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The Great War and Global Governance

ISTANBUL – This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I – and, arguably, the worst year in human history. A century later, is the world any safer?

Not only did WWI leave almost 40 million people dead; it can be viewed as a precursor to World War II. After all, had Germany’s hyperinflation of the 1920’s – a direct result of the war – been avoided, Hitler may well never have risen to power, and WWII might not have occurred. Instead, the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, set in motion a chain of bloodletting that killed nearly 100 million people by 1945 and caused human suffering on a previously unimaginable scale.

Of course, generations of historians have meticulously researched the origins of the world wars and written elegantly about their conclusions. That history should spur today’s economists and policymakers to reflect on the difficult trade-off between efficiency and robustness when it comes to global governance.

The painstaking effort since the end of WWII to build effective regional and global governance institutions has reduced considerably the risk of catastrophes like the world wars or the Great Depression. Indeed, while such institutions are far from perfect, the progress that has been made in terms of preventing human suffering is worth far more than the efficiency costs of ensuring that they are adequately robust.