also political power. The second lens considers the framework of global governance, especially the question of whether or not the existing formal and informal institutions have the tools and the ability to manage complex global challenges. …There is little doubt that we are at an important inflection point in international order. For the past 25 years, the international system—with its win-win economic structures—has been relatively stable. But this order is under challenge and threat, and it is eroding. We risk the rise of a lose-lose international system, encompassing a deterioration of the security relations between great powers, and a breakdown of the basic structures of international cooperation.

  • Then there the focus on the ‘mechanics’ of global governance.  Who – whcih actors – are taking the actions and what arrangements – institutions, rules, norms – are being organized to address, and hopefully advance global policy? As John Ikenberry has written recently in a chapter on liberal internationalism in The Oxford Handbook of Historical Institutionalism edited by Orfeo Fioretos, Tulia G. Falleti, Adam Sheingate: 

But the focus is on how states create rules and arrangements for ongoing relations of competition and cooperation.  World politics is not simply states operating in anarchy – it is an active political order with rules, institutions, roles, and accumulated understandings and expectations.

  • In examining the ‘mechanics’, and as we discussed in the panel on the global economy at Princeton, it may well be that current global economic governance is not focused on the central concerns affecting the global economy.  Most critical today is the crisis in global economic growth. One need only look at the anemic global growth since the global economic recession – in the developed economies, and now in the emerging market countries and in China. Increases year-over-year in global trade have evaporated. And now there is a growing concern over the decline in productivity.  In an FT article by Sam Fleming and Chris Giles,  it appears that the US will suffer its first fall in productivity in 3 decades. As the journalists wrote:

Productivity growth lies at the heart of economic progress. Without an improvement in output for every hour worked, economies can grow only if people work harder and longer or more people find jobs.”

The dilemma is that current global economic governance is ill-equipped to deal with declining growth and productivity. Without the broad foundation of prosperity, the global order is at risk.     

  • Finally there the ‘elephant in the room’ the US election.  At every election there is always the insistence by politicians that the current election, whenever it is, is critical.  Generally that doesn’t prove to be the case.  All elections are of course important but there would appear to be great continuity from one election to another no matter who is running.  But somehow I think this is definitely not that kind of election. If Donald Trump is elected … well US foreign policy, indeed the US Liberal Order could be at risk.  And then what.





Leaders, Leaders: Where Have All the Leaders Gone

Obama Press Conference



Well the debate, discussion, dialogue – call it what you will – among the international relations experts and pundits began with the assertion by Walter Russell Meade and others over the return of geopolitics. This debate has grown since with the rising tide of chaos in the international system – the Middle East – Syria, Iraq, now Gaza – the Ukraine, Afghanistan, the rising tensions in the South and East China Seas.  It has become – especially for experts from the US – a full scale (re)examination of US leadership.  As noted by Peter Baker in the NYT:

It’s a very tangled mess,” said Gary Samore, a former national security aide to Mr. Obama and now president of United Against Nuclear Iran, an advocacy group. “You name it, the world is aflame. Foreign policy is always complicated. We always have a mix of complicated interests. That’s not unusual. What’s unusual is there’s this outbreak of violence and instability everywhere. It makes it hard for governments to cope with that.

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Where’s the ‘Number Two’?

Xi and Obama



With the gathering of US and China officials in Beijing for the sixth S&ED (Security and Economic Dialogue) meeting of the two, it is reasonable to take a step back to assess where relations are at the moment between these two great powers.  I was tempted to do this in part because the meetings are now happening but also because I reviewed, just the other day, a piece on global order by my colleague  Parag Khanna called a “World Reimagined” in the The National Interest.

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From Past to Future Historical Lessons and the US-China Relationship

World War I (2)


The historiography of World War I and the examination of the events that led to war on August 4, 1914 are enormous.  Notwithstanding that very large historical and analytic record, the examination of the approach to World War I is in the process of receiving a new infusion as I suggested  recently in The Flood of Remembrance – 100 Years Since the Great War approach the 100th anniversary of the war’s outbreak. Indeed this very article and the others that accompany it are part of this new look at an old issue.

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Avoiding A New Cold War – I don’t think so!

