Let’s start with three institutional/multilateral solutions that aren’t:
1. The UN and regional organizations. Pity the UN. I want it to work as much as anyone. I used to belong to the UN Association of the USA, but one must be brutally honest that the UN is not a global security architecture that works. UN collective security has only been used twice (Korea, the Gulf War), and in Korea it happened only because the Soviets were boycotting the UNSC at the time. Never again would they make that mistake. But what has the UN done about Iran, terrorism, NK, or, arguably, Israel? The UN has no army; it cannot raise money independently. Its few military engagements have been ham-strung by the dual-key command problem. UN peacekeeping’s record is mixed at best. Robust missions are generally rejected; the blue-helmets never have the weapons, logistical support, or great power commitment to really be decisive. To be fair, the UN was designed to fail. The states wanted a weak body unable to infringe on their sovereignty and dependent on them for resources. You get what you (don’t) pay for. The same applies to regional bodies like the OAS or AU. Even NATO now is a joke. Does anyone really believe European members would war for islamizing Turkey, or that the US would rescue Lithuania from the Russians?
1.a. The greatest disappointment here must be the EU. It is the most robust international organization out there, so inevitably hopes for multilateralism as a security solution look to the EU. And what a lost opportunity! Nothing would improve freedom and democracy in the world so much as a second liberal superpower. That would take the US face off of democracy promotion. It would help the US climb down from its extreme GWoT overextension. But the EU just cannot seem to get its act together, and the Greek flap is just an embarrassment. There is no integrated military command, no united nuclear command, no common foreign policy voice, no single UNSC seat. I would trust the Korean military to be more professional and committed at this point than any EU military but France and Britain. This is simply pathetic. The EU is becoming greater Switzerland, unable to act meaningful to defend the values it so regularly espouses.
2. Denuclearization/Disarmament. This strikes me as a chimaera. First, the nuclear-haves not meaningful moved toward denuclearization, despite a 40 year NPT commitment to do so. This is why proliferation is a problem to begin with; the nuclear-haves brought this on themselves by cheating on their NPT requirement. Obama may be trying to earn his Nobel Prize with serious denuclearization, I’ll believe it when I see it. Cuts to zero by the great powers would not eliminate the technology, but simply open them to blackmail; this flies in the face of so much of our experience about IR. Second, nukes, lasers, tanks, etc. are all just technologies. As the NRA likes to say, people kill, not guns. Consider nukes in Korea. No one would care if SK has them; everyone cares that NK has them. Unless everyone could be verifiably disarmed, this is wishful thinking.
3. League of Democracies. This has been my great hope the last few years, but it seems like this is fading now. I really thought a close friendship and working partnership among the liberal democracies could really help stability by making clear to rogues (and China) that there was a common front, that you can’t pick off democracies here and there and play them against each other. But this has failed. The democracies just do not seem to be able or willing to work together on security. The EU is a mess; Japan and Korea can’t talk to each other. Consider the piracy issue – tailor made for liberal democratic cooperation, but it hasn’t really happened, and that is an easy issue compared to tough ones like Taiwan or NK.
So, call me totally unimaginative, but below is the best I’ve got:
4. National power: the US . The US is the clear backstop for security since the Gulf War. This worked for awhile in the 1990s. The US budget was improving, and others were content to free-ride on the US. Simultaneously, American exceptionalism has always provided ‘last best hope for mankind’ narrative of US power that justifies and glorifies the US use of force to Americans. In other words, Americans were tempted by empire, while others were content to let them reach for it (because it was cheaper). This system, of great power quiescence and superpower exertion could continue, but it requires the great powers start paying for the US to be the policeman. The US is broke now – $9T debt and $1T budget deficit. You just can’t be the colossus when your population won’t pay for it. In the context of Korea, I often tell my Korean students that the US is so broke now, that in the next few years, Korea can either choose to pay for almost all of USFK, or the US will probably retrench, because the money just isn’t there anymore. The same applies more broadly; if you want to keep the US globocop (because you don’t want to go to Afghanistan yourself), then you will probably have to start paying it. QUICK PREDICTION: No will accept this, and the US will eventually retrench. That includes the hollowing out of NATO, as well as the US withdrawal from Korea.
5. Economics: Globalization. Thomas Barnett has influence my thinking a lot here. He regularly argues, like Friedman, that trade brings with it all sorts of pacifying effects. He doesn’t think a war with China is likely, because globalization is remaking China by connecting it with the world. So there is a race here, can the world globalize enough to build common interests in stability for trade, before the US hegemon, currently backstopping the order, runs out of cash and energy to keep doing it? This is a great master’s thesis waiting to be written.
If you noticed the paucity of good ideas, it is true. I don’t really have any. I think the world is becoming more and more complex, because of globalization and rising middle powers with a big prestige grudge toward the West. The Kantian-Europhilic vision of an international order that maintains peace through collective security is bogus. It is really premised on US power. Without the US, there would have been no UN involvement in Bosnia, the Gulf, Korea, etc. You can dress up US power in blue-helmets and euros, but ultimately, it is the US nation-state, not some collaborative/cooperative/mutual security organization that has done the organizational work and most of the fighting when it came to it. Given how much trouble the US has now (its deficit is the same size as its national security spending), I think retrenchment is coming. Such ‘multipolarity’ may feel more ‘just’ and less ‘imperialist’ to the risers, but it will almost certainly be more chaotic – as it already is if you compare the 1990s to the 2000.