Plaidoyer for Multilateralism

By Ricardo E. Lagorio (*)

 

The indifference of the world
Who is deaf and mute
You will just feel…
(Tango Yira, Yira, by Enrique Santos Discepolo)

 

Let me begin with an excursus.

The ancient Greeks, in their eternal wisdom, had two ways of measuring time: Chronos and Kairos. The former refers to the sequential and routine time of the calendar, while the latter to the specific moment in which a particular event occurs.

More than two measures of time, these are two different philosophical approaches to historical events.

Does history erupt epically at a certain moment or is it rather a slow process of "erosion" or of accumulation of facts and daily data?

History is no epic; history is not a quarrel between hubris and nemesis.

Personally I am inclined towards a mixed approach: a time oriented process in which facts follow one another like a pentagram in a musical score.

However there are events that, due to their magnitude or contextual emergency, end up being decisive in explaining what happened, but rarely is story unicausal. The kairos moment is a triggering factor in our understanding of history.

 

This brief original digression will allow me to frame the debate pertaining the COVID-19 and its global institutional impact.

From Westphalia to date in particular historical moments, and we are facing one of them –paraphrasing Dean G. Acheson, we are Present at  creation - the international system must meet the challenge of creation and maintenance of order in a scenario of Sovereign States. This could be called the Hobbsean Moment, the Lockean Moment or the Rousseaunian Moment, depending on one personal philosophical vision.

These moments of historical break that generate a moment of institutional creation, there were:

- In 1648, after the Thirty Years' War, Munster and Osnabrück, that is, the Westphalia System.

- In 1815, after the Napoleonic Wars, when the first outline of modern governance with the system Congress tutorial, from the Vienna Congress.

- In 1919, after the First World War, in the Versailles Congress when it is systematically reconfigured the world stage and the first scheme emerge of global governance: the League of Nations.

- In 1945, the end of World War II, when a renewed scheme of global governance emerges: the San Francisco and Bretton Woods dual system.

- Finally, after a Quadruple set of events:

  • 1989, collapse of ideology.
  • 2001, collapse of security.
  • 2008, collapse of finance.
  • 2020, collapse of health public good.

Perhaps we finally realize that the system in which we are living is unsustainable and that it will take something new to move ahead.

And in this context, it is a fierce coincidence that in the year of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the creation of the Organization of the United Nations, we are going through the first true global crisis, a crisis that is affecting We The People, the opening words of the preamble to the Charter from the UN.

That is the challenge, of this new moment; we must adapt the global scaffolding to this new world.

Our global system largely responds to 1945, an international system where there were 51 states, where sovereignty was much stronger, where conflicts were international not nationals, where the problems where related to hard power, not to soft power

We are confronting a once-in-a-generation crisis, of a different nature to all that we have lived before.

It is not a global crisis, like previous ones, in which the vast majority of human beings suffered it indirectly. This is a personalized" crisis.

The crisis emerges in our everyday life, in a sphere that concerns each individual in the world: individual health.

It is a crisis that literally has been delivered personally to each of the more than 7.7 billion inhabitants of our planet.

There was a time when nuclear shelters were built in some countries which, luckily, were never used.

Today instead, all of us have had to lock ourselves in our own home, transformed into sanitary shelters.

Beyond the impact of the nature of the Pandemic, this crisis strips the limits of the current international scaffolding to foresee, address and give concrete solution to problems that affect We The People, issues that, most likely, will be recurring in the future.

It emerges in the gap that has arisen in between the international that in many cases responds to a world that is no longer, and to a different sociology. This is why many of the conflicts do not have solution

There are no binary solutions, just cooperative one.

We live in a highly and complex interdependent global world, characterized by the diffusion of power; the acceleration of history by the impact of science, technology and innovation; expansion of a global agenda that affects all countries; new demands by emergent actors, that generates tensions in the existing governance system, which is not always able to respond effectively and efficiently.

The world is going through a reckoning; to quote Dean Acheson, we are once again "present at the creation".

There is a gap between our perceptions and reality. For example, sometimes we seem to be moving back toward dysfunctional concepts such as Cold War or Great Power Competition as we postpone the real challenge of seeking to design, define, and implement multilateral cooperation.  We are daily witnessing the difficulty in finding sustainable solutions to the problems that afflict our common world.

Insufficient commitment toward effectively cooperating on global issues such as ecology, disarmament—both conventional and nuclear—human rights, trade, pandemic, among others, is causing the low tide of multilateralism.

We must remember that we live in an era of complex interdependence - the era of Josehp S. Nye (jr) and Robert Keohane - a time of cooperation and urgent collaboration to resolve global issues; time of de-hierarchization of global themes and of necessary attention to soft power issues; attention time to non-state actors, whose inputs are also necessary to address and solve global issues.

The reappearance of nationalism is also harming multilateralism, and, in turn, feeds on the lack of commitment to multilateralism.

Real commitments are needed to make progress toward effective and efficient multilateralism.

You do not cheer on multilateralism, you practice multilateralism. It is necessary to generate and foster a culture of multilateralism. Civil society, academia, nongovernmental organizations, and the media should be part of a renewed constituency of multilateralism.

An interdependent world lacks the solidarity necessary for cooperation, dialogue, and peaceful resolutions.

The international governance system's decision-making process remains centered around the nation-state. It is necessary to involve non-state actors—subnational, private sector, civil society, and nongovernmental organizations, among others—and the new social movements mobilized through social networks.

Furthermore there is a deficit of diplomacy, and a greater recourse to the militarization of political responses, which, in the short term, generates some results, but is not sustainable over time.

We need to renew the norms of can-do multilateralism.

The Dialogue between the Diverse is supplanted by limited and stereotyped visions that respond to other times.

Dialogue as a meeting point and as a negotiation mechanism, loses force in the face of short-range militarized responses.

Dialogue as a principal tool for strengthening lanes of communication on critical issues.

In this year that we commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the UN, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by us all in 2015, constitute the roadmap to navigate the main challenges and conflicts of this 21st century.

Road map that must be approached with a humanistic vision, in which the human being is the center and purpose of any sustainable solution.

 

(*) Ambassador, Counselor member of CARI

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