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Fashioning a moderately cooperative relationship between the US and China – the two great powers in the international system today  – has occupied many minds.  International relations specialists continue to be haunted by ‘power transition’ thesis.  According to this hypothesis, when a rising power challenges the leading status quo power, competition and often conflict follows.  Indeed historical examinations over the last century and a bit suggest that when these conditions prevail, with the most notable exception of the US and Great Britain in the late nineteenth century, these changes in the power distribution among the great powers lead to competition, rivalry and conflict.  It certainly underscores the long standing effort by the Harvard Study Group – the group I have been involved with for a number of years – and many other bilateral US-China efforts to focus their attentions on the changing dynamic of the US-China relationship.  As Beida’s Yiping Huang has written recently:

But times have changed. Today, although the US is still the world’s largest economy, China is already the second-largest and is set to overtake the US with

in the next 10 years. It is, therefore, reasonable for China and other developing countries to want to be part of the new rule-making process. But a transition of global superpowers could make all parties very nervous, as in history it often ended in war. This makes China–US cooperation all the more important, not only to avoid major confrontation but also to build a better world (January 19, 2014

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At Least a Better Tone – On Sino-US Relations

Xi-Obama at Sunnylands

A noticeable difference in tenor.  That is the first thing that struck me about this Dialogue meeting just recently concluded in Beijing.  The tenor of this Harvard-CASS Think Tank Dialogue on “Towards a New Model of Major-Country Relations between China and the United States” differed significantly from the Harvard-Beida Conference of January 2013.  The earlier Harvard-Beida Conference was filled with defensiveness and harsh questioning by our Chinese colleagues over the ‘American pivot’.  Chinese experts made repeated references to US efforts to contain China.  The suspicions over US policy and its intentions in Asia – especially US efforts to contain China – were largely absent from this meeting – apparently the 9th in the series.  Instead, in this meeting there were numerous references to the 35th anniversary of US-China relations.

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Engaging in Concert – The Fifth S&ED


This coming week the fifth round of the S&ED (Strategic and Economic Dialogue) between China and the US will be held in Washington.  Many have characterized this as a monumental “bureaucratic circus”  with each side bring as many as two hundred officials to these now annual meetings.  And at times these events indeed have appeared to be like that – a kind of gigantic bilateral “meet and greet”.

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Without Trust and Without Paranoia: US-China Relations

It was a time for informal face-to-face contact – just ended – the California summit between Presidents Xi and Obama. There is a strand of global summitry that emphasizes contact between leaders. Such contact can be disastrous of course. Kennedy’s encounter with Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961, left leaders with misconceptions about the other that ultimately led each to take steps that raised threats and crisis. Let’s hope that nothing like this occurs as a result of this summit. And the reality is that the ‘world of summits’ has changed mightily. The two presidents will see each other again shortly in St. Petersburg Russia at the G20 Leaders Summit. And they will meet again shortly thereafter in Asia at the EAS.

What can we draw as the consequences of this informal meeting of the leaders of these two great powers? Ostensibly the two leaders are searching for a “new type of great power relationship” (xinxing daguo guanxi) – The announcement of this informal summit and the search for a different kind of relationship – read all that as an effort by IR types to avoid what international relations theory tells is the likely outcome of rivalry, friction and conflict between an established superpower and a rising one. Thus many of the foreign policy experts have indeed waded in to describe what might result from such a meeting – and give some expression to the ongoing Sino-American relationship.

Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy, the consummate realist suggested a modest result:

Neither Obama nor Xi can alter the core interests of the two countries, or wish away the various issues where those interests already conflict or are likely to do so in the future. The best they can achieve is a better understanding of each other’s red lines and resolve and some agreements on those issues where national interests overlap. In this way, each can hope to keep things from getting worse and at the margin make relations a bit warmer. … But even if Obama is successful this weekend, this effort is unlikely to prevent Sino-American rivalry from intensifying in the future. The basic problem is that the two state’s core grand strategies are at odds and good rapport between these two particular leaders won’t prevent those tensions from reemerging down the road.

Walt acknowledges the description just referred to is a pessimistic one (he does describe a far more optimistic alternative) based on “… Sino-American rivalry in the future no matter how well Obama and Xi (or their successors) get on this weekend. And so for Walt “intense competition is likely”.

