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Multilateralism

Multilateralism

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Multilateralism is a term in international relations
International relations
International relations is the study of relationships between countries, including the roles of states, inter-governmental organizations , international nongovernmental organizations , non-governmental organizations and multinational corporations...

 that refers to multiple countries working in concert on a given issue.

International organizations, such as the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 (UN) and the World Trade Organization
World Trade Organization
The World Trade Organization is an organization that intends to supervise and liberalize international trade. The organization officially commenced on January 1, 1995 under the Marrakech Agreement, replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade , which commenced in 1948...

 are multilateral in nature. The main proponents of multilateralism have traditionally been the middle power
Middle power
Middle power is a term used in the field of international relations to describe states that are not superpowers or great powers, but still have large or moderate influence and international recognition. There is no single specific definition of which countries are middle powers.-Definition:There is...

s such as Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, Switzerland
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

, the Benelux
Benelux
The Benelux is an economic union in Western Europe comprising three neighbouring countries, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. These countries are located in northwestern Europe between France and Germany...

 countries and the Nordic countries
Nordic countries
The Nordic countries make up a region in Northern Europe and the North Atlantic which consists of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden and their associated territories, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland...

. Larger states often act unilaterally
Unilateralism
Unilateralism is any doctrine or agenda that supports one-sided action. Such action may be in disregard for other parties, or as an expression of a commitment toward a direction which other parties may find agreeable...

, while the smaller ones may have little direct power at all in international affairs
International relations
International relations is the study of relationships between countries, including the roles of states, inter-governmental organizations , international nongovernmental organizations , non-governmental organizations and multinational corporations...

 aside from participation in the United Nations (by consolidating their UN vote in a voting bloc with other nations, for example). Multilateralism may involve multiple nations acting together as in the UN or may involve regional or military alliances, pacts, or groupings such as NATO.

The converse of multilateralism is unilateralism
Unilateralism
Unilateralism is any doctrine or agenda that supports one-sided action. Such action may be in disregard for other parties, or as an expression of a commitment toward a direction which other parties may find agreeable...

 in terms of political philosophy
Political philosophy
Political philosophy is the study of such topics as liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority: what they are, why they are needed, what, if anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it...

.

History


The first modern instances of multilateralism occurred in the nineteenth century in Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 after the end of the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

 where the great powers met to redraw the map of Europe at the Congress of Vienna
Congress of Vienna
The Congress of Vienna was a conference of ambassadors of European states chaired by Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, and held in Vienna from September, 1814 to June, 1815. The objective of the Congress was to settle the many issues arising from the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars,...

. The Concert of Europe
Concert of Europe
The Concert of Europe , also known as the Congress System after the Congress of Vienna, was the balance of power that existed in Europe from the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the outbreak of World War I , albeit with major alterations after the revolutions of 1848...

, as it became known, was a group of great and lesser powers that would meet to resolve issues peacefully. Conferences such as the Conference of Berlin in 1884 helped reduce great power conflicts during this period, and the 19th century was one of Europe's most peaceful.

Industrial and colonial competition, combined with shifts in the balance of power after the creation - by diplomacy and conquest - of Germany by Prussia meant cracks were appearing in this system by the turn of the 20th century. The concert system was utterly destroyed by the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. After that conflict world leaders created the League of Nations
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...

 in order to try to prevent another conflict of similar scale. A number of international arms limitation treaties were also signed such as the Kellogg-Briand Pact
Kellogg-Briand Pact
The Kellogg–Briand Pact was an agreement signed on August 27, 1928, by the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, Weimar Germany and a number of other countries.The pact renounced war , prohibiting the use of war...

. But the League proved insufficient to prevent Japan's conquests in Eastern Asia in the 1930s, escalating fascist aggression and, ultimately, the outbreak of the Second World War from 1939.

