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Over the last 20 years, the distribution of power among countries has shifted away from the bipolar military 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 the International 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—from global health to banking supervision and climate change.
In this essay, William Savedoff addresses the question of what these changes mean for the future of international cooperation from a broad historical perspective. He argues that multipolarity has been the norm in international relations and that the rise of opportunistic alliances to pursue international goals 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. These models for international cooperation are both promising and problematic: promising because they have demonstrated agility and success; problematic because they may address the wrong issues and because they cannot compel cooperation for key public goods.