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Responding to AIIB: U.S. Leadership at the Multilateral Development Banks in a New Era

A CFR Discussion Paper

Author: Scott Morris, Senior Fellow and Director of the Rethinking U.S. Development Policy Initiative, Center for Global Development

Responding to AIIB: U.S. Leadership at the Multilateral Development Banks in a New Era - responding-to-aiib-us-leadership-at-the-multilateral-development-banks-in-a-new-era

Publisher Council on Foreign Relations Press

Release Date September 2016



Last year’s launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)—a new multilateral development bank with fifty-seven sovereign members, among them some of the United States’ closest allies—is appropriately viewed as a diplomatic and strategic victory for the Chinese government. In the face of growing U.S. indifference to multilateral development institutions, China is stepping up. As the Chinese were opening the AIIB’s doors in early 2015, the U.S. Congress still had failed to act on a 2010 IMF governance reform package that other major countries considered essential, and across the MDBs, U.S. officials were viewed more as obstacles to than as champions for an ambitious development agenda.

A year later, this dramatic narrative may seem less starkly defined. But the circumstances around the creation of the AIIB have usefully brought to light a longer trend that will ultimately lead to a diminution of U.S. leadership in the multilateral development system, brought about as much by the United States itself as by external challengers. China was successful in attracting so many countries to join the AIIB by offering more infrastructure financing (and all that implies in terms of procurement and commercial opportunities) at a time when the prospect for additional financing appeared limited within the core MDBs, in large part due to U.S. resistance.

The task for U.S. officials in the years ahead will be to accommodate a larger role for emerging countries, particularly China, in the multilateral development bank system, but to do so from a position of strength and with ambition for the MDBs in U.S. policy. The alternative, in which the United States neither makes space for new voices nor promotes the MDBs themselves, will inevitably lead to a weaker system that will harm the United States and the global good. 

Selected Figures From This Report

Timeline of MDB Establishment

Aggregate National Voting Power in MDBs

Infrastructure Share of Assistance Portfolio 2010-2012

China's Dominant Infrastructure Focus

U.S. Opposition to MDB Projects

Unmet U.S. Commitments to MDBs

Channels of U.S. Influence Over Chinese Development Policy

More About This Publication

Scott Morris is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and director of the Rethinking U.S. Development Policy initiative. This initiative seeks to broaden the U.S. government’s approach to development, including the full range of investment, trade, and technology policies, while also strengthening existing foreign assistance tools. Additionally, he works on issues related to the international financial institutions (IFIs) and particularly the relationship between the IFIs and the United States. Previously, Morris served as deputy assistant secretary for development finance and debt at the U.S. Treasury Department during the first term of the Obama administration. In that capacity, he led U.S. engagement with the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, African Development Bank, EBRD, and Asian Development Bank. He also represented the U.S. government in the Group of Twenty’s Development Working Group and was the Treasury’s “plus one” on the board of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. During his time at Treasury, Morris led negotiations for four general capital increases at the multilateral development banks and replenishments of the International Development Association, Asian Development Fund, and African Development Fund.

Before his post at the U.S. Treasury, Morris was a senior staff member on the Financial Services Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he was responsible for the committee’s international policy issues, including the Foreign Investment and National Security Act of 2007, as well multiple reauthorizations of the U.S. Export-Import Bank charter and approval of a $108 billion financing agreement for the International Monetary Fund in 2009. Previously, Morris was a vice president at the Committee for Economic Development in Washington, DC. He has a BA from Franklin & Marshall College and an MPP from the University of Michigan.

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