Then there is Walt’s FP compatriot – Dan Drezner. Now Drezner is no realist – and in fact in some ways leans more to a neo-liberal framing of international relations (I suspect Dan may not buy this). But Drezner reflected on this upcoming summit at his blog (I anticipate that this blog post is not his final word on this) by referencing Harvard’s Iain Johnston in a piece Jognston wrote recently for International Security examining the growing Chinese assertiveness – which Johnston largely rejects. The lesson for Drezner is China is no revisionist power. As he argues, “Since 2008, China has had multiple opportunities to disrupt the US-Created international order, and Beijing has passed on almost all these opportunities.” So for Drezner the landscape is filled with collaborative opportunities between the US and China:

Now let’s be clear – China is doing almost all of this to advance its own narrow self-interest. None of the above means that China is suddenly going to embrace the US perspective on human rights or the South China Sea. Still, there are a healthy number of issue areas where China’s interests are pretty congruent with the United States, and where China has taken constructive policy steps. … My main point here is that China is a great power that is inevitably going to disagree with the United Sattes on a host of issues. China is not, however, a revisionist actor hell-bent on subverting the post-1945/post 1989 global governance. To use John Ikenberry’s language, recent Sino-American disputes are taking place within the context of the current international order. They are not about radical changes to that international order. Indeed, contrary to the arguments of some, the current system has displayed surprising resilience.

In a curious way this perspective resonates if only a little with a far more pessimistic view – that expressed most pointedly by Yan Xuetong the Dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University. A strong nationalist, and realist, Yan Xuetong is not well known outside China-expert circles. FP did themselves and their publics a great favor in printing a post by the Dean entitled, “Let’s Not be Friends“. For some time now Yan Xuetong has been arguing that leaders and their officials should not promote a vision of a trust-based collaborative relationship – those arguing for it will only be disappointed. The US and China are competitors. But that need not prevent incidents of collaboration:

States cooperate not because of mutual trust, but because of shared interests that make cooperation safe and productive. China and the United States should look hard to identify what these incentives and shared interests are – and focus on developing positive cooperation when their interests overlap or complement one another, such as on denuclearization of the Korea Peninsula, and preventive cooperation when their interests conflict, such as on preventing collisions in [the] South China Sea. … Preventive cooperation differs from positive cooperation because it is based on conflicting — rather than shared — interests. … Areas of friction are likely to become more common in the coming years, but the two countries can skillfully manage their competition if they work to minimize these emerging conflicts — not only in the military sector but also in nontraditional security sectors such as energy, finance counterterrorism in the Middle East, anti-piracy in Somali Sea, and even climate change. … Encouraging China and the United States to prioritize preventive cooperation does not mean they should abandon efforts to build mutual trust. However, it does mean the two countries can stabilize their strategic relations without it. The worst-case scenario is not that China and the United States is not that China and the United States will face more strategic conflicts in the coming years, but that they never learn how to develop cooperation based on the lack of mutual trust, thus allowing a small conflict to escalate into a major one.

I suppose it is a framing a little like: “don’t trust but verify”. The dilemma I fear however is that all this realist formulation will lead – at least in US circles if not Chinese ones – to analogize the relationship to something like the cold war contestants, even as they draw distinctions between the two sets of rivals. Simplistic competitive framing is too easy and too familiar. The Washington-types that always lean on “hedging” and insist on greater military preparedness will target the competitive and forget the collaborative. Inexorably the US and China will be characterized as the new cold war rivals.

I have argued for the necessity of wedging cooperation into the relationship and rejecting any logic to US-Soviet competition. In the past I have argued that “both friend and foe” (yi di yi you) is the better framing for the great power relationship than “neither friend nor foe” (fei di fei you) – a framing often used by Chinese experts. Starting at the post, “Not Required to Choose – A Strategy for US-China Relations” I have argued that defining the relationship as including a collaborative dimension is necessary to avoid sliding into a more difficult unpleasant great power relationship. Yes, it will be difficult especially for US decision-makers to retain the partnership aspect – that is both collaborative and competitive. -Without that collaborative element to the relationship, however, Washington leadership will be all too willing to accept just a rivalrous competitive relationship with China. It is after all politically so much easier.

Let’s not make it easy for the claque.

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Still A Dialogue of the Deaf – Pivot and Containment


On the eve of the first summit between US President Obama and China’s new President Xi Jinping scheduled for the 7th and 8th at Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, California,  Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel delivered an annual and important statement at the Shangri-La Dialogue.  The speech entitled “The US Approach to Regional Security”, is not markedly distinct fromrecent speeches by the new Secretary of Defense or speeches by the National Security Advisor Thomas E Donilon – except maybe the announcement that the USS Ponce would be acquiring a solid-state laser to combat missiles and small speed boats, etc., – but still the imbalance between security and military and broader Asia-Pacific initiatives remains stark.

