Bruce Jones – Still Ours to Lead

Bruce Jones – Still Ours to Lead

Perhaps the most rankling aspect of Bruce Jones’s new book on global governance is the title. Still Ours to Lead is a title that smacks of ignorance and parochialism reflective of the broader impulse ingrained in Washington of American leadership writ large. The book examines the current multipolar international order, the range of public goods problems that exist, the diversity of newer rising powers that are involved in addressing them and the state of the dominant power (U.S.) and its ability to lead coalitions to address those emergent challenges. Jones argues that in this multipolar era, the only state capable of mounting and mobilising the effort to address large, systemic, sometimes wicked and globally salient problems is the United States. The capacity of the US in identifying problems, assessing their implications and building coalitions to address them is unparalleled and a role that no other state can fill. To make the case for sustained American leadership, Jones recounts how a series of challenges like climate change, conflict resolution, maritime security are being tackled in the world. He also looks at US’s challengers, the rising powers and their role in the system. Like others, he argues that these powers have an incentive to cooperate and an impulse to compete as they ascend up the order. Also, as a bloc, these countries have little common interests despite their propensity to increasingly band together in various parts of the world on an annual basis. China, India and Brazil get top billing amongst these powers. 

One of the book’s pluses is the exploration of how some key public goods challenges are being tackled by all these powers, major and emerging. For instance, Jones details how piracy is being tackled off the Gulf of Aden by a coalition of several powers under the leadership of the US. Jones is also one of the first to brief us on the shifting situation in the Arctic and how various powers are positioning themselves to cash in on the oil reserves. However, the book fails from providing a complete conceptualisation of the international order. In Jones’ book and world, a state-centric international order pervades. Nowhere to be seen are international organisations that work to manage several key global challenges with member states in tow. Also missing are other institutional vehicles and non-state actors that are now playing an important role in managing global problems. This is not just a plain oversight. We cannot grasp the management of ebola as the virus raged without considering the role of the Gates Foundation or private pharmaceutical companies that played in controlling the spread through their drugs. We can make similar cases across the global governance landscape of other actors that are making their mark in areas like climate, food and energy security. Moreover, and this might be the most problematic part of the book – Jones fails to adequately question whether American leadership is an unalloyed good. As we have seen, this is not the case in many issues, principally those concerning war and intervention. If anything, American leadership has demonstrated that it has the potential to cause havoc as much as it can supply leadership. It is another matter if other countries do not step to provide leadership, which they invariably do not. But resting the duty and responsibility on the US, without challenge, can be dangerous. To better grapple with the challenges and issues going forward, we need to consider each case separately, look at the range of countries that have a stake or interest and work to craft coalitions or groups willing to address the issue. The politics of the moment should trump the politics of the past in making that judgment. 


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