International Crises and Institutional Consolidation

by Chris Borgen

David Bosco has an essay at Foreign Policy arguing that the current financial and security crises, rather than weakening international intitutions, are strengthening them.  In short, there are so few options, that leaders are turning to international organizations and relying on them. But there may also be a more fundamental shift that is occurring in international economic policymaking:

…it’s also possible that we have reached the point at which the world is more centripetal than centrifugal. The messy, halting, and fragmented project of global governance may have advanced far enough now that conflict, crisis, and the intense pressure of events lead not to the flying apart or hollowing out of existing institutions but to their consolidation. When crises hit, policymakers are pulled toward more international governance rather than less — sometimes in spite of themselves. The reality of interdependence may finally have insinuated itself into the instincts of policymakers.

This centripetal dynamic, it’s important to acknowledge, does not reflect particularly strong performances by existing institutions…

Bosco argues that the state behavior on issues of international security is also becoming more centripetal than centrifugal. He explains that, John Bolton notwitshatnding, the closing years of the Bush Administration were some of the busiest for the Security Council in terms of managing international conflicts.


The case is even stronger that the 9/11 security shock pushed the NATO alliance toward greater reach and authority… The experience has turned an alliance that had been focused on Europe and its environs into one that thinks globally.

Whether this turn to international institutions will be an effective strategy for addressing these policy dilemmas remains to be seen. Bosco closes with a warning:

And make no mistake: A centripetal world is not necessarily a better or more harmonious one. But it’s one in which policymakers instinctively reach for solutions that involve and rely on international institutions. This is a victory for those who have long argued that institutionalized cooperation is the only path forward. But it’s also a daunting challenge. More reliance and authority for these institutions will mean much more public scrutiny. The days when international organizations could work quietly in the shadows are ending.

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