Now he is the Secretary of Defense giving a speech at a military and intelligence conference but the focus on grand strategy, tactical improvements and the strengthening of US allies and alliances is evident. And it didn’t long at all for the Chinese to respond.  In the question and answer Major General Yao Yunzhu, the director of the Center for China – America Defense Relations at the Academy of Military Sciences in Beijing took the opportunity to criticize the speech arguing: (1) it was not at all clear to the Chinese that the US wanted a “comprehensive”  relationship with China; and (2) that the US rebalancing or pivot amounted to anything other than “containment” of China.

Now the “containment” refrain is a Chinese point of view that you cannot miss when discussing US-China relations with Chinese experts and officials.  Indeed at the most recent meeting of the Harvard – Peking University dialogue called “The Challenge and Cooperation”  held in Beijing in January 2013, the refrain of containment was persistent from our Chinese colleagues.  Now the repeated charge is a bit much – not everything is about China – (indeed as our colleague Joe Nye asserted , “only China can contain China”) but a speech like Chuck Hagel’s certainly might well be interpreted in such a way.

So the speech is strong on alliance renewal and/or development – Japan, Korea and then allies further out in the Asia-Pacific, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and even Burma.  It says little about China other than efforts to improve military-to-military contacts – and that is not inconsequential.  But the speech is otherwise disappointing.

Secretary of Defense repeats some standard lines that warrant some reaction. First Hagel claims: “The Asia-Pacific rebalance is not a retreat from other regions of the world”.  Well it may not be a retreat but it sure seems like an escape from the Middle East.  I can’t imagine any US leadership not wishing a respite from the Middle East after Iraq and Afghanistan and the endless unproductive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.  And with budget constraints, I would think that some form of zero sum game is being played out here.  The real dilemma for the US is that it may not be possible to disengage from the Middle East as it would like and the Middle east may require more resources than the US military currently wants to commit.

The second standard line is: “In support of this goal, America is implementing a rebalance – which is primarily a diplomatic, economic and cultural strategy.”  Now again this is a strategic speech by the Secretary of Defense but a one paragraph description in an entire speech of what is claimed repeatedly by officials to be a diplomatic, economic and cultural strategy – I got to say doesn’t really cut it. Moreover in that one paragraph the Secretary of Defense raises the Trans Pacific Partnership – a new trade and investment initiative –  which most Chinese analysts, in fact not even Chinese analysts will tell you is all about the exclusion of China.

In Asia, Secretary Hagel see a range of persistent and emerging threats, including:

  • North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, and its continued provocations;
  • Ongoing land and maritime disputes and conflicts over natural resources;
  • The continued threat of natural disaster, the curse of poverty and the threat of pandemic disease;
  • Environmental degradation;
  • Illicit trafficking in people, weapons, drugs, and other dangerous materials – including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;
  • And the growing threat of disruptive activities in space and cyberspace.

And these matters are exactly where a comprehensive US-China relationship can be built.  If there are rising tensions in the Asia-Pacific and in the China-US relationship, here is the starting point.

But you can’t look to this speech for any guide to a more positive or more comprehensive relationship.  Maybe such a relationship will become clearer at the upcoming Presidents’ meeting. Let’s watch!

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Rising to a Summit – Australia’s Kevin Rudd and US-China Leaders


Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Australia has been on the “speechifying path” recently – I guess that’s what comes with others running the show.  He has been in North America and in the granddaddy of  foreign policy journals – Foreign Affairs – he has provided an interesting addition to the examination of US-China relations – “Beyond the Pivot: A New Road Map for US-Chinese Relations“.  But my suggestion is that rather than a road map his piece is more detour as he describes contemporary global summitry and how summitry today can be used to achieve both progress and stability in this most important of great power relations.

Now I must say I am a fan of Rudd – far more knowledgeable about, and interested in, international relations and international policy than most contemporary leaders. He has written a serious piece on US-China relations.  Shining a light on the new leaders and what this new leadership should examine probably would have been enough for me but in addition he has become a strong proponent for advancing the US-China relationship by a regular series of summits between the leaders – Xi Jinping and Barack Obama.  While I am never one to ‘pooh pooh’ summit advocacy, I think our former Australian leader has missed the contemporary structure of summitry and the effective means to influence contemporary regional and international stability.

So let’s drop back for a moment and examine global summitry.  Now at the global summitry project here at the Munk School of Global Affairs the working definition of global summitry is:

The   variety   of   actors – international   organizations, transgovernmental networks, states and select non-state entities – involved in the organization and execution of global politics and policy.   Global summitry is concerned with the architecture, the institutions and most critically the political and policy behavior and outcomes in global governance.

