How People Govern. . .

Governments will face increasing difficulties in providing security and prosperity, which prompt questions on whether historical bargains negotiated between society and their government will hold.  This uncertainty and the broad decline in trust in government could make it hard for established systems to meet public expectations and deal with problems that transcend national boundaries.

  • Trust in government during the past decade varies among countries but has generally declined.  In a 2015 OECD study using Gallup polling, confidence in national governments across all OECD countries declined 3.3 percentage points, from 45.2 to 41.8 percent during 2007-2014; with declines of more than 25 percentage points in Slovenia, Finland, and Spain—but increases of more than 20 points in Germany, Israel, and Iceland.  According to a Gallup Poll survey released in September 2016, only 42 percent of Americans have a "great deal" or "fair amount" of trust in the country's political leaders—a drop of about 20 points since 2004 and a new low for Gallup trends.
  • These dynamics are shaping government structures that have endured since World War II.  Democracy is under stress in many parts of the world, with some academics pointing to a possible decline in support.  While the number of democracies has remained stable during the past 10 years, global migration and economic stagnation—along with technology that empowers individuals as well as extremist groups—has weakened some previously stable democracies, such as Hungary and Poland. Many states are finding liberal and democratic institutions at odds with their desire to sustain control, and academics argue that several large, illiberal democracies will be unstable and face significant internal challenges. There are signs of polarization and decay even in long-established liberal democracies like the United Kingdom and the
    United States.
  • For their part, China and Russia have shown they can use new technologies to double down on their control of opposition expressions and have used new technologies to exercise more sophisticated forms of repression as well.  Russia has increasingly sought to undermine democracy, liberalism, and human rights through intensive propaganda and making common cause with other authoritarian regimes.  In 2015, the Kremlin passed a law prohibiting the work of ‘undesirable’ foreign organizations, which is widely seen as a tool for cracking down on dissent.

Major Trends

Economic Change and Perceptions of Injustice Prompt Questions About Capacity.  Slower rates and shifting sources of economic growth, increasing income inequality, and the perception of “losing out” to global competition will spark public demands to improve and protect living standards.  This frustration with “globalization” is likely to build, as many of the factors causing wage growth to slow are also making it harder for governments to provide broad-based prosperity, such as intensifying competition among low-cost producers of low value-added manufactures, the emergence of technologies that disrupt and transform industries and sectors vital to many countries’ economies, and swings in global financial and commodity markets.

  • Absent different policy choices, this volatility is likely to widen inequality between winners and losers—individual workers and countries alike—by contributing to a “winner take all” dynamic in many sectors, and further sharpen clashes over the role of the state in ensuring living standards and promoting prosperity.  Some governments investing in human capital and infrastructure to promote growth may find they are forced to impose fiscal austerity measures because they are saddled with additional debt until the initiatives bear fruit.
  • Economic instability will erode governments’ ability to deliver on promises of social welfare.  In the developed world—where populations are expected to age and life expectancies will increase—we can anticipate a rise in health care costs while business profits and tax revenues shrink and government debt levels remain high.  Public anger over the government’s inability to protect constituents’ interests probably will be aggravated as wealth, technology and social networks enable affluent citizens to opt out of many public goods, such as education and health care, undermining a sense of shared fortunes.
  • Slower rates of economic growth and falling commodity prices are hitting middle classes that only recently emerged from poverty in Asia and Latin America.  The global forces that enabled their prosperity during the past several decades are now fueling their anxieties by threatening to undo recent gains, as firms continue to pursue cheaper labor and greater use of automation, disrupting industries and labor markets in the affected countries.  The result is a public that believes government is not serving their needs, which has contributed to high-profile mass protests in recent years in countries with newly expanded middle classes, such as Brazil and Turkey.

Similarly, perceptions of injustice stemming from mismanagement and sclerotic bureaucracies will fuel societies’ search for alternatives to the status quo.  Corruption and impunity remain predominant concerns across the world; according to Transparency International, 68 percent of countries worldwide—including some G20 states—have serious corruption problems.  Corruption is particularly acute in some of the demographically youthful states that are poised to face the greatest employment challenges. Transparency International’s Middle East and North Africa Corruption Survey found that 50 million adults in that region have to pay bribes to receive basic services.  In these surveys, public officials and politicians are perceived as far more corrupt than religious leaders, potentially contributing to the tension between governments and religious groups that offer competing services and support.

