I agree with Kal that the combination of a shift to multipolarity, combined with the “thickening” of global governance structures, leads us to a very uncertain future. Simply put, an increase in the number of great powers will increase the likelihood of forum creation and forum shopping. The normative effects of this shift could cut in one of two ways.
The first possibility is that the thickening will actually lead to a market for global governance. Because substitutable structures exist, there will be an incentive for each organization to perform better, in order to attract more adherents. Even if some parts of the globe did not sign on, the effect could be something like “efficient subsidiarity.” This competition for governance leads to a world in which each organization improves itself because of the fear of great power exit. No one organization could claim a monopoly on any particular issue, but like-minded states would be able to cooperate.
The second possibility, which I talked about in my last post, is a tragedy of the institutional commons. This is more likely to take place in two situations. Either there are cases where cooperation among like-minded actors is insufficient to solve the governance problem, or there are cases where the adjustment costs are so high that noncooperation is the best outcome for all concerned.
In the end, I suspect that there will be as many problems that fall into the latter category as the former. We face a number of big public goods issues, such as global warming or the prevention of pandemics, where there is no great power concert.
As for adjustment costs, they will rise in our globalized future. The expansion of tradable activities has begun to impinge on longstanding service sectors, such as accounting, medicine, education, and the law. Many of the services that are rapidly becoming tradable—airlines, education, telecommunications, utilities—have been traditionally run by state-owned enterprises. This means that the forces behind globalization will affect professions, workers, and state-run institutions that have been set in their ways of doing business for centuries.