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Claretian Missionaries – PROCLADE Internazionale

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Has multilateralism ever existed? SDG17 EN

by | Aug 10, 2020 | Partners | 0 comments


The “Big Three” heads of government at Potsdam, Germany,
circa 28 July 1945. From left to right: British Prime Minister Clement Attlee,
U.S. President Harry S. Truman, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin (USA C-1861).

 Has multilateralism ever existed? 

Miguel Angel Velasco cmf

Member of the cmfUNteam

Much has been said lately about multilateralism. Even President Trump talks about putting it aside because it is harmful to the United States. But has multilateralism ever existed in history? Most likely, it is something that has to be built, little by little, with the United Nations as a point of reference.


It is strange to hear Donald Trump, president of the United States of America, say that we must end multilateralism because it goes against the motto “America First.” It is strange because since the end of World War II, this nation, who substitute for the European Colonial Powers, has been the dominant power that has organized the world. Organizations like the UN, or those born from Bretton Woods, were promoted by the US; the purpose was to create a new world order overseen by this country. At the end of World War II and in the Potsdam treaties, it was clear that the USSR was looking for a different path; these two different paths will give rise to the so-called Cold War. The result of this situation was the “bipolar” conformation of the world. Soon after, a group of countries appeared that were called “non-alliance”, highly influenced by the USSR and later by China. The presence of the so-called “Third World” led to a vision of the tripolar in the international relationship. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the disintegration of the USSR brought as a consequence the birth of “unilateralism”, closely related to “neoliberalism”.


This situation of "unilateralism" is beginning to see its end with China's economic push in recent years. But, again, the main protagonist of this new phase in the US. The emergence of China, as a possible rival of the United States, began with Nixon's visit to China in 1972 and continued the entry in 2001 of this country into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Indeed, the US can quite rightly complain that China does not comply with some of the fundamental rules of the WTO. Specifically, the Chinese government is the real owner of the majority of corporations in the country; the authoritarian regime would allow to decisively influence the strategy of the Chinese corporations. Perhaps the United States and it's (then) European partners trusted that China would embrace Human Rights, transforming itself into a democratic society, with the internationalization of its economic relations but, this has not happened.


On the one hand, we can say, after this rapid journey, that the US has been, at least since 1945, behind all the significant strategic decisions of our world. On the other hand, we can affirm that what we now call multilateralism has not accurately executed and that it is not a liberal or neoliberal economic regime, like the one dreamed of by the US (Reagan) - UK (Thatcher) at the end of the 20th century.


MULTILATERALISM is still in its infancy. The relationship between countries must be based on Human Rights, must recognize the UN's international institutions, and must have the 2030 Agenda as a guide. Three pivotal issues for multilateralism to advance. First, the formation of countries and their leaders. The reform of the UN and its agencies, and lastly, the practical decision of two or three international agents, the US, China, the EU. We could add one more: that Russia refrains from intervening in the process through manipulations on the Internet. Is it possible to meet these conditions? It is necessary! Much more after what was experienced in the 2008 crisis and with the current COVID-19 pandemic.


The United Nations must play a central role in this new stage of international relations. As the current Secretary-General, Antonio Gutérres told The Economist (see video), that the United Nations must celebrate its 75 years of the foundation by accelerating changes in its operation. Gutérres emphasized two factors necessary for the progress of the UN: the decision of the members, especially that of the US, China, and Russia, and the internal changes of the organization itself. Here we will focus on some internal changes; with concern relating to some countries, we will discuss later. About the UN, Gutérres affirms the need for a reduction in bureaucracy and an increase in transparency and accountability. The UN is an organization that serves many more areas than those of the Security Council.


TThe United Nations was created to avoid falling again into catastrophes like the past two world wars. It moved quickly from peace negotiations to the creation of organizations and agencies to mitigate the consequences of wars. Little by little, the number of "special agencies" grew, and they were grouped around the newly created UN. Throughout the years, since the creation of the UN, there have been many specialized agencies and groups. This whole set of councils and agencies was agreed to call the UNITED NATIONS SYSTEM. I invite the reader to consult the scheme of the system in the link. One of the problems that the UN has is the complexity, dispersion, and disconnection of the Councils and Agencies that make up the Structure. There is no doubt that the UN is much more than the Security Council and that it carries out an enormous work of PEACE and DEVELOPMENT in the world. But it is necessary to modify its organization to make it more effective. Of course, other issues such as the veto in the Security Council, financing, the almost unanimous voting system, and increasing the obligatory nature of the “recommendations” decided by the General Assembly for all states must be addressed.


Steps towards a multilateral system are possible. It is possible to put the renewed United Nations at the center of this new system. But what is the situation of the countries that are to be the promoters of multilateralism and the renewal of the UN? Do they want to do it? Can they do it? We leave this topic for the next blog post. 

Miguel Angel Velasco cmf

CmfUNteam member

(Translator: Antonio cmf)



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