  • The view that established political actors fail to coordinate to resolve political and social concerns sharpens the perception that the existing forms of governance are inadequate. Academic studies suggest this coordination failure can aggravate persistent governance challenges.  A review of local institutions in Afghanistan showed that a multiplicity of institutions with no clear hierarchy fueled competition among elites and hampered the quality of governance.

This flagging capacity to carry out even basic governance functions and the inability to develop mutually constructive relations with society threaten to add to the world’s group of fragile states.  In a 2013 report, the OECD highlights that, in addition to facilitating legal business, the effects of globalization also enable growth of illicit activity—such as transnational and organized crime—that risk weakening those states least capable of dealing with this challenges.  In 2015, the OECD identified 50 countries and territories—home to one fifth of the world’s people—as being fragile or in conflict.  The OECD underscores that fragility occurs not just across states, but also within them, raising the prospect of growing areas of “alternately governed spaces,” and posing a serious challenge to reestablishing central authority in many weaker states.

Dissatisfaction and Expectations Gap.  Frustration with government performance in the areas of security, education, and employment is likely to fuel public discontent and provide a foundation for greater political instability.  In some cases, the frustration stems from a deterioration of lifestyles and standards of living—or a sense that standards of living are not keeping pace with those of other countries—as populations are buffeted by the effects of globalization.  In other instances, increasingly wealthy, well-educated, and well-informed publics expect more from their governments at a time when the problems that governments must address—including climate change, terrorism, and increased migration—are increasingly complex and costly.  The diffusion of power through technological, economic and social change also is making it more difficult for governments to implement effective policies by creating more potential veto players on issues, reinforcing a gap in expectations.  Economic and social change is weakening traditional intermediary organizations, such as political parties, that once aggregated interests and represented them to the state, as public demands for direct participation clash with the multi-layered nature of the
modern state.

  • Governments will have to deal with an increasing number of actors—NGOs, corporations, and other entities—that can directly appeal to citizens and build their own coalitions, particularly online.  A broad weakening of political parties and the ability of individuals and groups to use money and media to communicate directly with the public and mobilize support—if not necessarily sustain it—will personalize politics, making electoral outcomes and the policymaking process less predictable.
  • Governments must also deal with technological changes and the growing leverage of individual players in financial markets, which can cause major, rapid disruptions across national boundaries, as occurred in the great recession.  Financial experts warn these vulnerabilities will grow as speculators seek new instruments that provide short-term profit and take advantage of gaps in regulation or develop new capabilities—using big-data analytics or automated trading using artificial intelligence—to capitalize on existing markets and instruments.  On the other hand, technology will enable states and subnational entities with the leadership, public trust and infrastructure to better provide more efficient and transparent services, to challenge corruption, and to increase their ability to regulate activities.
  • Waning public tolerance for crime and corruption will fuel pressure on governments to reform or lose power.  Wide variation in how governments respond to such pressure will persist, with some moving to greater transparency and responsiveness, while others retreat to authoritarianism and less accountability.  New access to detailed information on government operations and news of other governments forced out of office are likely to raise public expectations of government behavior.

Political entrepreneurs can tap this reservoir of frustration to shape new forms of political participation.  Populist sentiment that is couched in the language of anti-corruption has become a staple of politics in South Asia.  Political parties in India and Pakistan have witnessed a surge in “reform” politics, mass movements fueled by disgust with the established political elites and mainstream parties.

  • Surveys show overwhelming majorities of populations in Eurasia reject the legitimacy of their governing institutions and show little trust in parliaments, presidents, police, judges, and other elites.  Similarly, according to Pew, concerns about corruption and inequality are top concerns of citizens in China.

