Multilateral Paralysis: Instruments of Mutual Neutralization

Just after posting this item on the implications of this year's UNSC configuration, I read Michel Real's contribution to the IFRI yearbook, "La Fin du Monde Unique." Real's article examines the way in which Russia and China have used the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to arrive at a modus vivendi in Central Asia, and what leaped out at me was his reference to the SCO as an "instrument of mutual neutralization."

That's what I was driving at with the previous post, when I referred to both the absence of a unifying South-South agenda, and the possibility that a reactive anti-Westernism might make for a useful substitute for one should the West not make room for emerging powers in global governance institutions. The trend in multilateralism, albeit with some exceptions, has been toward mutual neutralization as much, if not more so, than toward mutually advanced interests. So far, it's a problem that has not been addressed by most analysts positing the emergence of a concert of powers, whether large or small, regional or global.

In essence, this is the argument behind Moises Naim's minilateralism concept. It applies to the U.N., to the SCO, to the oft-cited but rarely seen regional approaches to Afghanistan, as well as to Chimerica and any number of other condominia schemes. I happen to be partial to such proposals on paper, because they offer neat and elegant solutions to stubborn problems. The challenge is that even in reduced multilateral settings, the concerns raised by zero-sum thinking continue to outweigh or, as in the case of the SCO, outlast the logic of converging interests. We've seen that in the accelerated decay of the G-20's veneer of authority now that the urgency of the global financial crisis has receded.

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