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A Concert of Powers for a Global Era

In the nineteenth century, the Concert of Europe successfully preserved peace for a half-century in the absence of a dominant power and amid ideological diversity. Something similar would be a boon to global governance today.

NEW YORK – Last week’s testy US-China dialogue in Alaska augurs poorly for bilateral relations. And the mounting rivalry between the two countries clearly indicates that the emerging world of multiple power centers could presage an era of increased competition and conflict.

A big part of the problem is that the existing international governance architecture, much of it erected soon after World War II, is outdated and not up to the task of preserving global stability. The US-centered alliance system is a club of democracies, poorly suited to fostering cooperation across ideological lines. Fly-in, fly-out G7 or G20 summits are episodic and spend too much time haggling over communiqués. The United Nations provides a standing global forum, but its Security Council invites grandstanding and paralysis among veto-wielding permanent members.

What is needed is a global concert of powers – an informal steering group of the world’s most influential countries. The history of nineteenth-century Europe points the way. The Concert of Europe – a grouping of Britain, France, Russia, Prussia, and Austria formed in 1815 – successfully preserved peace for a half-century in the absence of a dominant power and amid ideological diversity. The Concert of Europe rested on a mutual commitment to rely on regular communication and the peaceful resolution of disputes to uphold the territorial settlement that ended the bloody Napoleonic Wars.

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