Enter Non-State Actors.  The division of labor among service providers is evolving as governments increasingly compete with business and other nonstate actors poised to assume the functions of government.  Many of these entities are not new but might find increased opportunity as confidence in national administrations declines:

  • Corporations.  Globalization has broadened multinationals’ reach, providing some with the opportunity to engage in public-private partnerships to provide services.  Corporations, sometimes with governments, have chosen to address persistent social and environmental causes, assessing that responding to a public need will improve their standing and their financial performance.  Coca Cola and USAID have partnered to support water treatment in Tanzania and other countries.
  • Religious-based entities.  Faith-based organizations historically have provided development and aid provision.  Some NGOs note that their donors are more willing to contribute to them when governments are faltering.
  • Cities and their mayors.  As urbanization progresses and megacities develop, cities’ influence—and that of their leaders—will increase.  During the past several years, leaders of the world’s largest cities have developed the C40—a collaborative network focused on addressing climate change.  In 2014, the group held a widely publicized climate meeting in South Africa; their next in Mexico City in December 2016 will bring together C40 mayors from all over the world and hundreds of urban and sustainability leaders to advance urban solutions to climate change.
  • Criminal and terrorist organizations. The proliferation of nefarious actors and virtual criminal networks that prey on digital-security gaps and exploit differences in national laws for profit will be a growing challenge for even strong states, as seen by the criminal groups’ use of Facebook to connect with refugees and control migrant paths to Europe.  In addition, terrorist organizations—most notably ISIL—have sought to provide governance to advance their cause and attract adherents.

Increasing Variation in Governance.  During the next 20 years, governance will increasingly vary between and within states, in the forms that states take and their level of success, in response to differences in degree of urbanization, economic growth, basic social norms such as gender equality, and migration.  The division of authority between national, regional, and local governments is likely to shift as some cities and regions become more important than existing administrative divisions.

  • The number of states that mix democratic and autocratic elements is on the rise, with no apparent trend toward stable democracies.  Some studies suggest these blended states are prone to instability.  Many societies will suffer from chronically weak and unstable political institutions.  The range of countries’ degree of existing institutionalization and public political trust will mean substantial differences in states’ ability to absorb political or environment shocks.
  • Even within regions, variation in the quality of governance will increase.  In Europe, the relatively high level of political trust in the Nordics allows those governments to use information technology to better provide services, while governments lacking the public’s trust, such as Italy, will be hampered from taking such actions.  Weak Central American states are foundering, while more-mature institutions in countries such as Chile or Uruguay can effectively cushion the impact of economic difficulties.  Africa will also see increasing differentiation between the many failed or failing states and nations like Ghana or Kenya that are more likely to enact reforms.
  • Successful states and subnational entities will use public-private partnerships, which can be transformative even if they do not guarantee greater democracy or accountability.  Developing countries are increasingly open to such partnerships to jump-start construction of new infrastructure and to disseminate information to rural areas that the state could not easily serve.  Reliance on parastatals, as in Singapore will probably gain renewed appeal as a model to emulate amid post-2008 skepticism that economic growth is best left to private bodies and a loosely regulated market.
  • The center of gravity of government, particularly in the developing world, is likely to shift from the center to cities, and the regions where they are located—as localities seek to control their fiscal resources and exercise consensual decisionmaking with skilled bureaucracies, often by harnessing private expertise as well, according to a recent Brooking Institution report.  Cities are emerging as key actors in advancing policies to mitigate climate change and are networking across national boundaries to do so.

Key Choices

The ability of developing states to progress economically and establish stable political systems will depend on how much governments and others invest in human capital and improved public service delivery.  Investment in human capital, training, and organizational design will determine how fast capacity is built, or if it is built at all.

  • It is unclear whether decentralization in the developed and developing world will shift power to cities that are frontrunners in innovation and public-private partnership—such as Lagos—and whether corporations will step in to perform formerly government functions.  Some recent assessments suggest corporate firms that invest in areas traditionally thought of as the responsibility of the state, such as health care and renewable resources, provide stakeholders with greater returns, which suggests corporate roles could expand into these and other sectors.
  • The degree to which states look to non-Western models of development remains unclear.  Ultimately, government performance, especially on the economy, will determine citizens’ assessment of its success.  If citizens do not see an improvement in their well-being, they will lose confidence in their ruling elites—and will have modern communication and community-forming capabilities to express it.  To that end, if Beijing can surmount China’s economic challenges, escape the middle-income trap, and use technology to sway—or defuse—public opinion, other nations will probably try to follow its path.

Advanced industrial democracies and emerging powers also face key choices in how to respond to inequality, increasing debt burdens, and perceptions of less effective governance.  The ability of leaders to manage these stresses will be severely tested because governments will find it hard to rebuild credibility with publics and maintain elite support at a time when hard choices are likely to alter the mix of winners and losers.  With publics appearing more willing to take to the streets, political leaders may have less room to implement difficult policies and less time to show results.  In this environment, leadership continuity could be rare, whether in industrial democracies or advanced autocracies like Russia and China, where power is bound to a single leader, increasing the potential for instability when an abrupt turnover in power does occur.

