Global Threats Require A Global Response

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Our guest blogger is Nina Hachigian, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

swine-flueIn his column this morning, David Brooks claims that the response to swine flu “suggests that a decentralized approach is best,” relying on nations and localities to deal with the threat. He rejects the idea of building “centralized global institutions that are strong enough to respond to transnational threats,” an idea he attributes to G. John Ikenberry, of Princeton.

Dan Drezner, quoting an email exchange with Ikenberry himself, makes the point that jumped to my mind, (as I was muttering “no, no, no!” at the breakfast table) which is that the two are not mutually exclusive. Both a local response and international coordination are necessary to fight a global threat.

Why do you need those international architectures, like, in this case, the World Health Organization (WHO)? There are many reasons, but to name a few:

1. To track the spread of the flu globally, and see how it is mutating as it goes, you need flu samples from around the world. Some countries, for political reasons, would not offer them freely to the US. Only a politically neutral body like the World Health Organization can collect those (and sometimes, not even it can).

2. The WHO helps create and foster the very networks among scientists and government officials around the world that Brooks cites as useful.

3. Some countries don’t have the capacity to mount what Brooks calls a “bottom-up, highly aggressive response.” Some organization needs to help create that capacity and call attention to its absence as a weak link in the global chain. If every country had a CDC like ours, there would be less reason to worry. But they don’t. Not even close.

Global threats need a global response. Nations are the ultimate actors, but international organizations can go a long way toward making the global response more effective.