Meanwhile, cooperation in the realm of cyberspace is just getting started — with difficulty. The US is most concerned about cybersecurity and the protection of intellectual property and infrastructure. Authoritarian governments are more concerned about information security — the ability to control what is available on the Internet in order to maintain political and social stability. There is no agreement on what, if anything, constitutes an appropriate target for espionage. The prevalence of non-state actors is further complicating efforts.
Another area where there is less international community than meets the eye is human suffering. Governments that attack their own people on a large scale, or allow such attacks to be carried out, expose themselves to the threat of outside intervention. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was enshrined by the UN in 2005.
Many governments are concerned that R2P raises expectations that they will act, which could prove costly in terms of lives, military expenditure, and commercial priorities. Some governments are also worried that R2P could be turned on them. Russian and Chinese reticence about pressuring governments that deserve censure and sanction stems partly from such concerns; the absence of consensus on Syria is just one result.
In short, those looking to the international community to deal with the world’s problems will be disappointed. This is not reason for despair or grounds for acting unilaterally. So long as an international community is more a hope than reality, multilateralism will have to become more varied.
In the trade area, this implies regional and bilateral accords. On climate change, it makes sense to seek mini-agreements that set minimum common standards for fuel efficiency, slow deforestation, or limit the largest economies’ carbon outputs.
In these and other areas, governments will need to rally around regional undertakings, form coalitions of the relevant or willing, or simply seek understandings among countries to do their best to adopt common policies. Such approaches may lack the reach and legitimacy of formal global undertakings, but they do have the advantage of getting something done.
Richard Haass is president of the US Council on Foreign Relations.
Copyright: Project Syndicate