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2021.09.17 戈登-布朗谈建立新的多边主义的必要性

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The future of American power
Gordon Brown on the need for a new multilateralism
If the world can’t distribute covid vaccines equitably, how can it respond to other global challenges? New forms of co-operation are needed, says a former British prime minister

Sep 17th 2021



By Gordon Brown

This By-invitation commentary is part of a series by global thinkers on the future of American power—examining the forces shaping the country’s global standing, from the rise of China to the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Read more here.

The year 1945 saw the end of a war, the start of the atomic age and, arguably, the birth of multilateralism. A weapon that was so devastating forced world leaders—and an anxious public—to realise that countries must co-operate or perish. Today, we live not just in the shadow of nuclear arms but in the intensity of climate change and a pandemic, reminders of the fragility of our existence. If multilateralism did not exist, we would need to invent it. But just when we need more multilateralism we have less. As the world faces vast challenges, we need to reconstruct the nature of international co-operation so that it is effective and responds on the timescale that is required.

The crisis of covid-19 vaccine distribution illustrates our problem. Western countries currently hoard hundreds of millions of doses that could immediately save lives in poor countries, where only 2% of people have been vaccinated. By December, there will be a surplus of at least 1bn vaccines. This betrays a fundamental weakness on the part of developed countries to come together to do what is right. No other single peacetime decision by world leaders can save so many lives in such a short time.

President Joe Biden’s vaccine summit on September 22nd, on the margins of the UN General Assembly, should agree to transfer the West’s unused vaccines and swap delivery dates to secure earlier distribution of doses to the unvaccinated. Doing so is not just morally right but in the West’s self-interest, for if it fails to vaccinate the poor as widely as the rich, the virus will mutate and new variants will haunt us all, including the vaccinated.

Too often, global co-operation is seen as a zero-sum game, where one country’s gain is another country’s loss. But delivering global public goods and preventing beggar-thy-neighbour policies—in this case, combating infectious diseases and avoiding medical protectionism—are areas where global co-ordination is necessary and effective.

Bridging the vaccine gap should have been the starting-point of a new multilateralism in which countries, accepting common obligations, agreed to work together for shared goals. But the failure compels us to ask: if we cannot solve the relatively straightforward problem of vaccine distribution when we have a surplus of supplies, how will we ever meet other complex challenges, such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, cybersecurity and tax havens, which also require a global response?

A neocolonial vaccine fiasco
The crisis in international co-operation has been long in the making. Consider the Group of Seven, a club of the world’s biggest developed economies. Its communiqués once moved markets, determined exchange rates and were decisive in setting global levels of growth and employment. As recently as 2005, under Britain’s chairmanship, the group made history by agreeing to wipe out $40bn of debts for the 18 poorest countries (later expanded) and double aid to Africa. But more recently, the g7 has been notable for what it has not achieved, hitting a low in 2018 when President Donald Trump stormed out of a meeting in Canada. Leaders could not even agree on an insipid press statement.

The latest g7 meeting in Cornwall, hosted by Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, was an opportunity to revive the group as an engine of multilateralism in the service of global values. Cometh the hour, cometh the man —or so it could have been. Covid-19 and the recession thrust upon the g7 a new responsibility at the intersection of economics and geopolitics, as a precursor to other global challenges like climate change.

The meeting provided the platform that America had wanted, to show global leadership and expose what it considered to be the opportunism of China, whose own vaccine diplomacy—to supply its home-grown doses only to its favoured friends, and charge excessive prices to the rest—was dividing not uniting the world. By redirecting their surplus vaccines through covax, an international programme to give doses to poor countries, America and Europe could put a Western-led multilateral approach at the heart of the pandemic response.

However, the summit ended with a meek initiative to give just 870m vaccines to the world’s poorest countries, and only by next summer. Three months on, covax has received donations of a mere 100m doses. In August it was discovered that a signatory to the initiative, the European Union (where around 65% of people were vaccinated), was airlifting out millions of vaccines manufactured in Africa (where only 4% were vaccinated).

Read more:
• Arundhati Roy on America’s fiery, brutal impotence
• Minxin Pei on why China will not surpass the United States
• Niall Ferguson on why the end of America’s empire won’t be peaceful

All the sins of the colonial era, for which the West had repented, were, it seemed, being revisited on contemporary Africa. The West was sucking resources out of the continent; denying Africa the means to create an indigenous manufacturing capacity by stalling on technology transfer, patent waivers and licensing agreements and offering only the equivalent of crumbs from the rich man’s table. At a time when 1.5bn vaccines are being produced monthly and Africa’s need for vaccines is most urgent, it has taken until September for the eu to agree to replace the doses it took out of Africa.

The fiasco demonstrates just how much multilateral co-operation has taken second place to vaccine nationalism. Failure to transform the miracle of science into inoculations for all makes it difficult for the West to claim moral standing. If the West cannot co-ordinate the delivery of a global public good it controls and is hoarding, profound questions arise about its ability to lead generally. The g7 cannot be held responsible for the breakdown of multilateralism. But it certainly can be held responsible for not resisting protectionism and for being oblivious to the blindingly obvious need to be a global force for good.

