Paper: Enhancing Multilateralism in the 21st Century (UN Geneva)


Co-written with Baye Modou Sambou, Ifunanya Faith Orisekeh, Danel Loushi, Jumana Alasaad, Emmanuel Bernard Muzingwani, Kelechi Amakoh, Elna Enanga Esembe, Hanane Thamik, Naad-e-Ali Sulehria, and Zohra Abdullah


On 25 September 2018, the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres, surmised: “Our world is suffering from a bad case of “Trust Deficit Disorder.” Guterres’ observation was strategically made at the General Assembly. He was particularly referring to the eroding trust given to society in this age. Trust in political institutions, governments and mechanisms for advancing progress in the world is waning among citizens in this 21st century.

As a result of this trust deficit, certain actors and supporters of concepts such as populism and nationalism are advancing their agenda vigorously. With their key platforms reverberating across the globe, the emphasis on multilateral cooperation is “under fire” (Guterres, 2018). Furthermore, some have questioned the process of multilateralism for being “slow and opaque” (Gurria, 2019). In the face of these increasing challenges, the practice of multilateralism has played a significant role in
building cooperation among states, governments and citizens of the world.

As 2019 marks the 100th year of the practice of multilateralism globally, there are certain overarching questions that need truthful answers. Some of these questions include: Are there gains of multilateralism in the last 100 years? Are there aspects of multilateralism that need expunging or strengthening? Is there a future for multilateralism? If yes, what is its future in the next 100 years? In other words, it is pertinent to review what has worked, what is working and what should work.

With the advent of globalization, issues previously inexistent have risen such as terrorism, cyber threats, and climate change. Moreover, some issues like migration have been existing beforehand but presently have become more prominent, owing to their escalating political salience. The boundaries between domestic and global affairs are fading away, and countries do not have the luxury to put themselves first. This brings multilateralism to the fore. In spite of the shortcomings of the UN, it has continuously served as an institution based on multilateralism that vows to ensure global interactions and coordination that increase the velocity of diffusion of ideas, reasoning, and solutions between states.

It is within this context that this paper explores the theoretical, historical and evolutionary process of multilateralism in the last 100 years. With a focus on the United Nations, this paper examines its role and suggests ways how to advance its multilateral objectives across the globe in the next century. The first part of this paper tackles the several theoretical underpinnings of the concept of multilateralism. The next part looks into the historical background of multilateralism with a focus on the evolutionary processes that have taken place since its inception. The third part analyses the strengths and weaknesses of multilateralism. A section is also devoted to unpacking a current trend that is happening across the globe, particularly the trust deficit disorder. Finally, some suggestions are proffered to strengthen the impact of the United Nations.

The full article can be accessed at$file/2019%20GSP%20Report.pdf


Published originally in July 2019 by UN Office at Geneva

Photo by Brett Zeck from Unsplash

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