MADRID – Last month’s NATO summit in Madrid was a resounding success, demonstrating the West’s enduring resolve to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin over his war on Ukraine. But the value of Western unity against Putin will be diminished in a world that is becoming increasingly divided, as the recent meetings of G20 finance and foreign ministers in Indonesia showed. This trend could carry incalculably high costs, because a highly polarized world cannot meet the most important task of our century: ensuring the provision of global public goods.
Such goods – including a clean environment, international security, and global health – cannot be provided without effective global institutions. One might expect a crisis, with major global consequences, to spur cooperation, as was the case with the G20’s emergence after the 2008 global financial crisis. But, while crises may have a unifying effect, the Ukraine war is stalling efforts to manage its global consequences.
Globalization has brought great advances for humanity. But it has also brought new risks and challenges, which can be managed only through effective multilateral institutions. As former US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott observed in 2001, not long after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, “Globalization is like gravity. It’s not a policy; it’s not a program. It’s not good; it’s not evil. It’s happening.” But, as the last decade has shown, even if globalization is an inescapable historical phenomenon, geopolitical rivalries can fracture and fragment the institutions on which it depends, making it impossible to mount effective responses to shared challenges like climate change.