Daniel W. Drezner

Who are the grown-ups in international relations?

Imagine for a second that the United States opposed the leading candidate for a leading international organization. Now imagine that in an effort to block that candidate, the U.S. decides to put its own candidate forward. To ensure that the candidate doesn’t look like a complete toady, it would make some sense to propose a ...

Imagine for a second that the United States opposed the leading candidate for a leading international organization. Now imagine that in an effort to block that candidate, the U.S. decides to put its own candidate forward. To ensure that the candidate doesn’t look like a complete toady, it would make some sense to propose a non-American. However, it would also make sense, at the very least, to make sure that the candidate’s home country was on board with the idea. If there was no prior consultation, well, then the U.S. would look pretty incompetent. Farfetched, you say? Well, consider that Russia just tried this gambit, according to the Financial Times’ Catherine Belton, Katka Krosnar and Stefan Wagstyl:

Russia challenged western dominance of world international financial institutions on Wednesday by nominating a surprise candidate, Josef Tosovsky, the former Czech premier and ex-central bank chief, to run the International Monetary Fund. The nomination pitted Mr Tosovsky against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former French finance minister, who has the backing of the European Union. Russia?s move ran into immediate trouble when the Czech Republic, which joined the EU in 2004, declared that it was standing by the EU?s decision to support the French candidate…. Mr Kudrin praised Mr Tosovsky as a proven crisis manager. He said developing states, including Brazil, India and China, had all expressed support for an open selection process in talks…. Mirek Topolanek, the Czech prime minister, said: ?Mr Tosovsky was not, and is not, the Czech Republic?s candidate for this post.? Few countries yesterday backed Moscow?s choice of Mr Tosovsky. Mr Strauss-Kahn, in Beijing on Wednesday, was reported as saying he felt he had China?s backing. A senior Indian finance ministry official told the FT that as far as he was aware there had been ?no conversation? about the nomination and he declined to say whether New Delhi would back Mr Tosovsky. A Brazilian presidential official said Brazil sought reform but was not backing any particular candidate.

The funny thing is that the Russians make a valid point — why should the US and EU have a duopoly on the heads of key international organizations? The need to cut large developing countries into the global governance game is going to be one of the important international relations questions over the next few years. That said, this Russian attempt — like other Russian behavior over the past year — was unilateral and amateurish. There appears to have been no coordination and/or consultation with other countries. If the U.S. had tried to pull this stunt there would have been a tsunami of criticism leveled at incompetent U.S. foreign policy managers. This is a small example, but it speaks to a larger problem. The Europeans and Americans might have policy disagreements, but (2002-3 excepted) they have been pretty decent at consulting each other. Russia is ostensibly a rising power, and even has some prior experiennce with being acting like a great power. Their diplomatic style, however, makes the Bush administration’s first term look like a paragon of propriety and decorum. Obviously, power and interest drive most of what happens in world politics. Diplomatic style does matter on the margins, however. And if this is what passes as diplomacy from a rising power, then world politics is going to start looking like a bad episode of The Real World.

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