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Emerging world order?: from multipolarity to multilateralism in the G20, the World Bank, and the IMF

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Many developing and transitional countries have grown faster than advanced countries in the past decade, resulting in a shift in the distribution of world income in their favor. China is now the second largest economy in the world, behind the United States and ahead of Japan. As the relative economic weight of China and several others has come to match or exceed that of the middle-ranking G7 economies, the world economy has shifted from "unipolar" toward "multipolar," less dominated by the G7. How is this change being translated into changes in authority and influence within multilateral organizations like the G20, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)? Alarm bells are ringing in G7 capitals about G7 loss of influence. According to a WikiLeaks cable from the senior U.S. official for the G20 process, from January 2010, "It is remarkable how closely coordinated the BASIC group of countries [Brazil, South Africa, India, China] have become in international fora, taking turns to impede US/EU initiatives and playing the US and EU off against each other."This essay suggests that the shift in power is much smaller than the headlines or private alarm bells suggest. The United States remains the dominant state, and the G7 states together continue to exercise primacy, but now more fearfully and defensively. China is split between asserting itself as "the wave of the future" and defending itself as too poor to take on global responsibilities (it is roughly 100th in the per capita income hierarchy). The combination of G7 defensiveness and emerging states' jealous guarding of sovereignty produces a spirit of Westphalian assertion in international fora, or "every state for itself." On the assumption that the world economy is in a transitional period, the article suggests reforms in the G20 and the World Bank that would boost their role and legitimacy as multilateral organizations in a more multipolar world.

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