  • Governments and leaders will probably adopt different strategies to address the challenges of slow growth and economic inequality.  Turbulent times can produce transformative leaders who build new coalitions that reshape relations between governments and the public, but they may have few options for dealing with the durable technological factors that are slowing growth and generating inequality.
  • Governments will also face difficult choices that come with aging populations and gender inequality.  Leaders will have to balance the need for adjustments in welfare systems—long regarded as politically untouchable—with demands to invest in human capital and other initiatives to ensure greater opportunities and protections for women and other groups.  Decisions that will have long-term repercussions for food security, health, child welfare, and environmental security.

International Institutions: Major Trends

Existing international institutions—especially the UN system of agencies—will struggle to adapt to the expanding range of actors and complexity of new issues that reach deeper into national sovereignty sensitivities and have a greater impact on domestic life than in the recent past, when international agreements could be negotiated by elites.  As traditional organizations like the UN struggle to evolve, demands will rise for peacekeepers, humanitarian assistance, a forum for combatting climate change, and other shared concerns.  A mix of forums that incorporate more nonstate actors, regional institutions, and informal consultation will emerge to address transnational issues underserved by traditional approaches.  The creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to pick up programming not supported by the World Bank is an example of one such regional approach.

A Rise in Veto Power.  A lack of shared vision among major powers and competition among aspiring ones will impede major reforms in the international system.  While everyone agrees that the UN Security Council (UNSC) must be reformed, there is little prospect for consensus among states on what that reform should look like, suggesting such change, while acknowledged by states to be needed, and while not impossible, will be slow in arriving if it does occur within the next two decades.

Some aspects of the international system will become more relevant as states begin to experience stress and governance difficulties in managing environmental and economic change, or internal conflict.

Demand for Multilateral Assistance To Grow.  A cluster of environmental and demographic factors—global warming, energy shortages, unauthorized migration, resource scarcities, epidemics, ocean acidification, and bulging youth and aging populations—will increase strains on national governance efforts, especially where government competencies are fragile.  As states face challenges to their domestic legitimacy, the need for multilateral resources to fill gaps in governments’ capability will increase.  Fragile national governments may require a range of multilateral assistance, including emergency IMF loans; UN peacekeeping; election assistance; international judicial investigations; technical assistance and policy advice; humanitarian aid; and guidance for containing or eradicating disease.

A Broader Mix of Development Instruments To Assist.  At the same time that demands for multilateral approaches to assistance are growing among fragile states and those seeking to help them, a broader mix of instruments will be available, including loans and financing for middle income countries, which increasingly will bear the brunt of many humanitarian challenges.  A true diversity is now rooted in the development community, with venture capitalists working with aid agency chiefs; corporate executives conferring with foreign policy advisers; and technologists consulting NGO leaders.  This mix of diversity and experience will lead to experimentation—and both successes and failures—in an effort to better meet future needs.  However, the biggest donor states, such as China and the United States, will provide most of their aid through bilateral channels.

No Alternative to Multilateralism on the Horizon

Although many formal intergovernmental institutions, such as the UN, will increasingly engage in new forms of partnership, these changes are unlikely to challenge the one-state-one-vote model of multilateralism during the next 20 years. The sovereign state has shown itself to be remarkably resilient as the cornerstone of international decisionmaking. Despite the changes of the past 500 years, the state has largely remained the key element of political order and is likely to continue to be dominant.

