Competing for Order. Confronting the Long Crisis of Multilateralism
IE School of Global & Public Affairs and The Brookings Institution hosted a virtual debate with Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union, and Cooperation of Spain, Arancha Gonzalez Laya.
Can the multilateral order be revamped in the face of mounting geopolitical tension, divisions over globalization, and rapid technological change? Dean of IE School of Global and Public Affairs, Susana Malcorra, Senior Fellow Director of the Project on International Order at The Brookings Institution, Bruce D. Jones, and Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union, and Cooperation of Spain, Arancha González Laya, participated in a virtual debate on 5 October on the lasting crisis of multilateralism and the scope of possible solutions.
The current crisis calls for further exchange of ideas, challenges the status quo and puts forward new solutions, they all agreed.
Susana Malcorra and Bruce D. Jones used this event at IE´s Wow room to launch their new paper “Competing for Order”, which documents the roots and present features of the long crisis of multilateralism and analyzes what a multilateral world means today and what we can do looking forward the future. Questions that are more necessary and difficult now because of the outbreak of the largest international public health crisis in a century.
“Our intention is to have a series of papers to spark debate and produce alternatives that governments and institutions can look into from an academic perspective and do it in a manner that really accelerate the thinking and that allows us to think a little bit out of the box,” Susana Malcorra explained.
She also highlighted that this is a “unique moment” because not only the United Nations has tasked the Secretary-General to develop ideas to re-invigorate multilateral cooperation, but many governments and civil society institutions are gathering to discuss what is ahead of us, what are the challenges that we face and how we can manage to change this reality, particularly after this pandemic which has proven that cooperation has reached “certain limits.”
The current crisis of order stems from much more than just the anti-multilateral instincts of some contemporary leaders, said Bruce D.Jones. It has “deeper roots” and has more than a decade on the making.
He described the major developments that eroded the performance of the multilateral order and the confidence in it, suggesting that they must be addressed in order to see a revitalization of the system. First of all, the failure of international cooperation working together to tackle insecurity and violence. In this sense, he called to adapt the conflict management instruments and arrangements of this era to address the peace and security challenges of our time. “Without a serious retooling, I think we will see the multilateral system continue to be stymied from acting in critical cases.” Secondly, he referred to the reversals in political support for globalization, and thirdly, he reminded that the COVID-19 pandemic provides a vivid realization of the consequences of underinvesting in global public goods like global public health. Finally, he highlighted that for the first time in four decades, we face a serious prospect of large-scale military hostilities between the world’s major military powers.
Furthermore, Bruce D. Jones made some recommendations to move forward. He urged to forge a coalition of democratic states to advance the liberal agenda working within key international institutions, a network of middle powers to protect key multilateral institutions, and quiet diplomacy and policy innovation to develop guardrails against great powers.
Keynote speaker Arancha González Laya pointed out that international cooperation has always had “incredible ups and downs, even before 1945”. In her opinion:
“What is important now is to understand that after a major conflict, a major incident, energy was created that helped us in advancing international cooperation, and maybe today is one of these moments that can give us this impulse that we need to give another twist to the multilateral system understanding.”
Arancha González Laya, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union, and Cooperation of Spain
The Minister remarked that in today’s multilateralism there are many more powerful actors than 50 years ago but no real leaders. Furthermore, the current multilateral system was built vertically and today the world is much more horizontal. “We need to construct governance from a horizontal point of view, not a vertical approach, at the intersection of different areas of society and economy,” she urged. On the other hand, there are areas of extreme instability and fragility that must be treated strategically, she said.
Finally, she mentioned that there is an erosion of multilateral culture and this erosion is something that we need to fight back against if we are to rebuild multilateralism.
“The lesson that citizens have taken from this pandemic is that we are much more interconnected than we thought and therefore that the management of this interconnection is much more necessary today”.
Susana Malcorra, Dean of IE School of Global and Public Affairs
Susana Malcorra closed the event stressing that the intention of this virtual debate was to put all these questions on the table. “We don’t believe we will have the capacity to give a magic solution to such a complex problem but we do intend to provide as many options as possible,” she concluded.