This weekend, world leaders will convene in Washington for a global summit, with the primary agenda of fixing the financial system of the world, no less. If the right people show leadership, that might actually happen, but why stop there?
Britain’s PM, Gordon Brown, ambitiously envisioned a “new world order” this Monday, calling upon Europe and America to be “internationalist not protectionist, interventionist not neutral, progressive not reactive and forward-looking not frozen by events.” This echoes this article in Newsweek on November 3, calling for an actual world bank to replace the IMF. In times of crisis, the status quo is questioned, creating a window for change. Now is a time of crisis, but also a time of change.
Our current world order was in large part forged on the ruins of World War II. Most global or regional institutions that we take for granted today had their foundations laid in the aftermath of the war: the UN, IMF, WTO, EU, NATO, OECD. Not merely acronyms, but the framework of the world as we know it.
Changing these things is difficult. Once something is institutionalised, a certain inertia becomes ingrained, and changes are mostly incremental, bogged down by endless debate and compromise. The UN reform process or recent years’ failed attempts at modernising the EU are cases in point.
The problem is it’s a new world out there. Neither WWII nor the Cold War defines the challenges facing the world today. As Fareed Zakaria has repeatedly pointed out, power centres are shifting; globalisation is changing the face of the world, threatening to render the current world order obsolete if it’s not adapted to suit the 21st century. In order to maintain and spread peace and prosperity globally, we need strong and functioning global institutions. And they need to be geared to the challenges of today, not those of 60 years ago.
Brown states that “uniquely in this global age, it is now in our power to come together so that 2008 is remembered not just for the failure of a financial crash that engulfed the world but for the resilience and optimism with which we faced the storm, endured it and prevailed.” It just might work. The election of Barack Obama in the U.S. is a sign that the world is ready for change. Obama cannot and will not change the world alone. But the momentum is there. This may be the time when world leaders finally step up the challenge of securing the future of the world.