Global Governance
International Institutions and the Challenge of the First Pandemic War

International institutions still represent a compromise between the power capabilities of their participants and the need for relative civilisational interaction between them, writes Timofei Bordachev, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club. Institutions cannot be effective or on their own  it always depends on the ability of states to agree and the presence of objective structural prerequisites for this.

In the second half of April contradictions between China and the United States led to the disruption of the tele-meeting of the G20 countries. Due to the fact that this grouping is considered the most representative and, at the same time, the least binding in terms of decision-making, it was considered until recently the most promising in the context of a “crumbling” world order and the growth of national egoism. However, the first round of the most important interstate confrontation of the new era already called into question the very possibility of discussions between the leaders of the 20 most economically and politically important countries of the world. Somewhat earlier, the US government announced that it plans to stop funding the World Health Organisation (WHO), where it is the main donor. Washington does not like much at the WHO. But the main thing is that China has so far been able to exert more influence on its work than the United States itself. Donald Trump is trying to correct this imbalance in the ways characteristic of his policymaking. The result is not yet obvious.
Russia and Global Security Risks
Trump and the WHO: It Is Worse Than a Crime, It Is a Mistake
Ivan Timofeev
The news about the suspension of funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) by the United States has sent shockwaves, both in America and abroad. Accusations targeting the organisation were voiced personally by US President Donald Trump. In his view, the WHO is responsible for the high prevalence of COVID-19. He insists that the organisation had failed to provide adequate information on time, and that when it finally arrived, it was based on official data from China, which, according to the US leader, did not reflect the real situation. The WHO has focused on China, while the United States is its principal benefactor. Judging by Trump’s statements, the White House is waiting for a “reform” of the WHO. The parameters of such reforms were not specified. But apparently, the organisation should pay more attention to the situation in the United States.
Expert Opinions

Such course of events makes more than relevant the question of the future of international institutions, the most important achievement of international politics in the 20th century.

Mankind went without constant norms and rules for most of its political history. Since the formation of the first states, collectives of individuals have reflected nothing but their own conscience and the strength of other collectives in their actions. In Europe, the role of arbiter was for a short time, less than 1,000 years, played by the Catholic potentate in Rome. The church did not have its own armies, but it did have moral authority. Moreover, the popes’ lack of their own military power, as well as their claim to the universality of spiritual power, did not allow the Holy See to become one of the ordinary states. And, accordingly, the values ​​and rules that Rome tried to impose during the Middle Ages did not directly express anyone’s values ​​or interests. Therefore, they were relatively fair, for the most part. At the beginning of the 16th century, European states became so strong that they became nonplussed with the power of Rome. Over the next 400 years, they lived practically without any institutions embodying the need to follow the rules. As a result of the Thirty Years’ War of 1618 – 1648, at least general rules of conduct appeared, therefore Kissinger in his book World Order defined the Westphalian system as “having not a substantive, but a procedural character.” This was a great achievement for its time, but it was far from an attempt to establish genuine, civilised relations between peoples.

The 20th century was the era of the largest and most massive wars – the First and Second World Wars, fought between 1914 and 1945. They turned out to be so monumental in scale and in terms of human suffering and threats to the existence of states that a real “political change” was possible, akin to what Edward Carr wrote about in his 1939 book 20 Years of Crisis. The balance of power in international politics took organisational form for the first time, although it somehow ensured justice for those who are weaker. In addition, in the middle of the 20th century, nuclear weapons appeared, and a group of five states – permanent members of the “nuclear club” emerged from the international community. Their military capabilities are so superior to everyone else, even in the case of France and Britain, that these powers are, in the words of George Orwell, “in a state of constant cold war with their neighbours.”

The appearance in international politics of a nuclear factor that is practically not auditable has made it possible to create an order in which justice for the selected five nuclear powers is inevitably supplemented by relative justice for the rest. During the Cold War, international institutions proliferated. It was not because of a mythical “appearance of global problems requiring global solutions”. Mankind always has faced challenges such as climate change, cross-border trade, and pandemics. Some even write that globalisation existed in the Bronze Age; it’s even hard to argue with them. But due to the fact that the balance of power has become global, international politics and the ability to regulate the behaviour of states have also acquired a global character. Over the course of several decades, this has turned out to be so natural that many theoretical beliefs arose that institutions themselves could change the behaviour of states.
Why the G20 Won’t Save the World
Andrey Kortunov
We need to look for other means and other platforms for making decisions that correspond to the specifics of the moment that we are all experiencing. The G20 may become one of the important nodes of the complex new global governance mechanism, but it is incapable of replacing the whole mechanism.
Expert Opinions

However, this did not change the nature of international institutions – they still represent a compromise between the power capabilities of their participants and the need for relative civilisational interaction between them. This rule is universal and applies to both the UN and functional agencies, such as, for example, the WHO or the International Monetary Fund.
Therefore, institutions cannot be effective or on their own – it always depends on the ability of states to agree and the presence of objective structural prerequisites for this. There is no force of one that could restrain the strength of the other – there are no agreements, and institutions do not work.

The European Union is the most advanced institution of our time. But now we see that it is experiencing objective and very serious difficulties. EU functional agencies – primarily the European Commission – have very little opportunity to influence the development of the association and how it responds to acute challenges like the pandemic crisis of 2020. Direct contacts between states and their ability to agree without the participation of institutions are becoming increasingly important. And it doesn’t matter at all that the negotiations in which Germany and the Netherlands behave selfishly towards the countries of Southern Europe are part of the online meeting of the EU Council. The additional contribution of institutions in this case is still negligible. And when it comes to purely interstate relations, the collective egoism of everyone again begins to play a decisive role. Strong states get more fair decisions in relation to their interests and values ​​than weak ones.

In this regard, by the way, the Eurasian Economic Union, which brings together Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia seems to be doing rather well. It has not yet managed to advance so far that the institutions of Eurasian integration are required to manage the decisions of its participants. We see that at the level of interstate relations, the EAEU countries show much more solidarity towards each other than, for example, the Europeans, who for 30 years explained to everyone around how to pursue international cooperation. They themselves, however, went on to suffer a fiasco, when they left Italy to the mercy of fate in the spring of 2020. The level of trust between the EAEU states is quite high in the wake of the pandemic crisis. Most importantly, Russia, as the most powerful EAEU state, makes no attempt to flex its muscles when dealing with its weaker partners. That is, the behaviour of Moscow has turned out to be less selfish than it would be expected on the basis of ordinary international practice.

Now governments around the world are wary and often anxious about the consequences of the shocks of 2020 and are considering the most appropriate behavioural strategies for themselves. The great threat of a new, more dangerous “bipolarity” stems from the confrontation between China and the United States. This scenario, at least, fully complies with the trends that have developed in recent years. Another possible linear reaction is the increase in the collective egoism of the “big state” in a world where rules are playing an ever smaller role amid a kind of universal “going wild.” It is highly likely that universal international institutions, with the exception of the UN and its Security Council, will be most affected. This will make the responsibility of the permanent members of the Security Council even more significant – the proposal of the President of Russia to hold a meeting of their leaders has become even more relevant.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.