06/04/2012 05:17 pm ET Updated Aug 04, 2012

The Global Epidemic of Indecision

Today's world demands decisions with global credibility.

The epidemic of indecision is a global phenomenon with disastrous consequences. The need for global decision-making is becoming ever more critical as our decades-long beneficial trend toward ever more open economic policies begins to stall and in some cases reverses. This comes at a time when people are looking for more global leadership on economic matters.

During the time of the industrial revolution in Great Britain, governments were still local. They were no match for the national businesses that emerged and the Dickensian exploitation of labor that resulted. As a result, the people demanded that a stronger national government emerge. History shows that society will allow commerce to occur only at the level where it feels there is effective oversight. Business decision-making has long been globalized. Global government institutions must catch up.

The functioning conflict-resolution mechanism of the World Trade Organization has been essential in showing the type of global oversight citizens of all countries demand. However, the trend toward more bilateral (as opposed to multilateral) trade agreements complicates its task. It is essential that the world finds the resolve to conclude the Doha round in an acceptable manner and sets its sites for advancing the trade agenda higher.

America has learned the importance of international decision making the hard way. As Winston Churchill once observed, "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing -- after they've tried everything else." After the first global conflagration, America decided to go home and leave the League of Nations to others to lead. When Hitler rearmed the Rhineland in clear violation of its treaty obligations, Britain, under Stanley Baldwin, decided not to decide but instead leave it to the League of Nations with a full understanding that no action would result. Deciding to check Hitler then would have saved hundreds of millions of lives. No decision to go to war has ever cost as many violent deaths as the allies' indecision at this time.

After the World War II, America recognized that turning inward had been a mistake. America appreciated the importance of credible global decisions being made in a timely manner. In the hopes of never having to fight a third war of those proportions, the world created organizations that could decide and act to prevent the tensions that might lead to such a conflict.

The institutions that emerged have been of great benefit to many. The World Bank has been effective in promoting development. The International Monetary Fund has helped to address dislocations resulting from crises resulting from financial illiquidity and has promoted a more open economic system. Yet when it has come to global governance through the United Nations (UN), the track record has been much more mixed.

The UN has spawned a number of efforts through subsidiary institutions that have had a powerful impact for good. Yet the Security Council seems to draw more attention for its indecisions (for example, Syria and others) than for its decisions. Originally formed not as the biggest or most powerful nations, the Security Council was purposely formed as a small group of five nations, each with formidable security forces which had a track record of working together; they were the allies of World War II.

Yet as often happens throughout the history, this merry band soon became a contentious concave. The only time that anyone fought under the UN flag was when Russia was boycotting the Security Council because Taiwan's seat had not yet been given to China. Absent veto threats from China and Russia, global decisions were reachable then and, on many matters, perhaps could be today. This is not, however, a workable solution.

During a time when there is a premium on reaching global decisions that can be accepted by the citizenry of all countries, it is vital that we study the attributes that lead to functioning international decisions and discover how hurdles to essential multilateral collaboration can be surmounted.

Mark R. Kennedy leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).