International institutions thrive when they are utilized, their rules are respected, and they are important in shaping international outcomes. They fail when they fall into disuse, their rules are violated, or they otherwise become peripheral to the events of world politics.

In order to function effectively, international institutions require a minimum level of agreement amongst their most powerful members. In many institutions today, the level of agreement is shrinking.

While geopolitical tensions are real, the biggest risk to international institutions comes from the unravelling of domestic and transnational social coalitions in favour of economic openness and ideals of internationalism.

To rescue international institutions, it will be necessary to take action at the national level. This means using the policy tools available to national governments to create economic security, reduce inequality, and foster inclusive community identities. This may come at the expense of deeper international integration, but it will be better for international cooperation in the long run.

Matthew D. Stephen
Matthew D. Stephen
Interim Professor of Political Science, Helmut Schmidt University; Senior Research Fellow, German Institute of Global and Area Studies