My latest column in The Boston Globe explores the alternative to sweeping international agreements: little incremental solutions that might, in fact, do better at addressing the world’s ills.
The great international problems of our time beggar the imagination: global warming, pandemics, war crimes, nuclear proliferation, just to name a few. Their complexity confounds the most agile of technocrats, and the stakes involved are high, affecting billions of people living under every sort of government.
For half a century, the conventional approach to these problems has been to build massive international treaties. Intricate worldwide problems demand an integrated approach — a grand bargain, so to speak, that addresses all the winners and losers in a single, encompassing agreement.
This is the animating assumption behind the world’s approach to global warming, for example. To persuade growing nations like China to limit their consumption of fossil fuels, the thinking goes, the world needs a comprehensive framework ensuring that more developed nations make equivalent sacrifices. The climate is simply too large a problem to address piecemeal, or by tinkering with minor symptoms.
But what if this approach results in less progress? What if more modest agreements — on climate change, loose nukes, and other sweeping problems — would yield better results than a long, noble quest for a grand bargain?