The Rt Hon Helen Clark was the keynote speaker at this year’s Peter Fraser Lecture where she posed the question that is the title of this post: Multilteralism: Time for a Revamp? It’s not a quick read (approximately 3,500 words) but I feel it’s worth the effort. The link to the lecture is at the end of this post.
For small nations such as Aotearoa New Zealand, A working system of international multilateral agreements is necessary for survival, as it is for all smaller countries and for most of the world’s population. A handful of large nations can bully their way to wealth and “success”, and I would class Trump’s MAGA one such example, but at what cost to the rest of the world? If a powerful nation unilaterally decides to pull out of an agreement it freely entered into and then attempts to punish others for continuing to honour said agreement, the consequences for international cooperation can be profound.
Here, for example, is what Helen Clark had to say about the US withdrawal from international nuclear agreements:
The UN is also a bystander as key parts of the nuclear weapons control architecture is dismantled. The most egregious example is that of the Iran nuclear deal which was endorsed by the Security Council. The US withdrawal from the agreement was a direct challenge to the authority of the Council which all Member States are bound to uphold. The expiry of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and what is now Russia is a major threat to peace and security, but one the multilateral system in its current state is not equipped to address.
The hypothesis presented by the former Prime Minister’s talk is that the multilateral system is struggling for relevance, that the world it seeks to function in is not that of 1945, and that its core institutions, like the UN Security Council, have been unable to adapt.
Her talk covers:
- the successes the multilateral system has had
- the pressures it is now under
- the importance of continuing to engage constructively with it
- examples of the development of more inclusive forms of multilateralism
I appreciate, that many Americans have little concern for what goes on outside their borders, and the US has practiced isolationism in the past, and is fast retreating into a new form of it, but for the sake of the whole world, it’s the wrong choice in my view.
While the US isn’t the only player causing a breakdown in international cooperation, it’s clearly a significant, if not the most significant, player. I know most thinking Americans already understand this, whereas Trump supporters will blame the rest of the world, so perhaps this post and Helen’s talk might be a case of preaching to the converted.
Helen Clark’s talk can be viewed in its entirety at Rt Hon Helen Clark: “Multilteralism: Time for a Revamp?”. Annual Peter Fraser Lecture, Wellington, 12 August 2019.