  • The world will face international crises across a broad range of issues and theaters—some technical, and some societal—but it is unlikely that the next two decades will bring an inflection point resulting in a radically different approach to international governance. Nor is any state now championing a radically different alternative, despite the fact that nonstate entities, such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Baha’i faith—with the former attempting to impose a world caliphate through violent means, and the latter using peaceful activism to promote equality and a democratically-elected world government—are trying to do so. Although alternative models such as these have some support in certain parts of the world, the broad diversity of individual state interests will continue to prevent an alternate system from taking root at the global level, much as it currently inhibits UNSC expansion.
  • To be clear, we expect the term “World Government” to remain seldom spoken aloud, even though two of what might be considered four “branches’ of such governance have been augmented in recent years—international courts and the rising bureaucracy of agencies like the World Trade Organization. Notably, these are the two entities that vest legal standing in nations and, to some degree, in corporations and NGOs, rather than in private persons. As yet, no major or substantial movement has gathered to press for the two missing branches—executive and a legislature—in part because those would require standing elections on the part of global citizens. For now, at least, this appears to be a “concept too far” and nations are content to leave things that way.
  • The UN of 2035, in terms of peace and security institutions, will probably look a lot like it does in 2016, even though its tools and agenda will evolve. The constitutional barriers to Charter amendment are high and, for all the complaints about the real inequities in the architecture of the UNSC, small states and aspiring powers have an enormous stake in maintaining the system and keeping the major military powers engaged in it.
  • The majority of states will continue to value the UN and other multilateral institutions because of their ability to bestow legitimacy on a global, state-led agenda. Smaller states are also aware that multilateral institutions serve to protect their interests; without rules, major and regional powers would have more coercive power.
  • The role of international institutions will also be reinforced by the mutual embrace of these institutions by regional and subnational entities, international NGOs, philanthropic capitalists, multinational corporations, and individuals, which will ensure a certain continued centrality. Policy reforms and accommodations will occur when warranted, just as IMF voting practices have been reformed, and states with growing influence will renegotiate their roles
  • In pursuit of consequential action, multilateral institutions will deepen their engagement with companies, civil society organizations, local government offices and other authorities.

 

Harder Problems Ahead

Looking forward, the UN and its system of agencies will be less helpful in developing new standards for behavior on emerging issues, such as artificial intelligence, genome editing, or human enhancement, because of the diverging values and interests among states, private actors, and scientific and technological communities; because of the large knowledge gaps across technical and policy communities; and because technological change will continue to far outpace the ability of states, agencies, and international organizations to set standards, policies, regulations, and norms.  All of these factors will serve as a brake on collective agenda setting.  The challenge of future international governance will lie in the crossdisciplinary impact of these technologies and other challenges ahead, suggesting that coordination and strategic understanding of synergies across a range of issue areas—not depth in just one of them—is going to be needed for effective international governance to proceed.

  • Artificial intelligence, genome editing, and human enhancement.  Developments in artificial intelligence, genome editing, and human enhancement are examples of issues that are likely to pose some of the most contentious values questions in the coming decades by automating critical legal and security decisions affecting people’s lives and stretching the concept of what it means to be human.  Developments in these technological areas will affect relations between states and between a state and its population.  Given the potential promise and peril of these technologies, debate among states, private companies, publics, and religious actors at the global, regional, state, and local level will intensify.  Proponents argue that major advances in these areas will cure diseases, reduce hunger, and increase longevity, but critics warn that such technologies risk permanently altering the human race—either accidentally or intentionally—and possibly leading to individual or group extinctions. Policies, laws, and treaties to manage such technologies will lag, because of the speed and distributed nature of their development.

Technological developments in cyber and space will also raise new normative challenges.  We have only modest understanding as to what states, publics, and private actors will want to see as norms in these domains during the next two decades, but it is clear that private commercial actors will play a bigger role in shaping normative development across them.

  • Cyber.  Cyber attacks—encompassing the exfiltration, exploitation, and destruction of information—are likely to be more widely employed to advance state interests and punish adversaries during the next two decades, creating new challenges for the law on armed conflict and principles related to noninterference in a state’s internal affairs.
  • Space.  With more states and commercial firms stepping up their capabilities in space, traditional international approaches to govern these activities will be challenged, and developed countries will see their military and intelligence advantage ebb.  Expanding use of space including from developing countries and private companies increase the importance of the international community retaining the ability to ensure safe operation in a more congested environment. But new technological capabilities will not be the only crossdisciplinary struggles.  Many longstanding issues will increasingly appear together as elements of broader, complicated problems.
  • Ocean warming.  Ocean warming will cause fish to migrate to cooler waters and create resource challenges and local economic stress.
  • Climate.  Climate change will threaten agricultural output and increase fragility in rapidly growing poor countries.
  • Trade agreements.  Trade and economic agreements will require consensus on complex and contentious issues, such as genetically modified organisms, intellectual property rights, health and environmental standards, biodiversity, and labor standards, suggesting that global policy formulation will increasingly have meaningful domestic implications.

Coordination and synergy will be difficult for the UN when facets of a single issue are handled by different parts of the system.

