Are International Organizations Becoming Obsolete?

Contemporary international organizations were largely set up by the victorious Allies as part of the post-World War II system of global governance. At the time, the Cold War was just getting under way and American power was undeniable.

However, global governance has dramatically changed since that time. As America’s relative power declines, the world has become truly multipolar. Furthermore, the late 20th and early 21st centuries saw the emergence of global problems (such as climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic) that cannot be solved by any single country. This means that while the circumstances demand collective action, it paradoxically incentivizes countries to free ride off the efforts of others.

The result is that, today, international organizations are less able to facilitate collective decision-making than ever before. What used to be routine is no longer so. For example, the United States has recently been blocking the appointment of World Trade Organization judges and even a new director general. China ignored the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration over the South China Sea dispute. And Brexit and European nationalism may signal a true fracturing of EU unity on policy and a shared future.

Are international organizations as we known them growing obsolete in an era of renewed nationalism, and multipolar power structures? Will we ever return to the days of multilateral decision-making? Or will the future be dominated by regional blocs, coalitions of the willing, and unilateral actions?

Come join the Young Professionals of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall on December 8th at 11 a.m. for a discussion on this topic.

Register here