Multipolarity decreases multilateralism – without coercion there is an incentive to exploit shared resources
Laidi, 14 – Professor of International Relations at Sciences Po and director of research at the Center for European Studies at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris (Zaki, “Towards a Post-Hegemonic World: The Multipolar Threat to the Multilateral Order,” Apr 25, 2014, http://www.laidi.com/sitedp/sites/default/files/IP_Towards%20a%20Post-Hegemonic%20World.pdf)//eek
Fifty years ago the American sociologist Mancur Olson wrote in a work that has since become a classic that ‘unless the number of individuals in a group is quite small, or unless there is coercion or some other special device to make individuals act in their common interest, rational, self- interested individuals will not act to achieve their common or group interests’ (Olson, 1978). In other words, according to Mancur Olson the existence of common interests among individuals in no way guarantees cooperation between them. Indeed, if the number is large, some actors will be tempted to take advantage of the benefits of public goods without shouldering any of the expenses necessary to maintain them. This is the famous free rider argument. The application of this analysis to the international system is both relevant and current. Indeed, multipolarity, understood as a global redistribution process among an increasing number of actors, does not imply the linear development of cooperative arrangements underlying the concept of multilateralism. In fact, the opposite is occurring. If anything, multipolarity is placing multilateralism on a more precarious footing. Olson was of course careful to specify that cooperative arrangements could eschew free riders through coercion or selective incentives (Olson, 1978). But these are the very tools that are becoming increasingly less effective. In a multipolar world tending toward the equalization of power, the use of coercion becomes tricky. Thus it would be inconceivable in the 21st century to imagine Great Britain waging an opium war against China, or the United States re-enacting a Commodore Perry expedition to demand greater openness from the Chinese when it came to the governance of state-owned enterprises. At the same time, selective incentives are dwindling, either because ‘falling’ western powers do not have many such incentives left in their armoury, or because they refuse to grant any to those emerging countries which theyconsider to be economic or even strategic rivals. As a result multilateral regulatory mechanisms are eroding. Hence, with regard to trade, WTO negotiations have effectively stalled; and on climate the Kyoto Protocol seems almost to have unravelled completely. Global governance, in short, is caught in an in-between state characteristic of hegemonic transitions. The ‘declining’ powers are no longer strong enough to impose their preferences; meanwhile, even though the rising new powers feel confident enough to reject Western requests that they cease to be free riders, they are neither strong enough nor united enough to propose anything like a new fare system. This situation can be interpreted in a number of different ways. According to one view - based on the theory of hegemonic transition - those who are willing cannot, and those who can, are not willing, as was the case with the United States in the interwar period. 2 Alternately, according to a more novel and complex interpretation, emerging powers will increasingly contest Western hegemony without wanting to substitute it. This would be a transition without hegemony – the very definition of multipolarity. The outcome would be an historic in-between order marked, in all probability, by an unprecedented reassertion of what I term ‘sovereignist’ impulses . But there is also a third possibility: the decline of one hegemony – that of the West - and with it the reassertion of various national interests ‘without consideration for the systemic problems that precisely need global solutions’ (Arrighi et al, 2003)3. Granted, this general argument has subtleties that we will return to; and Olson’s theory does not explain everything. But the central idea here is that multipolarity does not automatically give way to multilateralism. On the contrary: multilateral institutions will be less and less able to meet their objectives because states within the international system will disagree on the process for pursuing the common good and the attendant sharing of responsibility. Indeed, this is already beginning to happen as the great impasse over trade and climate negotiations now shows. Furthermore, this impasse poses an especially big problem for the European Union – an organization whose political DNA so-to- speak has historically been based on multilateralism. The EU,to be blunt, faces the very real risk of being caught between a rock and a hard place: that is between the United States and China, the world’s two leading trade powers and two greatest polluters (Bremmer and Huntsman, 2013).