It was overshadowed not least by revelations of a new secret Iranian enrichment facility. But in the fullness of time, decisions taken at the Pittsburgh G-20 Summit contain the seeds of what may evolve into a reshaping of the global order.
No, it did not solve the global economic crisis, nor jump start a still limping world economy. But a number of important reforms were agreed upon at Pittsburgh that, modest and subtle as they may seem, suggest a significant restructuring of the institutions of global governance.
For starters, it was decided that the G-20 — a group that represents 86% of global economic output, some two-thirds of the world’s population, and roughly 70% of the world’s Greenhouse Gas emissions — will replace the G-8 as the High Table for managing the global economic system. This seemed to track with President Obama’s UN speech, where he called for a “new era of engagement,” which he said would be based on “mutual respect.”
Why does this matter? Most of the major international institutions — the UN Security Council, the IMF, the World Bank — have remained largely unchanged since they were created in 1948. Six decades later, the world is very different from that which existed in the aftermath of WWII, when most of the 192 member states now in the UN did not exist (there were 51 at its founding). Emerging economies like Brazil, India and China have not had representation in the councils of global governance corresponding to their growing heft. This is also the case for dozens of less developed nations, which felt compelled to form groups like the Non-aligned Movement (but after the Cold war, non-aligned against what?) and a mindset of a hemispheric divide between the industrialized North and the less developed South.
Elevating the G-20 institutionalizes these new realities, and offers pride of place to emerging nations like Indonesia, Turkey, and South Africa. It creates a mechanism in which most of the major actors in a globalized world have a greater sense of enfranchisement.
The challenge ahead is whether such actors will be less demandeurs and more responsible stakeholders. Don’t hold your breath: it is likely to be some time before it is clear how this new configuration alters behavior or will result in a more effective pooling of power to solve global problems.
In addition to the G-20 move, developing countries also obtained more votes in the IMF and World Bank, 5% and 3%, respectively. And while it may be largely symbolic, at Pittsburgh it was also agreed that all member states would submit their economic policies to “peer review.” So the US budget deficit, low savings levels and monetary policies will be under the gaze of other G-20 members, all monitored by the IMF.
Taken together, such steps begin to reshape the mechanisms of global governance to reflect an increasingly multipolar world. Some prefer to speak of “multi-partners” rather than multipolar, but both are inescapable realities. Others argue the world is “non-polar.” Yet by any objective measures — size of economy, technology, military capacity — the US remains the most powerful nation in the world and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Yet it is also painfully obvious that the growing agenda of foreign policy issues are transnational in character — climate change, financial crisis, piracy, international crime, terrorism — and that absent cooperation among nations, such challenges would be difficult to address.
However, in recent years we have seen how difficult it is to mobilize collective action to solve problems whether they be the Balkans, Darfur, or global warming. The actions taken in Pittsburgh seem to suggest that increasingly the measure of US leadership will be its ability to catalyze other nations to contribute to public goods.
Emerging nations getting a seat at the Big Table begins to change the dynamic of global governance. The degree to which it shrinks the gap between the demand for solutions and the supply of global problems remains to be seen. But after a bipolar world, and then a unipolar moment, the stage is now set to discover how a more diverse world will function.
Robert Manning is a senior advisor to the Atlantic Council. The views expressed here are solely his own, not those of any U.S. government agency.