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The B3W’s Many ‘Shoulds’

Despite seemingly coming from the same naming tradition that gave us Melania Trump’s Be Best campaign, the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative is firmly pointed away from the recent past. It seems driven by a new willingness to face the many barriers that shape our current system.

As articulated by Gregory W. Meeks, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the B3W is a flurry of good intentions, littered with ‘should’ and ‘must.’ The U.S. and its allies are exhorted to not only to narrow the Global South’s $40 trillion infrastructure investment gap (already a tall order) but also to ‘mobilize their collective ability to spur private investment,’ to ‘emphasize and demand transparency and high standards,’ to push ‘for a common set of standards across the major multilateral institutions and development banks’ and to support ‘developing countries in implementing transparency and good governance mechanisms’ in infrastructure (and trade, to boot.) If that’s not enough, they’re also invited to ‘rethink what infrastructure looks like in today’s world.’

This is quite the to-do list. I’m left echoing Francesca Ghiretti’s recent argument in The Diplomat that B3W seems already to be falling into the same trap as the BRI: over-promising.

More specifically, B3W seems to live in a specifically Western comfort zone: Shouldville. This futuristic hamlet is defined by seemingly having already made all the correct moves somewhere in the past, which means it now enjoys perpetual environmental sustainability and social equity. It sure looks like a nice place to live – something between Denmark and the floating space station in the Neil Blomkamp movie Elysium.

Bluntly put: B3W proponents still have to prove that all their high standards won’t be used as a velvet rope to keep the majority of Global South countries out. Raise all the criticism you want, but this is a test the BRI has already passed.


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