On Reforming the International Order
Thomas Wright
For all the discussion of the need to reform the world’s multilateral architecture, there has been a notable dearth of analysis of how such reform would work. A consensus has emerged that international cooperation should take a variety of forms (multi-multilateralism, one leading scholar has called it), but key questions remain. Which challenges demand new institutions, and how would they affect existing organizations? Under what circumstances should a state look toward one forum rather than another?

One major misconception has been to view the exclusion of important states (e.g., China and India) from the international corridors of power as the heart of the problem. Yet the real reason institutions don’t work is that major states don’t agree on how to tackle common challenges. Placing the priority on broader participation and inclusion, therefore, will likely increase deadlock, thus weakening the architecture of cooperation rather than strengthening it. The primary objective should instead be to bring about more effective international cooperation on critical challenges in a way that does not inadvertently worsen tensions with other states.

With this in mind, the brief distinguishes between different substantive challenges and the appropriate forms of intergovernmental cooperation for those challenges, given their associated political and practical realities. Some problems are best dealt with by limited circles of key states. For others, it is important to involve the entire world community (or as nearly universal cooperation as possible). A third category of issues are “local” concerns requiring cooperation at the regional or subregional level.

This page is part of Rising Powers: The New Global Reality, a project from the Stanley Foundation.