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Multilateralism’s Secret Sauce

Summary:
Historically, successes like the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference have been much rarer than international gatherings that produce either inaction or recrimination. The key is to focus on what can be measured, rather than on whom to blame. PRINCETON – One clear lesson from last month’s damp squib of a climate summit in Glasgow is that multilateralism is difficult to pull off. This has always been the case. Many of history’s biggest international pow-wows ended in failure, not least the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the 1933 London World Economic Conference, and pretty much every G7 or G20 meeting. Big successes like the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference and the April 2009 G20 meeting in London were exceptions that prove the

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Historically, successes like the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference have been much rarer than international gatherings that produce either inaction or recrimination. The key is to focus on what can be measured, rather than on whom to blame.

PRINCETON – One clear lesson from last month’s damp squib of a climate summit in Glasgow is that multilateralism is difficult to pull off. This has always been the case. Many of history’s biggest international pow-wows ended in failure, not least the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the 1933 London World Economic Conference, and pretty much every G7 or G20 meeting. Big successes like the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference and the April 2009 G20 meeting in London were exceptions that prove the rule.

Does the latter meeting, convened amid the global economic turmoil triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers the previous September, offer a blueprint for improving international summits? One takeaway is that whatever emergency is meant to be addressed, participants need to define their objectives precisely. The lack of a...

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