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 what I think is the “Big Picture” that Gordon paints and make some passing reference to middle power action or at least Canadian action.
I characterize Gordon’s “Big Picture” view as arguing that globalization is moving much more rapidly than global governance. We have therefore a deficit of global governance in the face of our “increasing global interdependence.” Gordon then chronicles, in rather depressing detail, the limited success of institutional reform. As Gordon argues, “[I]f one looks just at the projects on institutional reform that date back to 1995, the number is staggering….Yet the record of change is at best spotty.”
Part of the explanation for this limited record is the fact that institutional reform is made much more likely following a crisis such as WWII. Otherwise one is likely limited to at best incremental change. As Gordon argues, “One unhappy lesson is that institutions are easiest to create in the aftermath of major crises, World War II being the prime example; it “produced” the UN and the Bretton Woods Institutions. Another is that wholesale reform is exceptionally difficult; muddling through with incremental reforms is easier.”
In addition Gordon notes that the current American Administration’s attitudes toward global institutional reform: “It is no secret that the current US Administration is hardly a leading advocate of global institutional reform - except where it will assist Washington achieve its security or other critical objectives. Essentially achieving the latter would in its mind mean more pliant international organizations. As an “exceptional” and supremely powerful country, the US has no intention of subjugating itself to uncontrollable bodies. Nor does the US Administration seem to have much empathy for how others see the world. Having such empathy might help the effectiveness of US diplomacy (my emphasis). But there is no reason to think that the negative attitude to institutional reform will outlast Bush 43…There are great numbers of Americans who believe a rules based world is in their interests. Even more worry about a world in which the United States is isolated, above all from its old friends.” As a result, I would interpret, the L20 initaitive failure, of the former Canadian government, or any number of failed or near-failed intiatives including the NPT review conference (2005), the UN reform efforts, climate changes efforts, poverty, global trade, international education, health etc. as marking, in part, current US Administration behavior and its negative attitude toward global governance initatives. Remove the lack of political will, not only but importantly including American political will, and there may be a way to unblock the failed reform efforts. This view may well be correct. But I worry a “tad” that there is a strong impulse to see the problem as a temporary consequence of “bad” immediate US leadership. However, what if the circulation of elites isn’t as consequential as a number of us think - if in fact there is something more structural (I recognize I’m backing away alittle from an earlier discussion of structural versus behavioral explanations).