Learning to love the G20

Reuters has a story up highlighting criticism of the G20 by European Central Bank board member Jörg Asmussen. He reportedly warned yesterday that the G20 might be running out of steam as a vehicle for economic and financial cooperation:

Asmussen, who attended the first G20 meeting in Berlin in 1999, working for the German finance ministry at the time, said the forum had lost momentum in recent years, also "to an important extent due to a waning sense of urgency".

"Global economic governance as we know it today seems to be well equipped to manage a global crisis. But it is less effective during normal times, which also lessens its ability to prevent future crises," Asmussen said in a speech in Berlin....

To revive the G20's power, Asmussen said it needed to adopt a more transparent decision-making process and a more focused and concise operational agenda.

At least as quoted, Asmussen's speech pretty much tracks the conventional wisdom on the G20: It played a useful role during the financial crisis but hasn't done much of value since. Its meetings now produce vague and ambiguous declarations that consume chunks of senior policymaker time to little apparent effect (witness the confusion over whether the G20 actually criticized Japan's currency moves).

This kind of criticism is fair enough as far as it goes. But it also implicitly devalues what is actually an extraordinary accomplishment: creating a global forum that can play a useful role during economic crises (even if it can't do much beyond that). As Daniel Drezner has pointed out repeatedly on his blog, avoiding cataclysmic outcomes is a big deal:

Formal and informal global governance structures still perform some important tasks at preventing worst-case scenarios from metastasizing, be it in security or economics.  Call it "'good enough' global governance" -- it's not a new world order or anything, but it's also not as chaotic or dysfunctional as many pundits proclaim.

If G20 meetings and consultations during non-crisis periods  do nothing more than keep lines of communication open and the crisis machinery well oiled, that's more than enough.

The Multilateralist

Will Europe contribute more UN peacekeepers?

United Nations peacekeeping operations are, for the most part, paid for by the world's rich countries and staffed by poorer states. The G7 industrialized countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States—pay a combined 71.6 percent of peacekeeping costs but contribute only about three percent of the more than 90,000 deployed UN peacekeepers and police. Eight countries, mostly low-income states, contribute more peacekeepers than the the G7 combined

Source: United Nations

A new report by the International Peace Institute and the Pearson Centre examines the peacekeeping contributions of European states in particular and considers whether greater participation could be in the cards. With the Afghanistan operation drawing down, it points out, Europe may soon have spare personnel and resources that could be devoted to UN operations. There are plenty of obstacles, however, including political fatigue and shrinking military budgets. Memories of the failed Bosnia peacekeeping operation in the 1990s (to which European states contributed heavily) and doubts about UN command and control are also important. The whole report is worth a read.