This is not your old style summitry.  It is not primarily about the “great man” theory of summit leadership – you know key leaders gazing intently across from each other determined to avoid conflict, or advance a new strategic direction – be they Chamberlain and Hitler or Kennedy and Khrushchev or a little closer to Rudd’s theme – Mao and Nixon .

I have pressed the case in this Rising BRICSAM blog and will again in the new ejournal Global Summitry we are about to launch at the Munk School of Global Affairs that to look at these leaders summits alone,  referring here particularly to the apex of such summitry today – the informal and now annual G20 Leaders Summit –  misses the better part of the structure of international governance.  Today a significant structure underpins and motivates summitry.  I call this view the ‘Iceberg Theory of Global Governance‘.   In the case of the G20 there are: the periodic meetings of the finance and central bank governors; the sherpa meetings – the personal representative of the leaders – where the agendas are put together, the meetings of the Working Groups – and there are more than a few, the meetings and reports from the traditional IFIs including, the IMF, World Bank, others, the transgovernmental regulatory organizations like the FSB, BCBS – you get the picture – a large largely unstructured structured institutional network that feeds the periodic meetings and moves the agenda forward to completion in many circumstances.

I think Rudd is rather too enamored with the old frame of global summitry.  Rudd urges that the United States choose the following course:

A third possibility would be to change gears in the relationship altogether by introducing a new framework for cooperation with China that recognizes the reality of the two countries’ strategic competition, defines key areas of shared interests to work and act on, and thereby begins to narrow the yawning trust gap between the two countries.  Executed properly, such a strategy would do no harm, run few risks, and deliver real results.  … A crucial element of such a policy would have to be the commitment to regular summitry.

As he points out there are many informal initiatives between the two great powers, “[b]ut none of these can have a major impact on the relationship, since in dealing with China, there is no substitute for direct leader-to-leader engagement.”  As a consequence Rudd urges:

The United States therefore has a profound interest in engaging  Xi personally, with a summit in each capital each year, together with other working group meetings of reasonable duration, held in conjunction with meetings of the G20, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the East Asia Summit.

But the governments also need authoritative point people working on behalf of the national leaders, managing the agenda between summits and handling issues as the need arises.  In other words, the United States needs someone to play the role that Henry Kissinger did in the early 1970s, and so does China.

Now Rudd suggests that for an agenda the leaders need to then take one or more issues that are currently bogged down and “work together to bring them to successful conclusions” and he suggets tackling the stalled Doha Round issues, climate-change negotiations, nuclear nonproliferation or specific outstanding items on the G20 agenda.  Rudd concludes:

Progress on any of these fronts would demonstrate that with sufficient political will all around, the existing global order can be made to work to everyone’s advantage, including China’s.

Now Rudd doesn’t end there but has suggestions for the regional dimension including obviously the island disputes and a protocol to address incidents at sea; and on the bilateral matters Rudd urges that military-to-military contact be upgraded and the talks should be insulated from the ups and downs of the US-China relationship.

Now there is value in urging bilateral summits.  But let’s not turn these current global summit efforts into a G2 – there is much suspicion already around the high table of an implicit bilateral power consortium. An explicit effort of this sort could only undermine collective summitry efforts.  So let’s avoid China and the US dealing as a central agenda with the global agenda of the G20 or the EAS Summit.  And let’s build this new summit network off of let’s say the bilateral S&ED (Strategic and Economic Dialogue).  Here groups tackle bilaterally through a vast network of national officials and ministries the bilateral issues that raise tensions and conflict in US-China relations.

I have heard that President Obama, following the G20 Toronto Summit, complained that he was meeting all the same leaders from one summit to another.  I hope his officials pointed out that that was exactly the point.  So for both Obama and Xi, the G20 or APEC or EAS remains part of global governance structure that is needed for collective discussions and decision-making – leave the bilateral to the bilaterals.

And as for the military-to-military discussions I suspect it still a vain hope to expect these meetings to be insulated from the competitiveness and rivalry that remains an element of the great power relationship. However, I would think the building of a more structured and regularized network dedicated to the S&ED – its tasking and summit meetings – could in the long run insulate the military discussions from the displays of political displeasure.

There is clearly a case for global summitry for the US-China relationship it is just not the model Rudd suggests.

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