Effective Multilateralism

Date: 20 Dec 2004

Javier Solana

"Francisco Javier Solana de Madariaga, KOGF is a Spanish physicist and Socialist politician. After serving in the Spanish government under Felipe González (1982–1995) and Secretary General of NATO (1995–1999), he was appointed the European Union's High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, Secretary General of the Council of the European Union and Secretary-General of the Western European Union and held these posts from October 1999 until December 2009." source: wikipaedia


 

What is the best route to peace and justice in the twenty first century?  For some the answer is  crystallised in the choice between traditional, feel-good multilateralism and militant unilateralism. The case of Iraq appeared to embody these two stark alternative strategies: The power of rules-based attraction versus the power of raw military compulsion. Although appealing in its simplicity, this binary choice is useful only to headline writers, not policymakers. Practical experience suggests that over-reliance on a single strategy leads only to different versions of utopia: the utopia of liberty spread from the barrel of a gun, or the utopia of international rules and institutions based on goodwill alone. Both are equally illusory and equally dangerous.

 
The enduring lesson of the war in Iraq is its  illustration of the links between force and legitimacy. Without the use of force, Saddam Hussein would still be in power in Iraq. No one in Europe would wish that. But force alone will not and cannot advance the cause of a pluralistic modernity. For that mission, legitimacy is required. And in the international sphere, legitimacy comes through multilateral action. The best way to advance the cause of political and economic freedom in the next century is through effective multilateralism —rules with teeth.
           
Today we are confronted by two, interwoven challenges.  The first is the challenge of addressing the “network threats” that grow out of the patterns of interdependence in a border-less world.  They include terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and organized crime.  The second challenge is that of “transition".  How can free nations encourage political and economic freedom in very different parts of the world, with different traditions and varying starting points?  Such change will require success on three, inter-linked fronts: economic development, political democratization, and conflict prevention and management. 
 
Failed transition will feed network threats, since it is within an environment of failed or failing states, poverty, repression, despair and forced migration that criminal and terrorist networks take root.   If we fail to counter network threats, we will endanger transition. Economic integration has been an important motor for global growth and the “catch-up” of poorer countries. If security concerns out-trump our interest in human and commercial freedoms then growth will slow and transition will be hindered. The starting point in confronting both challenges must be to create stable frameworks of law and physical security. Strengthening the capacity to govern, effectively and legitimately, will be key to success in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti.  The world may be business driven but it still relies on governments.
  
A “deregulation” in world affairs is not a recipe for building the stable frameworks necessary to support wider political and economic liberty. The world needs more, not less, multilateralism. But this multilateralism must be action-oriented and capable of delivering results. No single country—not even the United States—has the wisdom, resources, or patience to tackle today’s challenges alone. Because the most urgent contemporary challenges are transnational in character, they can be tackled only as a cooperative venture.
 
Making the case for multilateralism might seem odd, given its many recent setbacks. The international community was deeply divided on Iraq. The validity of international verification mechanisms aimed at controlling the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are under stress—not only in the case of Iraq but also with regard to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. We have seen blockage of the World Trade Organization’s Doha round of negotiations, with no realistic chance of resumption until after the U.S. elections in November. And the utter collapse of the Oslo peace accords was dramatized by the appearance of a new “wall.” Yet, the pendulum is beginning to swing back. The international community is learning important lessons from recent setbacks. We appreciate more clearly that the quality of international society depends on the quality of the governments that are its foundation. And we see that effective action to achieve this end relies on a mix of instruments that can best be assembled and deployed as part of a collaborative international venture.  
 
Power alone will not deliver a safer and more prosperous world. Global trade, telecommunications, air travel, the international financial system: all of these need rules. So does the international political system.
           
International agreements and international organizations are a good start. But it is no use agreeing to treaties only to ignore them. It is no use setting up international organizations only to prevent them from functioning. If we want the world to work, we want multilateralism. But if we want multilateralism to work, then the powerful need to put their power behind it. A complex world needs multilateral bodies—but it also needs leadership. If we prefer a future based on mutually beneficial inter-dependence rather than strategic rivalry, then astronger and more universal attachment to international rules is in all of our long-term interests.
 
Defending and promoting the liberties of modern life will require an unprecedented level of international cooperation. Success will require shared decision making and shared responsibility for making decisions stick. Effective multilateralism must be at the heart of this strategy.
 

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