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Who Should Lead International Institutions?

OXFORD – The United Nations is seeking a new secretary-general. The World Bank presidency is up for grabs. The World Health Organization needs a new head. The same goes for several other international organizations. At a time when conflicts of interest among the United States and its allies, together with the rise of China and Russia, are undermining global cooperation, the question of who fills these vacancies could not be more important.

In the past, the process of selecting the right candidate has reflected rivalries among countries and popularity contests played out among governments, NGOs, and the media. This was clearly never the best approach. But, with a hegemonic United States willing and able to hold international institutions together, cooperation remained viable.

Today, the unpredictable statements of US presidential candidate Donald Trump and the more isolationist vision that he is encouraging among his supporters has the rest of the world nervous about the changing nature of America’s role in the world. And America’s allies in Europe are not exactly at their most stable, owing to a combination of deep-rooted economic challenges, the United Kingdom’s looming exit from the European Union, and surging support for populist political forces in many countries.

Moreover, the US and its allies are not only unwilling to underpin global cooperation, they lack the capacity even to try. The International Monetary Fund’s recent World Economic Outlook reports that the US and its allies will account for just 39% of global output in 2020, down sharply from 64% today, with the US share falling from 22% to 15%.