  • Atrocity prevention.  Efforts to address atrocity prevention are scattered throughout the UN human rights and security bureaucracy.  The UN is limited in its ability to address mass atrocities committed by nonstate actors, primarily because such situations often involve the absence of state authority and therefore lack a “valid” interlocutor.  Tackling the problems associated with reinforcing sovereignty and governance are often essential to tackling the atrocities problem.
  • Countering terrorism.  On the criminal justice front, the International Criminal Court has difficulty exercising jurisdiction over active terror groups: most prosecutions are focused on state actors or militia groups, rather than “terrorist organizations,” in part because officials differ on how to define such a group.  Despite these impediments, the ICC is likely to serve as a forum through which terror issues are debated and countered.
  • Human mobility.  The international mobility of people—primarily migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons—is likely to stress state governance as population movements grow in scale, reach, and complexity, and as growing demographic disparities, economic inequality, and the effects of environmental change among countries keep numbers of displaced and migrating people high.  Environmental scientists’ estimates of future environment-induced movement vary widely, from 25 million persons to 1 billion by 2050, with 200 million the most widely cited number.  Debate over these numbers is heated: some migration experts argue they underestimate human resilience, the ability of people to endure hardships, and the share of future populations who will not be able to move.  What is clear is that human movement is likely to increase substantially, prompting calls—similar to today’s—for a review of state obligations to such populations.

An “a la carte” World

The increasing complexity of old and new challenges alike is generating new requirements for collective problem solving.  How states approach issues is changing because of the increasing complexity of challenges, and because a greater number of states are needed to secure collective action at a time when there is a lack of consensus—particularly among major powers—on what the global goals should be.

Nevertheless, some remarkable recent landmark agreements suggest progress will continue to be possible in coming years:

  • In June 2015, the General Assembly endorsed the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
  • In July 2015, UN member states adopted the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development.
  • In September 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • In December 2015, the Twenty-First Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change concluded with an agreement by 195 countries to strive to keep the global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius.
  • And in 2016, the International Organization for Migration joined the UN.

A lack of overall shared strategic understanding continues, however, which has resulted in a prevailing mode of international cooperation that is problem-centered, ad hoc, and issue-specific rather than anticipatory, cross-disciplinary, or universal in scope.  States, corporations, and activists line up behind their specific causes, and this ad hoc approach in the long term can potentially cause a loss of coherence and direction among international bodies—the UN and others—that make up the international system.  The advantage, however, is that voluntary, informal approaches can help create trust, common language, and shared goals—benefits that can eventually lead to support for, or a rebalance, in agreement at an international level.  Whether the current institutions can be effective in the future, or whether new institutions or parallel mechanisms are formed, will depend largely on how governments interact with a variety of actors and whether current institutions and major powers can help states negotiate mature bargains on core national interests that recognize the interests of others.

