How Multilateral Can Obama Be?

Sep 25, 2009

My colleague, Mlada Bukovansky, from Smith College who does excellent work on the evolution of norms and the role of institutions raises some interesting points on the question at the IR Blog.

She’s cites three recent examples on trade and the environment in which the Obama administration’s rhetoric on multilateralism is disconnected from its actions. I think her punch line is fascinating and really thought provoking:

…multilateralism is difficult. It is especially difficult for a superpower. And it is most especially difficult for a democratic superpower. Anyone who studies trade and climate negotiations knows how easily domestic politics can derail multilateral commitments. The simplistic liberal view that democracy and multilateralism go hand in hand needs to be challenged, or at least viewed with more skeptical eyes and a nuanced analytical framework.

I wonder how our multilateral friends in the Obama administration see this?

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Jon Western has spent the last fifteen years teaching IR in liberal arts colleges at Mount Holyoke College and the Five Colleges in western Massachusetts. He has an eclectic range of intellectual interests but often writes on international security, U.S. foreign policy, military intervention, and human rights. He occasionally shares his thoughts about professional life in liberal arts colleges. In his spare time he coaches middle school soccer, mentors the local high school robotics team, skis, and sails.