#10 – Sarah Cliffe: Global Governance and Conflict in a Fragmented World

Sarah Cliffe is the director of New York University’s Center on International Cooperation (CIC). Prior to that, she held several leadership positions at the World Bank and United Nations. Sarah pioneered the work on fragile and conflict-affected states at the World Bank, serving also as the Special Representative for the 2011 World Development Report on Conflict, Security, and Development. At the UN, she spearheaded efforts to help countries build civilian capacities to strengthen peacebuilding and post-conflict transitions. Sarah’s vast experience ranges from countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Rwanda, South Africa, Indonesia, and Timor-Leste. She began her career in the United Kingdom and has degrees from Cambridge University and Columbia University.

This episode is full of big questions and insightful answers from the very beginning. To start, we speak to Sarah about her formative years, and how her early impressions of fragility and conflict were actually shaped by her upbringing in a mining town in Wales at a time of social upheaval in the United Kingdom. She also shares her perspectives on what communities at risk in the UK, South Africa, and Rwanda had in common – and why some were more resilient. Our conversation then turns more conceptual, as we take a look at how the insights of her work at the World Bank on conflict, security, and development can help us understand today’s global fragility trends.

We then explore in depth the big challenges on the world stage ahead of the UN’s General Assembly meetings in September. How are the growing tensions between the US, Russia, and China affecting global governance, especially the UN? How has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine divided the international community and what are the perspectives of developing countries? What factors have influenced responses to refugees from Ukraine and beyond? How is the future of multilateralism intertwined with domestic politics? And are there any silver linings to geopolitical fragmentation and the new Cold War between the US and China?

We conclude on a high note, talking about hope and how history can give us reasons to be hopeful. Listen to the episode to hear Sarah share many more insights into geopolitics, fragility, and the future of global governance.


Sarah Cliffe
Twitter: https://twitter.com/sarah_cliffe
The Center on International Cooperation (CIC) at New York University: https://cic.nyu.edu/people/sarah-cliffe


Mihaela Carstei, Paul M. Bisca, and Johan Bjurman Bergman co-host F-World: The Fragility Podcast.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/fworldpodcast
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/fworldpodcast/
Website: https://f-world.org

Music: "Tornado" by Wintergatan . Many thanks to Wintergartan for allowing us to use their wonderful music! This track can be downloaded for free at www.wintergatan.net.

Video editing by: Alex Mitran - find Alex on Facebook (facebook.com/alexmmitran), Twitter (twitter.com/alexmmitran), or Linkedin (linkedin.com/in/alexmmitran)



World Bank. 2011. World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security, and Development. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/4389

Sarah Cliffe, Karina Gerlach. Development Competition is Heating Up: China’s Global Development Initiative, the G7 Partnership for Infrastructure, and the Global Alliance on Food Security. CIC-NYU, July 22, 2022, https://bit.ly/3QpBNQR

Sarah Cliffe et all. How to Maintain International Unity on Ukraine (Part II). CIC-NYU, May 31, 2022, https://bit.ly/3KXFpbE

Sarah Cliffe et all., Recent UN Votes on Ukraine: What Needs to be Done to Maintain International Unity (Part I). CIC-NYU, April 4, 2022, https://bit.ly/3cZeMGI

General Assembly of the United Nations, High-Level Meetings of the 77th Session, https://www.un.org/en/ga/77/meetings/

United Nations, Our Common Agenda: Report of the Secretary-General https://bit.ly/3KVlUAx


00:00 Introduction
01:12 Growing up in Wales, working in South Africa & Rwanda
04:31 Fragility & conflict in the UK, then and now
07:33 Trade unions as community leaders
10:19 Conflict & contestation: What exacerbates violence?
14:53 Conflict, security, & development (WDR 2011)
21:22 Fragility drivers: External stressors, group-based inequality, technology & identity
27:55 Geopolitical fragmentation, UN General Assembly Meetings
33:09 Multilateralism & domestic politics in a changing world order
37:05 Reforming the UN in a time of crisis
41:18 Russia’s invasion of Ukraine & the credibility of the UN
48:12 Ukraine, Iraq & the accountability of great powers
55:00 Responses to refugees: Ukraine, Syria, Libya
01:00:19 Refugees, identity, & double standards
01:05:50 Geopolitical fragmentation & conflict risks
01:09:12 US vs. China: Is a new Cold War a bad thing?
01:14:18 Free speech & joy as proxies for good governance
01:17:47 History as a reason for hope
01:19:41 Wrap-up
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