We’re all Realists Now: Robert Wright and “Progressive Realism”

The op-ed by Robert Wright is a serious effort to articulate a liberal multilateralism for the US in the face of broad US and global scepticism over the Bush Doctrine. This piece, as some others including a number suggested by Wright, argues that the damage done by the Bush administration’s incompetence in Iraq, Iran, North Korea and elsewhere has undermined the global democratic reform ideal and, dare I say, liberal ideals more generally. Neo-conservatism’s blustery rhetoric and feeble and incompetent implementation has undermined liberal reform generally and encouraged many on the left and within the Democratic Party to suggest a “pox on all their houses” and a return to diengagement and even uninvolvement. It has sent many of us liberal interventionists scrambling to redefine American foreign policy reducing, presumably, the price to be paid for global engagement. But that may not be possible. A more effective policy may be all that can Continue reading

The “Big Picture” & The “Changed Distribution of Marbles” and Middle Powers, e.g. Canada: Reflections on the Draft Paper by Gordon Smith

As we say in the law, inobiter, Art has argued that “middle powers” though he adds “especially former great powers,” recognize that the distribution of power in the international system has changed but they are, “less willing to have the one with the marbles have more of a say.” Now I suspect that this reference is more focused on Britain and France rather than on Canada, but Canada in the classic IR literature has been identified as a middle power and the GIR Workshop now has Gordon Smith’s draft on Canada and the new multilateralism.

Gordon’s draft can be found at the GIR Workshop “Library” and in the file “Draft Papers.” I am sure that Gordon would appreciate any comments you might have on the draft. I certainly don’t want to preempt comments but let me Continue reading

The “New” in New Multilateralism: A Reflection on Stein and Wolfe and adding Ikenberry

Somewhat surprisingly Art has chosen, in part,  to assert a structural explanation to the New Multilateralism – shades I guess of Grand Startegy.  He suggests that part of the “new” is: “historical institutions are dealing with a quite different distribution of power and any new instiutional arrangement will be constructed in the shadow of hegemony (I use this formulation to get across that it is not simply the current distribution of power, but also expectations about the future distribution of power that matter for institutional design today).”

Not surprisingly, Bob accepts the change in the distribution of material power but then asserts that the change in the distribution of power, presumably, currently or in respect to possible expectations for future distributions of power, do not necessarily give rise  to  a new multilateralism as an -ism.

First I don’t see why its structure as opposed to behavior most notably the behavior of the current Administration that explains the difficulties in collective action whether from a security or from a political economy framing rather than the change in the material distribution of power.

And here I turn to one of our colleagues John Ikenberry and a relatively recent contribution he made entitled “Grand Strategy as Order Building” at the America Abroad blog at TPM Cafe (see Links on the left frame).  For John one of the problems in current US foreign policy is that it  insuffuciently recognizes the need as hegemon even in, maybe because of the post September 11th world, to as the hegemon, “…to support support global rules and institutions, provide public goods, and bring countries together to solve problems.  In this sense, I am a American hegemonist to be sure – that believes that the world does not need to fall back to a more traditional balance of power system. But my point is that too remain the leading state the United States has to believe in enlightened ways that will keep it at the center of the global system.”  John argues that the US is likely to remain the hegemon, “[b]ut America’s relative power advantages will decline over the long term.”  In addition he argues that the US is not automatically indispensible.  If the US, according to John, “neglects its liberal hegemonic duties,” and fails to provide the enlightened behaviors then the US will find itself increasingly at odds with other states and these states will find ways to oppose and to work around the US.  For John then assuming the correctness of the above – the contingent indispensability of the US and its relative decline (obviously this will vary according to different dimensions of security, economy etc.) then the way is clear, and its behavioral – “the United States should be investing today in the rules and institutions of the global order – making itself indispensable and laying the ground work for a world where other global powers lurk.”  Thus for John grand strategy is the US,  “…wielding its power to craft consensual and legitimate mechanisms of international governance.”

Thus it is structure with behavior and I would suggest Art can find a more fruitful way forward by his remembering his own words in September at CIGI.  There he talked about “effective multilateralism.”  He posed the question unanswered then but usefully needing some illumination now on how to form appropriate institutions.  At that earlier September meeting  Art raised the question whether it was possible to use old institutions, or was it necessary to formulate new institutions.  Furthermore he suggested that new institutions come in various possible forms – new formal but also new ad hoc.  And if ad hoc then are they closed or open,  can they be regional or should they be global and if global in which dimensions – security, economic, etc.

I suspect new multilateralism revolves around US behavior first and then instrumental choices next.