The new buzz word in international diplomacy is multilateralism, or to put it simply, countries working together towards a common goal. This is a concept nowhere embraced so firmly as in the Brussels corridors of power, where EU leaders speak of it with the fervour of a religious belief.
But does multilateralism really work? Or does the old diplomatic maxim that “countries do not have friends, just interests” better reflect the reality of how international relations are conducted.
In many ways the European Union sees itself as a model of multilateral co-operation: 27 member states pooling their resources and, to some extent, their sovereignty, to achieve common goals. It also sees itself as the standard bearer of multilateralism in the world – exerting influence through building common platforms based on its values. In recent weeks EU leaders from Ursula von der Leyen to Charles Michel in the European institutions, to Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron from among the member states, have hammered in the need for multilateralism to tackle the big challenges facing the world: from climate change to COVID-19, from refugee crises to resource shortages. Multilateralism not only requires countries to work together: it also requires them to develop rules of how to do so and then to respect those rules.
For a while, under Donald Trump it appeared that the United States had ditched multilateralism, opting instead for an 'America first' approach. President Joe Biden has in his first days in office already gone a long way to reverse this. But is the transatlantic relationship enough for multilateralism to be the norm in the way international relations are conducted. How about Russia and China, who also pay lip service to multilateralism, but who quickly explain that they understand that to mean a multipolar world, where of course they see themselves as one of the poles? And how about everyone else?
In this episode of Global Europe Unpacked, Will Murray speak to Stephanie Liechtenstein, the Web Editor-in-Chief of the Security and Human Rights Monitor, about, amongst other things: