After a spate of news stories, the International Monetary Fund is denying again that it's encouraging the Greek government to restructure its debt. Meanwhile, most analysts seem to assume that a restructuring is inevitable. My guess? A restructuring will happen, and by the time it does everyone will be as prepared as they can be for it, economically, politically, psychologically and otherwise.
One of the most important--but largely unappreciated--services international organizations provide is to slow the pace of events. These institutions are often criticized for their tendency to temporize, find stop-gap solutions, and kick problems down the road. In some cases, they should be criticized for this habit; many crises demand speed and decisiveness. But often a speed brake is just what is called for. In the peace and security realm, the U.N. Security Council often plays this role. Its long and frustrating deliberations can allow major players (notably the Council's permanent members) to adjust to new situations, feel out their counterparts, and, in some cases, fend off domestic pressure for immediate action. The Council played this role during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Middle East wars of 1967 and 1973 and still does today. In none of those cases did the Council formally resolve the underlying dispute, but in all of them the "speed brake" effect was important.
Similarly in the Greek case, the IMF and the EU probably won't solve the underlying problem of Greek debt. But they may still be successful in mitigating the impact of an eventual Greek default and ensuring that it occurs in a more controlled manner than it would have otherwise. It's not necessarily heroic stuff and the institutions probably won't get much credit for it. But it's the kind of service that helps keep crises from turning into cataclysms.
David Bosco reports on the new world order for The Multilateralist.