Cooperation among great powers has been always a difficult task. After WWII, the world saw many international institutions established. International institutions gave a hope to humanity after two brutal world wars and extensive colonization around the globe. Although the goal was to reinforce interdependence and foster the cooperation that will push states to maintain peace, international institutions quickly became just one more tool for the great powers to use in manipulating and gaining leverage over one another. This was the theme of the Cold War era, as well as throughout the 1990s until today. This has not changed, it is not changing and it will not change. International institutions will not change states’ behavior because states do not trust one another.
Firstly, I want to demonstrate that most international institutions are little more than a tool in the hands of great powers. The first example is the World Trade Organization (WTO). Although the WTO helped in strengthening trade ties between nations, it is structured to the great powers’ benefit, which leads other countries to signal strong opposition sometimes, and even form coalitions against the great powers in other times. One instance of great powers taking advantage of the institution is the Doha Round. This Round witnessed the formation of a coalition by small states against the great powers to liberalize the trade of the great powers’ agricultural products. Because the global distribution of power gives leverage to states like the United States and Great Britain, these highly developed nations were reluctant to make concessions to small states even when the smaller states formed a coalition. The Doha Round started in November 2001 and because of the failure to achieve any compromises for small states by great powers, the negotiations stopped in 2008.
Now, let us look at why states do not trust each other and if they do not trust each other how there exist strong alliances such as NATO or the European Union? Because of the lack of binding authority, states view each other as rivals in a self-help system of world politics. However, from time to time, one will find that states cooperate. For states to cooperate they have to have common interest, thus cooperation patterns will always shift. For example, for someone who lived during the first 50 years of the 20th century, a union that includes Britain, France and Germany is unimaginable. After WWII, however, these three states found common ground to establish a cooperative alliance. Although the European Union is considered to be one of the strongest regional institutions, it will always be susceptible to a shift in interests and eventual collapse. During the 2008 financial crisis, we saw signals of this happening when France and other EU countries were talking about leaving the Union as it was damaging their economies. One more instance of the lack of trust between states is the scandalous phone tapping of the German Chancellor by the U.S. government.
There is no doubt that international institutions eased cooperation and interdependence between states. Despite this, it is hard to argue that these institutions will force states to overcome the lack of trust between them. Although in a lot of instances they can serve and benefit smaller states, international institutions best represent the interest of great powers to increase their share in the global distribution of power. Ultimately, international institutions are exposed to the danger of disintegration as shifts in states’ interests continue to govern world politics