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In setting out to research the topic of this book a few years back, my overall interest was in current and anticipated changes in the global power configuration , the “polarity” of international relations in conventional terminology, and the likely repercussions of those changes on the diplomatic relations of great powers and the international security institutions to which the latter belong. The original idea was to contrast how swiftly informal institutional arrangements , such as the summits of the Group of Seven (G7), Eight (G8), and Twenty (G20), adjusted to a power shift in the making as opposed to the formal , regularized, and inflexible United Nations (UN) and its Security Council (UNSC). At the time a particularly vivid illustration of this discrepancy was the rapid transformation of the informal G20 from a meeting of finance ministers to a summit of heads of state and government in 2008–9, versus intergovernmental negotiations on a formula for reforming and expanding the formal UNSC, which got off to an excruciatingly slow and cumbersome start. Yet, in the next few years, some of that vibrant political energy embodied by the G20 floated back into the UNSC. As the mapping of responses by informal and formal institutional arrangements to changing power relations made progress, not least through interviews with diplomats of G20 countries serving at the UN Headquarters in New York,1 my curiosity turned toward the more intricate workings of security-related diplomacy lodged within, respectively, informal and formal settings. Especially intriguing, I found, was the tendency of formal settings to generate space for governance that relies on informality and of formal structures to crystallize inside informal diplomatic contexts. In recognizing that great-power diplomacy in the realm of international security takes place at two principal high tables—one using a well-known fixed address on First Avenue in New York and the other situated wherever the participating heads of state and government meet as a collective—I also decided that the existing literature grossly underestimated the degree to which institutional arrangements associated with the two high tables operate as horizontally organized , communicating vessels. Equally striking was that the summitry of the G7, G8, and G20 was chiefly INTRODUCTION xvi Introduction attending to nontraditional threats, risks, and challenges and that the member states of those informal institutions were wary of trespassing into traditional international security, which since the end of the Second World War has been the legitimate domain of the UNSC.2 Being the centerpiece of a unique international institution created to rid humanity of the scourge of war and large-scale conflict, the UNSC is not equipped to transcend the international laws and rules that regulate its work at the same time as informal summits of heads of state and government enjoy flexibility to engage whatever issues they agree to raise among themselves. Because of the partial overlap between the UNSC and the major states partaking in informal summitry as well as what appears to be a political agreement to respect the existing division of labor, the boundary between traditional and nontraditional security matters for the most part continues to be upheld. To probe the plausibility of my initial hunch that the two principal high tables actually do address nontraditional as well as traditional issues in international security, and that they furthermore exploit their respective status as informal and formal institutions to achieve results without jeopardizing existing arrangements, I first turned to the official records of both bodies. Seeking evidence that high-table diplomacy is becoming increasingly influential at the expense of policies pursued by either set of institutional arrangements or major powers, I examined all available official documents from the years 1990, 2000, and 2010. The reinvigoration of international security institutions in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War is well researched, and even a cursory analysis of this sample could confirm that the US government in 1990 was very much in control of the international security agenda, regardless of whether specific agenda items belonged to the traditional or nontraditional kind. The latter was evident in what was then the G7, where the desires of the Soviet and European leaders for American policy concessions went virtually unheeded by the administration of George H. W. Bush. At the UN Headquarters in New York, meanwhile, US policies providing political cover for heavyhanded actions against Palestinians by Israelis, additionally setting back an already stalled peace process, did face widespread criticism. However, when Iraq attacked Kuwait in the late summer, the Bush administration handily deflected such objections...


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