Multilateralism is basically cooperation
amongst three or more countries. It basically entails countries getting together
and trying to find cooperative solutions to common problems.
So a few examples would be climate change, which by definition doesn’t respect national boundaries. But we also have issues of global epidemics,
which can spread from one country to another with the ease of
somebody getting on an airplane. In addition we have the looming threat of
cyber insecurity. How do we keep an open global internet and at the same time protect ourselves
from attacks from other countries. Traditionally when people have talked about
multilateral cooperation they talk about universal membership organizations such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank. But in addition to these standing, treaty-based bodies, the United States and other countries are increasingly
relying on a broader variety of multilateral institutions. And a good example of this
is the Group of 20 or the G20, composed of approximately
the world’s 20 biggest economies. And what the G20 symbolizes more than anything else is that we live in a new world where things can’t be simply arranged
in a cozy boardroom of Western countries. We really need to expand the table and
bring in some of the new actors that are transforming the world and
where much of the world’s economic dynamism is actually occurring. One of the major challenges of the 21st century is trying to update current multilateral
institutions to the rise of emerging nations– in particular the so-called BRIC nations:
Brazil, Russia, India, and China. They’re countries that are attempting to assert themselves in the world and they want a place at the high table of global politics.
From the perspective of the established powers, they’re not always on the same page
in terms of their priorities or necessarily their values. That makes cooperation a lot more difficult
because multilateral cooperation inherently requires a certain amount of compromise and
a certain amount of sacrifice of freedom of action externally,
and also sometimes some sacrifice to domestic policy autonomy because you’re signing up for things like
how to treat your industries that actually have some bite domestically.