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Over the last 20 years, the distribution of power among countries has shifted away from the bipolarmilitary standoff of the Cold War era and the economic dominance of the United States, Europe,and Japan. At the same time, multilateral institutions such as the United Nations agencies and theInternational Monetary Fund, constituted to perform global functions on behalf of their member states,are increasingly bypassed by private and semiprivate initiatives in a wide range of arenas—fromglobal health to banking supervision and climate change.
In this essay, William Savedoff addresses the question of what these changes mean for the future ofinternational cooperation from a broad historical perspective. He argues that multipolarity has beenthe norm in international relations and that the rise of opportunistic alliances to pursue internationalgoals is not new. While global governance institutions will continue to be important, mixed coalitionsof state and nonstate actors are likely to play a growing role in solving international problems. Thesemodels for international cooperation are both promising and problematic: promising because theyhave demonstrated agility and success; problematic because they may address the wrong issues andbecause they cannot compel cooperation for key public goods.