Leadership Selection in the Major Multilaterals

(Inst. for International Economics: Washington, Nov. 2001), pp. 132 with index. ISBN 0-88132-335-7.

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Inspired by the damaging leadership contest fiascos of recent years in certain international organizations, not least that in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1998-9, this is a timely and important book. Kahler emphasises that if these bodies do not abandon their old, creaking ‘club system of governance’ and get their acts together, they will lose their already precarious support in the US Congress and forfeit that of their increasingly assertive members among the developing countries, particularly the large emerging market-economies. With the institutions of global governance thus put at risk, ‘a global economic future consonant with liberal norms’ would also be in jeopardy.

Despite the title, this book is actually concentrated almost exclusively on the problems of leadership selection in the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO, that is, the major economic multilaterals. Nevertheless, Kahler is surely right to emphasise their intrinsic importance and to argue that reforms in these international organizations would have implications for the others. In order to highlight the limitations of their existing leadership selection procedures, he provides detailed, lively, and extremely well researched accounts of their messy recent election contests. In the process he singles out for particularly sharp criticism the long-standing convention that the managing-director of the IMF should always be a European and the president of the World Bank an American, and the cumbersome consensus system of the WTO. (Kahler’s analysis of the last, where he draws attention to the serious consequences of not using straw votes, will be of particular interest to students of diplomacy.) At the end of the book he offers a list of badly needed reforms, many of which are clearly inspired by the procedures of major corporations. Some of those involved in the contests Kahler describes might find his insistence that they behave more virtuously a little unworldly but his appeals are made on the hallowed ground of enlightened self-interest. His book also has a good index. I recommend it strongly.