Individual Action Is Needed For Multilateralism To Succeed


What will the world be like in 2025?

In a recent Foreign Policy article, Princeton professor and social media expert Anne-Marie Slaughter predicts that the world will be more multilateral — the UN Security Council will be expanded and regional organizations will become powerhouses. She also believes that technology will transform civic organization into a tool for progress (i.e. the recent Arab revolutions). Is she correct?

While it is difficult to argue with Slaughter's hope — world peace is the dream of even the most conservative Miss Americas — it is unrealistic to predict that an expansion of the UN Security Council, and other similar structures, will lead to integrated political and economic decisions in such a short time frame. Given the selfish nature of nation-states, multilateralism will need more than 14 years to be successful, and the most dramatic changes will occur below the national level.

As the economic slowdown persists, more European countries plunge into financial debt and revolutions and protests continue in the Middle East with uncertain success, Slaughter’s shining picture of multilateralism may never come to fruition; countries may become more insular instead of more global. Slaughter even admits that her perspective is “rosy” and that a “cataclysm” such as WWII or the Great Depression will be needed to force political change on a grand scale. Slaughter’s prediction is unrealistic for the simple reason that those in power do not easily give it up.

The permanent members of the UN Security Council and General Assembly have been consistently divided about Security Council expansion, so why is Slaughter so sure that the next 14 years will change that? She cites the unwieldy nature of nearly 200 bilateral relations as grounds for multilateralism, but it is far easier for a nation to get more from a bilateral relationship with another country than a multilateral one in which they will be protecting their own interests from all sides. International organizations, such as the UN, are already having trouble coping with the large number of member states. Slaughter’s vision is going to have trouble making political shifts when leaders see it either as an affront to their power and sovereignty or an inefficient way to do business.

Slaughter is right about one major global shift that will occur whether or not the UN Security Council approves it — the renewal of civic self-organization. Through businesses, communities, colleges, and faith groups, people around the world are going to be able to connect with one another in a way that was perhaps first realized in 2009, with the use of Twitter during Iran’s Green Revolution. As has been said many of times before, our (almost) worldwide access to social media and endless political ideas will imbue individuals with a new power to link with businesses, global organizations and one another to push the international community forward, outside the politics and bureaucracy of the G8/G20.

As foreign policy has illustrated over the last 15 years, multilateralism is not a realistic goal in the short term, despite Slaughter’s well-meaning optimism. As bilateral relations continue, progress towards a multilateral world needs to be advocated by a global community of self-organizing individuals and civic communities.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons