It would be easy to conclude that the world is now uniquely out of control, with the leaders mere shadows flitting across the stage. But that would be nostalgia for a bygone age which never actually existed. In 1993, at the height of Western triumphalism after the end of the Cold War, the US had to retreat from Somalia. As Europe proclaimed itself a global power, it flunked its first great test, the break-up of Yugoslavia, leading to 10 years of war in the Balkans.
The leaders of the past were not all giants. Still, with America laden with debt and distacted by an election campaign, and with economic power being distributed more evenly around the world, it is undeniably harder to achieve success in multilateral forums.
Our cover story looks ahead to the Rio+20 conference, a follow-up to the seminal Earth Summit of 1992. As Bernice Lee writes, the issues are daunting. The global struggle for resources is only going to get more intense. The world needs to embrace a more collaborative approach to resource policy before serious progress is made on sustainable development.
Rio+20 is thus unlikely to break the run of limp summits. But it can still serve a purpose. It will be a forum for campaigners to exchange ideas with the worlds of business and finance, to see where capital should be best deployed and whose technology will dominate the new Green industries.