chapter  7
25 Pages

Multilateral institutions as restraints on major war


It is possible that this topic is too simple. With regard to the ‘Long Peace’, the absence of systemwide military struggles or large wars involving great powers, multilateral institutions cannot be said to be responsible. The reasons are straightforward. Multilateral institutions (MIs) have not been responsible for physically, politically, or morally preventing great powers from fighting each other, because they are not capable of this. They cannot overpower great powers verging on a major war, nor overpower states that have entered into such a war and refuse to stop, at least not as MIs work now – at best they might legitimize an effort by other great powers to do this and those actors are unlikely to try. They cannot politically compel great powers to avoid such wars either; no MIs command such authority and legitimacy. Finally, they have never been so morally esteemed – and values they embody have never been so fully accepted – that they can disperse a looming major war by condemning the very idea of it. All this seems not only true but obvious. (It was, roughly speaking, Inis Claude’s critique years ago.1) Maybe there is no need to carry on further and the chapter is done.2