Voice

Some perspective sauce for European international affairs observers

Zaki Laïdi has a fascinating op-ed in the Financial Times blasting the current state of global governance. It's fascinating because of the mix of not-entirely-accurate observation and breathtakingly naïve prescription. The good parts version:

In principle, the emergence of a multipolar world, in which the US is no longer the only very powerful country, should boost “multilateralism” – institutionalised co-operation among states in pursuit of shared objectives. It should boost efforts to achieve free trade via the World Trade Organisation, poverty reduction through the World Bank, and international security through the UN.

Yet the reality is different. Countries are seeking to extricate themselves from global agreements in order to extract concessions from partners on a bilateral basis or to protect national sovereignty.

Take the case of the WTO. A conflict between India and the US over agricultural subsidies derailed a final compromise in the summer of 2008. This would have – finally – concluded the Doha round of trade talks, which were launched in Qatar in 2001. Negotiations have stalled since the US-India spat. The main responsibility for this failure falls on the US, which believes the system of multilateral trade no longer offers the advantages it used to. The priority for the US is to secure access to markets through enhanced bilateralism. Hence the Obama administration’s drive to agree the trans-Pacific Partnership for Asia and, more recently, to conclude the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership for Europe.

In each case, the strategic objective is to contain China’s rise by setting a high bar for regulatory standards. The novelty is that Europe, which has long defended multilateralism, is now succumbing to the temptation of bilateralism even while it remains completely incapable of assuming political responsibility for its trade policy...

It is important to understand that the collapse of multilateral trade we are witnessing today is far from being an isolated case. Climate talks since the 2009 Copenhagen conference have challenged the multilateralism heralded by the Kyoto protocol of 1997. The idea then was to move forward on the basis of a shared objective – the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Today countries only make commitments on climate change on the basis of a very narrow assessment of their national interests. The idea that shared commitments – rather than individual interests – shape behaviour is now dead....

Since the end of the cold war, Europeans have believed deeply in the existence of a global commons – and the declining importance of national sovereignty. The conduct of both the US and emerging countries suggests the opposite. Power politics is back. Multilateralism is dying.

OK, a few things here: 

1) It was a lot easier to take this "Europeans don't really believe in national interests anymore, we're so above all that, so the rest of the world should listen to us" guff prior to the Eurozone crisis. Watching Germany and other Northern European nations make sure that their national interest gets executed through EU institutions, however, makes this canard a bit harder to swallow. 

2) I hate to break it to Laïdi, but during the 1990s the Europeans could afford the luxury of believing in the growing power of multilateralism. That suited their beliefs and seemed to accord with the facts on a surface level. In point of fact, however, it was the growing power of the United States -- along with the strong support and coordination of its European allies -- that made multilateralism work. The idea that multilateralism should work better when power is more dispersed is an ... odd notion. 

3) If Laïdi is really gonna go there on trade, let's ask  blunt question -- exactly which jurisdiction triggered the explosion in bilateral free-trade agreements and preferential trade agreements?  Hold on, I'll wait ... but I bet everyone already knows the answer

4) As I've argued at length elsewhere, focusing on Doha and Copenhagen will lead to Laïdi's conclusions -- but those cases are not necessarily representative of global governance writ large. On a raft of other dimensions, the multilateral system has worked surprisingly well.

5) Finally, the real problem with  Laïdi's argument is that it fosters a spectacularly naïve narrative about how multilateral arrangements are created in the first place. This is hardly the first moment when great powers have created club-like arrangements in an effort to move the multilateral status quo. In fact, I'm pretty sure that some big books have been devoted to this topic.   

The reason the European Union has had success in pushing its version of global rules has little to do with its love of multilateralism and a lot to do with its market power and institutional capabilities. The sooner that European international relations commentators appreciate this, the better.

Am I missing anything? 

Daniel W. Drezner

Brad Pitt just depressed the living hell out of me about World War Z

So the big push for World War Z is clearly afoot.  The second trailer for the film was released a week ago: 

 

So this trailer isn't all that different from the first trailer, which means my qualms about the film version of Max Brooks' masterpiece remain.  Still, that airplane sequence at the end was well executed, and offers some promise. 

But then we get to the Entertainment Weekly cover story -- out today -- about the long, laborious process of getting World War Z from page to screen.  It's a good article that details the myriad screenwriters involved, the location difficulties, and the reshoots.  One definitely gets the sense of how Brad Pitt warmed to the subject matter over time.  Hell, in the EW article he referenced All The President's Men as his template for the story -- which, if you've read World War Z, you know isn't the craziest comparison. 

Which is great, until we get to this long quote from Pitt at the end of the story explaining how the final version of the movie has changed from his original conception: 

At the time, I was really interested in a more political film, using the zombie trope as a kind of Trojan horse for asking, 'What would happen to sociopolitical lines if there was a pandemic like this? Who would be on top? Who would be the powerful countries and who would be the most vulnerable?

We wanted to really explore that, but it was just too much. We got bogged down in it; it was too much to explain. It gutted the fun of what these films are meant to be.

Excuse me, I need to go do this for a while:

 

Here's the thing -- the very reason that World War Z the book is better than every other zombie novel ever written is the global scope and the reasonably realistic take on the politics of a zombie apocalypse.  There is action galore in the book, but there's something more as well.  The politics that "bogged down" the movie?  That is the fun!  

Will I go see World War Z?  Probably out of sheer professional obligation.  But let's be clear -- based on the evidence to date, the odds seem very likely that the movie version of World War Z will be a garden-variety big-budget disaster flick.  It's not gonna be great. 

While Pitt plans a trilogy of films, methinks this World War Z would have worked even better as a miniseries  for HBO or FX.  Too bad.  Should some shameless huckster desire to procure the film version of Theories of International Politics and Zombies -- which is all about the politics -- then they should contact Princeton University Press

Am I missing anything?