  • A greater number of states are necessary to secure collective, global action.  The number of states that matter—that is, states without whose cooperation a global problem cannot be adequately addressed—has grown.  The aftermath of the 2008-09 financial crisis and the subsequent emergence of the G20 as a key group exemplify how a broader range of countries can lead to effective problem solving. The group, which had been in existence for almost 10 years before the 2008 global financial crisis, became the principal forum for global economic-crisis management, not because of a desire by major powers to be more inclusive, but because no state or small group of states could solve the impending problems alone.  The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is another example where, as a consequence of progress, more states—representing a diverse range of interests—need to act collectively to reach stated goals.
  • A growing number of actors are now solving and creating problems.  An increase in the number of private, regional, and subnational actors meaningfully involved in aid delivery, development and other economic issues, and human rights is likely to occur.  This trend may diminish the role of state provision in these areas, but it could bolster overall goals put forward by international institutions.  However, such networks cut in both directions: a more-interconnected “uncivilized” world—including groups as varied as ISIL and Anonymous—will challenge the fundamental basis of the system.  And populism and xenophobia might grow, but new technologies may protect and possibly empower those who seek to enlarge the international human rights regime.
  • States are forum-building to create “shared” understanding on controversial issues.  States are building and participating in regional institutions, multi-stakeholder forums, and informal consultation processes to give greater visibility and voice to their interests and to solicit support for their views.
    • In formal settings, China and Russia have built new arrangements to assert what they see as their rightful dominance in their respective regions.  China, for example, will promote the AIIB, and Russia, the Eurasian Union, as platforms for regional economic influence.
    • China and Russia together, with aspiring powers, Brazil, India, and South Africa, have also built a nonbinding summit platform known as the BRICS, to give themselves a transnational platform from which to promote their views.  Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia have also created a similar platform, MIKTA, based on shared values and interests.
    • These structures are emerging not because aspiring powers have new ideas about how to address global challenges or because they seek to change global rules and norms, but so they can project power—and because sometimes it is easier to get things done in smaller groups.  However, these aspiring powers will continue to invest in traditional institutions—even as they create new ones—if only in recognition of the strength of today’s system.
    • Efforts to change the state hierarchy in existing institutions will continue, in an attempt to gain privileges.  Structures that might seek to reorient the state hierarchy of power include the BRICS-led New Development Bank and the China-led AIIB (to complement the World Bank and IMF), the Universal Credit Rating Group (to complement the private-sector Moody’s and S&P ratings agencies), China Union Pay (to complement Mastercard and Visa), and CIPS (to complement the SWIFT payment-processing network).
  • Multi-stakeholder multilateralism will complement state efforts.  Government officials will dominate—but not monopolize—multilateral cooperation in the future. National regulators and technical experts will inform governance by engaging their counterparts abroad.  This is already happening in the effort to ensure the safety and reliability of medicine in an age of complex supply chains. The US Food and Drug Administration, recognizing its own limitations, spearheaded the creation of an informal, “global coalition of medicine regulators,” to close drug-safety gaps worldwide, particularly with major producers like China and India.  And a good model for how private authority might be involved in future global governance is the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), which develops accounting standards for the 27 countries of the European Union, and about 90 other countries by drawing technical experts from large accounting firms who are organized by an independent foundation chartered
    in Delaware.

Key Choices

One way to address the future constellation of challenges is for national political leaders to generate strategic guidance calling for interdisciplinary relations across institutions.  In finance, some actors are already experimenting with such a model.  By better understanding the synergies embedded in multisectoral agendas, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, both states and institutions can better advise and support positive outcomes.  Political leaders will be key as only heads of state have the authority to press crossministerial agendas within their states. Such an approach will be a necessary counterbalance to what is now a very siloed international system.

  • A new, more broadly defined, more widely conceived definition of national interest, based on the concept of mutuality, might induce states to find far greater unity in deliberations at the international level.  With the growing number of existential challenges facing humanity, “collective interest” could become “national interest.”

However, the following developments remain uncertain:

  • Whether adequate resources will be available to enable coalitions of states and international organizations to address and lead programmatically on common challenges.  This will depend in part on governments treating international commitments with the same importance as national demands—rather than viewing them as competing priorities—mobilizing coalitions to support these priorities, and enjoying their public’s trust.  It also depends on the role large-scale private partnerships and foundations take on—including organizations such as the Gates Foundation, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Global Education Fund—in developing an approach to funding and delivering critical programs on the ground.
  • Whether the monitoring and compliance tools of international organizations will serve as confidence-building measures to reduce geopolitical tension.  This will depend on state willingness to accept election monitors, weapon inspections, and other compliance agreements outlined in international agreements.  For example, the UN mission to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program was marked by extraordinary international cooperation and represented the first time an entire arsenal of a category of weapons of mass destruction has been removed from a country experiencing internal armed conflict.
  • To what degree elites will be effective in guiding institutions and states through global transitions, and in promoting a strategic vision on crucial issues such as mitigating climate change and navigating global commons.  Leadership among international institutions will need to promote a long-term perspective and a global mentality—and be decisive in the short term—to overcome the temptation toward insularity and muddling through.
  • To what extent private actors will involve themselves in international rule making, enforcement, or dispute resolution—areas traditionally the responsibility of a state or public authority.  National and international laws are established and enforced differently in various state legal systems, but most—if not all—involve state authority.  Rule-making, enforcement, and dispute resolution by private actors, however, is becoming more common.  For example, the eBay/PayPal resolution center works in 16 different languages and solves roughly 60 million disagreements between buyers and sellers each year.  Deepening internet penetration allows self-policing among online communities, which can now shame those whose behavior does not conform to the norms of the group.  These mechanisms are not accessed and used to the same degree by societies across the world, but they do represent behavior that contributes to governance, and over time will provide a broader array of venues in which people might choose to act.