Institutions of global governance are weak by design not default. As Singapore’s permanent representative in New York, I encountered senior members of the American establishment who lamented the United Nations’ poor condition. The explanation was the domination by the poor and weak states of Africa and Asia and the poor quality of its bureaucrats.
To the best of my knowledge, no one seemed aware of a longstanding Western strategy, led primarily by Washington, to keep the UN weak. Even during the cold war, when Moscow and Washington disagreed on everything, both actively conspired to keep the UN feeble: selecting pliable secretaries-general, such as Kurt Waldheim, and bullying them into dismissing or sidelining competent and conscientious international civil servants who showed any backbone; squeezing the organization’s budgets; and planting CIA and KGB agents across the UN system.
As we move into an era of great convergence, the West must fundamentally rethink its policy that its long-term interests are served by keeping institutions of global governance weak. With only 12 percent of the population of the global village and a declining share of economic and military power, the West’s long-term geopolitical interests will switch from trying to preserve its “dominance” to safeguards to protect the West’s “minority” position in a new global configuration of power.
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Kishore Mahbubani is dean and professor in the practice of public policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. A former ambassador of Singapore to the United Nations, Mahbubani is the author, most recently, of “The Great Convergence: Asia, the West and the Logic of One World.”