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The Future of Multilateralism: Governing the World in a Post-Hegemonic Era

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2015

Milbank Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University in the Department of Politics and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International


Since the middle of the twentieth century, the governance of the global system has been organized around the United States and the advanced industrial democracies. In the shadow of the Cold War, these countries established a wide array of global and regional institutions to manage economic, political, and security relations. The Bretton Woods institutions, GATT (and later the WTO), the United Nations, and various functional institutions provided the bulwark for an open and managed postwar world economy and global order. An American-led alliance system provided a structure for regional security in Europe and East Asia. When the Cold War ended, these far-flung institutions were extended into a more fully global multilateral system of governance. The United States dominated the global order. But, more so than did leading states in previous eras, it established its dominance through institutions. It was an American-led liberal hegemonic order.

Special Issue Articles: Whither Multilateralism?
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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1 See Ikenberry, G. John, Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011Google Scholar.

2 For various discussions of the future of multilateralism, see Rapnouil, Manuel Lafont, ‘A European View on the Future of Multilateralism’, The Washington Quarterly, 32 (3) (July 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Stewart Patrick, ‘The Unruled World: The Case for Good Enough Governance’, Foreign Affairs (January/February 2014); and Haggard, Stephan, ‘Liberal Pessimism: International Relations Theory and the Emerging Powers’, Asia and the Pacific Studies, 1 (1) (January 2014): 117CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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4 Weiss, Thomas, Governing the World? Addressing ‘Problems without Passports’, Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2014, p. 4Google Scholar.

5 Ibid.

6 Goldin, Ian, Divided Nations: Why Global Governance is Failing and What We Can Do About It, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 161Google Scholar.

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9 Mazower, Mark, Governing the World: The History of an Idea, London: Allen Lane, 2012, p. 15Google Scholar.

10 For a discussion of multilateralism before the twentieth century, see Ruggie, John Gerard, ‘Multilateralism: The Anatomy of an Institution’, in Ruggie, John Gerard (ed.), Multilateralism Matters: The Theory and Praxis of an Institutional Form, New York: Columbia University Press, 1993Google Scholar.

11 Mitzen, Jennifer, Power in Concert: The Nineteenth-Century Origins of Global Governance, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013, p. 4CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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13 See Iriye, Akira, Global Community: The Role of International Organizations in the Making of the Contemporary World, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002Google Scholar.

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16 See Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan; and Patrick, Stewart, The Best Laid Plans: The Origins of American Multilateralism and the Dawn of the Cold War, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009Google Scholar.

17 For studies that emphasize Anglo-American diplomacy in the established of the wider postwar economic order, see Edmonds, Robin, Setting the Mould: The United States and Britain, 1945–1950, New York: Norton, 1986Google Scholar; and Clarke, Sir Richard, Anglo-American Economic Collaboration in War and Peace, 1942–1949, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982Google Scholar.

18 This is one of the prominent themes of the Obama administration's 2010 National Security Strategy, Washington, DC: The White House, May, 2010.

19 There is a large literature on the growing transnational dangers and instabilities. Many studies focus on specific issue areas, such as global warming or financial regulation, while others offer more general overviews. See Goldin, Divided Nations.

20 For a discussion of the ways in which the American-led security order has had positive spillover effects on non-security cooperation, see Brooks, Stephen, Ikenberry, G. John, and Wohlforth, William, ‘Don't Come Home America: The Case against Retrenchment’, International Security, 37 (3) (Winter 2012/13): 751CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

22 Patrick, ‘The Unruled World’.

23 See Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan, Chapter 7.