To successfully navigate the complex dynamics of multipolarism in the new century, it’s helpful to first map out the preceding framework, created in the post-WWII era to discover its impact on the new world we find ourselves in. By 1945, it is told in introductory International Relations courses across the U.S., only one nation had the ability to project both its power and values across all regions of the globe; that power was the U.S.. From 1945 and the years immediately preceding it a number of multilateral agreements of global governance were signed by the majority of pre-WWII great powers, including Great Britain, France, occupied Germany and Japan, as well as new nations and small (but not very powerful) nations alike. The U.S. shaped the world order of post-1945 with liberal institutions that provided common regulation and law. These institutions included the International Monetary Fund (IMF), The World Bank, The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the United Nations (UN). These organizations, along with the postwar redevelopment strategies of the Marshall Plan, and the collective defense entity North American Treaty Organization (NATO) fostered new strength in economies at home and abroad as well as creating the security mechanisms necessary to satisfy cross-border trade and investment. It was this institutional framework that made the transition from multipolarism (pre-WWI)-bipolarism(1950-1989)-unipolarism(1991-2007)-multipolarism(post-G8) possible peaceably. This was successful under American direction. Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski is more direct in stating how heavily American this institutional framework has been.
“[…] one must consider as part of the American system the global web of specialized organizations, especially the ‘international’ financial institutions. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank can be said to represent ‘global’ interests, and their constituency may be construed as the world. In reality, however, they are heavily American dominated and their origins are traceable to American initiative, particularly the Bretton Woods Conference of 1944.”
The changes in the international state system, out of bipolar and into unipolar were successful because of American engagement in global affairs. By shifting from realpolitik to liberal institutionalism it allowed for the development of a world based on guiding principles anew, but required American engagement to make it possible. U.S. engagement set the stage for a return to multipolarism, with the expectation that the framework created would be positive enough for the majority of new global players, to accept it in its general form. The institutions mentioned are now in the process of diversifying in influence. Strategic trans-pacific initiatives aimed at disseminating norms of social and economic development and reconciling rising powers with established powers in a fashion that sets the stage for shared growth are a key component of this re-balancing. Rising nations now engaging in the decision-making of the global body politic include China, South Korea, India, Indonesia, and South Africa. An example of this that showcases both the change in the internal dynamics of American decision-making of global leadership and its adjustment to engaging overseas audience is the current president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim. He was born in Seoul, South Korea and can use his platform as an American citizen on the world stage to influence issues that have international impact, like climate change, an issue he was quoted recently about,
“If you think of the number of storms that have hit over the past year, the severity of those storms… The frequency of these events is increasing and that’s exactly what the climate change scientists have predicted[…]What I hope the tragedy in the Philippines helps us to do is to move away from having what I think are silly arguments about not really the science, but about science as a whole.”
It is telling that Americans acting on the global stage can share common concerns with their counterparts both organizationally and internationally and thus react from a globalist standpoint. Regional and global organizations will continue and deepen their impact on development. One such organization would be the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is striving towards “interstate trust” and “managing peaceful change” at a time when “apparent tension[s] between globalization and interdependence on the one hand and the persistence of a fairly tradition regional nation-state system on the other.” The traditional liberal institutions of global governance created and dominated by America will continue to have persistent necessity but only if it continues to transition to a more global stake ownership where new players and organizations can enter into the fold and guide global policy.
To further elaborate, the G8 is no longer useful for engaging world affairs. It’s replacement by the G20 offers an opportunity to support a climate of decreasing inequity between established and rising powers. The G20, while having no formal mechanisms of legal or regulatory power, does offer a powerful platform which leaders of states, business, and NGO’s of the twenty largest economies in the world can ascertain the nature of the global economy at that moment, and challenge established norms or propose dynamic solutions to common concerns. The G20 directly proceeding the financial crisis is an example of this kind of opportunity. Instead of engaging in backroom secret coalitions between a small number of countries ready to promote protectionist policies, the G20 established an environment from which a global solution for lack of demand could be generally agreed upon. Soon thereafter the U.S. and China engaged in stimulative policies. The U.S. central bank loaned trillions to European banks, ensuring continued credit during the depths of the financial crisis. In a show of transparency these new financial instruments’ were explained by the Federal Reserve,
“Because of the role that the U.S. dollar plays in global financial markets, strains in dollar funding markets overseas can disrupt financial conditions in the United States. To address severe strains in global short-term dollar funding markets, the Federal Reserve established temporary central bank liquidity swap lines (also referred to as reciprocal currency arrangements) with a number of foreign central banks. Foreign central banks then could draw on those lines to provide dollar liquidity to institutions in their jurisdictions. In the swap transactions, the Federal Reserve deals only with the foreign central bank. Moreover, as explained below, the transaction is structured so that the Federal Reserve does not bear any foreign exchange risk. In May 2010, dollar swap lines were re-established with certain foreign central banks because of the re-emergence of strains in dollar funding markets.”
The G20 may be an example of why the world has really become a G-zero, in which no one nation can go it alone in a highly interdependent world on the issue of economics; investment, trade, and development. The UN Security Council, on the other hand, being an institution dealing primarily with security matters, when crises arise, is not likely to see an increase in its permanent or otherwise membership. However, as China, Russia, and France continue to promote mutual relations with nations on economic and security matters, it is likely that nations not permanent members of the security council will be able to plead their case to an increasingly judicious international community in which no one nation can dominate what resolutions will be passed. For example the security ties of Russia and the government in Damascus have tabled any use of legal, international, coalition force against that government. Syria, not being a member of the security council itself, cannot stop a resolution from being passed. But by venturing past its own borders towards relationships with other states, Syria was able to legitimize itself to an extent where legal international action could not be taken. India, South Africa, or a number of other countries in the global south will continue to insist on membership to the UNSC from the global south, but it’s not so clear that expanding UNSC would make it function more efficiently, in fact, it could make decision-making near impossible. It is better than for these nations to go through its allies and partners in the UNSC when they see action as a necessity. Both the U.S. and China should be seeking transitory stability and global consensus on the threats and opportunities facing the world, so there ability to cooperate with one another and with each others key interests will be crucial to guiding a world order seeking global order rather than chaos.
-  Membership dates are available here
-  Now formally The World Trade Organization (WTO)
-  Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard (New York: Basic Books, 1997), 27.
-  World Bank President Climate Change Quote
-  Jorg Friedrichs, What the ASEAN Famly Can (Not) Do (Asian Survey, Vol 52, No. 4: University of California Press), 754.
-  Background on central bank liquidity swap lines