Lost hegemony
Over the past two decades, the world has witnessed the rise of a defensive nationalism across both liberal and illiberal countries. There has been an onslaught of tariffs, border and immigration controls and the building of walls, fences and barriers that separate countries. More recently a new form of tribal nationalism has become aggressive: America first, China first, India first, Russia first, and so on. “The future does not belong to globalists—the future belongs to patriots,” intoned President Trump to the un general assembly in 2019.

During its unipolar moment from the 1990s to 2010s, America generally acted multilaterally; in a multipolar age, America under Mr Trump invariably acted unilaterally. Although President Biden promises multilateral co-operation, his geopolitical convictions—and his view that China has made politics a zero-sum game—have taken precedence over standard economic theory that champions the mutual benefits from trade and open interactions. Yet global problems require global responses, whatever the state of international relations.

America can no longer define itself as the sole sphere of influence in this new multipolar world, nor should it have to face the world on its own. But to paraphrase for a new context the words of Dean Acheson, America’s postwar statesman: America has lost its hegemony but not yet found a role. Its reflex is still to act unilaterally as if we are in a unipolar age when it should be the leader of a new multilateralism for a multipolar age.

The country has to imagine a world in which it is no longer the only superpower. It will be one where, as events in Afghanistan have shown, no nation, however powerful or wealthy, can unilaterally dictate its wishes to the world. It needs to be a world where the leaders of great powers can make things happen by coming together—and in this multipolar age, the world’s best hope remains an essential measure of American leadership. If it does not want to be the world’s policeman, it can be the world’s problem-solver: indispensable less because of the power of its force than for the force of its example.

Many people look beyond nation-states to international institutions for global leadership, from the United Nations to the World Trade Organisation, International Monetary Fund and so on. I do not doubt the benefits that these bodies can and do deliver. But in my experience of 25 or so g7 and g20 summits of finance ministers and heads of state, the big make-or-break decisions cannot be made by these institutions—it needs the active engagement of the leaders of the major powers. Though a growing “plurilateralism”—in which nonprofit groups and businesses are at the table with governments—helps to tackle global problems, it can never undo the damage if leaders fail to lead.

From statecraft to collective action
Over time we can restructure the global decision-making process (and elsewhere I have set out ideas on how to do it), but the current geopolitical environment is not ready for the overhaul that the international system now needs. A better place to start is with practical issue-by-issue co-operation to confront the most urgent challenges. So in the short term, there is no alternative but to make the g7 and g20 work better.

The g20 suffers from the absence of a formal secretariat, too narrow a membership and it may face difficulties when, in quick succession, Indonesia, India and Brazil chair it (two of them for the first time). The g20’s power depends most of all on there being at least the semblance of a g2: China and America finding ways to work together. In the current standoff, joint g20 initiatives on, say, cyberspace, debt restructuring and the management of the internet, will be difficult to achieve and there is a real risk of a future of “one world, two systems”.

But because this is not a cold war, there is still hope that, despite tensions over Taiwan, Hong Kong, human rights and technology, both countries can agree on substantial actions on climate change, macroeconomic co-ordination and global health—such as a new financing instrument for pandemic preparedness.

The g7 faces its own moment of truth, as critics wait to see if rich nations, which uphold liberal values within their borders, are prepared to support those values outside their borders too. Were they to do so, the Summit for Democracy that President Biden plans to convene for democratic renewal worldwide might start to look credible.

But first, the g7 must become a motor of multilateralism—starting with vaccine distribution and collaboration. It will not be built on the lofty idealism of 1945 but on a practical realism to confront global challenges for which there is no alternative to collective action. ■

Gordon Brown was Britain’s prime minister in 2007-10. He is the author of “Seven Ways to Change the World” (Simon & Schuster, 2021).

| 美国力量的未来













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许多人把目光投向民族国家之外的国际机构,从联合国到世界贸易组织、国际货币基金组织等等,以寻求全球领导。我并不怀疑这些机构能够而且确实带来了好处。但根据我参加25次左右的七国集团和二十国集团财长和国家元首峰会的经验,重大的决定性因素不能由这些机构作出,而是需要大国领导人的积极参与。尽管日益增长的 "诸边主义"--非营利组织和企业与政府坐在一起--有助于解决全球问题,但如果领导人未能发挥领导作用,它永远无法消除损害。


20国集团缺乏一个正式的秘书处,成员范围太窄,而且当印度尼西亚、印度和巴西(其中两个是第一次担任主席)接连担任主席时,它可能面临困难。20国集团的力量主要取决于至少有一个2国集团的样子。中国和美国找到了合作的方式。在目前的对峙中,g20在网络空间、债务重组和互联网管理等方面的联合倡议将难以实现,未来确实存在着 "一个世界,两种制度 "的风险。




戈登-布朗在2007-10年担任英国首相。他是《改变世界的七种方法》(Simon & Schuster, 2021)的作者。
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