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Gridlock: From Self-reinforcing Interdependence to Second-order Cooperation Problems



Growing interdependence requires greater global cooperation, but across a range of issues multilateral policy making seems to have stalled. We argue that this growing gap between the need for global governance and the ability of intergovernmental institutions to provide it must be understood as a general and conjunctural state of the multilateral order, which we term gridlock. The causes of gridlock are diverse – rising multipolarity, institutional inertia, harder problems, increased complexity – but can be found across a range of global issue areas. Importantly, these drivers are, in part, products of previous, successful cooperation over the postwar period, and can therefore be understood as ‘second-order’ cooperation problems. We argue that a process of self-reinforcing interdependence has altered the nature of global politics over the past decades, and has therefore in part undermined the ability of multilateral institutions to sustain the very interdependence they have helped to create. This article lays out this argument with regard to three core areas of world politics: security, trade and finance.