Given the evolving global alignments and changing nature of major-power relationships, what is the future of globalism and multilateralism?


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Across the globe, the post cold war multilateral order seems to be in crisis because of the new emerging powers and changing relationships in the 21st century. With its fundamental goals and values under threat, multilateralism, in this globalized world, has lost its control once cherished after World War II. The US and the European Union, the sole representatives of globalization and multilateralism, have become more inward, closer to unilateralism. Moreover, other reasons for the decline of globalization are a divide between winners and losers, the risk of a financial crisis, and the emergence of nationalist trends in big players, such as America, China, and Russia. The challenges the multilateral system faces in the new power game are new anti-liberal power players, such as China and Russia, nationalist, protectionist policies, and global problems such as economic crisis and covid pandemic. However, with more flexible and open rule-based international agreements and renewing multilateralism by focusing on peace, security and development for all at large, the effect of globalization and multilateralism can be used at its best. The question, hence, discusses the relationship of globalization with multilateralism, the changing power politics and suggestions to best improve the effects of multilateralism in the 21st century.

Currently, multilateral agreements are facing a backlash. The United States and the European Union, the sole representations of globalization and international liberal order, have become more inward-looking and closer to unilateralism. Globalization has also been affected by the corona pandemic, especially in the case of China. As China is a large producer and supplier of pharmaceutical ingredients, lockdowns have disrupted medical supplies worldwide. Moreover, with the fundamental economic inequalities, the ongoing global environmental crisis, and the current geopolitical tussle between China and America, it is clear that globalization and multilateralism could not be performed well in the changing political dynamics.

The great-power competition casts a shadow over today’s multilateral systems. Authoritarian countries themselves are the disruptors of the multilateral order. The US, the most important representative of liberty and market economy, has become nationalist and unilateralist, focusing all alone on its own social, economic and technical developments. Similarly, Russia and China are increasingly working to bring multilateral architectures closer to their authoritarian norms, threatening the interests of nations around the globe that seek to maintain democratic governance against the growing reach of authoritarian influence. Japan and other Asian countries and the ASEAN framework have contributed to multilateral cooperation through diplomacy, ODA, trade, and FDI. Hence, globalization has created deep interconnections and vulnerabilities between democratic and authoritarian states. As big powers continue to mould multilateral cooperation according to their interests, the other democratic countries must move toward a balanced multilateralism, among big and small economies alike, to defend the democratic interests of all within existing and even new architectures. 

Covering all the 21st-century issues, the multilateral framework has enclosed economic development, international security, global health, human rights, and environmental issues. Moreover, it expressed itself in multiple forums such as the UN, World Bank, IMF, WTO, NATO, and OECD, as well as more informal venues such as the G7 or G20. International interactions, in the form of trade and cooperation, have been the most essential elements of the development of human society. Today’s globalization is the extension of social and economic developments in digital technologies, supply chain, tourism, agriculture trade and service trade by regional and international organizations, such as the UN, IMF, GATT and WTO. Because of this cooperation, the world in general, and Asia and Europe in specific, have been the main beneficiaries of globalization and multilateralism. 

To improve the effects of multilateral systems in these new emerging power systems, all stakeholders of the 21st century need to be brought closer to solving national and international powers. Though multilateral balance is shaken in a normative and operational capacity, globalization could not be receded completely. The chaos in multilateral order can be dealt with positively through open and rule-based multilateral agreements. Moreover, more flexible plurilateral agreements can reduce the crisis created by authoritarian countries. Furthermore, establishing a Working Group on the Future of Multilateralism, promoting institutional diversity and global public goods and managing the global commons could also promote the effect of multilateralism. Multilateralism needs to address its discontents and evolve to be fit for purpose in an era of renewed great power competition, political economy tensions, issue politicization, and decoupling economic prosperity from social prosperity. Renewing multilateralism with a deep insight into the impacts, covering peace, security and development, and global public goods is another way through which multilateralism can be improved more. Hence, a change is not beyond reach.

“Political rigidities in multilateral organizations charged with overseeing economic globalization have prevented adequate reform.”

To conclude, post cold war multilateral system is in crisis because of the changing alignments and global power politics. The great-power competition has eroded the very foundations on which the multilateralism of the post-Cold War era stood. The United States, Europe, China, and Russia all manipulate globalization and multilateral agreements for their interests. Therefore, the need of the hour is to reconstruct, rearrange, and reshape multilateralism, emphasizing peace, security and development for all.

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