from The Internationalist and International Institutions and Global Governance Program

The Launch of a Global Conversation

April 13, 2012

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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Despite being on the road this week, the Internationalist would like to highlight the release of a report (PDF) summarizing the conclusions of the inaugural session of the Council of Councils (CoC), held March 12-13, 2012. Hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, the first-ever session of the CoC included a meeting of twenty major foreign policy think tanks from nineteen different countries. The CoC also included two keynote speeches from Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank, and Robert D. Hormats, U.S. undersecretary for economic growth, energy, and the environment.

Why, one might ask, launch such a remarkably “multilateral,” albeit complex, undertaking?

Let’s leave it to my boss, CFR President Richard N. Haass, to best explain the dual significance and relevance of launching the CoC.  He writes, “The defining foreign policy challenges of the twenty-first century are global in nature. The Council of Councils draws on the best thinking from around the world to assess emerging threats and opportunities and formulate responses to them.”

At its core, the conference allowed representatives hailing from numerous influential countries to engage in exhaustive discussions—and often spirited debate—concerning major global governance challenges, trends, as well as, of course, opportunities.

The inaugural CoC meeting addressed four critical themes:

  • The state of global governance and multilateral cooperation. Overall, there was agreement that both substantial technological change and deepening globalization have led to extraordinary changes in how countries are expected to operate in the global system. This, for example, includes the proliferation of powerful nonstate actors as well as the increasing influence of the Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) bloc, among other rising powers. The test, then, is whether countries, including the United States, can adapt to such developments and cooperate to address global challenges.

  • The status of the nuclear nonproliferation regime (with a focus on Iran).  In general, there was an acknowledgement that Iran appears to be, at least, pursuing a strategy to develop a nuclear weapons capability. On the other hand, there was little consensus concerning what multilateral strategy would best ensure Iran does not succeed in developing nuclear weapons. There was also significant debate as to whether international frameworks like the P5+1 and tools like economic sanctions could effectively coerce Iran into not pursuing nuclear weapons. Furthermore, even among those conceding military action might be necessary to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, there was disagreement about what so-called “red lines” Iran had to cross before military operations were launched.

  • The dollar’s future as the world’s reserve currency. While the Chinese renminbi (RMB) may be most considered next in line to replace the dollar as a new reserve currency, there was agreement that it was unlikely to supplant the dollar anytime soon. The same was true for the euro, which has suffered a loss of enthusiasm in the wake of the eurozone crisis. Nonetheless, there was consensus that the United States needs to do more domestically to control its account and fiscal deficits, lest major financial players and institutions lose confidence in the sustainability of the dollar.

  • The criteria for humanitarian intervention, especially in the wake of regime change in Libya and the current crisis in Syria.  Most agreed that despite the UN Security Council authorized intervention in Libya, it remains unclear whether the Libya case actually represents a precedent for future interventions under the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine—think Syria—or was more a one-off, transient consensus among leading powers and major intergovernmental organizations. Whatever the case, the intervention in Libya illuminated the ever-present necessity of including emerging powers and regional institutions in future international dialogues where humanitarian intervention is considered.

Again, a brief but comprehensive rapporteur’s report going into far greater detail about each of these themes, as well as other important COC topics, has been posted online. Other than providing a window into the first CoC, the document offers a glimpse as to some of the most important areas of harmony and discord regarding pressing global governance issues.

The Council on Foreign Relations’ International Institutions and Global Governance program, in conjunction with other valued CoC partners, looks forward to iterating the CoC in 2013 through a plenary meeting as well as groundbreaking regional meetings held across the world.

With any luck, this innovative and unprecedented partnership including so many of the world’s leading foreign policy think tanks, will help provide pragmatic policy options for the development of institutions capable of addressing the critical global governance challenges of the twenty-first century.

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