A Summer Reading List for Guardedly Optimistic Multilateralists

A Summer Reading List for Guardedly Optimistic Multilateralists
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres talks to Syrian refugees in a 4th grade classroom at the U.N.-run Zaatari refugee camp, in northern Jordan, March 28, 2017 (AP photo by Raad Adayleh).

Editor’s note: Guest columnist Richard Gowan is filling in for Emily Taylor, who will return next week.

What should people who care about international organizations and conflict management order for their summer reading this year? Closely following the back and forth of day-to-day events can sometimes make it hard to get a clear sense of the health of the international system. The Biden administration has promised that “multilateralism is back,” for instance, but when it comes to handling crises like the coup in Myanmar and challenges like global vaccine distribution, international cooperation still seems distinctly lackluster. With summer here, it’s a good time to sit back, pick up a smart book and try to see the big picture instead.

A good place to start is “Diplomacy and the Future of World Order,” a collection of sober and thoughtful essays edited by Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson and Pamela Aall. The editors are seasoned observers of conflict resolution, with a series of hefty volumes on the topic to their credit, and they are not easily impressed by alarmist claims that the rules-based world order is collapsing. They are indeed mildly optimistic that “many elements” of the current international system “appear likely to survive today’s turbulence, because many important states and groupings of states wish it to survive.” A perspicacious phalanx of authors looks at these elements of the post-1945 system, such as the nonproliferation regime and peacekeeping, plus institutions like the United Nations and the policies of major powers.

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