Multilateralism is in crisis. Can it be saved?

As leaders gather in Washington DC for the IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings, openDemocracy and the Bretton Woods Project present a new series on the crisis of multilateralism.

Laurie Macfarlane
8 April 2019

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This week leaders from around the world will gather in Washington DC for the annual World Bank and IMF Spring Meetings. In a year when both institutions are due to mark their 75th anniversaries, celebrations will be overshadowed by growing concerns about a ‘crisis of multilateralism’.

Propelled by popular movements of both left and right, countries around the world are turning against the system of neoliberal globalisation that the IMF and World Bank have overseen for much of the past half century. Meanwhile, the rise of China and other emerging powers raises fundamental questions about the legitimacy of a multilateral order that remains dominated by the US and its allies. At a time when challenges such as climate breakdown demand an urgent commitment to international cooperation, the future of multilateralism looks increasingly uncertain.

This is the context for our new series with the Bretton Woods Project. Featuring contributions from grass roots activists and expert voices from around the world, the series will explore the roots of the crisis of multilateralism by shining a spotlight on the human and environmental costs of World Bank and IMF policies.

The series will also seek to explore the possibilities for creating a more democratic and just form of multilateralism in a world where power is shifting from west and east, and where environmental collapse demands an urgent international response.

As the Bretton Woods Project write in their opening article for the series:

"By espousing a growth-first orthodoxy that relegates human rights, and governance structures that exacerbate global power imbalances, the Bretton Woods Institutions are yet to rise to the challenge of backing the radical reforms needed to fix the fractures built by their model of ‘development’ and to pave the way for a more just multilateralism – one that is anchored on an explicit commitment to human rights and sustainable development."

One thing is clear: we can’t address the challenges of the twenty-first century with multilateral arrangements that were designed to fit the circumstances of the twentieth century. What is less clear is what should come next. We hope this series will make a valuable contribution to this critical debate.

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Join us for a free live discussion at 5pm UK time, 24 September

In conversation:

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