Global Policy Forum

Multilateralism — The World’s Viewpoint

April 8, 2004

Whatever the United States does has global consequences. That cannot be said for most other countries. Given that basic imbalance, there are naturally diverging views about the merits of multilateralism. Our Read My Lips feature examines why many in the global community favor a multilateral world order.

What explains the global rift over multilateralism?
"Unilateralism, like beauty, often lies in the eye of the beholder. One man's unilateralism is another's determined leadership."
(EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, June 2001)

Why is multilateralism so important in today's volatile global situation?
"Terrorism and organized crime can only be resolved through international cooperation based upon the principles of multilateralism — and of international law."
(Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, January 2003)

Is U.S. unilateralism the worst that could happen?
"The thing I fear is not American unilateralism, it is actually American isolationism — were it ever to go down that path."
(British Prime Minister Tony Blair, November 2003)

Is multilateralism merely a way to keep the power-hungry United States under control?
"Many in Europe feel that the biggest threat to the global order is not rogue states, but the dominance of America — hence the need to shackle it with treaties and multilateral organizations."
(John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, correspondents for The Economist, April 2003)

And what does France have to say?
"We cannot accept either a politically unipolar world, nor a culturally uniform world, nor the unilateralism of a single hyperpower."
(Former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine, June 2001)

How do the world's religions relate to multilateralism?
"People across the world — Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims — are standing up against the imposition of a unilateral world order. It cuts across the simplistic division of the world into Islam vs. Christianity."
(M.J. Akbar, editor of Asian Age, March 2003)

Does U.S. unilateralism set a bad precedent for the future?
"If the United States believes it does not need to respect multilateralism and international rules, how do you get China to respect them?"
(Senior European diplomat, July 2002)

What flaws does multilateralism possess?
"We can no longer take it for granted that our multilateral institutions are strong enough to cope with all these challenges."
(UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, September 2003)

Yet, why is the international community dependent on cooperation?
"In the end, the same rules must apply for the big, middle-sized and small countries."
(German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, March 2003)

What can save multilateralism?
"Most of the world is searching for ways to reinforce a badly bruised multilateralism. The trade agenda provides an opportunity for a show of leadership by Europe — and by the emerging players China, India and Brazil."
(Philip Bowring, International Herald Tribune columnist, November 2003)

Yet, how may even trade jeopardize multilateralism?
"The politicians' lemming-like rush into bilateral agreements poses a deadly threat to the multilateral trading system."
(Jagdish Bhagwati, university professor at Columbia University, July 2003)

What else could happen on the trade front?
"The multilateral trading system could become the battle ground for unsettled geopolitical disputes — with disastrous consequences."
(Ernesto Zedillo, former Mexican President, May 2003)

What ultimately is the real problem of multilateralism today?
"In this game where everyone needs the United States, and the United States needs allies, the problem is this: Can we have a minimum of strength to give value to our own positions and to attract the United States toward a position that is more multilateral and less unilateral?"
(Alfredo Valladao, Brazilian academic at Sciences Po university in Paris, February 2004)

How did various U.S. allies try to show the Bush Administration the benefits of multilateralism?
"Mr. Chirac and Mr. Blair are looking at the world through different ends of the telescope. Mr. Blair wants to demonstrate to the United States the advantages of multilateralism. Mr. Chirac wants to show that it will pay a heavy price for unilateralism."
(Philip Stephens, Financial Times columnist, May 2003)

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