After the Second World War the victors, having drawn experience from the failure of the League of Nations, created the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 in 1945 with a structure intended to address the weaknesses of the previous body. Unlike the League, the UN had the active participation of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, the world's two greatest contemporary powers. Along with the political institutions of the UN the post-war years also saw a wide array of other multilateral organizations such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade was negotiated during the UN Conference on Trade and Employment and was the outcome of the failure of negotiating governments to create the International Trade Organization . GATT was signed in 1947 and lasted until 1993, when it was replaced by the World...

 (GATT) (now the World Trade Organization
World Trade Organization
The World Trade Organization is an organization that intends to supervise and liberalize international trade. The organization officially commenced on January 1, 1995 under the Marrakech Agreement, replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade , which commenced in 1948...

), the World Bank
World Bank
The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital programmes.The World Bank's official goal is the reduction of poverty...

 (so-called 'Bretton Woods' institutions) and the World Health Organization
World Health Organization
The World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations that acts as a coordinating authority on international public health. Established on 7 April 1948, with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the agency inherited the mandate and resources of its predecessor, the Health...

 develop. The collective multilateral framework played an important role in maintaining world peace in the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

. Moreover, United Nations peacekeepers
Peacekeeping
Peacekeeping is an activity that aims to create the conditions for lasting peace. It is distinguished from both peacebuilding and peacemaking....

 stationed around the world became one of the most visible symbols of multilateralism in recent decades.

Today there are myriad multilateral institutions of varying scope and subject matter, ranging from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to the World Intellectual Property Organization
World Intellectual Property Organization
The World Intellectual Property Organization is one of the 17 specialized agencies of the United Nations. WIPO was created in 1967 "to encourage creative activity, to promote the protection of intellectual property throughout the world"....

 (WIPO) and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is an intergovernmental organization, located in The Hague, Netherlands. The organization promotes and verifies the adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention which prohibits of the use of chemical weapons and requires their destruction...

 (OPCW); although many such organizations were founded or are supported by the UN, by no means are all of them maintained within the UN system.

Challenges


The multilateral system has encountered mounting challenges in the period since the end of the Cold War. The United States has become increasingly dominant on the world stage in terms of military and economic power, which has led certain countries (such as Iran, China, and India) to question the United Nation's multilateral relevance. Concurrently, a perception has developed among some internationalists, such as former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, that the United States is more inclined to act unilaterally in situations with international implications. This trend began when the U.S. Senate, in October 1999, refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty bans all nuclear explosions in all environments, for military or civilian purposes. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 September 1996 but it has not entered into force.-Status:...

, which President Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...

 had signed in September 1996. Under President George W. Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

 the United States has rejected such multilateral agreements as the Kyoto Protocol
Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol is a protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change , aimed at fighting global warming...

, the International Criminal Court
International Criminal Court
The International Criminal Court is a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression .It came into being on 1 July 2002—the date its founding treaty, the Rome Statute of the...

, the Ottawa Treaty
Ottawa Treaty
The Ottawa Treaty or the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, officially known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, aims at eliminating anti-personnel landmines around the world. , there were 158...

 banning anti-personnel land mines and a draft protocol to ensure compliance by States with the Biological Weapons Convention
Biological Weapons Convention
The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning the...

. Also under the administration of George W. Bush, the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty
The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was a treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union on the limitation of the anti-ballistic missile systems used in defending areas against missile-delivered nuclear weapons....

, which the Nixon administration and the Soviet Union had negotiated and jointly signed in 1972.

See Also

  • Hegemony
    Hegemony
    Hegemony is an indirect form of imperial dominance in which the hegemon rules sub-ordinate states by the implied means of power rather than direct military force. In Ancient Greece , hegemony denoted the politico–military dominance of a city-state over other city-states...

  • Polarity in international relations
    Polarity in international relations
    Polarity in international relations is any of the various ways in which power is distributed within the international system. It describes the nature of the international system at any given period of time. One generally distinguishes four types of systems: Unipolarity, Bipolarity, Tripolarity, and...

  • New world order (politics)
  • Bretton Woods system
    Bretton Woods system
    The Bretton Woods system of monetary management established the rules for commercial and financial relations among the world's major industrial states in the mid 20th century...

  • United Nations
    United Nations
    The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...