M. Elliott Abrams

We meet early in this new century and two-thirds of a century after the founding of the United Nations. The UN has developed into a colossus, reflecting in a sense the industrial organization of the era in which it was designed—the era of giant corporations like General Motors, so recently bankrupt. The UN has tens of thousands, indeed hundreds of thousands, of employees in its various agencies, housed in hundreds and hundreds of offices throughout the world.

I say all of this not to criticize the organization but to suggest that in this new century, such a model may not be best as we consider cooperation in the Atlantic region. The massive scale and huge overhead costs are perhaps not something we wish now to re-create. The very strengths of these organizations—broad or universal membership, vast scope of activities, and large staffs—are also their Achilles heels, for they often lack flexibility, and sometimes discord among their members prevents them from acting at all. At the other end of the spectrum, we found the G-7 and G-8, by comparison tiny groupings but ones which until recently came to have immense importance in the governance of world affairs. Yet that model too seems outmoded, and only this year has been replaced by the G-20, small but three times as large and far more representative of the entire world—and producing 90 percent of the world’s GDP. The G-8 is the past, and the G-20 is the future.

Now, the G-20 is not really an organization at all; it is more like a meeting. There is no secretariat, no building, no employees with pensions and vacations. No—just a meeting; yet a meeting of heads of government, well prepared, can in fact make important decisions about international cooperation.

I suggest to you that this is the sort of model we need for the Atlantic opening. Consider the PSI, the Proliferation Security Initiative. PSI is not an organization at all; it is an activity. It is a group of nations committed to working together to prevent the proliferation of dangerous weapons (chemical, biological, and nuclear) , and 90 nations have joined together. It is now six years old. It brings together diplomatic, law enforcement, and military tools and personnel to monitor global shipping and uses existing authorities to intercept and seize illegal WMD cargoes. Every action is voluntary.

The PSI is a unique model of multilateral cooperation that works not through a bureaucracy but because there is no bureaucracy. There is no secretariat, no headquarters; there are no regularly scheduled meetings. No single party can prevent the others from acting. It is speedy and flexible. There is no formal treaty; there are no formal obligations. It has been described as a “set of partnerships” that establish a basis for cooperation, an “open and agile architecture.” And it has worked. Thus it may provide a more accurate picture of successful multilateral activity in the future, as it transcends previous models and exceeds them in efficacy and efficiency.
We can apply this model to many problems. Ministers of Justice should meet regularly and coordinate activities; the same for those combating drug trafficking and drug abuse; likewise for those dealing with population movements. And joint activities should follow, so that meetings become the basis for action.

I do not suggest that the existing institutions are not of great importance or will wither away; Marx was wrong when he predicted that the state would wither away, as we know very well, and institutions such as the UN or the IMF, World Bank, and regional banks serve irreplaceable functions. But I do not expect more of them to be created. Better, for example, the close but unstructured coordination of securities regulators from the major economies than a new organization. Better indeed that national regulators cooperate and coordinate based on mutual interests than that some new organization be formed that attempts to regulate across borders, effectively putting a strait-jacket on economic and financial activities that must necessarily vary country to country.

When we look at the Atlantic space, this approach seems apt. Common values are already widely shared. There is considerable common activity in the shared Atlantic space. What is needed is flexible cooperation in the economic, security, and social areas, and this will be best achieved in flexible forms of association among relevant officials. Let me put it this way: I favor structure, but not structures. That is, new organizations and bureaucracies will not help, but organized cooperation is the way forward.

Remarks by Elliott Abrams
Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, D.C.

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