Multilateralism is back

The final weeks of 2015 saw remarkable activity at the global level producing concrete results, for a change. The UN climate change conference in Paris (COP 21) ended in mid-December with the adoption of an ambitious Paris Agreement that will guide climate action starting in 2020 and carrying on for many years thereafter. A few days later the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on the way forward in Syria, while an agreement among the Libyan factions was endorsed by the UN Security Council. Also in December, the US Congress finally ratified a 2010 reform in the quotas and voting rights of the members of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that gives emerging economies like China and India a greater say, commensurate with their increasing weight in the world. Add to this the deal reached with Iran on the nuclear issue last July, as well as the adoption by world leaders of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in New York in September, and you really get an upbeat sense of multilateral cooperation in our world today.

It did not always look like this, not even during the course of this year. It may still not look like this to those suspicious of international cooperation, prone to conspiracy theories or systematically underestimating global institutions. It may not look like this a few years or even a few months down the road, if implementation on all this does not start soon and in earnest. But there is an important basis to build on and good grounds for those who want to see positive progress to put pressure on reluctant governments and other actors.

Is it the spirit of Christmas – goodwill among people – that is prevailing, finally, on Earth? That would be too optimistic or naïve to assert, and not politically correct in a diverse world of many religions and ideologies. But getting a bit closer to that ideal is not a bad thing. It does not mean that wars are over, that the Islamic State will dissolve itself and its foreign fighters will repent, that democracy will come to Egypt or human rights to Saudi Arabia or peace to Africa, all in a stroke of a magic wand. But it shows that the multilateral system built at the end of World War II is still alive and capable of responding to challenges, with necessary adjustments, like the IMF voting rights one. It also shows clearly that unilateral “bright ideas” and attempts to influence developments from the perspective / interests of one country or a partial coalition cannot carry the day for long. They invariably lead to chaos and disaster, be it because of the opposition of those not included in the decision-making and because of the short-sightedness of the initiators. Examples abound and include all those mentioned above as objects of successful multilateral action, eventually.

Katoikos, being a pan-European publication, naturally asks the question: what is the role of Europe in all this? The record is mixed, one can safely say, as for most things with our continent. A more negative role in Syria and Libya is being reversed under the obvious pressure of the human waves of refugees and migrants. Even with a largely positive role played in the climate debate, the SDGs and Iran, our fragmented Union of many voices has not been assertive and unified enough to earn lasting political credit and recognition for itself. Overall, a good year for the world that needs to continue on the path of multilateralism, with great power cooperation and smaller power contributions and democratic control. A rather mixed year for Europe, however, where multilateralism is not supposed to be the name of the game, internally speaking; rather the EU is expected to be a major pole in global multilateral affairs, which, regrettably, it still is not.




The editorial team of Katoikos

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