Perhaps not surprisingly, pessimists have tended to dominate the punditry in recent years. For Parag Khanna, in today’s globalized world, “islands of governance” tend to drive policy, as opposed to cogent global statecraft. Far from being connected, the world is “never more than a hair’s length away from the symptoms of medievalism” – a disagreeable disease of “economic chaos, social unrest … and wild expenditures.” For Fareed Zakaria, the problem is even more basic, as the rise of emerging markets has made the world so complicated that it is impossible for countries to even articulate “grand strategies,” or rules of thumb, for the conduct of their foreign affairs, economic or otherwise. Indeed, the very “doctrinal approach” to foreign policy, in which countries articulate guiding principles of foreign policy, “doesn’t make much sense anymore. In today’s multipolar, multilayered world, there is no central hinge upon which all . . . foreign policy rests. Policymaking looks more varied, and inconsistent, as regions require approaches that don’t necessarily apply elsewhere .” International cooperation will thus have to do increasingly without single one-shot proclamations of national interests that explain state behavior. Fukuyama was wrong – we have plenty of history ahead of us.
Inconsistency is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, but Zakaria’s basic hunch is correct: ultimately more varied approaches are not only common but also required in today’s post-American world. Yet there are limits to how far the observation holds. Whatever its challenges, the increasing multipolarity of the international system is actually leading to more, not less, institution building and cross-border cooperation. But cooperation is arising very differently it did in the past. Core tenets of postwar multilateralism – from big global forums, to formal rules of the road for economic relations, to U.S. dollar hegemony – are being supplemented, and in some instances replaced, with alternative mediums and diplomatic tools in order to respond to a world of more varied interests, preferences, and power constellations. These changes are not, however, beyond analysis. Indeed, today’s tools of economic statecraft can be identified and even generalized. And once recognized, they help lend a good deal of coherence to what might otherwise come across as unbridled economic anarchy.